It’s still snow season here in Colorado. Yet the other night, I had the opportunity to practice RAIN. This practice of radical compassion from teacher/author Tara Brach, reminds me a lot of Mussar.
It started after I had done extensive research, right before bed, on a choice a family member had made. The more I read about it, the more I thought it was an inappropriate decision. It was too late to call them, and I was pretty sure they didn’t have all the facts I now had. I was filled with emotional distress and anxiety. I restlessly perseverated as I tried to fall asleep, so I decided to try RAIN to help me settle down for the night.
The RAIN acronym stands for: Recognize. Allow the experience. Investigate. Nurture yourself.
R: Recognize what’s going on. Translated into my Mussar practice, it means mindfulness, being in the moment, aware and awake to the thoughts and emotions that were tormenting me. I acknowledged that I was feeling fear, worry, disappointment, frustration and lack of control. A choice had been made without consulting me, and I was beset by a sense of powerless.
A: Allow the experience. At first, after recognizing what I was feeling, I tried to bury my emotions. “Just shut up and go to sleep,” I told myself. “It’s no big deal. Why are you so upset? Repeat your mantras. Try deep breathing.” Nothing was working. My thoughts were caught in a vicious vortex, drowning out all possibility of peaceful meditation. It was like trying to subdue the noise of a jackhammer with a cotton ball in my ear. So instead of resisting, I relinquished. I moved to the second step of RAIN – allowing the experience. Rather than burying the feelings, I gave myself permission to feel the depth of them; to have the courage to pause and pay attention to what was happening mentally, emotionally and physically. “Yes, I am deeply troubled. Sit with it for a moment. Feel it. Acknowledge it,” I thought.
I: Investigate. After being mindful about what was happening and allowing myself to feel it on every level, I was able to make the choice of calling on curiosity rather than judgment. Why did this seemingly minor incident create such a storm of emotional distress? My mind was incessantly cycling through the same questions of ‘why,’ ‘what if,’ and ‘how.’ My emotions lurched from fear to frustration and back again. Tara Brach suggests stepping away from conceptualizing and bringing attention to the felt-sense in the body. And so I did. I discovered that my pulse was racing; my body was restless; there was a pit in my stomach and an ache in my head. I let myself feel it deeply, viscerally, before moving on to the next step.
N: Nurture yourself with self-compassion. Rachamim, compassion, is a core Mussar principle. The word comes from the Hebrew, rechem, which means womb, and represents the strong bond of love between a mother and the child in her belly. While in Mussar we talk a lot about compassion for the other, it takes self-compassion to get there. Nurturing myself during this experience meant sensing what I needed and providing it. I discovered what I craved most was to bring in the middot of trust, courage and honor – of myself and others.
After going through the four steps, I was pleasantly surprised at how I suddenly felt at peace. My heart rate slowed, my body relaxed, the noisy internal chatter ceased. I fell asleep and woke with an alternative choice to present to my loved one. I sent a brief text and then called. When I could share my information and thoughts with love and honor rather than frustration and fear, my suggestion was accepted with gratitude. They made a different choice. And even if they hadn’t, the experience provided much needed calm and perspective.
RAIN had nurtured me and allowed the seeds of compassion - for myself and others – to grow.