Cultivating Kindness for Ourselves

May 26, 2022 by

By John Schorling

Cultivating kindness is central to practicing mindfulness.  A definition of mindfulness that we use in the Mindfulness Center is “intentional nonjudgmental present moment awareness with kindness”.  Why is kindness so important?  Being with our own present moment experience can be hard, and practicing kindness toward ourselves can facilitate our ability to do this.

There are times when we may be feeling stressed, or upset with ourselves for something we have or have not done, or we may be upset with someone else.  If we pay attention to our present moment experience, we may notice that we are feeling anxious, or guilty, or angry.  These can all be difficult emotions, and we may want to turn away, to distract ourselves, to do anything else but be with what we are feeling.  Yet mindfulness is about being with whatever is arising in the moment, whether it is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

So is it possible to lean in to whatever we are feeling rather than turning away?  RAINS is an acronym for a process that is helpful in doing this.  First, the R stands for Recognizing what we are experiencing and feeling, then the A is for just Allowing it to be without trying to fix anything or change anything, just being with what is, without judgment.  The I is for Investigating what we are feeling- where do we feel it in the body?  Grounding ourselves in the present moment experience of the body can help us get out of the story of what we think is happening, and stories can feed on themselves, creating even more stress.

Often noticing what we are feeling in the body is enough to get out of the story and the difficult emotion may lessen or subside.  If not, we can further investigate our experience, perhaps asking ourselves “What am I believing right now?”  We may be believing that we are not good enough, or should be different in some way.   Whatever we are experiencing in the moment is real, it is what we are experiencing, but the story often is not true. Tara Brach has pointed out the importance of recognizing this, of noticing when what we are experiencing is real but not true.

The N of RAINS stands for Not-identifying with whatever we are experiencing, knowing that whatever we are feeling does not define us.  Emotions arise, we feel them, then they will ultimately change and often pass away.  Because we feel anger does not mean we are an angry person.  We are just experiencing anger.  We can even say to ourselves “this is not me” or “not mine”.

Finally, the S in RAINS stands for Self-kindness and Self-compassion.  Being with things as they are can be challenging, and bringing kindness to our experience can be very helpful.  There are many ways of practicing self-kindness.  We can extend feelings of kindness to ourselves and say phrases such as “May I be happy” and “May I be free from inner and outer harm” as we do in practicing lovingkindness meditation.  We might reflect on how we would respond to a friend who is experiencing what we are, and extend the same kindness to ourselves as we would to them. Or we might imagine a friend extending kindness to us if we shared our experience with them.  We can also do the same with a spiritual figure we respect, imagining what Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama might say to us.   Touch can also be comforting, and we might find that placing a hand on the heart and saying a phrase such as “May I be kind to myself” is helpful.

Each of us finds comfort in our own way, and it can be helpful to try different ways of practicing self-kindness during meditation.  Once we find a practice that resonates, when we meditate we might begin by doing this for a few minutes as we recommend in our classes.  This practice can then become a resource that we can use to extend kindness to ourselves during difficult times, allowing us to turn toward our experience, being with it as it is, rather than turning away.

Filed Under: Monthly Musings