Untangling Your Knots with RAIN

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

If you are like me, you will find yourself often getting caught up in emotional tangles and knots worrying about unskillful past behavior, family, friendships, health, climate change, politics, etc. How you handle worries can be a continuum from being overwhelmed and feeling helpless; to feeling anxious which spurs us to action; to ignoring the facts and pretending it is no big deal. We move from one spot on the continuum to another throughout the day. We basically have three choices, we bury our head in the sand and pretend the worry doesn’t exist, we continue being overwhelmed by worry, or we can acknowledge our worry and use RAIN to process and untangle our knots.

RAIN (Recognize-Allow-Investigate-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. 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.

As neuroscientists have discovered, learning to deepen our attention with meditation activates the parts of the brain that correlate with self-awareness. We can become aware of our unconscious fears and limiting beliefs; we can recognize how our unmet needs keep us armored or grasping. And we can begin to see how the whole sense of who we are has been confined and obscured by these ego coverings.

When you bring RAIN directly to the experience of any emotional tangle or knot, you’ll discover the vulnerability that drives it, and you’ll awaken your capacity for self-compassion. This will naturally loosen the grip of selfishness or any other ego coverings that limit you.

If you scan the last couple of days, chances are you will notice that you have turned on yourself in some way.  It could be that you did not take care of a relationship (or yourself) in a skillful way.  It may be that 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 yourself, a partner, a friend, or your child.  It may be something difficult at work.

Think about that as we look the four components of RAIN:

  • Recognize: What is happening inside and outside of me?
  • Allow: Can I be with what is happening, just for a moment?
  • Investigate: What is happening inside myself: my feelings, sensations, emotions, beliefs?
  • Nurture: What does the hurting, frightened, wounded place inside of you need right now?

Recognize means to simply become aware of what is happening right now, without rose colored or dark glasses.  Recognizing is seeing what is true in your inner life: your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are affecting you. Some of those thoughts are our inner critic judging us or repeating painfully constricting beliefs.  If we ignore it keeps poking us underneath. When we are poked unconsciously, we often feel uncomfortable sensations in our body, which we also ignore.  But those sensations are trying to communicate to us. For example, if you are constantly shaking your leg, that tells you there is some unconscious anxiety you need to deal with. While shaking the leg releases some of the anxious energy, the anxiety keeps feeding itself. We can use the uncomfortable sensations as a bell of mindfulness, telling us to be aware of our thoughts, beliefs, or feelings instead of sweeping them under the rug.

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, 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 means to admit that our suffering actually exists.  We see clearly that the external world is not meeting our wishes and accept that we cannot change it.  We concede that we cannot control the external world, but we can control our reaction to it. We stop fighting what is real, so we can learn from it and choose how to respond. Allowing lets us turn toward our thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and sensations instead of pushing them away.  We can release ourselves from the tangled knot of self-judgement by accepting the fact of our experience in the here and now.  We acknowledge and accept the reality of our experience in this moment instead of jumping on the hamster wheel of reactivity.

These are the thoughts and emotions that are arising in my consciousness in the present moment.”  Kristen Neff

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.” 

Allowing is not the opposite of rejection.  True allowing means not judging.  Neither rejecting nor approving.  Rejecting or approving are actions of moving away from or toward.  Allowing is not an action at all.  It is just letting an experience be. Can I just be with this?


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 repeatedly, your reactions can become very entrenched.

To Investigate, call on your natural curiosity to see what is really going on. This is not an intellectual analysis that will leave you feeling drained.  If you feel drained, you are too much in your head. Investigating is letting your mind rest, so it is not so cloudy. What clouds our mind? Pettiness, jealousy, entitlement or envy to name a few.

We begin by investigating ourselves, so we can let the mud settle and see more clearly. 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?” or “What is it like to live with this belief?”

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. 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.

You can deepen your Investigation by making the U-turn, turning from your thoughts to bring your attention to your body. What feelings and sensations are strong? Are particular emotions associated with this belief? Do you sense fear or shame, anger or self-hatred? Widen the investigation by asking, “How has living with this belief affected my life?” Can you see its impact on how you relate to yourself and others, on your creativity, your capacity to serve, your ability to enjoy experience, your inner growth? What is my intention: to tear others down and be “one-up” or to try to improve the situation? You might ask yourself, “What is it like to honestly see and feel how this belief has shaped my life?”

To Investigate ask the Question: What do you most long for right now? Attention? Safety? Acceptance? Connection? Understanding? Love?


Nurture is providing self-compassion to ourselves.  We can train ourselves to allow self-compassion to arise naturally when we recognize we are suffering. By nurturing ourselves with self-care, it gives us the strength to face uncomfortable emotions and helps us realize that we are not alone. To nurture ourselves we do have to let go of the belief that we do not deserve to be nurtured.

Nurturing is sensing what the wounded, frightened or hurting place inside you most needs, and then offer some gesture of active care that might address this need.  Think about how you would treat a loved one or valued friend in the same situation.  Then offer the same kind words or gestures to yourself. 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.

To Nurture ask the question: What does the hurting, frightened, wounded place inside of you need right now? How can I give that to myself?

Looking at the order of RAIN above, it appears that they are steps to be taken in order.  And if you are dealing with small irritations and mildly unpleasant emotions, that is often the case.  However, when you are dealing with something overwhelming, you may need to bounce from one to the other. For example, if you are on the overwhelmed side of the anxiety continuum you may not have the ability to Recognize all you are feeling and to Allow those feelings to be.

If you want to untangle your knots, Recognize what you are feeling, Allow the external situation and your feelings about it to be what they are, Investigate what most needs attention and Nurture yourself with self-care.