Dealing with someone else’s big feelings is challenging for any of us. (See last week's post for a reminder.) But dealing with our own big feelings can feel downright impossible. Most of us have a variety of coping mechanisms we use to distract ourselves from emotions we find uncomfortable. On the healthy end of the spectrum, we might go for a walk, or call a friend, or eat a nourishing snack. On the other end, we pour a drink, or smoke a bowl, or binge Netflix. (I buy shoes on the Internet. It’s my only true vice.)

If you don’t want to opt out, is there a mechanism for being present with your own unpleasant emotions? How, actually, do you FEEL YOUR FEELINGS?  What can you do when you’re overwhelmed and there’s no way out? Here’s a story to illustrate. Last year during the holidays I brought my partner Nick home with me to meet my father. I’ve had many serious relationships in the past decade, and I’ve brought all of my partners home to meet my mom’s side of the family, but thus far, none had met my dad.

My relationship with my father is complicated at best. He and my mom split up when I was 4, and he was only present intermittently after that. Nowadays I visit him for a few hours on Christmas Day every year, and that is generally the extent of our interaction. Having Nick there was validating in that it affirmed for me how dysfunctional my interactions with my dad really are, and you might think that validation would feel good, but in fact, when we left my dad’s house on Christmas night last year, I felt horrible.

Nothing particularly bad had transpired, but still I cried in the Exxon parking lot as we filled the gas tanks, preparing to drive three hours back to New Orleans. In trying to manage seeing all of our families, we had arrived in two cars, so I was driving back alone. I was still crying as we merged onto the interstate in our separate vehicles, and it was then I realized that the car I was driving didn’t even have a working stereo. There were literally no distractions. Oh shit, I thought.

There’s a practice called RAIN that I used that night that I learned from the teachings of Tara Brach. It’s sometimes called the RAIN of Self-Compassion, and it’s a technique for being present with your big feelings. RAIN is an acronym which stands for Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Non-Attachment.

So there I am, just me and my feelings, careening down the dark highway at 75 miles an hour. First I RECOGNIZE what is happening. I’m feeling shame. There’s some anger in there, and sadness too. The pain of not having a relationship with someone I'm supposed to have a relationship with. But mostly shame at having someone witness my family’s particular brand of crazy.

Then ALLOW those feelings to be. Don’t fight with them. Don’t try to make them go away. Don’t distract yourself from them. Just let them happen. I cried and shouted for about 50 miles and tried not to drive off the road.

INVESTIGATE what’s really going on. Anchor your emotions in physical sensation. What does shame feel like? Where does anger live? What are the sensations associated with sadness? I found shame sitting like a ton of bricks in my stomach, sadness crashing like waves in my chest, anger clenching hot in my fists. Don’t run away from what you’re feeling. Go towards it. Explore.

The final step is to meet this experience with NON-ATTACHMENT. Can you have big emotions and know that they will pass? I felt shame, sadness, and anger, but I am not those feelings. After an hour or so on the road, the waves got smaller and eventually subsided. I knew they might return, but I also knew they didn’t define who I am. I felt them, let them move through me, and then let them go.

Our lived experiences are vast and not limited to the emotions we find pleasant and desirable. RAIN can be so useful in allowing us to experience the fullness of life. Learning to be present with the discomfort of being human gives us access to a richer, deeper emotional life. To recap: 

R   Recognize what is happening

A   Allow life to be just as it is

I   Investigate inner experience

N   Non-Identification

Want to explore RAIN some more? Head over to Tara Brach's website for a podcast and meditation that explores the topic. {}

Much love, 


P.S. Like what you're reading? Get new blog posts in your inbox every week! Just click the button.

P.P.S. Have you missed some recent posts? Read about yoga and: