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What To Do About Strong Emotions - 5 Powerful Steps Toward More Freedom

Beyond accepting the moment as it is, what else can we do to reap the benefits of mindfulness and meditation?

First developed by Michelle McDonald, and popularized by Tara Brach, RAINN is a practice designed to skillfully meet the slings and arrows of a human life. It is a well-developed process to take on various mental afflictions so we are not so swept away by them. Below is a brief explanation of how this process can be put into practice.

R - Recognize This is our foothold planted right here in the present moment. What is going on right now? Can be a very effective question to ask at this stage. We ask it with deep honesty and sincerity. What is here now? When we recognize a particular emotion has arisen, it immediately has less power over us. The afflictive emotions that go unseen are the most dangerous of all. So, look, see, notice, recognize - What is here now?

A - Accept After we recognize we are experiencing, say, fear, then we remain relatively still and equanimous with this unpleasant feeling. This kind of acceptance means that we neither push away nor lash out. We refrain from any kinds of distraction that will only trick us into believing that the emotion is not there. Acceptance doesn’t mean we have to like it. It doesn’t mean that we have given up. It means that we have allowed for enough space to hover around the emotion to give us a fighting chance in seeing it more clearly.

I - Investigate This stage is about curiosity and understanding. We challenge our deep-rooted beliefs, holding up a light of gentle inquisitiveness and shine it on the many facets of our difficult experience. How did this happen? How does this feel in my body? What is the story I’m telling myself right now? Is it true? Keeping with the example of fear, it may be that we are afraid of how someone else is feeling about us, or that we might fail, or we may embarrass ourselves, or the story could be deeper, such as, I’m terrible, or people don’t like me, I always mess up. Instead of trying to fix or solve anything, we continue with the intention to simply understand.

N - Nurture At this point we lay aside the intellectualizing and let the debris of investigation dissolve away. Lest we fall into despair by hanging out with the less pleasant parts of ourselves, it makes sense to include the counterbalance of kindness. Place a hand upon your heart, belly, or your neck or face. This kind of soothing touch is a simple, direct, and wordless expression of self-care and self-inclusion. Additionally, the use of supportive phrases can also be helpful. Can we cut ourselves some slack? Can we refrain from our usual negative self-talk? What words do you speak to a dear friend when they’ve had a hard day? Can those same words be offered to yourself at this moment?

N - Non-identify This is about not taking our difficulties so personal. At this point, we look to see if there is any belief, storyline, or aspect of ourselves that we are still holding on to. And we see if we can loosen our grip a bit. How do I define who I am? For example, you may identify as a competitive person, or an anxious person, or a kind person, or an angry person. Whatever it may be, consider the idea that that is NOT you, that you may very well not be the person you think you are. The rigidness of labels only creates the friction of suffering. What would it be like to let go of the labels you’ve lived with for so long, especially the labels that do more harm than good at this point?

Tips for RAINN Practice

  • Ease into it. No need to begin with the most traumatic experiences. Start with smaller irritations and annoyances (physical or mental), and “work your way up” into more intense emotions.

  • Train in mindfulness. This develops concentration and a kind of immovability. When your emotions are strong, mindfulness helps to keep you “on track” and steadfast. Your attention is strong enough to not get too overwhelmed when an experience becomes intense.

  • Experiment. This is not a fixed blueprint. Try doing the sections out of order. What if you jumped from recognize to nurture, or even began with non-identification? What are different ways of investigating your own experience? RAINN can also practiced “out and about,” for example, a few minutes before a big meeting or after sending a difficult text message? Experiment!

Clearly, this is not light-hearted work. It is a serious training of the heart and mind. And with any kind of training, the more you do it the easier it gets. It may be that after awhile this kind of practice - parts or all of it - becomes second nature. Then, recognizing and accepting just becomes something we naturally do. Or showing kindness to ourselves and not taking things so personal becomes a new habit for us.

The heart of a practice like this is that it honors our own internal strength, while opening us up to new possibilities.


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