RAIN: Cultivating a Mindful Awareness – Tara Brach (30 min)


The word sati, the Pali word sati,
means remembering presence… Being aware of what’s going on in the moment… And
as most of us know, when we most need it… You know, when we’re in traffic or
when we’re in some…engaged with our child and there’s a lot of tension, or
when there’s an argument with a partner, or we’re anxious about performance,
what we’re overeating… You know, bag of trail mix…
Those are the times we most need mindfulness, and those are the times it’s
absolutely like a million miles away, right? So the big question is,
in this practice of remembrance, is how to remember to remember, right?
And…we know that. I was reflecting on this. And
I remember one of my father’s favorite little stories of a elderly couple,
and they’re having an amiable conversation. One says to the other, Hey,
Fred, so how was your experience with the memory clinic? And Fred said, Oh,
it was great–they taught us all sorts of cool tricks, you know, association and
visualization, and… And his friend says, That’s great.
What’s the name of the clinic? Fred goes blank, and
he’s thinking and thinking. And finally, this broad smile crossed his face and
he goes, What’s that…uh…that flower with the long stem and the thorns?
And his friend says, Rose. He goes, Hey, Rose, what was the name of that clinic?
I heard that one a lot growing up. So, we need a way to remember to remember.
I mean, we need a certain amount of mindfulness to be mindful. And
many of you are familiar with the acronym RAIN, R-A-I-N. And
it’s a strategy for cultivating and implying mindfulness that’s really
easy to remember to kind of, okay, let’s just, RAIN.
Teachers have been sharing this now for probably over 20 years, and
I find that this acronym is so helpful. I’ve ended up sharing it so regularly that
I really wanted to dedicate a talk to, to diving in some more and
looking at the elements of it, and some of the challenges that come up…
And having, have a little time so that we can do a full guided RAIN
meditation together… Apply it… I’ll be asking you to pick something, some
place you get stuck that you’d like to have a little more mindfulness holding.
So a little bit of background on RAIN… The acronym was first coined by a senior
of vipassana teacher Michelle McDonald. Again, I think it was about 20 years ago.
The version that I’ve been teaching for the last, now it’s probably about 12
years is…expands on the original in a very, specifically I added
an explicit emphasis on kindness, because that wasn’t in the original acronym. An
emphasis on a kind of intimate attention, quality of attention… And I also kind
of expanded what the investigation means. So, we’ll get into that in a bit. But
I’ve found that both for students, for anybody working with difficulty,
for clinicians helping their patients and clients,
that the acronym is really impactful. So, to begin with,
the elements of the acronym RAIN are–the R is to recognize,
which means to, and we’ll, I’ll go through them very carefully in a little bit… But
recognize means to notice what’s going on in the moment, to name it, like, oh, fear,
confusion, anger… Whatever it is, just recognize it…
The A of RAIN is to allow it, which means don’t try to get rid of it.
It’s almost like this pause where you make space and let be for the time being.
Just allow it. You just let it be as it is… The I of RAIN,
once you’ve allowed it, you can sink in a little more as you say,
Okay, so investigate. What, what is going on here? So you begin to
explore the dimensions of the experience. You say, Okay, how does this feel, and
is there some…something I’m believing right now about myself? And, you know,
what…what’s the actual sensations of the experience? So you kind of go in more…
But if you do that and you don’t have an attitude of friendliness or
kindness, the investigation can actually have a tinge of judgment or
aversion. So, the I, when you’re investigating, also includes a kind of
intimate attention where you’re really offering a quality of gentleness or
00:05:07,560 –>00:05:12,770 friendliness. That’s R-A-I… The N,
there’s nothing that you’re doing with the N. The N is the fruit of the R-A-I.
With the recognizing and allowing, and investigating, and
offering this kindness… There’s a quality of presence
that ends up unfolding that is the N. There’s a shift in identity, where
you’re no longer the beleaguered self, the victimized self,
the angry self, the fearful self… There’s a sense of resting in that
presence that is…caring, open, awake, tender… There’s a shift in your
sense of who you are. That’s the N, and the N is not identified. You’re not
identified with the kind of narrow, egoic, reactive self… But you can also think
of the N…some of you might prefer that you’ve come back to your natural
loving awareness. Your back in your, the wholeness of your being…
So those are the elements, and we’ll go… I’ll give you some
examples of how it works and we’ll practice. But
I’d like to first kind of describe almost in terms of the dynamics of it
how that works. And one of my favorite ways of understanding RAIN is…comes from
Dan Siegel, who’s a neuropsychologist, and he says, you know, he said…he takes
the hand like this… And he says, Okay, you’re going to think of your wrist
as your spinal cord that’s going into the skull, it’s your brainstem, okay?
And then he takes the thumb, and he says, This is the limbic system… You know,
fight, flight, freeze, and so on… And then the fingers over it, we’ve got the
whole brain now, the frontal cortex, okay? So brainstem, limbic system, frontal
cortex… So, this is our brain. And so it…and generally when, the way
things work is information flows up, and then it flows down through the…you know,
there’s information going up, and then the frontal cortex regulates and
sends more information down. But what happens when there’s too much
stress is, you can flip your lid. Right?
So that what happens is you no longer have the value of the frontal
cortex feeding down information like, hey, let’s get some perspective on things…
And yes, this has happened before… But you’ve worked it out.
Some humor, some wisdom, mindfulness… Okay, let’s just notice what’s happening.
All of that is the frontal cortex. We no longer have access when
we flipped our lid, okay? So what intentional mindfulness
does is it notices that, because there’s still some mindfulness
that’s naturally part of who we are. And it begins to name what’s going on…
And allow what’s going on… And activate the frontal cortex so
it’s re-engaged, and we’re back in an integrated system. Isn’t
that cool? So that’s how it works. I mean, RAIN… This arousing of
presence with the recognizing, allowing, investigating…actually re-engages
the frontal cortex. And with that, when I say frontal cortex,
the whole network that’s described as the compassion network… And
then that larger viewing of mindfulness… So, I also like to think of
RAIN in the more poetic way. If you think of the rain coming down from
the skies, it’s the attempt, you know, the sky is sky of awareness, and
this rain of attention… And that, when we’re caught in a tight space,
there’s this nourishment that comes from the heavens, that helps us to soften, and
open, and it helps us to, again, grow into our fullness.
So many of you, maybe when you hear the acronym for the first time,
as I did, one of the first thoughts was of Shakespeare, and The quality
of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven…right?
So, when we’re suffering, the freedom doesn’t come from a strained effort.
The freedom doesn’t…we don’t fight our way out of the box. There’s actually this
gentle rain of attention that we offer to what’s happening.
And in that gentle attentiveness we begin to reopen and
reinhabit the fullness of our being. We have access again to our resources.
Or back to the scientific way, we have access to the frontal cortex.
So, let’s explore a little bit about when RAIN is needed.
And the broad response to that is, anytime we’re stuck in a small place,
where we’re caught in an egoic sense of something’s wrong.
I’m endangered, I’m threatened, I’m going to lose something, I’ve lost
something–some sense of tightness or smallness. And there is many
different ways that could happen. We might be caught in a conflict and
be in the kind of reactivity, where we’re, we’re lashing out and
it might feel very familiar… And I’m going to name a few different versions
of where RAIN can come in, because I want you to be thinking about what…how
you’d like to apply it in your own life, tonight, when we practice. So perhaps you
have a situation in your life where you, where you just very easily get tripped
off into in some way being aggressive, or hostile, or judgmental…
It’s perfect to practice on your own, just rerun it,
stop it where you’re feeling reactive, and then start practicing RAIN. An alleged
radio conversation between a US Naval ship and Canadian authorities, this is what,
how, what was recorded. Americans say, Please divert your course 15 degrees to
the north to avoid a collision. Canadians say,
Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.
The Americans, This is the captain of the US Navy ship, I say again,
divert your course. The Canadians, No, I say again, you need to divert your course.
The American, sternly, This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln,
the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic Fleet. We are accompanied
by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that
you change your course 15 degrees north. That’s 1-5 degrees north, or
counter measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.
Canadians, This is a lighthouse. Your call.
Okay, so let’s switch…we take the elements now and just slow it down, and
really look at what they mean. The recognizing and allowing
is really the heart of mindfulness. Mindfulness is really noticing
what’s happening moment to moment without any judgment. We’re just letting it be there.
So that’s the core piece of RAIN. And you might think of it in terms of
two questions. And one is, What is happening right now? The recognizing has
the question, What’s really happening? If you ask yourself right now,
you close your eyes and say, Well, what’s going on inside me right now?
And you might try it. And you’ll notice that the question
directs your attention in a way that there’s a little more contact
with what’s going on inside you right now. So, recognizing the questions, What’s
happening, or What’s going on inside me, and then there’s a naming that
really helps us to connect and contact the experience. And as I
mentioned before, if I, you might say, What’s happening inside me right now, and
you might say restlessness, or anxious, or my mind’s obsessing… It’s hard to
even feel what’s happening in my body. If you just name it, that’s
the recognizing. The second question… You’ve asked, what’s happening is,
Can I be with this? That’s for allowing… What’s happening? Can I be with this?
So, if you come out of tonight and all you can remember is the R and the A,
What’s happening and Can I be with this? But more and more you pause and ask those
questions, you’ll be more awake. Okay? All right, so we ask those two questions.
And to know that the recognizing and allowing creates a pause. That instead
of tumbling into our reactive behavior, whether it’s eating a bowl of ice cream,
or lashing out through an email that’s, you know, judgmental, or whatever it is…
We’ve paused. And as many of you know, one of my favorite quotes
from Victor Frankel is, Between the stimulus and
the response, there is a space. And in that space is your power and
your freedom. If you can pause in the midst
of a chain of, you know, very familiar habitual activity,
you have more choice. Okay? So the R and A create a pause. And then they
enable you to begin to investigate. Now, just to say, that there all
different degrees of recognizing and allowing. You might recognize and
notice, oh, I’m angry. And okay, let it be. Take a few breaths and try to
go in. And it may be very, very glancing. Or you might recognize and really get it.
And really allow, really let it be there. And then there’ll be much more
potential for investigating. We just, whatever level we go to, we go to. So then
we begin to investigate with interest and friendliness. One of my favorite stories,
that really kind of brings to life what it means to investigate our experience,
comes from a film, Gorillas in the Mist. And some of you might have seen it,
because in this film Diana Fossey is shown to be this amazing field biologist.
And she followed in the footsteps, her mentor was George Schaller.
He’s a primate biologist who would go into the wilds, and come back with amazing
information about the lifestyle and habits of gorillas.
So, he’d find, they…between them, they were able to really outline their
tribal structure and their family life, and the intimate habits. And when asked
how he was able to investigate and gather all this information, he
attributed it to just one thing. He said, I didn’t carry a gun.
The previous generations of biologists had gone into the wilds
with, you know, toting these guns and these very peaceful creatures had kind
of felt that energy and not revealed their habits.
So, I feel like this really gives us a window into the spirit of mindfulness, and
in particular, the attitude that we can bring when we investigate.
That it’s not judgmental. It’s really that we’re, just the way
you’d want to get to know a new friend. It’s like, what is really happening?
It’s an extension of that question of the R. What’s this really like? How am I
experiencing this? It’s a genuine quality of interest with the investigating.
And what we are investigating are really different domains of our reaction.
I mean, when I am investigating, I’m both investigating, you know,
what’s the feeling and the sensations going on…
And I’ll sometimes ask, Well, what am I believing right now?
And often, right away, I’ll go, Oh, I’m believing that I’m falling short.
Or I’m believing that that other person doesn’t like me. You know? It’ll be
right there, but I want to give you
a warning about the asking about beliefs. So, one domain, what I’m believing,
but then come back to the body. The big domain of investigation…
We’re out in the fields and looking at these wild creatures of
our being. It’s the felt sense. The felt sense is where it’s at. The more
you can investigate and sense the quality of sensations and the atmosphere in
your body, and what’s moving and where it is, the more you’ll understand
the whole dynamic of what’s going on. Now, as I said,
if you’re just investigating, but there’s in the background, some
judgment, there’s a gun, it won’t work. The parts of you that are most vulnerable
and most need attention will hide in the shadows. So I’ll say that again.
If there’s judgment when you’re investigating, it won’t work.
The only thing that dissolves the judgment that we have in such great supply
is a very purposeful quality of gentleness and
kindness. And hence, with the eye of investigating… It’s a double eye.
It’s investigate with an intimate attention. Okay? Does that make sense?
I mean, imagine if your child came home from school after being bullied and
you wanted to find out what happened. The only way
you’d be able to find out is if you created a space that was safe and
kind, so that the child felt like telling you. Well, there’s parts of
us that feel wounded and the only way that we’ll get in touch with that rawness or
tenderness is if there’s an intention to be kind.
You can’t manufacture kindness, but you can intend it because your
wisdom understands that that’s really what’s needed. You can intend it.
There’s an understanding that whatever we can’t, in some way, embrace with love or
kindness, imprisons us. It’ll stay hidden, and stay in control.
And another way this was put was a wonderful yoga teacher once said,
you know, Put your right arm over your left, and hug yourself. And she said,
And put your left hand over your right, and hug your evil twin.
So, what we’ve named so far…
Recognize, okay what’s happening? And then the allowing, let it be there…
Just pause… And then we’re deepening the attention, let’s investigate…
How does this feel? Is there a belief about life that’s playing in to this, and
looping around? You know, what’s really the felt sense in the moment?
There’s other questions you can ask. One question I’ll often ask is, you know,
What does this part of me need? What is it wanting? So you’re ending up
communicate…investigating by communicating in a way. But again,
beware of going into thinking, because the information is embodied.
That’s where the mileage will come from. So then we have developed this
‘presence with’… That’s what it is. It’s presence with what’s going on,
and that is what unfolds itself as the N of RAIN, and
we start to realize, Oh, the what I am is not that
self that was angry or victimized or whatever.
It’s this experience of presence and kindness,
loving awareness, and that’s the gift or blessing of RAIN.
Sometimes I use this metaphor of…that we come into life, we incarnate.
And because life is challenging and stressful, we all very naturally develop
a spacesuit to get through. And the ego itself, or
the spacesuit that’s kind of controlling and navigating, is quite natural.
The challenge is that we start identifying with the spacesuit,
and we forget who’s looking through the mask. We forget that tender
wakefulness of heart. We get identified with the defenses and the strategies.
So, what RAIN does, when we get identified in that, and
there’s kind of that rigidity, that edginess of ego…
RAIN does that gentle rain from the heavens as it starts softening,
and creates more of a kind of porous transparency to the spacesuit.
So we can remember the goodness and awareness, and love that’s here.
Doesn’t get rid of the spacesuit–we’re not trying to get rid of the ego.
We’re just trying to remember that who we are is not limited to the ego itself.
And that’s really important to remember. It’s like homecoming to
a larger sense of being. Couple of other comments on
using RAIN in this way… One is that you might do
a round of RAIN and it might not get to N. I have a lot of people that say,
Oh, I did but I just didn’t get to N. You know, I was, like, I was recognizing and
allowing it some… Beginning to investigate, but it still was there…
And so sometimes we don’t get somewhere… And almost it’s
part of what’s important is not to have a goal of getting to the end… But
more the intention, and the valuing of pausing and deepening our attention.
And you can trust, any time you’re caught in an old pattern, and
you pause and even just for a few moments, say, Well,
what’s going on? And can I be with this? That you’re beginning a rewiring…
That the neurocircuitry is beginning to change.
You are changing habits even with the most lightest version of an incomplete RAIN.
Okay? Mindfulness helps. And this is mindfulness. Now,
a few other challenges people come up with in doing this. And one of the big ones is,
I make a big emphasis with the investigation to come to the felt sense.
But what if you check in and you can’t find any felt sense?
In fact, you can’t really feel your body very well? So, what I would
encourage with the investigating is to just invite the feelings to be there and
notice what happens, and don’t worry if you can’t connect with your body.
You know, scan through your body, try to notice, but
just putting out the inquiry… What’s happening? How does this feel?
Where do I feel this? And doing that over and over again, the invitation is
what counts. The intention is what counts. You are beginning to bring attention
to what’s there, and it will unfold itself as it’s meant to.
I like it… There’s these little beeps that are coming to accentuate the point.
All right, I’m going to give you one more example and
then I’d like to practice together. And this example’s one some of
you might remember from my life, and it’s an example of when the patterning is very,
very deep and emotional, and challenging. And one of the most important RAIN
experiences I had was, somewhere in the midst of being pretty sick,
because I was pretty ill for about eight years on and off during that time…
And, at one point I’d injured myself and I was kind of out, you know,
out of things for a couple of weeks, and pretty physically uncomfortable and
just miserable…like kind of pessimistic and just in a bad mood.
So, I, you know, ask…sometimes ask the question, What’s between me and
really being at peace with how it is? And I started meditating, and
then realized that I was in a really irritable kind of state of mind.
So I did RAIN more formally. And I’d recognize and allowed that,
okay, I’m irritable, I’m miserable, I’m unhappy… Let it be there,
and it was just a big swamp. But as I started to investigate, I asked that
question, What am I believing? And it wasn’t about the sickness,
it was…something is basically wrong with me, and it’s for how I’m being
a bad patient, a bad sick person. So, it wasn’t just that I was sick, but
I didn’t like the kind of sick person that I was becoming. I didn’t like my
self-centeredness. And, just to unpack that a little,
there was a sense like, well, I teach about equanimity and
having…being the ocean and having these waves come and go.
And here I am, completely swamped by the waves and
in a bad mood. You know, I’m not being true to what I’m teaching, you know, and
I’m getting really caught and I’m being kind of narrow-minded, and
no fun to be around… So I was down on myself. When I saw that belief, Oh,
something’s wrong is with me. Then I could feel into my body and there was shame,
there was a sense of a kind of a hollow, achy, you know, feeling that I
just wanted to disappear. And I kept investigating, but as I investigated,
I put my hand on my heart. And I find for me, the intimacy part of RAIN really helps
to have a very light touch on the heart. It’s as if I’m keeping company
in a kind way… And I sense that that place that felt so ashamed
just wanted some message of kindness. So I often use these words,
It’s okay, sweetheart. You know, some message of kindness…
Recognize, allow, investigate, bring an intimate attention… And as I
sat and breathed and sent that kind of message in, there was an opening…
There was more space, more tenderness… And again, it’s what I call
a real shift in identify from the egoic self that felt sick and
miserable and bad about herself for how she was being sick and miserable,
to a space of presence and kindness. That’s the gift. So, what that story,
the reason I share that story, is a very important ingredient
when you’re practicing RAIN, and when there’s a lot of stickiness,
is the quality of self-compassion. And the more active it is,
the more full it is…the more that the knots untangle…and there’s
a resting in something larger.

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