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Feeling Overwhelmed Or Anxious? Remember 'RAIN'

The RAIN acronym is an ancient Buddhist mindfulness tool to cope with hardship.

12/05/2017 7:31 AM AEST | Updated 12/05/2017 7:41 AM AEST

When life throws you a curve ball -- a weighty life decision, a problem at work or even a moment of anxiety that you can't put your finger on -- how do you react?

As human beings, our first instinct is to retract from unpleasant or negative feelings, rather than hang out with an often inconvenient truth.

The problem is this doesn't actually help with said hardship. In fact, it will often make it worse.

This is where RAIN, a four-step mindfulness tool, comes in as an approach to working through intense and difficult emotions. Here are the steps (we'll dive into them later):

Recognise what is happening.

Allow your experience to just be as it is.

Investigate your experience with kindness.

Non-identification.

"The RAIN acronym is beautifully adaptive and makes itself available to a broad range of different practitioners and belief systems. It is flexible and mobile, but it also has its challenges," Sarah Fletcher, certified meditation teacher and founder of Quiet Mind Meditation told HuffPost Australia.

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Get rid of that umbrella.

Is this a form of meditation or mindfulness? Or both?

Meditation (a simple technique for resting and focusing the mind) and mindfulness (a cultivation of awareness to the present moment) are both steeped in Buddhist traditions, with contemporary forms emerging and gaining popularity in recent years.

While discussion around them seems to have become somewhat saturated in public life as of late, the scientifically-proven benefits remain.

I always find that there are the roots of the practice that are valuable for some, whereas the more contemporary approaches can work for others.

Whether you're a frequent meditator, you're looking to integrate mindfulness into your daily life and work or you're just yearning for some clarity in a crisis, a range of tools, techniques and practices are at your disposal. RAIN is one of them.

"When I am sharing my practices and my thoughts on meditation, I always find that there are the roots of the practice that are valuable for some, whereas the more contemporary approach can work for others," Fletcher said.

"All of them are pathways and they can cross and intersect."

Emerging about twelve years ago among a group of Buddhist teachers, the RAIN acronym is one of many practices that is now utilised and adapted by practitioners. It has been brought to life most proficiently by long-time meditator Tara Brach.

As Brach puts it:

"RAIN directly de-conditions the habitual ways in which you resist your moment-to-moment experience. It doesn't matter whether you resist what is by lashing out in anger, by having a cigarette, or by getting immersed in obsessive thinking. Your attempt to control the life within you and around you cuts you off from your own heart and from this living world."

"The practice of RAIN could be easily understood and taken on board at any point in your life, whether that be a moment of mindfulness in your day or a formal seated practice," Fletcher said.

Let's run through the four main steps, and the ideas behind them.

R is for RECOGNITION

It sounds simple on an intellectual level, but for the unacquainted, this can often by the hardest step. And it starts the minute you turn your attention on those thoughts, emotions or feelings.

The idea of catching a thought and recognising an emotion can be a new concept, but it is a crucial place to start to understand what is bubbling up inside of you.

"As a teacher of meditation, I find that sometimes people don't even recognise their own breathing, let alone their thoughts and the deeply embedded and habitual emotions beneath them," Fletcher said.

"The idea of catching a thought and recognising an emotion can be a new concept, but it is a crucial place to start to understand what is bubbling up inside of you."

Whether you're a daily meditator or someone who just needs a bit of clarity, this step can be done in a few minutes of your day, or as part of a seated traditional practice.

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Just an average day.

A is for ACCEPTANCE

Here, we come back to those common aversion techniques that us humans tend to resort to when faced with unpleasantries or crazy emotions (see above).

"Who wants to accept sadness or self loathing? Acceptance is an important part of the process," Fletcher said.

How does one actually do this? By letting your thoughts, emotions or feelings just sit there. Kindly.

"We can often say to ourselves, 'I know I'm talking negatively to myself about X.' But that's not acceptance. Acceptance has a feeling quality of kindness and gentleness.

"Recognise that you're feeling a certain way, and then accept that it isn't going to unhinge your entire circumstance or being."

I is for INVESTIGATION

Step three can be understood in one word: curiousity. Not something you'd normally associate with managing discomfort or hardship, right?

"This is something that we tend to miss. Having a curious mind is crucial," Fletcher said.

Investigation means calling on your natural interest to direct a more focused attention on your experience.

There is more often than not a lot going on underneath it. If you're feeling lazy, where is that coming from? Where and how is it playing out in your reactions?

"If you have recognised a strong feeling or emotion, and have accepted that that is how you feel, you then reach a place where you have all of these stories around that feeling," Fletcher said.

"There is more often than not a lot going on underneath it. If you're feeling lazy, where is that coming from? Where and how is it playing out in your reactions?

Again, a formal seated practice will allow you to commit to a longer period to this stage. Sometimes it takes a while for these stories to come to the surface.

But a quick pause by the window will suffice.

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Pause and pull out RAIN when life calls on it. But more practice equals more benefits.

N is for NON-IDENTIFICATION

The fourth step is a gentle reminder that acronyms can be flexible -- and that we are not the sum of all of our thoughts and stories.

Often coined differently, the final stage of RAIN takes into account the ancient Buddhist principle of self-inquiry, one that has not quite reached current western models of mindfulness practice, according to Fletcher.

"This is the recognition that what I think and feel, whether that be an emotion or a thought, is not necessarily me," Fletcher said.

"I recognise now where this feeling is stemming from and I can recognise it as a worn neural pathway that I don't need to hold onto anymore."

To end with Brach:

"...While the first three steps of RAIN require some intentional thought, the fourth step is your result".

Putting RAIN into practice

These four steps are broad and fluid, and can be called upon and adapted whenever a difficult emotion begins to take over.

"If you have an understanding of the process and you are committed to moving through this inner awareness, then you would definitely be able to bring out RAIN when you need it. Any insight or self knowledge is worthy," Fletcher said.

"But this is an ongoing dialogue, as is all meditation or mindfulness work. You can't just pick up the acronym and work through it for one day. We are much more complex than that."

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