“This too shall pass… and the only way out is through.”
You know, we’re all good at something. For example, I don’t mind tooting that I’m pretty kick-ass at Scrabble.
Sudoku on the other hand… next!
Something I know I’m not that great at is emotions.
But not at having them. I know I’m great at having them.
What I’m not so great at is FEELING them. ADMITTING them. And knowing what the hell to DO with them.
The first super useful step is simply knowing what they are.
Thankfully, emotions researcher Karla Mclaren has neatly packaged them all up into four families across 17 ‘siblings’.
- Apathy + Boredom
- Shame + Guilt
- Panic + Terror
- Situational Depression
- The Suicidal Urge
And what’s so completely illuminating about this list, is that out of 17 main emotions, only 3 of them are HAPPY.
So if there are 14 “negative” emotions and only three “positive” ones – how do we ever stand a chance at being happy?
The key, as I’m continuously learning, is to make friends with the unwanted parts of ourselves. Our angers, our hatreds, our shames and our anxieties. To (try) and have the courage to withstand their presence long enough to hear what they’re trying to tell us and take the action needed. And then to have the courage to actually be kind to ourselves. To remember that we’re not alone in experiencing uncomfortable feelings. That however powerful an emotional episode is – that’s all it is. An episode. A chapter.
The thing with chapters is that if we keep trying to skip the boring ones; the unpleasant ones, the nightmarish ones, the ending will never be as good because we’ve cut out more than half of the story.
So how does one have the courage to work with their emotions?
There’s a mindfulness practice first developed by Michele McDonald of Insight Meditation Society that can help with this.
It’s an acronym that traditionally stands for:
- Allow or Accept
Like all practices, over the years, they evolve. They’re tweaked here, and massaged there.
P.S. You can also listen to it here on Insight Timer.
– MEDITATION –
A self-inquiry and compassion meditation to find relief from challenging emotions.
This is a practice called R.A.I.N.
And it’s one we can reach for when we’re going through a challenging situation.
When we’re feeling some kind of struggle, some kind of emotional intensity.
It’s a way we can honour all of the emotions that exist; that are part of the human experience.
And to become more skillful – more skillful with accepting and dealing with what can sometimes be very difficult emotions.
So wherever it is that you are, get yourself into a comfortable position. Whether that’s sitting, or laying down. Or perhaps you’re on the go at this point in time.
And for this practice, you can close or open your eyes; that part of it doesn’t matter.
Sometimes it does help to close the eyes, to enable yourself to go within.
But a feeling of safety is also really important, so if it feels better to keep them open, then that’s definitely a great option.
And just take a moment to breathe.
Finding that breath in the place that feels most prominent in your body.
Feeling that in-breath enter the body… and the out-breath escape the body.
The practice of R.A.I.N has become a well-known mindfulness practice, and it’s particularly useful for working with our emotions.
It’s an acronym:
R – stands for Recognise
A – is for Allow or Accept
I – stands for Investigate
N – is quite versatile. We can Nurture – bring some self-compassion to our experience. We can Note – use a labelling or mental noting technique. And we can also remind ourselves that this emotion is Not Me. It’s not me and it’s not JUST me.
Let’s get started.
The first step of the R.A.I.N technique is to recognise your experience and what emotions might be accompanying that experience.
Perhaps this is an immediate experience – something that you are feeling in this moment. Something that’s happened quite recently. Something where thoughts are quite intrusive about a challenge or a problem in your life where you’re feeling stuck.
Or perhaps there’s a past experience that’s a little way behind you now that you know was quite a struggle and you could have used some support with. Maybe now is a time you feel a little more comfortable to revisit that experience and to work with the emotions that went with that experience.
And so we’re recognising.
We’re identifying – ah yes – this is what happened… this is what’s happening… and this is the emotion that goes with it.
Anger. Sadness. Fear. Jealousy. Maybe even some hatred.
What is the emotion that’s accompanying this experience and this storyline?
So now that you’ve identified this; you’ve recognised it – and you’ve got an example, either recent or sometime in the past to work with, the next part of the practice is to Allow. To Accept.
And this sometimes goes against what our inclination is to do with difficult experiences and difficult emotions… which is to repress on one hand – bury it under the rug; deny, pretend it didn’t happen. And on the other hand – express – to act out the emotion without any pause, without any gap that informs us what a skillful response might be.
At this particular stage of the technique, we’re just accepting – allowing. Seeing if we can dip our toe into the felt experience of this emotion, and if it feels tolerable, then to wade a little deeper into that felt experience. Knowing that there’s nothing we need to DO at this point about anything. It’s just to sit and accept. To stand and allow. As best we can anyway in this moment.
The third stage is to get a little bit curious as we start to investigate.
And at this point we take our attention into the body.
And if you can imagine a heat map – where is the part in the body where this emotion is being experienced – where it might reveal itself as a glowing red dot – a pain point – where is the place that this emotion has currently taken up home.
It might be experienced as tightness. Heat. Prickling. Maybe a nauseous feeling. An ache. Or a sharp pain.
Or perhaps it’s much subtler than that. Maybe a low-grade feeling of unease, or something that’s just out of kilter.
Where is it in the body? Is it in the tummy? Is in in the chest? Is it in the shoulders or down the arms? Perhaps up in the head. In the forehead or in the temples. Perhaps it’s hiding in the jaw.
Where are your feelings being felt?
NURTURE, NOTE, NOT ME
And for the final stage of RAIN, we can move into a few different things.
One of those is to nurture.
And this is where we can offer ourselves a little bit of friendliness. A bit of warmth, a bit of compassion. For whatever the situation is, that’s causing us this suffering. We can place a hand on our chest if that feels supportive. Or perhaps on the place in the body where you identified this emotion is hanging out for the time being.
Quite literally connecting with this emotion.
And doing some reassuring self-talk. It’s going to be OK. Whatever this situation is, we can get through this.
As well as this intense emotion, I know there are other places in me that are strong. And brave. And supportive. That I can draw on to move through this challenging experience.
And what’s also really comforting to know; that whatever challenge I’m going through, it’s not unique to me. It’s not unique and it’s not me. It’s not personal ONLY to me. Somewhere out in the world at this very moment, someone else is experiencing the same emotion that I am right at this time.
So well done. Well done for having the courage to sit and work with this challenging experience. It does take courage not to repress, not to express. But to sit with uncomfortable situations. We can take comfort in the fact, as Thich Nhat Hanh so famously says: this too shall pass.
Nothing is fixed. Everything changes. And with time, this situation, too, will change.