One of the great skills in life – perhaps even more important than learning new ways to respond to difficult thoughts, feelings, and sensations – is being able to apply such learnings in the heat of having those difficult thoughts, feelings, and sensations.
I think it’s why I love mnemonics, such as Tara Brach’s RAIN;
Recognize what is happening;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with interest and care;
Nurture with self-compassion.
I may not always be able to remember these four steps at the peak of my emotional intensity but when I finally realise that I’m all ‘caught up in my thinking’ (perhaps during meditation, or simply in the quiet after an emotional storm), using the RAIN process (consciously or now unconsciously) can help me to return to my natural state of general well-being.
I’m currently studying Acceptance and Commitment Therapy/Training, a highly researched mindfulness-based modality which supports a rich and meaningful life through accepting difficult thoughts, feeling and sensations and still take action aligned with our values. I love it for its inherent compassion and focus on workability.
I also lead the ACT session for the Museum of Happiness’s Happiness Facilitator Training, which made me wonder; could I create a similar 4-step process for this modality?
Because ACT has something called the Hexaflex; a hexagon of the traits which make up what it describes as psychological flexibility;
(Let’s face it; it looks like something you’d hang above your front door to ward off evils spirits, right?)
When preparing to teach ACT, I had the genius idea (no false modesty here) of placing the points around the body;
- At the head: Contact with the Present Moment (“Where’s your head at?”)
- At the feet: Self as Context (“You’re standing in the container for your experience”)
- Left hand: Acceptance/Avoidance (“What are you pushing away?)
- Right hand: De-fusion (“What are you gripping onto?”)
- One’s back: Values/what matters to you (“Where are you coming from?)
- One’s front: Committed Action (“What do you want to move towards?)
This is still a work in progress (and you’re the first to see this!), but perhaps the mnemonic of CALM might work:
CALM: Check in, Allow, Loosen Up, Move
Check in – What’s going on for you in this moment? If we start at the top and work down, where’s your head right now? Are you time-travelling into the past or the future? Dropping down from your head into your body, what feelings, emotions or sensations do you discover?
Allow – Whatever you’ve discovered, whether you want to experience it or not, can you ‘drop the struggle’ and allow it to be there?
Loosen Up – Perhaps allowing your experience triggers further thoughts or causes your body to stiffen and brace itself. Can you loosen your grip on your thinking and any restrictive ‘should’ thoughts you’re experiencing (“I should do X”, “The world should by Y” etc), and loosen/relax your body as you do so?
Move – You’ve made contact with the present moment, allowing your experience rather than avoiding it, and loosened your grip on the thoughts and stories which ‘hook’ you and cause further pain or restriction. What first next move can you take towards your heart’s deepest desire for how you want to show up in the world?
While all four invitations are inspired by ACT, ‘Check in’ is also influenced by When the Body Says No: the Cost of Hidden Stress, the wonderful Gabor Maté book I’m currently reading.
In it, Maté reminds the reader that stress isn’t the feeling of ‘nervous agitation’ but “a measurable set of objective physiological events in the body, involving the brain, the hormonal apparatus, the immune system and many other organs. Both animals and people can experience stress with no awareness of its presence” [my italics].
This is why mindfulness and meditation is so often the foundation stone of well-being practises and programmes. How can you respond to something if it lies outside of your conscious awareness?
‘Allowing’ follows, as we have evolved to avoid pain and seek pleasure, and ‘loosening up’ feels kinder and more achievable than asking someone to ‘let go’ (I find it really hard to ‘let go‘ of a belief, hope, feeling, anything, on command, how about you?)
And closing the process with ‘Move’ is influenced by my love of ACT and why I’m studying applied positive psychology; love is a doing word, and our actions speak louder than words. We can’t always reach our goals, but we can more easily take small actions to live our values; as someone living with a chronic illness, it’s a reframe I embrace and which allows me to find meaning despite my limitations.
Plus, it’s only by making a small move, taking an action, that the ever-present responsive intelligence of life has, well, something to respond to.
So, try it and let me know; does keeping CALM help you to carry on and have a richer and more meaningful day today?