You know how it usually goes when shit gets real in your life:
You get a rejection from an editor or agent, or your critique group hates your new book, or you just lost a whole day’s work because your computer crashed. Most of us aren’t super chill folks who can go with the flow when these things happen. Most of us lose our ever-loving minds.
When I’m in an upset or overwhelm I enter beast mode: I’m suddenly 100% in a terrible mood, texting angry vents to my husband while he’s at work, and desperately in need of chocolate. Like, now. When it comes to the writer’s life, these unexpected moments come from anywhere and everywhere. Maybe I get an email with a ton of unexpected revisions, or I see I didn’t make whatever new list of Best Books Ever is out on Twitter. Maybe I just can’t for the life of me figure out a specific plot point in my work-in-progress or I’m frustrated that menial tasks ended up eating my writing time.
For years I just rode the waves of frustration, then beat myself up for being a jerk. Even though this never made the situation better and I knew it wasn’t healthy to be led by my emotions so much, I didn’t know how to stop freaking out. Last year I took a class on Zen for beginners and the teacher introduced us to the R.A.I.N process, which was coined around twenty years ago by Michele McDonald. It’s such an easy way to practice mindfulness, breaking down the process of what we experience so that we can get some relief and not be controlled by situations that arise.
I consider this the Stop, Drop, and Roll of mindfulness, an on-the-go emotions hack that takes you off the merry-go-round of anger, shame, hurt, and any other terrible thing you’re feeling.
Recognize what’s going on
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is
Investigate what’s happening with gentleness
So here’s R.A.I.N in action:
First, you Recognize what’s going on. Let’s use the example of a rejection from an agent or editor. You get the email:
Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately…
It sucks, right? It TOTALLY sucks. And mindfulness does not mean pretending it’s okay. You don’t have to shit rainbows. Instead of just letting the emotion have its way with you, go ahead and just take a moment to acknowledge what’s happening. It could be as simple as:
I’m angry. I’m really fucking angry.
If we don’t stop and experience this all in slo-mo, then what happens is we start to go down the shame spiral. Right? Suddenly you’re the worst writer in the world, you’re never going to make it, why do you even bother, oh my god now you have to tell everyone you’ve been rejected AGAIN…
None of that. Remember, this is the Stop Drop and Roll of mindfulness – recognizing is the Stop part.
Allow the experience to be, just as it is:
This is where you take a moment to just experience the emotion you’re feeling. For a long time, I didn’t understand how simply letting myself feel something was actually the biggest part of letting go of controlling emotions that arise. I thought I had to do something, but it’s really amazing how just sitting and feeling the full range of the emotion within me is action enough.
The easiest way to do this is to get into your body and out of your head. Where does the emotion sit inside you? I usually feel things in my chest or belly. Explore what this anger or stress or sadness feels like. Acknowledge it and don’t try to push it away, forget it, or cover it up with Netflix and wine.
So with our example, you would just sit with how shitty it feels to get rejected. Where does rejection land in your body? How does it feel?
When you’re ready, gently Investigate what this upset was all about. It’s important that you don’t fall into a story pattern (for example, the I’ll Never Be Successful story you tell yourself whenever you face a disappointment or the I’m Invisible in this Industry–my personal narrative).
Our feelings of unworthiness that often arise in these moments can often lead us to be an enemy to ourselves. We beat ourselves up, making it impossible to extend gentleness to the hurt parts of ourselves. Nothing productive happens when you’re mean to yourself. Not in the long run, anyway.
Meditation teacher Tara Brach describes this part of the process like this:
Here’s a story that helps to describe the process I went through. Imagine while walking in the woods you see a small dog sitting by a tree. You bend down to pet it and it suddenly lunges at you, teeth bared. Initially you might be frightened and angry. But then you notice one of its legs is caught in a trap, buried under some leaves. Immediately your mood shifts from anger to concern. You see that the dog’s aggression sprang from vulnerability and pain. This applies to all of us. When we behave in hurtful, reactive ways, it’s because we’re caught in some kind of painful trap. The more we investigate the source of our suffering, the more we cultivate a compassionate heart toward ourselves and others.
So let’s go back to our example. You got the rejection and felt terrible–anger and sadness vying for the most dominant emotions. You sat with it and found it lived in your chest. Now put your hand on your heart and gently inquire. Yes, you’re upset that you got rejected. But what’s deeper? Are you frightened this means you’re not good enough? Are you ashamed because every time you have to tell your spouse you got rejected, you worry they’ll beg you to quit?
It’s important, again, that this doesn’t devolve into a story. Just see why you’re feeling the way you are. When you’re clear on that, see if you can have compassion for yourself. Yes, you didn’t get the book deal or the contract with that agent. But you know that doesn’t mean you suck at life. It means this is a subjective industry and there are a thousand variables that go into why a book gets acquired or an agent chooses an author. I bet now that you’re sitting with your emotion and exploring it, you’re discovering a well of self-love you didn’t know was there. Drink deeply, if you can. (And if it’s hard, don’t worry: it’s hard for me too).
Now you’re ready for the final stage: Non-identification, or non-attachment to the event.
What this means is that you are not making this rejection part of your identity. You are not attaching it to your self-worth. Remember that line from Bridget Jone’s Diary? I like you–just as you are. (Swoon!) This rejection doesn’t define you. It’s a thing that happened and now you’ve processed it, and that’s that. This is where a regular mindfulness practice can really support your mental health as a writer. The more you practice R.A.I.N, the more energy you’re taking back for yourself and your creativity. It’s not all going toward your hustle for worthiness, as Brené Brown says. It’s going right into your fabulous book, poem, script, or soapbox blog post. It’s going where it belongs.
Shit happens. And, you know, at some point the sun comes out after the R.A.I.N.
Breathe. Write. Repeat.
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