In the field of Buddhist psychology and mindfulness-based psychotherapy, there’s a simple, but powerful tool known by the acronym RAIN (Recognize, Accept, Investigate, Non-Identify). By fostering greater awareness, understanding and acceptance, this four-step practice can bring a sense of inner peace and calm during times of stress and hardship.
“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart.
…live in the question.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Overview: this post provides instructions on how to use the RAIN tool, along with links to other descriptions of this technique, including a short video by meditation instructor Dr. Christiane Wolf.
What is inner peace? Feeling ease in your body and mind. Being in the moment vs. obsessing over the past or future. Having thoughts that are creative and new. Experiencing a sense of contentment and confidence, despite what’s happening on the outside.
What is the opposite of inner peace? Feeling agitated, restless, frustrated or bored. Holding a grudge. Replaying worries over and over again in one’s mind. Pining over something we want, but don’t have.
The RAIN tool outlined below is one useful way to work with difficult emotional states that are blocking the path to inner peace and present-centered living. I recommend spending a minimum of 5 minutes working through these steps and longer if you’d like. You can do this as a standalone exercise, or integrate it into your regular meditation practice.
1.) R = Recognize
Step one: recognize whatever you’re experiencing.
Notice the lack of ease you’re experiencing by naming it: “I’m really unsettled right now. I feel _____” (agitated, angry, worried, etc). Take a moment to simply pay attention to whatever is arising in you, rather than ignoring or minimizing it.
2.) A = Accept
Step two: bring an attitude of acceptance to your experience.
When we’re not feeling inner peace, our usual instinct is to fight or push away the negative emotions or thoughts we’re having. But, sometimes, this just makes things worse. In contrast, this step is about cultivating a tolerance for whatever is happening.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a prescription for passivity or inaction. Acceptance in this context refers to choosing an internal attitude along the lines of: “Ok, this is the hand I’ve been dealt. I may not like it, but it’s what’s here now.”
When accepting the reality of your current experience, some inner tension releases, and it’s often easier to be clear about what next steps to take to help your cause.
Pause for a moment after working with this step. Notice what happens when you bring an attitude of acceptance. It’s not uncommon to have a sort of back and forth, where you let go and accept for a moment, and then return to a place of wanting things to be different. Continue to gently bring yourself back to a place of internal acceptance, as best you can.
3.) I = Investigate
Step three is about investigating your experience on a deeper level.
You want to do this with an attitude of gentleness toward yourself, exploring the experience with a sense of curiosity, openness and non-judgment. Adding a slight tone of levity or humor can also be helpful with this step.
You can ask yourself questions like “what thoughts are going through my mind right now as I notice this anxiety?” “What am I feeling on a physical level, in my body?” Perhaps you’re feeling things like tension, your heart racing, or a slight shortness of breath.
You can then ask yourself “What am I doing in response to what I’m noticing?” This refers to the cognitions and behaviors that follow your emotional and physical sensations.
Notice what happens if you pay attention to your experience without trying to change anything? Alternatively, what happens when you try to push the unpleasantness away?
With this step, you are essentially bringing a touch of kindness to yourself and your experience. There is some type of pain driving the agitation, worry, or anger; meeting pain with compassion can be transformational and healing.
4.) N = Non-Identification
Non-identification is essentially how the Buddhists say: “don’t take anything personally.” That’s what this final step is about – not taking whatever is happening as a reflection on you and recognizing that it’s something many people experience, too.
Emotional states like fear, anger and restlessness are universal to our species. They are also impermanent. They may feel like they’re going to last forever, but they never do, since all feeling states come and go. So, it’s important to recognize these as painful, but not defining experiences. Our true nature as human beings goes much deeper.
Using the ocean as a metaphor, this step provides an opportunity to notice the calm that’s below the surface of agitation. On top, there are waves moving about and lots of activity, but as you go deeper, the water is more still and peaceful. Try to distance yourself from the surface details, noticing they’re there, but not taking them so personally.
In this fourth step of non-identification, remind yourself of the collective nature of things – that what you’re experiencing is something that many others on the planet have also contended with. Sometimes, just the process of recognizing this – that you’re not the only one – can transform the experience from one of discomfort to greater ease.
Like other mindfulness tools, the R-A-I-N practice can create a sense of spaciousness around the cause of your discord. While your particular circumstances may not have changed, your perspective likely will shift to one that feels less tight and more flexible. You can now relax – at least to some extent – into this new, broader outlook. From this vantage point of greater calm and peace, you’re more likely to take skillful action that is in your best interest, not causing harm to yourself or another.
Note: since learning can be facilitated by reading/hearing about something from different perspectives, below are links to how others have described the RAIN tool.
Jack Kornfield, PhD: http://www.jackkornfield.org/articles/dharmaandpolitics.php (toward bottom of page)
Tara Brach, PhD: http://www.tarabrach.com/articles/RAIN-WorkingWithDifficulties.html
Rick Hanson, PhD: http://www.wildmind.org/blogs/on-practice/let-it-r-a-i-n
Short video of Dr. Christiane Wolf, of Insight LA: