Untangle Your Emotional Knots

“Rumination is often fueled by feelings of fear, shame, and inadequacy.  Because self-compassion directly counters these insecurities, it can help unravel the knot of negative ruminations as surely as detangling spray. ” Kristen Neff

If You Prefer to Listen

Guided Untangle Knots with RAIN Meditation

RAIN (Recognize-Allow-Investigate-Non-identification/Nurture) helps you apply mindfulness and self-compassion to the emotional tangles and knots in your life.  Each step of RAIN helps you undo the knots by deconditioning the habitual ways in which you resist your moment-to-moment experience.   

It doesn’t matter whether you resist “what is” by lashing out in anger, by getting drunk, or by getting immersed in obsessive thinking or my go to – busyness. Your attempt to control the life within and around you actually cuts you off from your own heart and from this living world.  It puts you in what Tara Brach calls the “trance of unworthiness.” When we are in the trance, we are living in a smaller reality than the truth. We see the hurtful words of a friend, but we don’t see how that friend is suffering. Often their hurtful words are the result of their suffering and them not seeing our hands reaching out to help them. You will know you are in the “trance of unworthiness” if you feel shame, anxiety, or depression. Often your inner critic will be louder and more talkative than usual.

If you scan the last couple of days, chances are you will notice that you have beat up on yourself in some way.  It could be that you did not take care of a relationship in a skillful way.  Maybe you lashed out in anger.  Maybe you were not careful and you made a mistake.  Or you are at war with yourself for not taking care of the needs of a partner, a friend, or your child.  It may be something difficult at work.

Here are the four steps of RAIN presented in the way I’ve found most helpful:

  • R – Recognize what is happening
  • A – Allow life to be just as it is
  • I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
  • N –Nurture yourself so you Non-identify

RAIN begins to undo these unconscious patterns as soon as we take the first step.

Recognize what is happening:

Recognizing is seeing what is true in your inner life: your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are affecting you. Too often we say, “It’s all good.” as a way to brush painful feelings under the carpet. Our culture has taught us to suck it up and not recognize any discomfort or suffering.  But to get out of the trance we need to recognize that we are stuck and subject to painful beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations.

We begin recognizing by focusing our attention on whatever thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations are arising right here and now. Notice that some parts of your experience are easier to connect with than others. For example, you might recognize anxiety right away, but if you focus on your anxious thoughts, you might not notice the actual sensations of squeezing, pressure or tightness arising in the body.  When your body feels jittery, you might not recognize that this physical response is being triggered by your belief that you are about to fail. If you feel sensations of hollowness or shakiness, you may find a sense of unworthiness and shame buried. 

Awaken recognition simply by asking yourself: “What is happening inside me right now?”  Call on your natural curiosity as you focus inward. Try to let go of any preconceived ideas and instead listen in a kind, receptive way to your body and heart.

Allow life to be just as it is:

Allowing means to just let the thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations you discover be there.  It does not mean you believe in the thoughts or beliefs; you are just acknowledging that they are there. Even if you feel a strong sense of dislike for what you are feeling, don’t try to fix it or push it away. What we resist persists. Allowing lets us release the resistance that keeps us hooked. You just acknowledge and accept the reality of your experience in this moment instead of jumping on the hamster wheel of reactivity.

As you become more willing to be present with “what is,” a different quality of attention will emerge.  We begin with a conscious intention to just be with what is, hard as that can be.  You may want to whisper an encouraging phrase.  You may say, “Yes, this is happening.” Or “This to” or “I can be with this, not forever, but for this moment.” 

If we don’t allow our shame, we keep it in the quiet and the dark, the conditions necessary to let shame grow.  By saying “Yes, I see that shame is here,” we can shine the light of awareness on it. This softens the harsh edges of your pain. Over time your defenses will relax, and you may feel a physical sense of yielding or opening of experience. You have spent many years practicing the habit of pushing painful feelings away, so it will take time to train your brain to accept them.

Acceptance is not the opposite of rejection.  True acceptance means not judging.  Neither rejecting or approving.  Rejecting or approving are actions of moving away from or toward.  Accepting is not an action at all.  It is just allowing an experience to be.

Investigate with Kindness:

Sometimes, simply working through the first two steps of RAIN is enough to provide relief and reconnect you with presence.  However, if you are in the thick of a divorce, about to lose a job, dealing with a difficult sibling or dealing with a life-threatening illness, you may be easily overwhelmed by intense feelings. Because these feelings are triggered over and over again, your reactions can become very entrenched.

Investigation means calling on your natural curiosity and directing a more focused attention to your present experience.  You might ask yourself: “What most wants attention?” “How am I experiencing this in my body?” or “What am I believing?” or “What does this feeling want from me?”

Don’t analyze the situation, who said what and why – that only strengthens your neuropathways of being the victim. Instead, notice what is underneath the feelings. Tara Brach says, “Your investigation will be most transformational if you step away from conceptualizing and bring your primary attention to the felt-sense in the body.” We all have a natural resistance to feeling uncomfortable and unsafe. So, we busy ourselves with our thinking mind, leaving our body.  Instead of accepting what is and figuring out what we need, we judge what is happening.

Nurture and Non-Identify:

When you investigate you may see what you or your body needs. Try to sense what the wounded, frightened or hurting place inside you most needs.  Then offer the same kind words or gestures that you would to a close friend experiencing this pain. That may be reassurance, forgiveness, companionship, understanding or love. You may choose to mentally whisper to yourself one of the following phrases (recommended by Tara Brach). I’m here with you. I’m sorry, and I love you. I love you, and I’m listening. It’s not your fault. Trust in your goodness.

By nurturing yourself, you will find Non-identification, that your sense of who you are is not defined by any limited set of emotions, sensations or stories.  You’ll find, you are not your anger. Your anger is a part of you, but you are much more.

You can practice RAIN during your formal meditation practice or anytime throughout the day.  You don’t always have the luxury to practice RAIN right in the middle of a difficult interaction. To train your neuropathways, you can recall the interaction. You’ll notice your brain does not perceive the difference between it actually happening and remembering it.  So, you will experience most of the same bodily sensations.  RAIN is not a one and done.  You may need to go through many rounds of RAIN to undo the habit energies you have developed and strengthened over the years. Starting with a small knot, practice recognizing, allowing, investigating and nurturing the knots in your life.