A Simple Tool For Staying Grounded in Chaotic Times
Since I am a chill and fun person, I often like to power my daily walk with an engine of worry. “Is my friend mad at me? Why didn’t I get through my weekend to-do list and why am I already so behind on this week?” Then, to mix things up a bit, I’ll expand my focus: “What is happening in America right now? When is this pandemic going to loosen its grip? Will I ever be able to afford college for my kids?” (They’re in grade school, but hey, I love a jump-start.)
Yesterday, as I was revving up my daily worries, I put on The Happiness Lab podcast, in which psychologist Laurie Santos makes a rigorous study of the subject of happiness. In the episode “Reconnect with the Moment,” Santos asked meditation teacher and bestselling author Tara Brach: What would happen if we were to accept and love ourselves as we are? How can mindfulness be the vehicle that gets us to that self-acceptance?
Episode 2: Reconnect With the Moment - The Happiness Lab
Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach felt too stressed and busy to spend time with her elderly mother - until…
Brach said something that hit so hard, I almost fell over mid-walk:
We spend a huge amount of time disconnected, in what I kind of call a trance, where we’re living in our thoughts in a small kind of world and not really in touch with what’s going on inside us or other people. We’re really living most of our moments in thoughts about life rather than directly contacting the emotion.
Brach pointed out that when we keep our minds busy with worry — my default coping mechanism always and especially since last Wednesday — our thoughts and fears can feed each other, creating a closed system like some sort of terrible mental terrarium. This causes us to miss out on what’s happening in the moment. “We use our thoughts to stay away from the rawness of our feelings,” Brach puts it, cutting ourselves off from good feelings along with the challenging ones. When we live in our heads, we never really arrive in each current moment. We forget how to be kind to ourselves.
So how do we get out of our heads and into our bodies, fully inhabiting each moment? Brach’s RAIN method of meditation is an easy way into mindfulness. There are four steps:
- Recognize what is happening.
- Allow the experience to be there just as it is.
- Investigate with interest and care.
- Nurture with self-compassion.
First, you pause and recognize what is happening — anxiety? Guilt? Irritation? Brach recommends actually naming whatever this is and saying it out loud. Then, allowing involves accepting the experience for what it is. Investigating means checking in with the body and how each part of the body is reacting to the moment. The nurturing — Brach suggests literally putting your hand on your heart — is about sending a kind message to yourself, something like: “It’s okay, you’re going to figure this out.”
RAIN is a grounding practice to release you from your stuck, stressed thought process. It works for those of us who aren’t naturally good meditators. And crucially, it combines mindfulness and compassion: two things we could all use more of right now.