By now it is obvious to me that most therapeutic tools and also spiritual practices have one main unifying focus. That focus is to help us develop the willingness to pay attention, while letting feelings be as they are. Mark Epstein writes in The Zen of Therapy that “non-interfering attentiveness… is by its very nature transformative. The point isn’t to stop feeling or thinking them (our feelings) but to change our relationship with them.”
Fear is one of our strongest and most prevalent feelings. Recently I have noticed that it is my go-to feeling. It overrides many more authentic feelings underneath. Here are a few of my examples: A house keeper does not show up. I feel very anxious and panicky instead of disappointed and actually a little angry at her. Another example cutting back on medication I have a back spasm. I feel anxious and afraid instead of sad and in pain. James Hollis, PhD. writes in Living an Examined Life, “If we are going to have a meaningful life we have to feel our feelings. Much of our behaviors are fear based. Fear protects us but also constricts us.” In 1912 Jung said, “The spirit of evil is negation of the life force by fear. Only boldness can deliver us from fear and if the risk is not taken the meaning of life is violated.” Hollis goes on to say, “Realize ninety percent of energy that blocks you has its origin in your childhood where everything was overwhelming. When we are stuck, we have activated this archaic fear.” Sooner or later, to have a meaningful life, we have to begin with allowing our feelings with open, curious attention.
James Hollis goes on to asks us “what does our soul ask for us?” To get to this question there are layers of blocked feelings that block our intuitions and knowing. Jung said “We don’t solve these problems … we can’t cut our history out of us like a tumor… our task is to outgrow their influences. You cannot rule out what is wired in neurologically or in your psyche but you can watch it with curiosity, compassion and spaciousness. In this attentiveness it loses its power.
This is the A of RAIN a powerful practice made popular by Tara Brach. The R is to recognize how you are feeling. I did this when I was feeling anxious the other day and noticed that I was actually feeling sad. The A is to allow. This is the most challenging step. It requires us to do the opposite of what comes naturally. Our immediate instincts tell us to push away unpleasant, difficult feelings. In the Allow step of RAIN we are doing a U turn. And literally inviting the feelings back to us. In this process we are giving these orphaned feelings a home. As we allow them and let them find a place in our bodies they immediately begin to calm down. It feels like a miracle when you first experience it. A client once asked me if I was a magician but when you think about what James Hollis says it makes so much sense. Most of these feelings while being triggered in the present have an archaic young origin. When we felt them without support in little bodies with partially formed nervous systems they felt so overwhelming but as we invite them to have a home in us now they feel very different. In the I of RAIN we are invited to get even more intimate with the feeling —asking the feeling to tell you more. Here you might find out that this feeling is responsible for a chronic tightness in the throat, chest or belly. Again in the relief of being attended to the feeling relaxes even more. Finally the N of RAIN is inviting in a nurturing presence to support you in feeling this feeling. This can be a best friend, a spiritual guide or a pet. When we were young we were usually not supported or acknowledged for difficult feelings. I was told to “just be happy.” Being so alone with these feelings added to the overwhelm. Now we have our grown up selves welcoming these feelings home, giving them a place of honor at our table, so to speak. This paves the way for a full range of feelings to be experiences from terror and grief to tremendous joy. Life is truly meaningful when we have the richness of the tapestry of all our feelings. We begin to have the space to take on James Hollis’s question; “what does our soul ask for us.” We can move forward into life.
A client of mine, an art therapist, created this shell sculpture to represent the Allow step of RAIN. I love how the movement of the shells are towards the center and at the center there two shells overlap. The feeling has been given the presence of the feeler. I thought her creation deserved a blog post.