Our feet made that squishy sound as my dog, Olive and I walked across the yard to empty the rain gauge this morning. Blessed rain, well over an inch. I’ve been emptying the rain gauge frequently lately with such relief for what just may be an almost normal amount of autumn rainfall. I don’t really know if it’s normal, but whatever amount of rain we get, we need. And I’m grateful for muddy feet, mine and the dog’s.
It’s been a crazy busy fall; packed tight with work, school, teaching and writing requiring as much of me as I can muster. I cannot remember another time like this, except perhaps the earliest years of my children’s lives who arrived just sixteen months apart. That, too, required everything of me.
This is a cycle, of course, and it will change. Some days are more difficult than others, and it’s certainly nothing to take personally. It’s simply what’s happening because other things are happening. Yet it’s easy to fall in the gutter of wanting things to be different, and struggle with the stickiness of contention; like stepping in soft already-been-chewed bubble gum that sticks to the ground and the bottom of my shoe with each step. I cannot get free until I stop, check out the problem, and deliberately peel the gum from my shoe even if it means getting some dirty, icky gum under my fingernails.
From the perspective of mindfulness, everything we experience is okay because mindfulness includes the full range of our experiences. Whatever is happening is happening. What we do about it is another story. So how do we manage those times that feel unmanageable? How do we tame the automatic not-so-helpful reactions of the mind on overload and come back to balance?
In Buddhist practice, the acronym RAIN stands for
- Accept or Acknowledge
- Non-Identification or Not Taking Things Personally
RAIN is a regular and reliable form of practice that allows us to see things for what they are and work with them with skill and wisdom.
When we’re caught in reactivity of any kind, from the most painful to the most exuberant thoughts or emotions, recognition of these states themselves is the first step. We pause long enough to see what’s there. Sometimes we can’t identify what’s happening, but with time and repeated exposure to whatever mind state presents itself, we get to know it and recognize it for what it is.
The next step is accepting or acknowledging their reality, not in the sense of accepting something as okay that clearly isn’t, but by acknowledging “Okay, this is how it is.” (I prefer acknowledge to accept. It seems more pertinent to the intent of the practice.) Once we recognize what’s what, it’s easier to make space for the thoughts or emotions by loosening the grip of contention around whatever is present.
We can then investigate how these states actually feel in the body, mind and heart; be it frustration, anger, anxiety, excitement, joy or contentment. They all land somewhere. The practice is to be willing, curious and sometimes even courageous enough to really investigate how they feel. It’s hard to willingly step into a messy, gooey pot of resentment. But when we do, we often find that the intensity and volume of the emotion or the repetitive story line quiets. And even if they don’t, we still may gain a little more insight into their nature and how they affect us.
Lastly, when we get to know how varying mind states feel, we often see how reliably they change. Things happen because other things happen. One thing leads to another and then another carrying with it associated thoughts and emotions. It’s from this direct experience of R-A-I that we understand N, non-identification or not taking things personally. It’s not about me. It’s just what’s happening. That doesn’t mean that we don’t make skillful choices to change things in wise ways, but it allows us to get out of the center of our own stories, broadening our perspective.
As we move into the darkest time of year, I hope the rain keeps falling, that my workload lightens, and that RAIN will continue to help me manage what comes.