A Mindful Way to Process Our Feelings

We know it’s important to deal with our feelings and love ourselves. But how can we do that when we’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed?

Amidst the stress of modern-day life, we often live in a haze. Things happen at work or in relationships that we don’t have time (or take time) to process. Life happens, but we’re often not present for it.  We might take better care of ourselves emotionally if we can find a structure or process for being with difficult or uncomfortable feelings as they arise. 

Healing R.A.I.N.

R.A.I.N. is an acronym coined by mindfulness teacher Michele McDonald. It has been adapted by many teachers of mindfulness, including best-selling authors Tara Brach  and Rick Hanson. I find R.A.I.N. to be very compatible with Eugene Gendlin’s somatic approach of Focusing. A central aspect of this approach is to bring a gentle, caring attitude toward our feelings and uncover whatever meanings they may hold for us  

I have here adapted the R.A.I.N. process in a way that dovetails with my understanding of Focusing (so any flaws in my adaptation are my own and not those of its creator, Michelle McDonald).

R = Recognize: Notice what you are experiencing right now in your inner life, such as irritation or anger when someone speaks to you with a cold, critical tone of voice. Or perhaps you recognize sadness when someone doesn’t return your phone call or isn’t available to see you. Or, as you attune to our inner experience, you might notice fear as you consider reaching out to someone you want to date.

Just recognize what you’re feeling. 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.

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

Often the 2 steps above are enough for the feeling to shift, release, or open up! But sometimes the next two steps are helpful.

I = Inquire or Investigate: Have an attitude of interest, kindness, curiosity, and openness to what you’re feeling inside—not an intellectual analysis but a gentle exploration: How do you feel in your body? What is this anger or frustration about? Maybe something deeper will come. For example, a person you wanted to have a relationship with is not reciprocating your interest. Beneath your frustration or anger there might be a softer feeling of sadness, hurt, or loss. Or you might feel shame — believing that something is wrong with you because the person doesn’t want a relationship with you.  

As you bring kindness toward yourself, you might realize that the relationship was not meant to be. It might occur to you that you don’t really want to be with someone who doesn’t want to be with you. You might find relief to realize you don’t need to criticize yourself. And it’s ok to give yourself permission to feel sad about it.

N = Not-identify: Allow all of your feelings, but without getting too attached to them.

Who you are is not defined by your ever-changing feelings. We have sadness, shame, fear, or anger, but we are not those feelings. Life is a river. Our human emotions come and go. Teachers of mindfulness often remind us that if we cling to anything too tightly, we create suffering.

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. Hold them gently, hold them 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.

Life happens. R.A.I.N offers a structure to be with what happens in a mindful way. The next time you notice difficult feelings, you might want to apply R.A.I.N. to your experience and see if it helps you find a little more inner peace.

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