When I was just beginning to get interested in spirituality and meditation, I stumbled upon Buddhist teacher Tara Brach at my local library. I checked out her book Radical Acceptance during a time when the only thing I was willing to radically accept was deep self-loathing and an overall feeling of discontent with the world. Thanks to Tara’s insights, I began to awaken from what she calls the “trance of unworthiness.” She explained it to me like this:
“We might know we judge ourselves, but we don’t often get how much that squeeze of ‘something’s wrong with me’ is a part of everything, so that in every interaction on some level, we’re not free to be as spontaneous or playful or alive, because we’re afraid we’re not going to be the person who’s accepted by another. Even when it’s not the deep ‘I’m damaged goods,’ there’s still a sense of not enough.”
The process of working with the trance of unworthiness can be daunting but is much more accessible thanks to how she approaches meditation and self-healing practice. Pretty much anyone interested in Tara’s teachings can benefit from RAIN (an acronym coined by Vipassana teacher Michele McDonald). It’s one of her signature meditations, and it has a powerful resonance for both beginning and seasoned meditators. RAIN can take us to that place of living with wholeness as we enhance our ability to care, hear truth, speak truth, and see truth. It’s especially useful when working with our habits and addictions because it’s a practice that allows us to redirect and regulate our experiences. It’s a great one, too, because if you get stuck or lost, there’s the acronym to keep you on track:
R: Recognize what is happening.
A: Allow life to be just as it is.
I: Investigate inner experience with kindness.
It may seem trivial, but I a couple of years ago I used RAIN meditation to help me get through losing an apartment I was excited about moving into. Here’s what the process looked like:
R: I checked out the apartment, and it looked great. Then I went back and did thirty minutes worth of paperwork, only to find out at the very end of the process that my lousy credit might stand in the way of me getting it. It was upsetting because I was feeling good about finally finding the perfect place to live after moving back to Connecticut, once again a single man not sure if I’d ever find “the one.” I didn’t want to get wasted or anything over this, but I recognized that it bummed me out and that I’m a person for whom things as seemingly minor as not getting the apartment I wanted could, under the right circumstances, trigger a relapse.
A: Instead of fighting my feelings of sadness and disappointment, I allowed them to be just as they were. I observed my mindset and the frustration I felt, and simply let it be there as it was happening. I also reminded myself to be grateful because I was at least in a healthy enough place (mentally, physically, spiritually, and financially) that I could look at this incredible apartment. I wasn’t sick or hungover or caught in some mental/ emotional space of self-loathing. In the words of Ice Cube, “It was a good day.”
I: I began to investigate the energies located predominantly in my stomach and shoulders and saw that they, just like any other positive or negative feelings, were temporary energies hanging out in my body for a bit. The “with kindness” part is tricky because I’m so prone to beating myself up, but I kept recalling impermanence in relation to the investigation step and eventually felt ready to move on to N.
N: Through nonidentification, I gradually realized that my issue with disappointment over potentially not getting the apartment was symbolic of infinite moments in life: Some situations bring us what we want, while others do not. I could let go and accept that, without being cliché about it. If this is meant to be, it will be, and if not, I’ll find another place. It’s not the end of the world, and it certainly wasn’t worth enduring with a ride in an ambulance or rehab.
When it comes to N—nonidentification—sometimes Tara will simply say, “It’s okay, sweetheart,” or repeat Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s message, “Darling, I care about this suffering,” or the words of Hawaiian Ho’oponopono teacher Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len: “I’m sorry. And I love you.”
I, too, appreciate the teaching of Ho’oponopono and found myself reciting his words as I drove home after I lost that apartment, my head hanging a little lower than usual from disappointment, but not as low as it’s been because of the mess of addiction I’ve lived through. “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” But that’s just me. You use the phrase that comforts you and brings you to a place of nonidentification with the heartbreaking, challenging, or simply aggravating things you’re struggling with.
As Tara reminded me, “The key moment is to notice what happens after we do the steps of RAIN. After a gentle rainfall, the flowers can bloom. Just sense who you are when you’re no longer the thing inside the thoughts and beliefs and feelings of a bad self. If you’re no longer believing that anything is wrong with you, who are you? Rest in that spacious, tender awareness, your larger sense of being. When you’re ready, take a few more full breaths and open your eyes . . . and here we are again.”
Chris Grosso invites us to sit in on conversations with beloved luminaries and bestselling authors such as Ram Dass, Lissa Rankin, Noah Levine, Gabor Mate, and Sharon Salzberg to discover why people return to self-defeating behaviors—drugs, alcohol, unhealthy eating, sex, media—and how they can recover, heal, and thrive.
by Chris Grosso
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