Compassionate RAIN, from Tara Brach 05-04-2020
On the first Monday of each month, we have a tradition of practicing guided meditations to open the heart. Compassion is the second of the four Brahma Viharas or Divine Abodes and serves as a companion to Metta or loving kindness.
Known as Karuna in the Pali language of the Buddha’s teachings, compassion practice directs loving kindness towards suffering and develops an attitude of nonjudgmental caring. Compassion goes beyond our likes or dislikes for a person who is suffering and for the causes that have led to that suffering. It entails opening to the universal nature of suffering itself, recognizing that all human beings suffer from wanting reality to be different from what it is.
During the uncertainties of the pandemic, we may be tempted to withdraw in fear and anxiety. Compassion practice helps us to turn towards what is difficult, remembering our interconnection with all beings and our shared vulnerability.
Tonight’s practice is adapted from Tara Brach’s book Radical Compassion. Tara reminds us that at the center of caring for others is compassion for our own life. If we are having a hard time and don’t hold our own vulnerability with care, it’s hard to embrace others with a full and wise presence. She remembers the Dalai Lama saying that while he wasn’t always good at practicing compassion, he cared about it. Even when your heart isn’t open, what matters is that deep down inside you care about caring. You can trust that a capacity for compassion is an intrinsic part of who you are.
Using the RAIN method to develop a compassionate heart, we will go through four steps: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture.
To prepare, sit in a way that allows you to be relaxed and alert.
Take a few deep breaths, exhaling habitual tension.
Settle in your body and mind.
Connect with an intention to offer compassion to the pain of your own difficulties.
Pause and notice what is hardest about your current situation….
Listening in a kind, receptive way to your body and heart, ask yourself, “What is happening inside me now?”
What sensations are you most aware of? What emotions or thoughts?
You may encounter a mixture of thoughts, emotions and sensations, or you may feel numb or empty.
Bring a caring presence to whatever you witness.
Let your feelings and your ways of handling this situation be just as they are.
Simply notice what is true, without adding judgments.
Ask yourself, “Can I be with this?
It’s natural to feel resistance and to wish that uncomfortable emotions—such as pain, fear, hurt, grief, anxiety, anger or confusion—would go away.
Make space to include in your experience any impulses to resist and to say, “No.”
Now imagine softening into a more expansive field of “yes.”
It is possible to say “yes” to a body and mind painfully contracted in resistance or to a part of you that is protesting, “I hate this!”
That is a natural part of the process of allowing.
Let your intention be to let go of judging, pushing away, or controlling whatever arises.
Without analyzing or trying to fix anything, become aware of your embodied experience.
Instead of thinking about what is going on, bring attention to the felt sense of your body.
What body sensations are underlying your thoughts and feelings?
With a kind and interested attention, explore sensations such as tightness, contraction, heat, cold, numbness, aching, or heaviness.
Ask yourself what most wants your attention.
Where do you feel most vulnerable inside?
What does that vulnerable place most want or need right now?
Is it acceptance? Forgiveness? Understanding? Deep listening? A gentle embrace?
You might imagine the most compassionate and wise part of your being tenderly caring for that vulnerable place in you and offering what is needed.
Or you might envision or sense the felt presence of someone you trust—a parent or pet, a teacher or a spiritual figure—holding you with loving compassion.
It may feel nurturing to place your hand softly on your heart and to visualize your inner child surrounded by soft, luminous light.
Widening the Circles:
Staying connected to the sense of inner vulnerability, bring to mind others who may be experiencing similar life problems and similar feelings.
Extend compassionate presence to them.
Let yourself be touched by their pain. Offer them nurturing too.
Sense how we are together in this journey of being human.
The more often you offer gestures of kindness to your own heart, the more easily you will be able to respond compassionately to those around you….
Now take a few moments to reflect upon family members and friends who are close to you.
Choose someone who is having a difficult time….
Connect with an intention to awaken compassion towards this person.
Become aware of how this dear one is dealing with current challenges.
You might recall a predominant mood, a regular activity, or the tone of recent communications.
Let your sense of how this person is living, feeling or communicating to be just the way it is, without adding any judgment.
With gentleness, curiosity, and interest, explore this person’s experience more deeply.
Imagine feeling with their heart and viewing the world from their perspective.
Try to understand, “What’s it like being you?”
What life circumstances are most distressing now?
What fears, disappointments, or hurts are you carrying?
What are you believing about yourself?
How does this life situation feel in your heart and body?
Where inside do you feel most vulnerable?
What does that vulnerable place most want or need right now—from others?
Holding this person’s vulnerability in your heart, expand your awareness to your whole body and to the sounds and space around you.
From that inclusive heart-space, offer what is needed.
It might be acceptance, forgiveness, understanding or deep listening.
You might offer care energetically, as a flow of warmth or as a comforting image or with some caring words.
Imagine this person receiving and absorbing the healing benefits of your caring.
Widening the circle:
Now enlarge the field of compassion to include all those who experience similar suffering.
Breathing in, sense the willingness of your heart to be touched by pain.
Breathing out, be aware of the vastness of compassionate awareness, as you offer care to all beings.
After the RAIN:
Let go of all ideas about others.
Notice the qualities of heart and presence within you.
Be aware if there is a sense of openness, or tenderness, or love.
Let go into whatever wholesome state has arisen and rest there for a while.