Are you holding out? Or ready for R.A.I.N?
I was fascinated by the story of Hiroo Onoda - one of the last Japanese holdouts - in the Economist last week. I can’t wait to see the movie of his story: “Onoda: 10,000 Nights In The Jungle”.
Onoda was a Japanese intelligence officer, stationed on the Philippine island of Lubang during the Second World War. He surrendered in 1974 after decades of waging guerilla war alone. Can you imagine how he would have felt when he finally gave up a battle that he had fought for over 30 years?
How would it feel to finally stand down?
This relates to a fundamental question for all of us: How can we bring peace into our lives?
One of my clients, after a few years of stressful change, came for coaching while he was experiencing some nice positive momentum in his personal life. His relationships were going well and he was performing well at work.
So why did my client sometimes find himself feeling morose or that he wanted to be alone - resisting the cushion of love and support that was around him?
After years of holding the fort on his own, through the stressful times, he was struggling to “stand down”. His habitual stance had been protective and defensive for so long, it was really hard for him to allow a sense of security into his life.
Hiroo Onoda’s story is one of extreme isolation. And this is where we can find ourselves when we have been in a “fight” stress response for a long time: experiencing a lack of trust of others; not wanting to be “weak” or concede. Our inner voice, wanting to protect us, reminds us “what happens if it all goes wrong?” And underlying this is the issue: "If I don’t have this fight to fight, what else am I supposed to do?”
We may be motivated by a laudable sense of survival or desire to protect what we love, but we can end up conditioning ourselves to unnecessarily repeat patterns of thought and behaviour that no longer serve us.
Oftentimes, this is harmless: I remember measuring out my kids’ medicine with a syringe for a good while after they were big enough not to require such specific doses. I’d just gotten used to doing it that way.
However, it is very important to recognise when our repeated patterns of thought and behaviour are not only unnecessary, but also holding us back. In my client’s case, he was pushing away real support and love, in the fear that they may prove to be unreliable.
How did he get to a place of peace, security and trust? One really helpful technique is R.A.I.N - a four-step process for overcoming intense or difficult emotions. It’s an acronym.
R: Recognising the emotion driving the behaviour. In this case it was fear of being let down, fear of everything going wrong.
A: Allowing and accepting that emotion with self-compassion. With self-compassion my client could acknowledge the courage and resilience that had brought him so far, even when he had felt scared or alone.
I: Investigating the specific emotional triggers - for him, asking someone else for help with even small matters was hard. The vulnerability of needing help could render him defensive and angry - not at the person offering help but at the situation. Understanding this helped to defuse tension in my client’s relationships.
N: Non-Identification - defusing the sense of self from the thoughts and emotions. It is very liberating to realise that we are neither our mind nor our emotions. We are the awareness that perceives them. Understanding this brings about a natural sense of freedom and ease - a sense of peace in the middle of it all. No matter how intense and painful the emotional storm, there is always a part of you which is calm and able to mindfully choose a response that serves you.
R.A.I.N. really helps in moments of stress and overwhelm.
Top tip: I use R.A.I.N. with my kids. I’ve not found a better tool to defuse emotional situations with them. We don’t always do much around the Investigate stage. But I do try to create the space for them to recognise and acknowledge their emotion so that they can defuse from it and choose the response that serves them best. It’s definitely saved them time on the naughty step and me some of my wine budget!
If you’re experiencing A Lot right now - good or bad - you can learn how to centre yourself calmly and mindfully, regardless of what is happening around you. I’ll show you how, so that you can make the best decisions for yourself, your relationships and the people you love.
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