Autumn arrived last week, the season that most folks (in the Northern Hemisphere) imagine as bursts of colorful leaves that usher in the cold days of winter. Fall makes a more minimal entrance here in the areas fringing the biggest metro sections of Southern California. In my childhood, autumn in Central California brought some colorful foliage and the tulle fog that caused a lot of mayhem on the highways and streets. Where I live now, the only significant gatherings of autumn leaves erupt briefly, mostly in parks, and late in the year: after Thanksgiving. The trees quickly shrug off the old, rushing to try on their Spring wardrobe.
Though it doesn’t feel like autumn weather, at the local market I couldn’t resist picking up a beautiful pumpkin. When I got it home my grandsons started talking about carving it. More practical, I suggested cooking it. They countered with the idea of painting it. And then carving it.
We clearly see things from a different perspective, yet we all expect some compromises at home. It makes sense, given the combination of different personalities and moods crisscrossing paths in one relatively confined space. Because of the lingering heat of summer and heatwaves that have flitted through the southern half of California, we lost our usual suburban refuge: the back yard. We all get downright cranky some days.
The life issues contributing to that crankiness, I’ve realized, cross age boundaries. Our challenges include some lack of physical activity, lingering awkwardness related to a new way of living during a pandemic, a fluctuating level of anxiety because of external events like wildfires that impact air quality, and lapses into ineffective communication. In simpler terms, we all stress out.
Humor, when used at the right time, can lighten up potential emotional explosions. For example, when the 5-year-old in my life becomes really frustrated about house rules that limit television or playing video games, name-calling is a go-to response. It usually goes something like this:
A miffed kindergartener looks at me and announces, “You’re a doodoo head!”
Me: “What?! I have doodoo on my head?!” I start touching my head. “Where is it?! Help me get if off! Where is it?!”
My kindergartener struggles to glare but we laugh. Then we talk, and we’re back on track.
In grown-up world, the situations are often more nuanced and sometimes humor fails. While there are many tools I use, I’m sharing one I learned about a few years ago but just started practicing in the last few months. I use this when something is bothering me, but I’ve got conflicting emotions and/or I feel muddled by anxiety or fear. When I feel stuck, I’ve become a fan of RAIN.
To start, keep in mind this is just my experience and not a recommendation. You know what works for you, so you do you! I’m not a professional with a certification for teaching this technique (I’m not even sure if there is a certification!), so after you hear about my experience if you want to walk through this yourself, look for the link I’ll share to a video with Tara Brach (a genuine expert and awesome teacher). In the video, she walks folks through RAIN.
For me, recently two activities converged. I began posting more often on Facebook, and a friend I have known for decades started sharing a lot of posts I found offensive and racist. Since I didn’t think of this person as racist, I made an “Ah, c’mon” comment that I thought would seem non-judgmental and light-hearted. It did not go well, and I received some unexpected and mean backlash. When I went back to review previous posts from this person, it was clear that we have a big difference of opinion regarding race. Because I felt awful and had a hard time just letting this go, I used the RAIN technique.
The acronym RAIN, coined more than 20 years ago by Michelle McDonald, has been popularized by Tara Brach, PhD. The acronym stands for: Recognize what is happening; Allow the experience; Investigate with interest; Nurture with self-compassion.
Recognize requires taking time to look at the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. For me, the thought that repeated: I thought we were friends and I do not even know this person. I felt anxious, perplexed, abused, and embarrassed. How did I get this so wrong?
Allowing, for me, involved letting the experience just percolate, not beating myself up or making excuses for others. In just sitting quietly with the event, I realized my online comments resulted in a response of fury and disgust that I felt also held some sense of smug superiority.
To Investigate, I gave myself time by taking a few deep belly breaths and sat quietly to see what bubbled up. First, I acknowledged, offending someone else was never my intention. Then I reminded myself, I did the best I could at the time. What happened next surprised me. Just sitting calmly, old remarks and reactions from this person popped into my mind from decades ago. I remembered their best friend as an unabashed racist. I remembered the last time our paths had crossed, this person and their spouse gossiped about and made fun of other friends we had known while I sat uncomfortably, saying little. As other memories came to me, I realized this individual had not ever been a friend to me and most likely connected with me to feed information to my abusive ex-. Many other pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Initially I wondered How could I have missed that?! Rather than going down that rabbit hole, I moved on to offering myself compassion.
Nurturing myself, I repeated my go-to self-talk. I counted my blessings and repeated May I be safe, be healthy, be happy, be strong. I added the line from Brené Brown, I am here to get it right, not to be right. And, from Desiderata, the lines I recall most. Like the moon and the stars, I have a right to be here. Whether or not it is clear to me, the Universe is unfolding as it should.
In the end, I realized if I had it to do over, I might have approached this individual differently. I could have asked by private message about their posts and why they felt committed to their philosophies. I would have had a chance to try to understand why they believed what I understand as false stereotypes that, in the end, seemed likely to hurt them as well as others. I realized where my feelings came from and feel confident that I can move forward with a new understanding of the old relationship. I want to speak and honor the truth, so I will add that this experience helped me see this individual as unkind and not a good time investment for me right now; I’m taking a break that may become a permanent fracture.
To me, knowledge is power. RAIN is an effective self-care/self-compassion tool that helps me reach a deeper understanding, find some peace, and develop insight. I plan to use this when I’m having one of Those Days, feeling frustrated and, at some level, anxious, overwhelmed, or confused.
In the hope of inspiring others, I’m sharing what works for me. Take time to explore what works for you. To learn more about the RAIN technique, use this video to walk through the technique with an expert, Tara Brach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8e_tAEM80k
Next week I’ll share more about some of my other favorite tools and how they’ve worked for me. In the meantime, follow health guidelines, get some sunshine if you’re able to do so safely, move as well as you’re able, laugh often, and remember to be kind to yourself.
May you be healthy, be happy, be strong, be safe, and live a life of ease.