Two weeks ago I had the chance to attend a day of meditation with Tara Brach in honor of the launch of her new book, Radical Compassion. In this book, she describes a process called RAIN (Recognize-Allow-Investigate-Nurture). She explains that she has used and refined this process over a long period of time and she has received incredible feedback on how useful the process has been to those she has shared it with. With this book, she hopes the process will be shared more widely to serve an even greater number of us.
Over the past couple of weeks, I worked particularly with the R and the A – Recognize and Allow. As in any mindfulness practice, recognizing brings our attention to what is – in this case, our attention turns towards the emotions that are arising. This is not easy. Often, we are so caught up in the momentum of our emotions and experiences that it is not natural to pause and notice what may be arising. Just noticing, has an incredible power to provide respite, at least for a moment. The second step – Allow – widens our space for what we notice is arising. She asked us to practice by recalling a somewhat challenging emotional state we recently experienced. She then instructed us to say “No!” to the emotion. With this practice, I immediately noticed a tightening in my belly and the constriction in my chest. We then recalled the emotions again, and this time we allowed space for the emotion – without judging if the emotion was valid or not, if we were right or wrong, if it was comfortable or not – we simply allowed the emotion to be. In other words, we said yes to our experience, without saying yes to anything else. I realized immediately that recognizing emotions felt familiar, but allowing space for emotions, especially those that I rationalize I should not have, is certainly not my natural response.
Last week I was sharing this during a mindfulness morning I participate in at a mental health support group. I explained that we should always start new practices by working with ‘easier’ situations. I shared how I practiced recently when I was at the gym. I stepped onto a treadmill and I was walking slowly, preparing my headphones and pulling up a podcast, and just then my sister called. I hadn’t spoken with her in a few days and our mom has been in and out of the hospital, so I wanted to make sure there was no emergency. I whispered into the phone, “I’m on the treadmill. Everything ok?” A young man with a T-shirt that read ‘Fitness Coach’ waited next to me for the next minute until I hung up the phone. “You need to take phone calls over in that area,” he said, pointing to a nearby hallway. I apologized, and defensively let him know that I was only checking if everything was ok. As he turned and walked away, I decided to practice the R-A of RAIN. I felt unjustly reprimanded and allowed space for that, even though I rationally knew that he was only explaining a policy to me and doing his job.
Back to our mindfulness morning – we continued our discussion and after a few minutes an older man, who had been quiet during the hour, spoke up. In his gentle voice he said, “But I think that man in the gym should have been more respectful to you. He should have waited until you finished your workout and maybe on your way out he could’ve said that it’s the policy to take phone calls in the other area. What if it was an emergency?” A wave of calm moved through me. “I appreciate you saying that.” I replied. Then I continued, “But, I can’t really wish people to be different”
We all contemplated for a moment what it might mean to allow space – would we be allowing others to behave towards us in ways we found unacceptable? I chimed in, “It’s true though – we could all start with compassion more often, and others could too.” Around the table, their heads nodded in agreement. Their faces expressed a small window into the struggles they have faced, but also the wisdom that emerges from working through difficulties. “What about anger,” another man asked, “what should I do when I feel angry? And how do I decide when to speak up?” We decided we would work with this question in our next session together in a couple of weeks. “In the meantime,” I suggested, “make space for whatever arises, and start with compassion for yourselves. Those around you will sense that you are bringing something new to a situation, and you will be the source for healing – for helping them too.” The gentle smiles at the prospect of this new possibility filled my heart. I realized that allowing ourselves space for our emotions is a valuable gift we can give ourselves. And, starting with compassion is a gift we can give both to ourselves and to others.