The Silver Thread: RAIN
When my clients are trying to understand a mindfulness approach to their problems, they often tell me that in the midst of being anxious, depressed or traumatized, they forget how to be systematically mindful. Their suffering carries them away, and, like a runaway train, all the tools they have learned are lost. In the face of their complaint, I often provide a type of mnemonic model to invoke a state of calmness and reflection, and ultimately transformation of their mental state.
One popular model for this transformation is RAIN: Recognition, Acceptance, Investigation, and Non-identification.
Recognition: Recognition is the opposite of denial. It is our willingness to face squarely what is happening at that moment. We must first start with a realistic appraisal of our situation. It may be a clear appraisal of our current circumstance: “Yes, my husband wants a divorce!” “My boss cannot even remember my name!” Or, it may be our internal mental state, “I am angry.” “I am wounded!”
As people, we have “acceptable” definitions of who we are and how we function. When we have experiences that deviate from that acceptable self-definition, we deny. “I’m not angry!” “I am too valuable, my boss would never let me go.”
Our first task is to be honest with ourselves, to observe, unfiltered, the panoply of our mental states and the reality of our situation.
When I begin working with patients, I stress the necessity of developing an observational mind, a mind that sees clearly, unclouded by emotion or self-image.
Acceptance. We have two states of mind: The reactive mind responds to events with “hedonistic appraisal” meaning that if the event is what we wish it to be, we accept it. But if the event violates our desires, we “react” with states of suffering like anger, sadness or obsession.
The other state of mind is observational. The observational mind processes information and accepts it as it is. For several years, I consulted in rehab facilities. I often had to tell family members that a relative had dementia or that they might soon die. Some friends and relatives responded with denial and afflictive emotions. They cried, got angry or targeted me as a mistaken. Others processed the information and then mobilized their resources to meet the situation with calmness, clarity and effective problem solving.
Accepting things as they are does not mean we cannot change them, but simply that this is the way things are at the current time. It mobilizes our courage to face the world as it is, and find workable solutions within the framework of reality.
Investigation. This involves gaining a deeper understanding of what we are experiencing. We experience events through bodily sensations, through feelings, and through thoughts or narrative. Rather than react to situations, the mindful approach emphasizes deepening our understanding of what we are experiencing. We go inward and explore. Rather than react to a situation, we move inward and observe our bodily sensations, our feelings and thoughts. Such observation is like a tranquilizer for the mind. Observation mitigates affect or feelings, and thus allows us to go inward and see what is happening. Through observation we do not project our feelings onto others, we do not get lost by obsessing, or flooded by emotion; we do not repress. Observation deepens our understanding and enables us to ride out the emotion. We learn about ourselves rather than misusing the same energy to impart suffering. On others or ourselves.
Non-identification. Identification occurs when we hold on to or allow an event to dominate our life. When this occurs, sadness becomes depression; fear becomes anxiety, confusion morphs into delusion. In reality, a feeling lasts less than a minute, unless we become fixed on that feeling. Identification occurs when we fix on the feeling-narrative and we experience that feeling as us. It becomes a permanent part of our personality.
Non-identification occurs when we put distance between us and our feeling through observation, not identification. Through observation we get out of the way and allow the feeling to follow a natural trajectory, of rising, falling, and disappearing. We allow the feelings to be transient. I call this process the screen-door. Everything passes through the screen door but nothing sticks.
We cannot escape the pain of living, but we can eliminate suffering through non-identification. Through non-identification, we let go and move on to the next experience. This restores the natural vitality and harmony of life.
See Jack Kornfield, The Wise Heart, for a detailed look at the RAIN paradigm.