Yogi Assignment: Applied Mindfulness and Compassion in RAIN
Then there is the pain that comes when you’re faced with devastating loss and drowning in grief. I lost my Dad last year and it is honestly still really raw. I miss him every day. While most people really understood how to be present with me in my grief, there were a few well-intended spiritual friends who suggested that “everything is perfect” and that “loss is an illusion, just let go” or that I could just “think happy thoughts”. Not only did this not help my grief, but it made me feel shame for not just being able to get over it fast enough. When you’re faced with tangible loss and it feels like there’s no hope and someone tells you that life is “perfect” and you need to “let go”, I understand the rage that bubbles up because I have felt it too. While the universe is in fact perfect, those type of spiritual statements invalidate the reality of pain when it is a lived experience. Not to mention it just feels off. Grief is a cry of the soul and it passes when you’ve cried every tear. Not to mention that grief may be the final act of love. Our hearts are only broken when those whom we truly love are taken from us. The depth of our grief is also the depth of our love. I understand it can be overwhelming to sit with someone while they’re in pain. It takes courage and strength to truly suffer with another human being.
If you’re feeling down, it can be hard to believe that things will get better. But sooner or later the tides always turn. I know it doesn’t seem like it when you’re in the midst of difficult times, but the one truth of the material world is change. Sometimes I get so bummed out about things that didn’t work out that I just feel overwhelmed by the heaviness of it all. I look at the accumulation of all the things I’ve done, both good and bad, successes failures, love and loss, and it is sometimes hard for me to be appreciative, thankful and happy. I would look around and where other people might have seen success what I saw was the cost of what I had achieved.
Here’s a relatively light-hearted example: when my husband and I first moved into our house we had to negotiate our different tastes. For our dining room table, he wanted something more rugged and rough and I wanted something more elegant. In the end we compromised and I chose the table and he chose the chairs. While it may seem fair enough, the ensuring conversations and process were so filled with so much triggering emotionality that when we finally got the table and chairs, all I saw when I looked at them was the pain I felt during what was a rather tense “negotiation”. During this one particular crippling period of depression I saw pain everywhere I looked and I desperately wanted to find a way out. What didn’t help at all was when people told me that my life was a success and I should just be grateful for what I did have. By all measures of outward success I was doing quite well. And I was a yogi, so I should practice contentment and be happy with everything. That only added guilt to my already sad state of mind.
I remember once that a friend of mine asked me if I was “in it to win it” about life. I guess I was or have been. But now, I don’t feel there’s any chance of “winning” nor do I feel like having an attitude of needing to be the “winner” is a good idea. Yes we need a bit of healthy motivation to keep going forward, but if the idea about life is to compete for a select few elite spots at the top of some ladder of outward success, then life ends up being just another completion with more losers than winners. So how about instead of playing to win, we shift the paradigm to playing for the sheer joy of it. Otherwise it can feel like an endless ladder where everyone is trying to one-up everyone else. Operating from a paradigm of scarcity where there are only limited resources available for those who are at the upper echelons is nerve-wracking and disappointing, even for those who achieve the top spots.
So much of our self-help culture is designed around how to be the best, how to get to number one and how to rise to be to of the pack. I’m not above that mindset. I remember feeling like I wanted to be the best yoga teacher, reach the most people with me message, be recognized by prestigious awards (like a NYT best seller or an invitation to speak at a TED conference). While I’ve written four books, founded an online channel and teach thousands of students each year, I have always felt I didn’t achieve my dreams because those measurements of success never came. And when other people seemed to effortlessly slide into receiving those prized invitations and notoriety I often felt bitter. I wanted to quit so many times and the more I compared myself to others be more it seemed like I was being passed over for opportunities I felt I deserved. It was hard for me to decide to keep the faith.
So, I know that if life has you feeling short-changed, like all your dreams are being lived by other people and that you got the short end of the stick, it can be hard to believe in yourself. When all the people who say that the universe has your back are privileged people who seem to have it all, it can feel like an insult. I mean, it sure does look like the universe has THEIR back, but what about you? I get it. It’s like there’s some disconnect between the everyday reality so many sit with and the ability of “good vibes” to magically create the life you want. There are books, seminars and coaching businesses devoted to training you up so that you will be number one and beat out the odds. I find this whole paradigm to be problematic. Maybe we need more instruction on how to be happy at number 2, number 200, number 2,000 or how to just enjoy playing the game again.
If you work and work, toiling away with heroic effort only to see someone else swoop in and claim the prize that you have had your eyes on for years, it can drive you insane and make your blood boil. I get it. I really do. There is a way to make peace, but it isn’t by denying how you feel.
Just because I’m a yogi doesn’t mean I don’t get sad or angry or anxious anymore. I’m not perfect and I certainly don’t always do the right thing. I make mistakes. I have offended some people to the point that they have told me (and continue to tell me) all the ways I’ve let them down and why they’ll never believe in me again. It hurts. When all is said and done, I am the one that sits with all my actions, good and bad, and needs to find a way to love myself, forgive myself. I’m not sure if self-love gets easier or harder as you get older. In one sense you’re more wise, compassionate and forgiving. But in another sense you have all your past to atone for. There is a way to keep a sense of innocence despite the weight of experience.
This week’s Yogi Assignment is RAIN, taken from Buddhist teacher Tara Brach’s teaching. She teaches that when difficulty arises, especially emotional stress, the acronym RAIN helps walk the path through the often murky territory of the inner world without escaping or denying the reality of pain. R stands for recognize and you might begin by simply acknowledging that an emotion is present or a feeling in the body. A is for allow, when you become aware of it, the next step is to allow it. Don’t fight it, escape it, deny it, project it, don’t try and fix it or avoid it. Just allow. You could think of this as a gentle yes from the heart. I is for investigate and this stage creates the space for you to be curious about your experience. Investigating inspires you to remain objective, drop your story about reality and see with innocence. New perspectives and deeper understanding often surfaces in this stage. Investigation also comes with kindness and isn’t a witch hunt for some absolute truth. Finally N is for nurture. Not only does this is include self-care but it also includes nurturing as a state of being, applied to both self and others. Nurture is the stage where you forgive yourself and your world for any wrongful actions, hurt or mistakes. This last step is where the “rain” starts to flow and you begin to feel a return to wholeness. This process has helped me immensely. If you really put in the work when you’re feeling down or disturbed, I hope you will find a path of depth and healing. If nothing else, having a method for sitting with challenging times gives you one more thing to have in your spiritual toolbox the next time you or someone you know face a difficulty.