We’ve all seen the images of serene young women meditating on a sunset-drenched beach. There are times when meditation feels calm and relaxed. But sometimes, there’s agitation, physical discomfort and uncomfortable mental states or emotions. When meditation doesn’t fit the serenity image, we often think we’re just not doing it right. Truth is, mindfulness is about being present with whatever is arising, no matter how uncomfortable the present moment might be. That’s where RAIN practice can be a tremendous help.
RAIN practice is a method for being with whatever is arising, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant the present moment is. RAIN is an acronym for steps we can use to identify, accept and experience whatever is arising. The practice was first developed by Insight Meditation teacher Michele McDonald. Authors such as Tara Brach and Diana Winston have written about it and added it to their teaching curricula.
What is RAIN Practice?
R stands for recognizing what is happening in a given moment. It’s often easy to predict how particular situations, thoughts or memories might trigger us. But if we don’t recognize what is present, we often end up projecting and blaming our discomfort on someone or something else. So recognizing what is present is an important step toward moderating our response to difficulty.
A stands for allowing physical, mental or emotional state that’s present. We’ve all learned that certain mental states and/or emotions are culturally acceptable, while others are not. Love, happiness, kindness, calm and generosity are some of the “good” states. Anger, sadness, jealousy, resentment and frustration are some of the “bad” states. But reality is, all of these states visit every one of us from time to time. They are not a reflection of who we are. They are not permanent conditions. Certain emotions and mental states may not be our preference, but we need not fall into judging ourselves because they are present.
I stands for investigating what is present. This is, for me, the meat of RAIN practice. We investigate the sensations associated with the mental state or emotion arising in our bodies. For example, what does anger feel like? Where does it reside? What are the sensations—heat, flushing, vibration, etc.? Do the sensations change? Do they wax and wane? Connecting directly with the physical sensations allows us to drop below the level of thinking. This is crucial, because our thoughts can feed and prolong our mental/emotional states.
N stands for either of two concepts—non-identification or nurturing. McDonald’s original model uses the former. Practicing non-identification is to remember that these passing energies are not who we are. Pema Chodron famously said, “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.” Mental/emotional states are like clouds passing through the sky. We don’t own them. They are not who we are.
An Alternative Ending to RAIN Practice
Tara Brach has adopted “nurture” as the final step. Investigating uncomfortable mental/emotional states can be intense. Sometimes we can feel a bit battered after the investigation stage. It’s hard, often humbling, work, so doing something to nurture ourselves afterward can bring balance. You could do a short self-metta practice. Or simply do something you love. Take a walk in nature, or a spin around your neighborhood. Spend time with your companion animal(s). Take a relaxing nap. Of course, you can practice both non-identification and nurturing if that works best for you.
RAIN practice gives us a framework for working with challenging situations. Once we become comfortable with practicing RAIN while we meditate, we can extend it into our daily lives. Stepping back and giving attention to our mental/emotional state can prevent us from reacting in unskillful ways. It can also help us unwind the tendency to judge ourselves and others. RAIN practice can help us find peace, even in the midst of difficulty.