Many of us need to try out different methods of managing our anxiety and difficult emotions before landing on one or two that really work well for us. To this end, try the R.A.I.N. meditation, modified by caregiver, psychologist and longtime meditation teacher, Tara Brach. It can help with caregiver anxiety and guilt.
When we are feeling anxious, we are not living in the moment. Our minds are swirling with anxious thoughts that usually involve the future. And it means we aren’t present with the people who may be physically right beside us. We lose connection. And we can lose sight of what really matters.
When we believe there isn’t enough time
Tara Brach, a popular meditation teacher, relayed a story that I think will resonate with many caregivers. Her 83 year- old mother had moved in with her and her husband. Even prior to her mom moving in, Tara had an ongoing and common thought many caregivers have: There isn’t enough time.
Brach relays the following story. She was in her home office and her anxiety amped up when she couldn’t find a file she needed for a presentation that evening. Her mother came into the room for a casual conversation and Tara ignored her mom until she left the room.
A caregiver’s story: getting lost in worry and planning
When Tara watched her mom leave the room, something in her stopped and she was jarred into the reality that her mom wouldn’t always be around for a conversation. This propelled her into a further realization that she often wasn’t present for her Mom. She was often focused on how quickly they could get everything done and her time together with her Mom often felt obligatory.
This happens for all of us. In Brach’s words:
“We all get lost in the dense forest of our lives, entangled in incessant worry and planning, in judgments of others, and in our busy striving to meet demands and solve problems. When we’re caught in that thicket, it’s easy to lose sight of what matters most.”
Can you relate as a caregiver?
As a caregiver, what is in the dense forest of your life? Do you ever lose sight of what matters most to you? What happens for you to lose sight of this? Is it worry? All the demands of your time and energy? What derails you? Do you know when this is happening? What do you do about it?
Bringing mindfulness and compassion to the moment
There is no value in coming to difficult realizations and sitting in guilt about them. As Brach says, we all get lost in the dense forest of our lives. And the forest is more dense these days as we struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic and wonder and worry about what lies ahead.
The key is to move from an awareness of being in worry and anxiety to doing something that acknowledges the anxiety and helps move us into the present moment. From this place we can then make conscious decisions and be responsive rather than reactive.
Brach has this covered and offers a R.A.I.N. meditation. In this mindfulness meditation, we explore our difficult feelings or anxiety with compassion, curiosity and without judgement. We then offer ourselves words of kindness and comfort (self-compassion).
Let’s continue with Tara Brach’s story and how she used the R.A.I.N. meditation in relation to her role as a daughter/caregiver.
R.A.I.N. mindfulness meditation
Sit down somewhere comfortable where you will not be disturbed. Take a few deep breaths.
Recognize what is going on inside you. What are your physical sensations? Emotions? Recognizing means consciously acknowledging, in any given moment, the thoughts, feelings, sensations and behaviors that are affecting us.
TARA’S STORY: “the circling of anxious thoughts and guilty feelings”
Allow the feelings to be. Just breathe and don’t try to change your feelings or fix anything. Just accept how you are in this moment. Allowing means letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations we have recognized to just be there. Typically, when we have an unpleasant experience, we react in one of three ways: by piling on the judgment; by numbing ourselves to our feelings; or by focusing our attention elsewhere.
TARA’S STORY: “Even though I didn’t like what I was feeling, my intention was not to fix or change anything and, just as important, not to judge myself for feeling anxious or guilty.”
Investigate with kindness what feels most difficult. Investigating means being curious about your experience. Simply pausing to ask, what is happening inside me? You might ask yourself: What most wants attention? How am I experiencing this in my body? Or What am I believing? Why do I feel this way? What does this feeling want from me?
This investigation can help with self-awareness, bringing a deeper understanding of yourself.
TARA’S STORY: “I believed I was going to fail. I’d do a bad job and let people down. But that same anxiety made me unavailable to my mother, so I was also failing someone I loved dearly.
As I became conscious of these pulls of guilt and fear, I continued to investigate, contacting that torn, anxious part of myself. I asked, “What do you most need right now?” I could immediately sense that it needed care and reassurance that I was not going to fail in any real way. It needed to trust that the teachings would flow through me, and to trust the love that flows between my mother and me.”
Give yourself encouraging and comforting messages. This might feel really awkward or even ‘hoaky’ at first if you are just learning to be kind to yourself.
TARA’S STORY : “It’s okay, sweetheart. You’ll be all right; we’ve been through this so many times before…trying to come through on all fronts. I could feel a warm, comforting energy spreading through my body. Then there was a distinct shift: My heart softened a bit, my shoulders relaxed, and my mind felt more clear and open.”
How the RAIN meditation helps with anxiety and difficult emotions like guilt
This meditation can bring us to our ‘center’. If you are more scientifically minded, you can understand it as reconnecting us with our prefrontal cortex, which is the most evolved part of our brain which as to do with executive functioning and making good decisions.
What I love about this meditation is that it slows us down and gives a structured way for us to reflect and then choose how we want to act and be in the world. Many of us can get hijacked by difficult emotions like guilt and worry. Meditations such as this one and the S.T.O.P exercise/meditation offer us a way to ‘reset’.
When meditation practices or exercises are new, it can be helpful to have them guided. You can more easily fully immerse yourself in the experience. Tara Brach offers RAIN as a guided meditation here.
We would love to hear about your experiences doing this short meditation. Please share below