Advanced Practice in Tara Brach’s RAIN Protocol
So often we humans find ourselves in a state of limbic disarray, with ego defenses stimulating our need to protect ourselves from others – even from ourselves. We feel something is very wrong in this moment, and we allow separateness to pull us into a frenzied effort to escape pain and suffering. At such times our most deeply hidden negative self-views strengthen and dominate. We will do almost anything to escape the aloneness and self-alienation. Endless impulses to seek what is wrong and forget what is right take over our emotional lives. It is at such times of strong emotional challenge that we need to take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. Tara Brach’s creation of the RAIN process is a huge leap in a sane direction. According to Brach, RAIN helps us overcome tendencies to activate the “second arrow” of suffering; our second arrows are caused by unhelpful thoughts, feelings, emotions, body sensations, and behaviors related to the “first arrow.” The first arrow is the original event or experience that caused our pain and suffering. Often our reactivity to it makes matters worse – we suffer more in our own minds and bodies. Below I will review the RAIN process and make additional comments on its usefulness and versatility in ongoing self-care and emotional self-regulation. The practice of RAIN skills is appropriate for all people – helpers and helpees.
- The first step of RAIN is recognition of what we are experiencing in this moment. What is happening now and how am I experiencing it in mind, body, heart and soul? This focus is on our inner emotional experience, and the causes and conditions creating them. Strong attention is necessary here. Recognition requires a cognitive shift from the auto-pilot of fear, pain, and desire to escape into a mental state of mindful attention in the now. We recognize our thoughts, emotions, sensations, behaviors, and habitual action urges. This momentary shift into control helps our prefrontal executive brain to take action, and reduces limbic dominance in unpleasant experiences. For now, we are no longer at the mercy of negative emotional events and experiences. In fact we are at the starting point of liberation. We are participating in the experience and our responses to it. Like in DBT, we may find ourselves describing what we have now recognized. Tell yourself what you are experiencing and remain strong, emotionally. We may notice that anxiety, fear, depression, addiction – even some aspects of trauma – begin to transform slightly via the relatively simple cognitive act of recognition.
- The second step of RAIN is radical acceptance of the experience of pain and suffering in this present moment. This means that we allow whatever pain and suffering we are experiencing in this moment. With self-kindness we may place our hand over our heart (Thich Nhat Hanh) and breathe into the accepted experience of suffering. We learn to hold ourselves in loving self-presence within the limited space and time of the negative experience. We may experience self-compassion in this process. The act of allowing implies a strong “yes” to whatever is happening now, and it also implies an intention to become capable of handling the experience. This is similar but not exactly what D. W. Winnicott described in how humans are “going on being.” With self-compassion and self-acknowledgement, we allow ourselves to be in this unpleasant experience of suffering. This process, obviously, takes some courage to do. If the suffering involves other people, Winnicott’s view of “intersubjective space” and Kohut’s view of “experience-near empathy” may apply. We have moved from fear and suffering to recognition and now emotional oneness with the experience. Now it is time to add more cognitive control to the process, thus expanding emotional regulation.
- The third step of RAIN is to investigate why now. This is a more cognitive intervention of analysis, analysis of our environment, belief, needs, and strengths. This shift enables us to stop negatively judging ourselves and others; this shift bring a more true presence into the emotional feeling state. Again, the cognitive intervention brings more stability to mind and body in the experience of suffering. Investigating enhances the meditative stance of the observing mind: I am not this experience (anxiety, fear, depression, anger, small-self, marginalization, etc.) , but I am experiencing this! At times this one realization can bring relief from negative emotional triggers embedded in our lives. We may experience pain and suffering in the process, but we are doing so with great mindful discernment. We are NOT the experience, but we are in the experience. It is not us, but it is happening to us. When we investigate, we may ask: Why now? Why me? With self-kindness and mindful strength we reduce reactivity and tendencies to escape or self-medicate. The strong large self is taking charge.
- The last step of RAIN non-identification with the experience as self, and more realization that the experience is happening to me and is not me (no-self). Here we practice BEING the true-self, the larger self, the expansive self. We slowly and gently open up a calm, secure space in our hearts. We realize we are not fused with the negative experience or its causes and conditions; we dis-identify with the small escaping self, and over-identify with the stronger, defused, more capable self. With a little luck and skill, we may even experience spiritual transcendence and/or feeling of liberation. We may realize that the self experiencing the suffering is a temporary, small piece of being in this life; the self that is recognizing, accepting, investigating, and not over-identifying is stronger and expanding into the emptiness of ultimate reality. Time and space may be altered. We may become our spiritual experience. We are ready for our next steps.
For more information refer to Brach, T. (2013). True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awkward Heart. New York: Bantam Books. See also Tara Brach’s other works – Radical Self-Acceptance: A Buddhist Guide to Freeing Yourself from Shame. See also Meditations for Emotional Healing: Finding Freedom in the Face of Difficulty.
Anthony R. Quintiliani, PhD., LADC
From the Eleanor R. Liebman Center for Secular Meditation in Monkton, Vermont and the Home of The Monkton Sangha
Author of Mindful Happiness
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