Updated: Oct 8, 2022
"The RAIN practice can help you experience difficult feelings in a balanced way: so that when you get wet, you do not drown." -Lidia Zylowska, MD
Some of society’s explicit and implicit messages tell us that certain emotions are OK to show while others we should sweep under the rug… This frequently leads us to try to shut them down when certain emotions start to arise, such as anger and sadness, and we learn to employ different strategies to be able to turn our backs on them and not let them show. What usually happens is this limits our awareness of what is happening within us and they tend to come out in less than optimal ways, sometimes what started as ‘upsetting’ becomes intense anger that blows up like a volcano; other times, we employ strategies to distract us from the pain or numb us, which can equally have undesired consequences for us.
RAIN is a mindfulness technique that serves as a tool to explore our emotions as we Recognize, Accept, Investigate, and separate from the emotion (I like to visualize it as ‘sitting next to our emotions’) through Non-identification.
“Oh, you’re here.”
The first step in this process is to take a deep breath, slow breath; preferably in a comfortable position, in a place where you feel safe. We start the RAIN exercise by recognizing what is there. You can use the following questions to guide you, sometimes allowing time for these images, thoughts, and feelings to express themselves: What is happening inside of me? What sensations am I feeling in my body? Where am I feeling this?
Our words have power, naming or labeling what you are feeling (anger, sadness, happiness, embarrassment, shame, numbness) is an important step in self-regulation.
“That’s alright. I am here with you. There’s space for all of us.”
We follow this step by accepting whatever came up. Acceptance doesn’t mean you are glad this visitor came, maybe you are, maybe you are not, and maybe you don’t know yet if you want it to stay (maybe you are wary because they have overstayed their welcome). Research has shown that an important component of mindfulness is non-judgment. For example, if I am noticing that I am feeling sad and start saying to myself “Here I go again. Why can’t I just get over it?” How would I ever get a nice conversation out of it? I’d probably make myself even sadder, and angry. You can view accepting as making space for what you are feeling, for the thoughts and images coming in… just long enough so you can investigate what they are trying to tell you and see how they are within you but they are not you.
“Can you tell me more about that?”
Investigate with compassionate curiosity. Are there layers to what you are feeling? Do you have a combination of feelings? What is the primary thing that jumps at you/ Who has a louder voice? Remember to keep your deep, slow breathing in mind, if things become overwhelming you can always go back to your breath. Counting as you inhale and exhale can relieve some of the built tension or anxiety you might feel; make the exhale twice as long as your inhale (for example inhale for 4 seconds, exhale for 6) sends a message to your nervous system to calm down.
Remember you recognize where these feelings and sensations felt in your body? Focus on that area. Don’t try to give a story to it, just pay attention to it. You may ask, “what do you need?”. Sometimes, if you are nervous a little shake helps. Is what you need words of affirmation? What do you need to hear right there and then? How can you compassionately hold space for yourself? There might be times when you can’t do anything about it, consider drinking a glass of water, playing some music, singing, and living on! Think of the best way to take care of yourself at that moment. Sometimes you will recognize that what you need is a connection to others, after all, we are social beings! Take care of yourself at that moment and brainstorm later how you can plan for the future so you can find compassionate others who you can connect with.
“That’s you, not me.”
Dr. Danie Siegel gives a simple but powerful example of non-identification in his book Mindsight: consider the difference between these statements:
“I feel sad.”
“I am sad.”
The first one is the recognition of emotion. Sadness is an emotion that has been suggested as being a primary universal emotion we share not only with other humans but with other animals as well. Emotions are neither good nor bad, they are messages brought on by neurophysiological states in response to the inter (outside) and intra (inside) environment. These messages might be telling us “Oh, I want more of that!”, “Nope. Let’s get out of here”, or “Hmm, let’s be cautious.”.
However, the second is saying that “sad” is part of my being. Is part of what defines me right now. I am not only feeling it, I am it. If I am able to create a space between “sad” and “Self” I can start a dialogue and negotiate the terms of our relationship.
Note to the reader:
Some authors use "Nurture" or "Natural Awareness" for the "N" in the acronym. I have chosen "non-identification" because it is what works best for me personally. At times we become attached to the story or explanation we give to our feelings and absorbed by the sensations that it only serves as intensifiers (do people still use the metaphor of Popeye and spinach?). It’s like we get angrier by the fight we had in our heads than by the actual event! Sounds familiar? That’s why I have chosen “non-identification” for this technique. By all means, do what works best for you! You can find other writings using the “natural awareness” and try it out, how did it work for you? Feel free to share in the comment section!
Thaina Cordero is a Certified Sexologist and Care Coordinator at Cypress Wellness Center. She has an MS in Educational Psychology, is a trauma-informed yoga teacher, and doctoral student of Clinical Sexology at Modern Sex Therapy Institute. She has completed Levels 1 and 2 of Clinical Foundations in Gottman Method Couples Therapy. She helps individuals and couples explore their sexual expression, needs, fantasies, preferences, curiosities, and difficulties as they create more pleasurable, satisfying, and fulfilling sex life and relationships. Click here to request an appointment.