The recent and untimely loss of a very dear friend has led me to face up to the fact that some emotions are very tough to deal with. It made me realize how tempting it is to simply turn away from such painful emotions – as tempting as it is to self-medicate or constantly distract oneself. But then,fortunately, I also had the support of my girlfriends who helped me grasp the full breadth of this human experience and also showed up emotionally for me.
I also turned to the teachings of Tara Brach, a psychologist and Buddhist meditation teacher. I came across her work while doing some reading for my art therapy studies and found her teachings to be grounding and enlightening. She has helped me to stay with my feelings, rather than run away from them. A mindfulness practice referred to as R.A.I.N that is my favourite.
I will break down the acronym of R.A.I.N. and then talk about how I weave the arts into this mindfulness practice.
R: Recognize the thoughts, feelings, and sensations that are present within. You can say them quietly to yourself or name them out loud. For example, if you notice fear you might put your hand on your heart and just say the word “fear” or “fear is here” to yourself. Although this step sounds simple, many of us are not conscious of what we are feeling throughout the day. We are often not aware of our feelings until they become so big that we can’t ignore them. This is an opportunity to tune into both subtle and not so subtle feelings.
A: Allow the thoughts and feelings to be there without trying to change or fix them. This step usually feels counterintuitive, especially if we are habitually denying our feelings or judging them. Breathe with the feelings as you notice them. The key is to turn towards the feelings rather than away. Remember, you’re not trying to change the feelings. You are clearing some extra space for the feelings to be seen and heard.
I: Investigate (with kindness!) your thoughts and feelings. Bring more focused attention to your body and see if you can tune into any sensation in your body. For example, if you feel a tightness in your chest, inquire into the tightness. Ask that sensation what it’s trying to communicate. Maybe it is a part of you that’s been overlooked and needs some care? You may not always have a definite answer, but take note of the answers that spontaneously emerge.
N: Nurture yourself. Self-compassion could spontaneously arise as soon as you acknowledge your own suffering. Continue to nurture the parts of yourself that have been overlooked and need your attention. Ask yourself what you require in this moment to feel nourished. Offer yourself silent or quiet words of comfort such as “I know this is hard, and you’re doing the best you can.” Or, “I’m here for you now.” Speak to yourself the way you would speak to someone you cherish.
And now to incorporating Art into R.A.I.N.
I have found that mindfulness and art practices lend very naturally to each other. There are so many ways of weaving music, movement, art, and writing into this practice. But my choice this instance was writing and art making.
I arranged my materials on my working surface. Once ready, took a few deep breaths. It always helps to close my eyes. As I breathe, I began a body scan. Beginning with the top of my head and slowly bringing attention to each part of my body – noticing feelings or sensations as I scan. Sometimes pausing for a moment if an area seems to want more attention. The idea is to be aware without becoming carried away by your thoughts. Once I had scanned my body and reached the bottom of my feet, I took a few breaths before I slowly opened my eyes.
Recognition of all the emotions and physical sensations that arose as I scanned my body then led me to say the words out aloud, such as “grief”, “tight chest” etc…I started to draw the yin-yang image I felt like creating. I reasoned that I needed to regain my balance. I chose to address each of the emotions I was feeling with the colour I associated with it. From time to time, as I progressed at my pace, I would keep the image at a distance to allow my feelings space apart from me. I also held the image close to me from time to time. While looking at the image I began to ask questions and write down the answers that emerged from my dialogue with my art. I gathered from my answers the means to nurture myself.
R.A.I.N. can be practiced by yourself if that feels comfortable. However, if you are new to this, the process may bring up strong feelings. If so, I would encourage you to practice this with someone else, a therapist, a mentor, or even a close friend. Doing this with a partner can make the process even more meaningful in addition to helping you feel supported. Tara Brach’s site has a section with suggestions for doing the R.A.I.N. meditation with a partner.
In the end it is about trusting your own timing. Try it. And as always, I welcome your comments and would love to hear about your experiences!