Next time you feel lost in powerful emotions, use this wonderful tool described by Tara Brach, psychotherapist and meditation teacher.  The following is adapted from Tara Brach’s forthcoming book, True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart(Bantam, January 22, 2013), which I highly recommend.

My earliest memories of being happy are of playing in the ocean. When our family began going to Cape Cod in the summer, the low piney woods, high dunes, and wide sweep of white sand felt like a true home. We spent hours at the beach, diving into the waves, bodysurfing, practicing somersaults underwater. Summer after summer, our house filled with friends and family—and later, with spouses and new children. It was a shared heaven. The smell of the air, the open sky, the ever-inviting sea made room for everything in my life—including whatever difficulties I was carrying in my heart. 

Then came the morning not so long ago when two carloads of friends and family members took off for the beach without me. From the girl who had to be pulled from the water at suppertime, I’d become a woman who was no longer able to walk on sand or swim in the ocean. After two decades of mysteriously declining health, I’d finally gotten a diagnosis: I had a genetic disease with no cure, and the primary treatment was painkillers. As I sat on the deck of our summer house and watched the cars pull out of the driveway, I felt ripped apart by grief and loneliness. In the midst of my tears, I was aware of a single longing. “Please, please, may I find a way to peace, may I love life no matter what.” 

This place of peace, connectedness, and inner freedom, even in the face of life’s greatest challenges is what I call “true refuge.” It does not depend on anything outside ourselves—a certain situation, a person, a cure, even a particular mood or emotion. The yearning for such refuge is universal. It is what lies beneath all our wants and fears. We long to know we can handle what’s coming. We want to trust ourselves, to trust this life. We want to live from the fullness of who we are. 

The pathway to true refuge is presence, the courage to meet even our most challenging inner experiences with a mindful awareness. About twelve years ago, a number of Buddhist teachers began to share a new mindfulness tool that offers in-the-trenches support for working with intense and difficult emotions. Called RAIN (an acronym for the four steps of the process), it can be accessed in almost any place or situation. It directs our attention in a clear, systematic way that cuts through confusion and stress. The steps give us somewhere to turn in a painful moment, and as we call on them more regularly, they strengthen our capacity to come home to our deepest truth. Like the clear sky and clean air after a cooling rain, this mindfulness practice brings a new openness and calm to our daily lives.

I have now taught RAIN to thousands of students, clients, and mental health professionals, and have made it a core practice in my own life. Here are the four steps of RAIN presented in the way I’ve found most helpful:

R    Recognize what is happening
A    Allow life to be just as it is
I      Investigate inner experience with kindness
N    Non-identification

Recognize What is Happening
Recognition is seeing what is true in your inner life. It starts the minute you focus your attention on whatever thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations are arising right here and now. As your attention settles and opens, you will discover that some parts of your experience are easier to connect with than others. For example, you might recognize anxiety right away, but if you focus on your worried thoughts, you might not notice the actual sensations of squeezing, pressure, or tightness arising in the body. You can awaken recognition simply by asking yourself: “What is happening inside me right now?” Call on your natural curiosity as you focus inward.

Try to let go of any preconceived ideas and instead listen in a kind, receptive way to your body and heart.

Allow Life to Be Just as it Is
Allowing means “letting be” the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations you discover. You may feel a natural sense of aversion, of wishing that unpleasant feelings would go away, but as you become more willing to be present with “what is,” a different quality of attention will emerge. Allowing is intrinsic to healing, and realizing this can give rise to a conscious intention to “let be.”

Many students I work with support their resolve to “let be” by mentally whispering an encouraging word or phrase. For instance, you might feel the grip of fear and whisper “yes,” or experience the swelling of deep grief and whisper “yes.” You might use the words “this too” or “I consent.”

At first you might feel you’re just putting up with unpleasant emotions or sensations. Or you might say yes to shame and hope that it will magically disappear. In reality, we have to consent again and again. Yet even the first gesture of allowing, simply whispering a phrase like “yes” or “I consent,” begins to soften the harsh edges of your pain. 

Simply whispering a phrase like “yes” or “I consent,” begins to soften the harsh edges of your pain.

Your entire being is not so rallied in resistance. Offer the phrase gently and patiently, and in time your defenses will relax, and you may feel a physical sense of yielding or opening to waves of experience.

Investigate with Kindness
At times, simply working through the first two steps of RAIN is enough to provide relief and reconnect you with presence. In other cases, however, the simple intention to recognize and allow is not enough. For instance, if you are in the thick of a divorce, about to lose a job, or dealing with a life-threatening illness, you may be easily overwhelmed by intense feelings. Because these feelings are triggered over and over again—you get a phone call from your soon-to-be ex, your bank statement comes, you wake up to pain in the morning—your reactions can become very entrenched. In such situations, you may need to further awaken and strengthen mindful awareness with the I of RAIN.

Investigation means calling on your natural interest—the desire to know truth—and directing a more focused attention to your present experience. Simply pausing to ask, “What is happening inside me?” might initiate recognition, but with investigation you engage in a more active and pointed kind of inquiry. You might ask yourself: “What most wants attention?” “How am I experiencing this in my body?” or “What am I believing?” or “What does this feeling want from me?” You might contact sensations of hollowness or shakiness, and then find a sense of unworthiness and shame buried in these feelings. Unless they are brought into consciousness, these beliefs and emotions will control your experience and perpetuate your identification with a limited, deficient self.

In order for investigation to be healing and freeing, we need to approach our experience with an intimate quality of attention. We need to offer a gentle welcome to whatever surfaces. This is why I use the phrase “Investigate with kindness.” Without this heart energy, investigation cannot penetrate; there is not enough safety and openness for real contact. Imagine that your child comes home in tears after being bullied at school. In order to find out what happened and how your child is feeling, you have to offer a kind, receptive, gentle attention. Bringing that same kindness to your inner life makes inquiry, and ultimately healing, possible.

Non-Identification: Rest in Natural Awareness
The lucid, open, and kind presence evoked in the R, A, and I of RAIN leads to the N: the freedom of non- identification, and the realization of what I call natural awareness or natural presence. Non-identification means that your sense of who you are is not fused with or defined by any limited set of emotions, sensations, or stories. When identification with the small self is loosened, we begin to intuit and live from the openness and love that express our natural awareness. The first three steps of RAIN require some intentional activity. In contrast, the N of RAIN expresses the result: a liberating realization of your natural awareness. There’s nothing to do for this last part of RAIN—realization arises spontaneously, on its own. We simply rest in natural awareness.

Two Powerful Tips For A Transformative 2018

The New Year arrives wrapped in a glistening layer of Hope. There is a sense that one can start over.   The slate is cleared.    All our mistakes and misfortunes are joyfully replaced by visions of abundant opportunities arising in the future.  The word “ new” is such a delicious word.  It comes packed with the thrill of experiencing something good.  The hope of finally getting what you have desired. 

 This powerful gift doesn’t have to wait 365 days to be unwrapped.   You have the opportunity every moment to begin again.  It only requires 2 things of you; having awareness and engaging your will.  That’s it.  Sounds simple, but not easy.   By now you know that everything you treasure in your life has not come easy.   In fact, the hard work and struggle makes those good things feel even more valuable to you.  You wouldn’t know what happiness was unless you have felt sadness.  There is no left without right.  Good weather is appreciated more when one weathered a terrible storm.  Just ask anyone on the East coast experiencing artic temperatures right now.

The above paragraph is me trying to engage your will.  I admit it.  In fact I’m very good at it.  I have many years of practice.  When someone comes in to see me for help, they are usually stuck and feeling hopeless.  They cannot see that it is temporary, but I can.  It feels huge to them and they don’t know any other way to experience what they’re going through.  “The life force is always in the process of change- nothing is fixed." This is a blessing, not a curse.   If you work with this fact, and stop working against it your life is going to get a whole lot better.  When you’re steep in unhappiness, struggling with a challenge, remember that it is temporary and will eventually pass.   Keeping this in mind will help your endurance.  When happiness drops in your lap, enjoy every moment of it.  It too shall pass.  Knowing that happiness is impermanent will help you savor each minute of it when it arrives. You’re causing unnecessary unhappiness when you pine too long for what you lost.  You cannot time travel.  Stop adding salt to your wounds.  Instead, remember there’s always another bus coming.  This is what it takes to engage your will; the ability to see the big picture.  It’s important for your survival to think outside of the box.  Open up to new ways of being in this world, it’s refreshing.  Make inspiration a priority.  Find people who make you light up with passion and enthusiasm.  Read literature that opens your mind. Explore the world and find places that spark your joie de vive.  Stockpile inspiring moments, you will need to call on them when you’re in the trenches battling life.  They are little gifts that will engage your will and push you forward toward higher ground. 

And now for “awareness.”  Awareness is like the sunshine and water that nurtures a little seed.  It holds the important elements that will bring life to the little seed.  Without nurturance, the seed will lie dormant and never blossom Awareness is where all the growth is.  You always have the opportunity to begin again but first you must have the awareness of when you’re shutting yourself down. Self-criticism is like poison to the little seed.  It is not nurturing.  Instead, choose awareness as a goal.  If something does not go your way, don’t waste your time berating yourself.   Take a distant view and ask yourself, “How can I do this better next time?”  Let curiosity be your key word in 2018 not criticism.  Curiosity will open you up and criticism will shut you down.  But in order to make this change you have to help your awareness get stronger.  Meditation is a wonderful way to help you cultivate awareness and a kinder relationship to yourself.   Learn more about it here.  It takes practice to learn how to be more aware, and break old patterns of behavior, but if you’re invested in your personal growth, well worth it.   Insight helps you to see when you’re neglecting rather than nurturing yourself.  With this information, you can begin to engage your will and start the wheels of change in motion.  With time, the importance of self-awareness and the engagement of your will can become second nature to you.  You will meet challenges with enthusiasm and an excitement because it presents the opportunity for you to learn something new about yourself.   Awareness is like a good compass, it will always show you which direction your going. May 2018 and every year after be filled with joy for your journey.


Nothing Is Fixed

As human beings we are as impermanent as everything else is. Every cell in the body is continuously changing. Thoughts and emotions rise and fall away unceasingly. When we’re thinking that we’re competent or that we’re hopeless—what are we basing it on? On this fleeting moment? On yesterday’s success or failure? We cling to a fixed idea of who we are and it cripples us. Nothing and no one is fixed.  - Pema Chodron

10 Ways To Build Resilience

Talent alone is not enough to bring you success.  You must   have  resilience in order to hang in there when the going gets tough.   Woody Allen recognizes the importance of stamina when he said,  “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”  Last Sunday, I was visiting the Hammer Museum with my family and noticed  Dianne Wiest eating lunch alone. She looked fragile with her arm in a sling and I thought to myself, underneath that angelic exterior and soft voice is one tough cookie! I remembered reading about what she had gone through as an actress in her early days.  As a young actress, she hit a bump that could’ve ended her career. Cast in a play and feeling totally lost, during a rehearsal, the director exploded at her saying, “If I had any idea how BAD you really were, I never would have cast you!” Instead of going home and giving up, she found the strength to hang in there and create a flourishing career.  In an excerpt from the book, “Actors At Work,” by Tichler and Kaplan, Wiest talks openly about another challenge in her career while filming the film Bullets Over Broadway  – “Woody sent me the script (Bullets Over Broadway) and said I’d be perfect for the part. 

So I read it, and I thought, what the hell is he dreaming of? This isn’t for me. I had no idea what he was thinking. So I put on these beautiful costumes, and the first day of shooting comes and goes, and Woody says, ‘Come to the cutting room.’ He said, ‘Look at this,’ and I looked at the dailies, and it was awful. I mean awful, just a stupid woman saying these meaningless lines, trying to seduce beautiful John Cusack. And I said, ‘I don’t know what to do, Woody.’ And he said, ‘Well, think of something.’ I said, ‘I think you should replace me.’ So the next day, we were sitting on the set, both of us in despair, saying this is truly awful. And I said, ‘I think you have to replace me. You have to fire me and get somebody who can do this.’ And he said, very loyally, ‘No, I think it’s something to do with your voice.’ And I remember coming toward panic that morning, determined that I would lower my voice, but really not knowing what the hell I was going to do. So we went back and reshot the same scene, and I was determined, and I lowered my voice, and suddenly, with this fake voice I could do anything. Anything. “

And so she did… she went on to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Wiest did not let fear and self -doubt shut her down.   Instead, she turned an obstacle into an opportunity to grow as an actress.   With Woody Allen’s belief in her acting ability and her courage to hang in there when she wanted to give up, she was able to turn the situation around.

It is essential that you  develop staying power instead of running away from your challenges. Obstacles are unavoidable.  Learning how to deal with them rather than avoid them will contribute to your growth as an actor and a human being.

Here are 10 tips to help you stay in there for the long haul:

  1. Trust that everything that happens to you, good and bad, contains the seeds for the next thing to unfold. All beginnings have endings, its part of the process. Patience will help you endure the storm until the rainbow arrives.
  2. Learn to approach things with positive, open-hearted curiosity. Curiosity will open you up; self-judgment will shut you down.
  3. Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for yourself and thinking why me.   Instead, get out of your own way by seeing difficulty as part of living and an opportunity for growth. Remember, when growth is your goal, you will never lose. Enjoy being a student the rest of your life.
  4. Have fun, experience your life as an experiment. Nobody is watching or keeping score. Stop comparing yourself to others. “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.”
  5. Loosen your attachment to right and wrong. Rigid thinking will limit your creativity. Think outside of the box and go for it.   If something doesn’t work out, no big deal. When it’s ready to happen for you it will.
  6. Have a plan for obstacles. Figure out what you need in order to hang in there and ride out the waves of life.   When a big wave comes and knocks you down, shake the sand out of your nose and ears, find your feet and stand up for the next wave.   Put your energy towards learning to ride the waves rather than trying to stop them.
  7. Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience.
  8. Accept that change is a part of living. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
  9. Nurture a positive view of yourself. Remembering your competence will help you develop confidence in your ability to solve problems. Learning to trust your instincts helps build resilience.
  10. Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body ready to deal with tough situations.

The next time you face an obstacle and feel like giving up,  remember you are not alone, in fact you are in very good company!

Have a Happy and Healthy Holiday.



Hope is not denying what is happening to you right now,  it is the ability to use what is happening to you right now in order to suffer less.  Running away won't take it away.  Instead, trust your strength and goodness.  Cultivate a practice of inner strength by turning to the habits that will make you stronger not weaker.  Know that darkness doesn't mean death.  Darkness can be filled with richness and growth if you know how to use everything that happens to you as nourishment for growth.  Learn to meditate and talk openly and honestly to yourself and others.  Stop hiding behind perfectionism.  It doesn't exist.   You exist just as you are right now and that is enough.

"It may be when we no longer know what to do,

we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go,

we have begun our real journey."

-Wendell Berry 

Go Home

This time of year is all about going home - a physical place that you return to where you feel you belong.  Not everyone has that blessing.  And, although your family may be difficult to be around, they're YOUR family.  Even though there may be disagreements and feuds, the sense of unconditional love takes precedence.   We are wired in our brains to connect with one another.  According to the latest cutting edge neuroscience, our need to connect with people is even more fundamental than our need for food and shelter.  But, what if you find yourself alone during the Holidays?  How can you make this time less painful? Try this:

  •  Start out by not denying your situation.  If you feel melancholy that you weren't invited to join someone's table, allow yourself to feel your feelings.  You have a right to them.  But, maybe you can put a time limit on it.  Tell yourself that you will sulk or cry for one or two hours and then when the time is up, you will pick yourself up and continue with your life.  Don't be afraid of your sadness.  Give it all the room it needs, it will dissolve faster when you don't block it.
  • Connect with yourself.  Don't run away and abandon yourself.    Start off with a body scan.  It is amazing how much fuller you can feel when you get grounded in your body.  Any mindful meditation will help you control negative thoughts.  You can't control whether or not you get invited to someone's home for the Holidays, but you can certainly be proactive with how you handle it. 
  •  Make eye contact.  If the eyes are the windows of the soul, use that to help you feel more connected when you come into contact with people.  Anyone.  It's amazing how satisfying it can feel to be locked in a gaze with someone.  To be seen.  At our very core, we want to be seen, to be gotten.  This can happen with the check out person at the grocery store.  The opportunity to connect is more available than you think.
  • Smile.  The venerable Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile and sometimes your smile is the source of your joy."  Remember whatever you feed will grow.  If you choose to feed your misery then it will feel bigger inside of you.  But if you take control over how you choose to meet your challenges and choose to feed the positive, then that is what will grow.  
  • Nothing is forever.  Know that everything is continually changing, that is the nature of life.  As bad as you may feel right now, it will pass.  It's just weather.  Even though it may be cloudy and cold, remember that behind those clouds is the ever present Sun waiting to come out and spread its sunshine.




The 90 second rule.

What do you do when you feel that you can't handle what's going on?  Do you look to escape or self-medicate?  Perhaps you go into avoidance or distraction mode.  By not dealing directly with what's on your plate, you are strengthening your fears.  You can find your courage to deal with life in knowing that everything is continuously shifting like the weather.  As you weather the storm within, remember that it will pass eventually.   Brain researcher, Jill Bolte Taylor describes the 90-second rule as, " All emotions last for less than 90 seconds.  If anything continues after  it is because we have added our own story and chosen to hold on to the emotion."  In other words, if you are driving and someone cuts you off on the road and you react angrily, if you let it wash through you it will last for 90 seconds.  If you continue to say to yourself, "Everyone is crazy, it's not safe out there. etc.  etc. "  You don't let the emotion go and make it stick around longer with your thoughts.  If you choose to think about that one driver who cut you off all day long, your bad mood will stick around for that long too.  You don't have control over some of the things that happen to you, but you do have control over how you want to handle it.  Mindfulness meditation can teach you how to let go of unwanted thoughts and stay in the present moment by focusing on your breath.  You can start to train yourself to be more in control of your thoughts so that you have more control over your moods.

New Beginnings

Love is the mansion and fear is just a little room in it.  Every moment holds an opportunity to begin again, to start fresh.  The past is your history, but the future is wide open.  Open up to  possibilities rather than dwelling on limitations.  Make a conscious effort to let go of any limiting self-pity so that you can strive towards being the most excellent version of yourself.