Radical Compassion: Turning Toward Fear with RAIN
by Tara Brach
In a far-off land, word spread far and wide of a holy man with magic so powerful it could relieve the most severe suffering. After seekers of healing traveled through the wilderness to reach him, he’d swear them to secrecy about what was next to pass between them. Once they took the vow, the holy man asked a single question: “What are you unwilling to feel?”
Learning to directly face anxiety and fear with the RAIN meditation (Recognize-Allow-Investigate-Nurture) gives you a pathway to inner transformation and a fearless heart.
After a daylong seminar on RAIN and stress, Brianna came up to me and asked for some help. She’d recently been hired as a marketing vice-president in a large corporation, but she felt intimidated by the CEO, who was very quick to cut off anyone who was “wasting his time.” He ruled over the weekly staff meetings, which Brianna described as “torture” that put her into a state of “brain freeze.”
I suggested that Brianna practice RAIN for a few minutes right before each meeting, and asked her what was going on for her at that time. “On those mornings, I can really feel the anxiety building, and it lands me in a frenzy of busyness—reviewing reports, marking what I might need to comment on … nothing really productive,” she said.
I smiled because I recognized that feeling all too well. “Okay, so before you start RAIN, imagine you’re pressing the pause button on that frenzy.” Brianna closed her eyes and pictured herself at her desk, half an hour before the weekly meeting. “As you pause,” I said, “your first job is to Recognize the anxiety and Allow it to be there.” She nodded. “Now, what do you notice if you bring your attention and interest to how it feels in your body?” Beginning to Investigate, she muttered, “Dry mouth . . . really tight chest. . . heart hammering. . . and, oh yeah, my stomach’s in knots.” I suggested she place her hand on her abdomen and send her breath there with a long, slow inflow and outflow. This would help her steady her attention and stay in contact with the fear. Then I guided her to ask the scared place inside her what it needed most, a key inquiry in Investigating. After a moment, she looked up, surprised. “It said, ‘Let it be okay that I’m here.’”
The Nurturing that scared place needed was to be accepted, not to be made “wrong.” I asked Brianna how the wisest, kindest part of her wanted to respond. Could she find a way to acknowledge this very vulnerable part of herself with compassion? She sat quietly, still breathing slowly, her hand on her belly. Then she nodded. “I just sent the message, ‘It’s okay …this belongs.’ And it does feel more okay. I’m actually a bit more relaxed.”
This became Brianna’s RAIN practice each week before going to the staff meeting. And when she felt anxiety spiking during the meeting, she’d simply breathe into it and send the message, “It’s okay.” A few months later, her tension around the CEO hadn’t disappeared, but her anxiety had lessened somewhat. More important, it didn’t feel like such a big deal: “I’m not so alarmed when I get anxious,” she told me. “I was fighting it so hard, but now it’s okay that it’s there. That really does free me up.” She also shared some real progress in making creative contributions and connecting with others.
Asking yourself, “What am I unwilling to feel?” can open you to deep spiritual healing. Fear is the feeling that something is wrong and we need to act to protect ourselves. When, instead, we have the courage to pause and meet fear with mindfulness and compassion, our awareness and wisdom enlarges. If we need to respond to a threat, we’ll do so—with increased balance and presence. But often we’ll see: “It’s just anxiety, it’s okay”—and begin to unhook from a lifetime pattern of reactivity. While fears continue to arise, we have access to a heartspace that is open and free.
From RADICAL COMPASSION by Tara Brach, published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Tara Brach.
Tara Brach, PhD, is an internationally renowned meditation teacher and author of bestselling Radical Acceptance and True Refuge, and her upcoming book, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of RAIN (Viking, 2020). Every month, over 1.5 million people around the world tune in to her weekly podcast addressing the power of meditation to relieve emotional suffering and serve spiritual awakening. More