9) Acceptance - working with emotions

'... our archetypes, social mentalities and emotions are produces of millions of years of evolution and .. some of them can give us a very hard time indeed, It is important that we listen to our emotions carefully because they have important information for us. Sometimes we don't acknowledge anxiety, anger, frustration or upset because we're just keeping out heads down in order to survive or because we are frightened of these feelings. Learning to attend to and understand the meanings of our emotions and social mentalities can be extraordinary helpful ...'

(from 'The Compassionate Mind' by Paul Gilbert, p.416)

A useful mindfulness tool for working with emotions (good, bad & ugly!) is the RAIN practice - originally developed by Michelle MacDonald and made popular by Tara Brach, the following practice is mainly adapted from Diana Winston's 'Working with emotions 'RAINN’ - with a double N - practice from 'The Spectrum of Awareness' section of the 'Waking Up' app of Sam Harris. It combines mindfulness and compassionate imagery to help us recognise and gently work with difficult emotion.


RAINN practice 

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8) Going gently - our brains are fragile

'Adverse reactions to kindness and compassion are common in people who were neglected, abandoned or maltreated as children. Those who were not securely bonded to their parents or caregivers often find it difficult to trust others and form stable relationships later in life ... Many people experience adverse reactions in more subtle ways, as tenderness, sadness, heaviness or emptiness. You may notice this more clearly when you observe yourself mindfully.

The important message is that adverse reactions to receiving kindness are a normal phenomenon that many of us will encounter. Adverse reactions are not 'wrong' reactions, they arise naturally from our histories. So, if you notice them, there is nothing wring with you. It is another opportunity to practise mindfulness and awaken compassion . Having a grounding in mindfulness practice is particularly helpful here, enabling you to pause with your experience as it is, even if is painful and difficult, allowing the breath to settle into a soothing rhythm and the body to soften..'

(from 'A Practical Guide to Mindfulness-based Compassionate Living' by Erik van den Brink and Frits Koster, p 36 - 37)

So - given our evolutionary history of focus on threat, survival and striving, combined with our own personal histories, some of which will contain considerable trauma -  we need to proceed with compassionate mindful awareness with care.  Balancing and rebalancing our regulatory systems is important work - requiring both gentleness and courage.

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6) Heart-breath visualisation

Still on the theme of the value of imagery as a way for our imaginations to help 'fire' our brains in a particular direction .. here's a further very short practice - derived from Kelly McGonigal - who suggests visualising our breath breathing in and out from the heart and heartspace. We can add in words and further images to help foster a compassionate space from which we can act. It offers a useful 'on the spot' practice for times of emotional challenge.

Heart Breathing Practice (audio)     



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7) Other 'on the spot' practices


Practices that can be used in times of difficulty and challenge are a useful addition to longer, more formal meditations.

> One such is the 'Self-compassion practice' from Kristin Neff. Kristin distinguishes three components to self-compassion that offer a different route from the usual flight, fright or freeze reactions to stress.They can sometimes be presented in a different order but the main elements are commonly presented as:

1. Mindfulness ... this helps us see more clearly what is happening ... and how we can choose how to react. The words ''This is a moment of suffering" can be silently uttered to acknowledge the pain or difficulty of what is happening right now ... we can notice and hold in awareness what is happening in our bodies and minds right now .. then we move to -

2. Common humanity ... this is the simple realisation that suffering is part of being human .. it helps us against the drift to self-isolation ... we share this suffering with others ..we could say inwardly, "I am not alone in this" ... before moving to -

3. Self-kindness ... we can offer ourselves a moment of kindness ... rather than self-criticism, we can be gentle and kind ... we could offer the words "so may I treat myself with kindness"


> "Just like me" is another  'on the spot' practice - this time from Kelly McGonigal. On recognising, for example,  being with challenging behaviour from another, we could 'come to' and say inwardly something like, 

"Just like me, this person wishes to be happy, healthy and free from suffering" ...

This simple phrase, reminding us to take perspective, can help soften us when we're revving into reactivity ..  so our physiology can calm down and we can maybe choose a wiser path..


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5) Using Imagery to Soothe & Connect and to Steady & Ground

In 'The Practical Guide to Compassionate Living', Erik van den Brink and Frits Koster' state:

'Allowing a soothing breathing rhythm increases the vagal tone and a healthy heart rate variability, calming our emotional brains, making a kind gesture by putting a hand on the heart area can, in the right circumstances. support the release of oxytocin and feelings of warmth, openness and connection. By nourishing the soothing system, we empower the 'low road' to compassion, bringing our old brains and bodies in line to receive and give kindness and care' (p 18).

But we can also use 'the high road' of compassionate imagery to activate our soothing systems. This is powerful - the brain responds to both internal and external triggers in the same way - so by developing our own internal soothing imagery we can create our own helpful internal triggers, to use when we need to connect and soothe.

A useful exercise - and one that can be stored and come back to whenever we feel a need to resource and replenish ourselves - is the idea of creating our own safe place. This will help connect with our soothing systems, encouraging feelings of safety, calm, contentment and peace.

See the 'Safe Place' practice below  as a guide to developing one's own safe place/space.

A Safe Place (audio)

The Mountain image is used as a metaphor for strength and stability. It is frequently used as a meditation practice to help build strength and stability and to foster insight into an understanding of endurance in the face of change and impermanence.  

See the 'Strong and Steady as a Mountain' practice below as a guide to using this form of imagery in meditation.

 Strong and Steady as a Mountain (audio) 























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