I just finished a 10-day Radical Compassion Challenge with Dr. Tara Brach during which I also read her book, Radical Compassion: Learning to Love Yourself and Your World with the Practice of R.A.I.N. It was a wonderful experience and a very good read.
Merriam-Webster defines compassion as “a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” This definition suggests that compassion is an emotion directed outward with an implied penchant for action. Tara asks us to take this sensibility and apply it to ourselves. She argues that when we find the courage to love ourselves into healing, we amplify our capacity to exercise care, compassion, and forgiveness in service of others and the world at large.
In today’s world, it’s not easy to be emotionally attuned. Many of us are running our legs off trying to keep up with work and home responsibilities. When we’re not caught up in the busy-ness of life, we can become enthralled with screen-based distractions – binge-watching TV, surfing the web, texting, using social media, checking email, etc. We can place ourselves in a kind of trance where we either don’t notice what we are feeling or get swept away by emotion (e.g., anger, fear, anxiety). I know what it’s like to fall under those spells.
I frequently watch TV when I don’t have anything else to do. Even when I choose a decent show, I can find myself getting restless. Rather than tap into the feeling and explore it, I head on over to the kitchen to fix myself a snack. I can be well into my second or third handful of mixed nuts before I wake up and go, “What a minute! What are you doing?”
I also know what it’s like to be in the grip of a strong emotion. Just this week, a planned 2-hour webcast was delayed 30 minutes due to technical difficulties and another 10 minutes due to user error. Given that I’d paid a pretty penny for the class, I was really steamed by the presenter’s lack of preparation. I allowed my irritation to get the upper hand, thereby diminishing my enthusiasm for the material once the class got up and running.
What’s the remedy?
Tara invites us to pause, take a breath, and connect to our moment-to-moment experience. Rather than focus on what’s happening on the outside, take a genuine interest in the real, living experience in our minds and body. We can learn to respond (and not simply react) by practicing R.A.I.N. (Recognize – Allow – Investigate – Nurture). Here’s an explanation and a case in point.
Recognize: Pay attention to thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they arise. So, before getting out of my comfortable chair in front of the TV and heading into the kitchen, I could pause and ask myself what I’m feeling. I’d probably admit that I’m less-than-captivated by the on-screen entertainment. I’m restless and bored; I’m not hungry.
Allow: Let the thoughts, emotions, and sensations just be. Don’t try to control or judge them. Don’t label them right or wrong, good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate. Just say “YES” to them and invite them to sit with you. In particular, I could simply acknowledge that I’m not stimulated by television. I don’t need to pass judgment on the content of the show or berate myself for choosing to watch TV instead of doing something else. I’ll just allow boredom and restlessness be boredom and restlessness.
Investigate: Bring an interested and kind attention to the experience. Notice what assumptions and beliefs undergird your current feelings. What sensations do they evoke in the body, and where are they located? What do they seem to be telling you? As a chronic thinker, I’d be tempted to stay up in my head and analyze my feelings and figure out what they mean. But Tara invites us to notice where these feelings show up in the body. Oh, I’m feeling tingly and fidgety in my arms and legs. There’s an aliveness within me that seems to be pushing against being sedentary.
Nurture: Call for a response from the wisest and most compassionate part of your being. Allow yourself to feel loved, supported, and worthy. Trust in your essential goodness. Take action to further your highest good. Mmm, maybe I should take a walk and enjoy nature. Or find a really good book to read. Or call a friend and have a wonderful conversation. Or maybe change the channel… haha!
It just might be a good idea to write PAUSE on post-it notes and place them strategically around the house. They’ll remind me to take a breath, practice R.A.I.N., and help me be more present.