Photo by Ryoji Iwata

“April showers bring May flowers.” Or, as Thich Nhat Hanh put it, “No mud, no lotus.” Trials, which can be hard to bear, often spur growth. Beautiful blossoming, even. Yet when too much difficult stuff hits us all at once, we can feel swamped, sodden, struggling to breathe.

As we move into year three of the pandemic, and the world continues to pile on change and challenges, I find my fatigue expressing itself as self-blame. The mundane troubles of parenting, partnering, friendship, and work seem larger and heavier than before. Dark thoughts creep in under the radar and take up residence in my mind:

  • I should be able to handle this.
  • If I was doing it right, I wouldn’t be so __________ (tired, impatient, distracted, etc.).
  • What is wrong with you?

Exhausted, depleted, fuzzy-headed, crabby, overwhelmed, done — I feel it all. Then, adding water to the downpour, I pile on self-criticism. The torrents keep coming and I am getting soaked. Where’s an umbrella when I need one?

More and more, I’ve been turning to the practice of R.A.I.N. Developed by Michele McDonald, this simple, structured meditation develops insight and equanimity. By turning toward our challenges with curiosity and kindness, we may be able to illuminate the true nature of the pain and provide some relief.

To be clear, we don’t have to dress up every trauma as an opportunity for growth. Racism, discrimination, abuse — sometimes, our triumph is simply to have survived. To be here, still. That’s enough.

Photo by LuAnn Hunt

R.A.I.N. is not a practice of denying the difficult, nor is it a problem-solving technique. Rather, it’s a way of seeing clearly what’s here (since it’s here whether we like it or not), and finding a way to help ourselves. Noticing the way we’re relating to a challenge can open up space for a different response — one that reduces rather than adds to suffering. You might give it a try and see if it’s supportive for you.

Here are the steps of the R.A.I.N. practice. Tara Brach offers some wonderful practices online and in her book, Radical Compassion. You can also listen to recordings on our website HERE. This may seem like a lot, but once you get the structure down, it can happen pretty quickly.

R is for Recognize

So often we blow past difficulty. Push it down, push it away, push ahead. Can you notice this is here, this tough moment, and pause? You might say, Oh! Suffering is here. Recognizing what’s here is the first step.

A is for Allow

Then, can you allow space for it to just be here? Make room for things to be just as they are? Not that it’s OKAY that you’re suffering, just the fact that you are struggling now. As a teacher friend says, “There’s air in the room to breathe with whatever’s here.” This is how it is right now. Allowing it to be so.

I is for Investigate

Now that you’ve made room for this challenge, sit down beside it. What is happening here? Investigating this difficulty more deeply.

Sense into the body and investigate where you’re carrying this pain. You might notice where it’s located. Maybe you feel tense shoulders, a roiling gut, or a heaviness. How does it feel in the body to struggle in this way?

Check in with the emotions: How is the heart? What are you feeling? Sadness, anger, fear, fatigue, overwhelm? Sometimes there’s clarity here; sometimes it’s a mix or unclear.

Now check out the mind. What are you believing about yourself? Is there a belief that you’re unworthy, unlovable, doing it wrong, not enough?

Maybe you discover, Wow, I’m so lonely. I’m scared. I’m judging myself harshly. I don’t feel safe. I’m exhausted. What is it for you? Even though it can be tough to face these difficult realizations, it can also be a relief to acknowledge what’s actually happening.

N is for Nourish & Non-Identify

The next step is to nourish yourself, to offer yourself just what you need in this moment. Offer yourself kindness. You might say to yourself, I’m sorry it’s so hard. I see how hard you’re trying. Or maybe just, Awwwww, honey. Hang in there.

Self-kindness can be warm; it can also be fierce. If you’re facing discrimination based on your identity, harassment, or conflict, you might instead offer protection: I’ve got your back. I’ll stand up for you. I see and value you. Often, you may need both tender and fierce compassion.

And don’t forget the body! Feeling into the area where you feel this difficulty most, you might invite a gentle softening, or a sense of warmth. You could skip words entirely and work directly with sensations in the body to bring ease.

Once we’ve offered ourselves kindness, can we take a step back and see: even though this difficulty is here, it is not all that I am. This is the powerful shift of Non-Identification. Yes, it’s hard right now. AND I am loving and living and moving through this world as best I can. AND I’m not alone: all over the world, people just like me are suffering in this way. AND there’s a whole world of beauty out there, trees and flowers and subways and coffee pots and pets, good food, loved ones – sensing into a feeling of wholeness, of expansion. Holding the difficulty in the midst of all there is. It’s here, but it’s not all of me.

damp orange flowers in a field

by Alexander Sinn

As I write this, blue sky is breaking through the clouds. There’s even a little sun poking through! And yet another downpour is surely on its way. That’s the way the weather works: storms, clouds, rain, sun, all moving through. The next time your horizon clouds over, or you feel heavy and dark, you might check out R.A.I.N.

No matter how you practice, may spring flowers find you and offer you their blooms.

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