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Radical Acceptance: A Gentle Way to Be With Our Feelings

A mindful path to self-regulation.

Pexels image by Peng Louis
Source: Pexels image by Peng Louis

We often hear that it is important to love ourselves and embrace our true feelings. But how can we soothe ourselves when we’re feeling overwhelmed—when our inner resources aren’t available to deal with external challenges?

Due to the stress and frenzied pace of modern-day life, we often live on automatic pilot. Things happen at work or in relationships that we don’t have time—or take time—to process. We can take better care of ourselves emotionally if we can find a structure, process, or tool for dealing with uncomfortable feelings as they arise so that they don't pile up and diminish our aliveness.

Healing RAIN

RAIN is an acronym coined by mindfulness teacher Michele McDonald. It has been adapted by many teachers of mindfulness, including Tara Brach and Rick Hanson. I find it to be a helpful complement to Eugene Gendlin’s somatic approach of Focusing. The central attitude of Focusing is to bring a gentle, caring presence to our feelings and uncover whatever meanings they may hold for us.

I have here adapted RAIN in a way that dovetails with the Focusing attitude (so any flaws in my adaptation are my own and not those of its creator, Michele McDonald).

R = Recognize: When something comes up in your life that is difficult or challenging, the first step is to pause, bring your attention inside yourself and notice what you are experiencing right now. Are you noticing anger or shame when someone speaks to you in a critical, accusatory way? Or perhaps you recognize sadness or hurt when someone doesn’t return your phone call or isn’t available to see you. Or, as you attend to our inner, bodily-felt experience, you might notice fear as you consider reaching out to someone you’d like to see.

The simple (though not always easy) practice is to recognize what you’re noticing inside apart from your thoughts about it. How does it feel in your body? Is your stomach tight or queasy? Is your chest or throat constricted? Be curious about what you’re experiencing without judging yourself or trying to bypass the feeling.

A = Accepting and Allowing: Acknowledge your experience and allow it to be as it is, even if unpleasant. Is it ok to let your feelings be there without trying to change them or fix yourself? Be gentle and friendly with whatever feelings you’re noticing. Have compassion toward yourself instead of being self-critical or ashamed of what you’re feeling. Do you judge yourself as weak or believe something is wrong with you for feeling what you feel? Feelings are simply how life speaks to us. Allow the life inside you to be just how it is right now.

Often the two steps above—simply allowing ourselves to notice and allow our experience to be as it is—are enough for the feeling to shift, release, or open up. But sometimes the next two steps are helpful.

I = Inquire or Investigate: This is not an intellectual analysis but rather a gentle exploration of what you’re experiencing inside. As your attention gently rests inside your body, do you get any sense of what this anger or frustration is about? Maybe something deeper will emerge as you gently hold this question inside you. Perhaps a person you wanted to befriend is not reciprocating your interest. Beneath your frustration or anger, there might be a more vulnerable feeling of sadness, hurt, or loss. Or you might feel shame — thinking that there’s something wrong with you because the person isn't interested rather than realizing that they may have reasons that have nothing to do with you.

As you bring kindness toward yourself, you might realize that the relationship was not meant to be and that you don’t really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you. Perhaps you will find some relief by simply allowing yourself to feel sad about that without the added burden of criticizing yourself.

N = Not-identify: Teachers of mindfulness often remind us that if we cling to anything too tightly, we create suffering. Allow all of your feelings, but without getting too identified with them. Who you are is much larger than your ever-changing feelings. Sadness, shame, fear, or anger are like clouds passing in the sky. You are not those feelings.

Our True Self is larger than our problems or emotions. Feelings, thoughts, and sensations come and go, but they don’t define who we are. Do your best to hold them gently and lightly. Find the right distance from feelings. Not so close that we merge with them… and not so far away that we avoid, deny, or bypass them.

Meditation teacher Tara Brach defines the “N” in RAIN as Nurturing. As she puts it:

“Try to sense what the wounded, frightened or hurting place inside you most needs, and then offer some gesture of active care that might address this need. Does it need a message of reassurance? Of forgiveness? Of companionship? Of love? Experiment and see which intentional gesture of kindness most helps to comfort, soften or open your heart. It might be the mental whisper, I’m here with you…I’m listening. It’s not your fault. Trust in your goodness.”

As you come to a completion, bring a nurturing sense of appreciation to yourself for having taken time to be with your feelings in this gentle way. Take whatever time you like to dwell in the quality of tender awakeness or spacious presence that might have opened for you.

Life happens. RAIN offers a structure to be with what happens in a mindful way. The next time you notice difficult feelings, you might want to experiment with applying RAIN to your experience and see if it brings a little more peace into your heart.

© John Amodeo