The art of radical (self-)compassion.

The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.

Carl R. Rogers

When everything in our lives is going our way, it's easy for us to see things in a positive light. Everything seems to run on its own and comes easily to us. We have more capacity to take care of others and ourselves.

But when we are confronted with challenging emotions such as fear, sadness or anger, the world often seems bleak and hostile. Instinctively, we go into resistance and try to get rid of these emotions as quickly as possible - but this defensiveness often fuels the emotions in the first place.

How do you handle it when you're gripped by fear or sadness? What do you do when you've had an argument and haven't reacted the way you'd like? When you've fallen back into old behaviors, patterns, addictions or compulsions? When you judge yourself for it and are overwhelmed by feelings of worthlessness or guilt and shame?

When we are in the midst of difficulties, when we are caught in emotional reactivity, our most ancient brain areas are active - the reptilian brain, the limbic brain - we are in fight, flight or freeze mode.

This is where the mindfulness practice of RAIN offers a strategy for finding our way back into presence. This tool guides us to investigate what information our emotions carry and how we can deal with them constructively through mindfulness and compassion. With RAIN we can systematically activate the youngest part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, and thus regain conscious control over our actions.

The term RAIN was first coined by meditation teacher Michele McDonald. It has been used by teachers for over two decades and has since evolved. The technique became widely known to address the "trance of unworthiness", a term that was brought into being by one of the most famous Western meditation teachers, Tara Brach (author of Radical Compassion). 

The acronym RAIN is a tool to promote mindfulness and (self-)compassion with difficult emotions and feelings, and to move from unconscious reactivity to conscious action. In particular, this practice helps with:

  • feelings of unworthiness
  • self-judgement
  • feelings of guilt and shame

Here are the steps:

  1. Recognize (R): To notice and recognize what is going on;
  2. Allow (A): Allow the experience to be there as it is;
  3. Investigate (I): Investigate with interest and care and feel what is going on inside you right now;
  4. Nurture (N): Nurture yourself with self-compassion.

You can take time to explore RAIN as a stand-alone meditation or go through the steps when challenging feelings arise.

R - Recognize: What is happening right now?

Recognize means to consciously notice and recognize the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are affecting you right now. You can quietly note what you are most aware of in the moment.

A - Allow: Allow the experience to be as it is

Allowing means that you simply let the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations you perceived be there without trying to fix or avoid anything. You can recognize and allow fear by inwardly telling yourself "it's okay" or "this, too" or "yes." Erlauben schafft einen Raum, der es möglich macht die Aufmerksamkeit zu vertiefen.

I - Investigate: Explore with kindness where and what you perceive

To investigate, you awaken your natural curiosity - the desire to know the truth, and direct focused attention to your present experience. You can ask yourself: What needs most attention right now? How do I experience this in my body? What do I believe? What does this vulnerable place want from me? What does it need most?

Whatever the question is, your exploration will be most transformative when you detach from concepts and narratives and bring your primary attention to the felt sense in the body.

N - Nurture: Ask yourself what you need right now, what nourishes you, what gesture or words of compassion would do you good right now?

Self-compassion begins to arise naturally in those moments when you acknowledge that you are suffering. It comes in abundance when you intentionally nurture your inner life with self-care. Try to feel what the wounded, frightened, or hurt part of you needs most, and then offer a gesture of active care that might address that need. Does it need a message of reassurance? Of forgiveness? Of companionship, care, or love? Experiment with this and determine which intentional gesture of affection helps you most to comfort, soften, or open your heart.

Maybe it's the mental whisper: I'm here with you, I'm not leaving you. I am sorry, and I love you. I love you, and I'm listening. It is not your fault. Trust your goodness.

In addition to a whispered message of care, many people find healing by gently placing a hand on the heart or cheek; or by imagining being bathed in warm, radiant light or being hugged or embraced. When it feels difficult to give love to yourself, call to mind a loving being - a spiritual figure, family member, friend, or pet - and imagine that being's love and wisdom flowing into you.

After the RAIN:

Once you have completed the active steps of RAIN, it is important to notice the quality of your own presence, your attention.

The result of RAIN is the realization that you are no longer trapped in a limiting self-image or identified with a limiting self-concept. Give yourself the gift of becoming familiar with the truth and natural freedom of your being. It is mysterious and precious!

We recorded this RAIN meditation for you. So far it only available in German here. However, there are many wonderful RAIN meditations in English out there.

Note: This exercise is based on Tara Brach's work and can be found in the original version on her website .