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sea-shell-872023_960_720 How to raise a spiritual child: 3 exercises to try with your family

Lisa Miller, Ph.D., is director of clinical psychology and founder of the Spirituality Mind
Body Institute at Columbia University, Teachers College. The author of “The Spiritual
Child,” she has spent over a decade researching the impact of religion and spirituality.
Every child is born a spiritual child. We all are “hardwired” with a natural spirituality. But
this inborn capacity can be strengthened into the greatest of all our human resources
through parenting.

Every child is born a spiritual child. We all are “hardwired” with a natural spirituality. But
this inborn capacity can be strengthened into the greatest of all our human resources
through parenting.The most important thing we can do for our children is to support their natural spirituality.  Adolescents with a strong spirituality are protected against depression, substance abuse
and risk-taking, and are far more likely to have meaning, purpose and thrive. Parenting for
strong spirituality can start with early childhood, but we can “jump in” at any point.
To help you as a parent start to explore spirituality in your own family, here are a few
exercises that I do with children, adolescents and adults. You may find that your entire
family becomes quite at home with these exercises, and comes to count on them for
anchoring and guidance.

EXERCISE ONE: HOSTING COUNCIL

The most important exercise I have discovered is “Hosting Council” in your own inner life.
This is a practice that is done by all members of a family — parents or grandparents,
children and teens. The practice is a reflection, a meditation or visualization. I honor its
original developer, Dr. Gary Weaver, who “called council” with thousands of teens in pain,
who were separated from their personal spirituality. It is the most effective practice I have
seen at welcoming teens into a personal spirituality.
Breathe in and clear a space in your inner being.
I invite you to sit at a table. Before you is your table.
Now invite to the table everyone who truly has your best interest in mind. This may
include people living or deceased, anyone who you feel truly has or had your best interest
in mind.
Ask them if they love you.
Now invite your eternal self, your higher self, your best self — the part of you that is
eternal beyond anything at the moment, your higher self.
Ask your eternal self, if you love you.
Now invite to the table your higher power. Whatever word you use for your higher power,
invite them.
Ask your higher power if they love you.
Now with everyone right there, assembled all together, ask them what right now is
important for you to know. What do they need to tell you right now — about you and your
path. What do you need to know?

[Provide a long silence for the message to unfold.]

You might ask your child with warm curiosity, “who showed up at your table?” People of all
ages often are surprised and encouraged by who appears at the table; and who shows up
can change based on the passages in our lives.
This exercise can be done nearly anywhere by anyone, by closing your eyes for less then
five minutes. I have done this exercise in workshops and sessions, as well as in
classrooms, commuter trains, and over the telephone. I have always seen a connection
formed, a relationship to spirit.

EXERCISE TWO: FIELD OF LOVE

Our spiritual family can be formed in many different ways — through adoption, childbirth,
marriage, remarriage, etc. Ultimately all family bonds are a choice to love and commit. In
“The Spiritual Child,” I emphasize the importance of having many loving people in a child’s
life. Parents are crucial, but a grandparent, uncle, beloved babysitter or teacher can also
play a life-changing role. Nobody is second-best.

The Field of Love = Family + Spiritual Love

Ask your child to draw her or his own “Field of Love.” Who is in it? You may be surprised!
Wow, I see you have included my sister, Aunt Lauren, how wonderful! There is our dear
Katrina, the babysitter. All of these people are in the Field of Love and carry spiritual love.
If you get your child thinking of the spiritual presence in the Field of Love, it is there for
you in tough times and can help with healing. When a family is severed or ruptured, it
must be deliberately repaired. You can draw the mending of the field, and as a family, say
the words that do the mending. You also can draw in a new baby sibling or family member,
adding to the field. With a Field of Love, love begets love.
Keep a drawing on your fridge of the Field of Love.

EXERCISE THREE: TRAIL ANGELS

When hikers on the long Appalachian Trail grow tired or hungry, often no motel or
restaurant is readily available! Instead, the hikers open their eyes and look for “trail
angels.” A trail angel offers water, home-cooked dinner and a bed for the night in the rain.
Hikers know that a trail angel often shows up right when you need the shelter or
sustenance.
This is true in life, too. Our daily world is full of trail angels who show up and bring just
what we may need. Often this is guidance or information, or an emotional compassion or
companionship — sometimes the road to a new job or new perspective on our lives.
As a parent, joyfully share the trail angels that appear in your daily circuit with your child.
This says to your child that we live in a spiritual world. If you run into a woman at the
grocery store who told you “just what you were wondering about the new school” or “who
originally shared the recipe that I am trying to piece together,” celebrate with your child
this glorious help from your trail angels.
At school pick-up or during dinner, ask your child if they can reflect on trail angels they
met today. This shows your child that we live in a world where we are guided and helped,
a world that is alive, generous and sacred. Then ask your child if she or he might have
noticed that she or he served as a trail angel for someone else today. This shows the
value of our lives: Your child is a crucial thread in the web of life.
It is a terrible loss if these events pass right under our nose and go unnoticed by parents.
Awareness of trail angels shows the child that we are part of a loving universe.
Note to fellow parents: Nearly every child I have ever met spots trail angels in their lives,
given the opportunity to reflect. Nearly every child feels certain that “trail angels are sent.”
This awareness is part of the natural spirituality in your child.

Contact Dr. Miller and find more about her research here


Feeling Overwhelmed? Remember “RAIN”

Four steps to stop being so hard on ourselves.
By Tara Brach | January 13, 2016

rhythm-heart
When I was in college, I went off to the mountains for a weekend of hiking with an older, wiser friend of twenty-two. After setting up our tent, we sat by a stream, watching the water swirl around rocks, talking about our lives. At one point she described how she was learning to be “her own best friend.” A wave of sadness came over me, and I broke down sobbing. I was the furthest thing from my own best friend. I was continually harassed by an inner judge who was merciless, nit-picking, demanding, always on the job. My guiding assumption was, “Something is fundamentally wrong with me,” as I struggled to control and fix what felt like a basically flawed self.

Over the last several decades, through my work with tens of thousands of clients and meditation students, I’ve come to see the pain of perceived deficiency as epidemic. It’s like we’re in a trance that causes us to see ourselves as unworthy. Yet, I have seen in my own life, and with countless others, that we can awaken from this trance through practicing mindfulness and self-compassion. We can come to trust the goodness and purity of our hearts.

In order to flower, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. Compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves. To help people address feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, I often introduce mindfulness and compassion through a meditation I call the RAIN of Self-Compassion. The acronym RAIN, first coined about 20 years ago by Michele McDonald, is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness. It has four steps:

Recognize what is going on;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with kindness;
Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying
with the experience.

You can take your time and explore RAIN as a stand-alone meditation or move through the steps in a more abbreviated way whenever challenging feelings arise.

RAIN

R—Recognize What’s Going On

Recognizing means consciously acknowledging, in any given moment, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are affecting us. Like awakening from a dream, the first step out of the trance of unworthiness is simply to recognize that we are stuck, subject to painfully constricting beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations. Common signs of the trance include a critical inner voice, feelings of shame or fear, the squeeze of anxiety or the weight of depression in the body.

In order to flower, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. Compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves.
Different people respond to the sense of unworthiness in different ways. Some might stay busy, trying to prove themselves valuable; others, fearful of failure, may become discouraged or even paralyzed. Still others may resort to addictive behaviors to avoid facing their shame and fear. Any of these strategies can lead to either defensive or aggressive behavior with others, or unhealthy attachment.

Some of us are at war with ourselves for decades, never realizing how our self-judgment and self-aversion keep us from finding genuine intimacy with others or enjoying our lives. One palliative caregiver reports that a key regret of the dying is not having been true to themselves. Rather than listening to and trusting our inner life, most of us try to live according to the expectations of others, which we internalize. When we inevitably fall short of the mark, we condemn ourselves.

Though it may sound depressing or overwhelming, learning to recognize that we are at war with ourselves is quite empowering. One meditation student described the trance of unworthiness as “…the invisible and toxic gas I am always breathing.” As he became increasingly mindful of his incessant self-judgment and feelings of inadequacy, his aspiration to free himself from his painful inner prison grew.

A—Allowing: Taking a Life-Giving Pause

Allowing means letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations we have recognized simply be there. Typically when we have an unpleasant experience, we react in one of three ways: by piling on the judgment; by numbing ourselves to our feelings; or by focusing our attention elsewhere. For example, we might have the sinking, shameful feeling of having been too harsh in correcting our child. But rather than allowing that feeling, we might blame our partner for not doing his or her part, worry about something completely different, or decide it’s time for a nap. We’re resisting the rawness and unpleasantness of the feeling by withdrawing from the present moment.

We allow by simply pausing with the intention to relax our resistance and let the experience be just as it is. Allowing our thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations simply to be doesn’t mean we agree with our conviction that we’re unworthy. Rather, we honestly acknowledge the presence of our judgment, as well as the painful feelings underneath. Many students I work with support their resolve to let it be by silently offering an encouraging word or phrase to themselves. For instance, you might feel the grip of fear and mentally whisper yes in order to acknowledge and accept the reality of your experience in this moment.

Victor Frankel writes, “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and our freedom.” Allowing creates a space that enables us to see more deeply into our own being, which, in turn, awakens our caring and helps us make wiser choices in life. For one student, the space of allowing gave her more freedom in the face of urges to binge eat. In the past, whenever she felt restless or anxious at night, she’d start thinking of her favorite food—trail mix—then mindlessly consume a half pound of it before going to bed, disgusted with herself. Learning to recognize the cues and taking a pause interrupted the pattern. While pausing, she would allow herself to feel the tension in her body, her racing heart, the craving. Soon, she began to contact a poignant sense of loneliness buried beneath her anxiety. She found that if she could stay with the loneliness and be gentle with herself, the craving passed.

I—Investigating with Kindness

Investigating means calling on our natural curiosity—the desire to know truth—and directing a more focused attention to our present experience. Simply pausing to ask, what is happening inside me?, can initiate recognition, but investigation adds a more active and pointed kind of inquiry. You might ask yourself: What most wants attention? How am I experiencing this in my body? Or What am I believing? What does this feeling want from me? You might notice hollowness or shakiness, then discover a sense of unworthiness and shame masked by those feelings. Unless you bring them into awareness, your unconscious beliefs and emotions will control your experience and perpetuate your identification with a limited, deficient self.

Poet Dorothy Hunt says that we need a “…heartspace where everything that is, is welcome.” Without such an attitude of unconditional care, there isn’t enough safety and openness for real investigation to take place. About ten years ago I entered a period of chronic illness. During one particularly challenging period of pain and fatigue, I became discouraged and unhappy. In my view I was terrible to be around—impatient, self-absorbed, irritable, gloomy. I began working with RAIN to recognize these feelings and judgments and to consciously allow the unpleasantness in my body and emotions to just be there. As I began to investigate, I heard an embittered voice: “I hate living like this.” And then a moment later, “I hate myself!” The full toxicity of self-aversion filled me.

Not only was I struggling with illness, I was at war with the self-centered, irritable person I believed I had become. Unknowingly, I had turned on myself and was held captive by the trance of unworthiness. But in that moment of recognizing and allowing the suffering of self-hatred, my heart began to soften with compassion.

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.

When I recognized how my leg was in a trap—sickness compounded with self aversion— my heart filled with sorrow and genuine self-care. The investigating deepened as I gently put my hand over my heart—a gesture of kindness— and invited whatever other feelings were there to surface. A swell of fear (uncertainty for my future) spread through my chest, followed by an upwelling of grief at losing my health. The sense of self-compassion unfurled fully as I mentally whispered, It’s all right, sweetheart, and consciously offered care to the depths of my vulnerability, just as I would to a dear friend.

Compassion arises naturally when we mindfully contact our suffering and respond with care. As you practice the RAIN of Self-Compassion, experiment and see which intentional gesture of kindness most helps to soften or open your heart. Many people find healing by gently placing a hand on the heart or cheek; others, in a whispered message of care, or by envisioning being bathed in warm, radiant light. What matters is that once you have investigated and connected with your suffering, respond by offering care to your own heart. When the intention to awaken self love and compassion is sincere, the smallest gesture—even if, initially, it feels awkward— will serve you well.

N—Natural Loving Awareness

Natural loving awareness occurs when identification with the small self is loosened. This practice of non-identification means that our sense of who we are is not fused with any limiting emotions, sensations, or stories. We begin to intuit and live from the openness and love that express our natural awareness.

Though the first three steps of RAIN require some intentional activity, the N is the treasure: A liberating homecoming to our true nature. There’s nothing to do for this last part of RAIN; we simply rest in natural awareness.

The RAIN of Self-Compassion is not a one-shot meditation, nor is the realization of our natural awareness necessarily full, stable, or enduring. Rather, as you practice you may experience a sense of warmth and openness, a shift in perspective. You can trust this! RAIN is a practice for life—meeting our doubts and fears with a healing presence. Each time you are willing to slow down and recognize, oh, this is the trance of unworthiness… this is fear… this is hurt…this is judgment…, you are poised to de-condition the old habits and limiting self-beliefs that imprison your heart. Gradually, you’ll experience natural loving awareness as the truth of who you are, more than any story you ever told yourself about being “not good enough” or “basically flawed.”

A friend of mine was sitting with her dying mother while she was in a coma. At one point the mother opened her eyes, looked at her daughter with great lucidity, and said “You know, all my life I thought something was wrong with me.” She closed her eyes, sank back into a coma and died shortly thereafter. For my friend, her mother’s words were a parting gift. They inspired her to dedicate herself to the mindfulness and self-compassion that frees us.

We each have the conditioning to live for long stretches of time imprisoned by a sense of deficiency, cut off from realizing our intrinsic intelligence, aliveness, and love. The greatest blessing we can give ourselves is to recognize the pain of this trance, and regularly offer a cleansing rain of self-compassion to our awakening hearts.

This article also appeared in the August 2014 issue of Mindful magazine.
When I was in college, I went off to the mountains for a weekend of hiking with an older, wiser friend of twenty-two. After setting up our tent, we sat by a stream, watching the water swirl around rocks, talking about our lives. At one point she described how she was learning to be “her own best friend.” A wave of sadness came over me, and I broke down sobbing. I was the furthest thing from my own best friend. I was continually harassed by an inner judge who was merciless, nit-picking, demanding, always on the job. My guiding assumption was, “Something is fundamentally wrong with me,” as I struggled to control and fix what felt like a basically flawed self.

Over the last several decades, through my work with tens of thousands of clients and meditation students, I’ve come to see the pain of perceived deficiency as epidemic. It’s like we’re in a trance that causes us to see ourselves as unworthy. Yet, I have seen in my own life, and with countless others, that we can awaken from this trance through practicing mindfulness and self-compassion. We can come to trust the goodness and purity of our hearts.

In order to flower, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. Compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves. To help people address feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, I often introduce mindfulness and compassion through a meditation I call the RAIN of Self-Compassion. The acronym RAIN, first coined about 20 years ago by Michele McDonald, is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness. It has four steps:

Recognize what is going on;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with kindness;
Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying
with the experience.

You can take your time and explore RAIN as a stand-alone meditation or move through the steps in a more abbreviated way whenever challenging feelings arise.

RAIN

R—Recognize What’s Going On

Recognizing means consciously acknowledging, in any given moment, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are affecting us. Like awakening from a dream, the first step out of the trance of unworthiness is simply to recognize that we are stuck, subject to painfully constricting beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations. Common signs of the trance include a critical inner voice, feelings of shame or fear, the squeeze of anxiety or the weight of depression in the body.

In order to flower, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. Compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves.
Different people respond to the sense of unworthiness in different ways. Some might stay busy, trying to prove themselves valuable; others, fearful of failure, may become discouraged or even paralyzed. Still others may resort to addictive behaviors to avoid facing their shame and fear. Any of these strategies can lead to either defensive or aggressive behavior with others, or unhealthy attachment.

Some of us are at war with ourselves for decades, never realizing how our self-judgment and self-aversion keep us from finding genuine intimacy with others or enjoying our lives. One palliative caregiver reports that a key regret of the dying is not having been true to themselves. Rather than listening to and trusting our inner life, most of us try to live according to the expectations of others, which we internalize. When we inevitably fall short of the mark, we condemn ourselves.

Though it may sound depressing or overwhelming, learning to recognize that we are at war with ourselves is quite empowering. One meditation student described the trance of unworthiness as “…the invisible and toxic gas I am always breathing.” As he became increasingly mindful of his incessant self-judgment and feelings of inadequacy, his aspiration to free himself from his painful inner prison grew.

A—Allowing: Taking a Life-Giving Pause

Allowing means letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations we have recognized simply be there. Typically when we have an unpleasant experience, we react in one of three ways: by piling on the judgment; by numbing ourselves to our feelings; or by focusing our attention elsewhere. For example, we might have the sinking, shameful feeling of having been too harsh in correcting our child. But rather than allowing that feeling, we might blame our partner for not doing his or her part, worry about something completely different, or decide it’s time for a nap. We’re resisting the rawness and unpleasantness of the feeling by withdrawing from the present moment.

We allow by simply pausing with the intention to relax our resistance and let the experience be just as it is. Allowing our thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations simply to be doesn’t mean we agree with our conviction that we’re unworthy. Rather, we honestly acknowledge the presence of our judgment, as well as the painful feelings underneath. Many students I work with support their resolve to let it be by silently offering an encouraging word or phrase to themselves. For instance, you might feel the grip of fear and mentally whisper yes in order to acknowledge and accept the reality of your experience in this moment.

Victor Frankel writes, “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and our freedom.” Allowing creates a space that enables us to see more deeply into our own being, which, in turn, awakens our caring and helps us make wiser choices in life. For one student, the space of allowing gave her more freedom in the face of urges to binge eat. In the past, whenever she felt restless or anxious at night, she’d start thinking of her favorite food—trail mix—then mindlessly consume a half pound of it before going to bed, disgusted with herself. Learning to recognize the cues and taking a pause interrupted the pattern. While pausing, she would allow herself to feel the tension in her body, her racing heart, the craving. Soon, she began to contact a poignant sense of loneliness buried beneath her anxiety. She found that if she could stay with the loneliness and be gentle with herself, the craving passed.

I—Investigating with Kindness

Investigating means calling on our natural curiosity—the desire to know truth—and directing a more focused attention to our present experience. Simply pausing to ask, what is happening inside me?, can initiate recognition, but investigation adds a more active and pointed kind of inquiry. You might ask yourself: What most wants attention? How am I experiencing this in my body? Or What am I believing? What does this feeling want from me? You might notice hollowness or shakiness, then discover a sense of unworthiness and shame masked by those feelings. Unless you bring them into awareness, your unconscious beliefs and emotions will control your experience and perpetuate your identification with a limited, deficient self.

Poet Dorothy Hunt says that we need a “…heartspace where everything that is, is welcome.” Without such an attitude of unconditional care, there isn’t enough safety and openness for real investigation to take place. About ten years ago I entered a period of chronic illness. During one particularly challenging period of pain and fatigue, I became discouraged and unhappy. In my view I was terrible to be around—impatient, self-absorbed, irritable, gloomy. I began working with RAIN to recognize these feelings and judgments and to consciously allow the unpleasantness in my body and emotions to just be there. As I began to investigate, I heard an embittered voice: “I hate living like this.” And then a moment later, “I hate myself!” The full toxicity of self-aversion filled me.

Not only was I struggling with illness, I was at war with the self-centered, irritable person I believed I had become. Unknowingly, I had turned on myself and was held captive by the trance of unworthiness. But in that moment of recognizing and allowing the suffering of self-hatred, my heart began to soften with compassion.

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.

When I recognized how my leg was in a trap—sickness compounded with self aversion— my heart filled with sorrow and genuine self-care. The investigating deepened as I gently put my hand over my heart—a gesture of kindness— and invited whatever other feelings were there to surface. A swell of fear (uncertainty for my future) spread through my chest, followed by an upwelling of grief at losing my health. The sense of self-compassion unfurled fully as I mentally whispered, It’s all right, sweetheart, and consciously offered care to the depths of my vulnerability, just as I would to a dear friend.

Compassion arises naturally when we mindfully contact our suffering and respond with care. As you practice the RAIN of Self-Compassion, experiment and see which intentional gesture of kindness most helps to soften or open your heart. Many people find healing by gently placing a hand on the heart or cheek; others, in a whispered message of care, or by envisioning being bathed in warm, radiant light. What matters is that once you have investigated and connected with your suffering, respond by offering care to your own heart. When the intention to awaken self love and compassion is sincere, the smallest gesture—even if, initially, it feels awkward— will serve you well.

N—Natural Loving Awareness

Natural loving awareness occurs when identification with the small self is loosened. This practice of non-identification means that our sense of who we are is not fused with any limiting emotions, sensations, or stories. We begin to intuit and live from the openness and love that express our natural awareness.

Though the first three steps of RAIN require some intentional activity, the N is the treasure: A liberating homecoming to our true nature. There’s nothing to do for this last part of RAIN; we simply rest in natural awareness.

The RAIN of Self-Compassion is not a one-shot meditation, nor is the realization of our natural awareness necessarily full, stable, or enduring. Rather, as you practice you may experience a sense of warmth and openness, a shift in perspective. You can trust this! RAIN is a practice for life—meeting our doubts and fears with a healing presence. Each time you are willing to slow down and recognize, oh, this is the trance of unworthiness… this is fear… this is hurt…this is judgment…, you are poised to de-condition the old habits and limiting self-beliefs that imprison your heart. Gradually, you’ll experience natural loving awareness as the truth of who you are, more than any story you ever told yourself about being “not good enough” or “basically flawed.”

A friend of mine was sitting with her dying mother while she was in a coma. At one point the mother opened her eyes, looked at her daughter with great lucidity, and said “You know, all my life I thought something was wrong with me.” She closed her eyes, sank back into a coma and died shortly thereafter. For my friend, her mother’s words were a parting gift. They inspired her to dedicate herself to the mindfulness and self-compassion that frees us.

We each have the conditioning to live for long stretches of time imprisoned by a sense of deficiency, cut off from realizing our intrinsic intelligence, aliveness, and love. The greatest blessing we can give ourselves is to recognize the pain of this trance, and regularly offer a cleansing rain of self-compassion to our awakening hearts.

This article also appeared in the August 2014 issue of Mindful magazine.

When I was in college, I went off to the mountains for a weekend of hiking with an older, wiser friend of twenty-two. After setting up our tent, we sat by a stream, watching the water swirl around rocks, talking about our lives. At one point she described how she was learning to be “her own best friend.” A wave of sadness came over me, and I broke down sobbing. I was the furthest thing from my own best friend. I was continually harassed by an inner judge who was merciless, nit-picking, demanding, always on the job. My guiding assumption was, “Something is fundamentally wrong with me,” as I struggled to control and fix what felt like a basically flawed self.

Over the last several decades, through my work with tens of thousands of clients and meditation students, I’ve come to see the pain of perceived deficiency as epidemic. It’s like we’re in a trance that causes us to see ourselves as unworthy. Yet, I have seen in my own life, and with countless others, that we can awaken from this trance through practicing mindfulness and self-compassion. We can come to trust the goodness and purity of our hearts.

In order to flower, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. Compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves. To help people address feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, I often introduce mindfulness and compassion through a meditation I call the RAIN of Self-Compassion. The acronym RAIN, first coined about 20 years ago by Michele McDonald, is an easy-to-remember tool for practicing mindfulness. It has four steps:

Recognize what is going on;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with kindness;
Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying
with the experience.

You can take your time and explore RAIN as a stand-alone meditation or move through the steps in a more abbreviated way whenever challenging feelings arise.

RRecognize What’s Going On

Recognizing means consciously acknowledging, in any given moment, the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that are affecting us. Like awakening from a dream, the first step out of the trance of unworthiness is simply to recognize that we are stuck, subject to painfully constricting beliefs, emotions, and physical sensations. Common signs of the trance include a critical inner voice, feelings of shame or fear, the squeeze of anxiety or the weight of depression in the body.

In order to flower, self-compassion depends on honest, direct contact with our own vulnerability. Compassion fully blossoms when we actively offer care to ourselves.

Different people respond to the sense of unworthiness in different ways. Some might stay busy, trying to prove themselves valuable; others, fearful of failure, may become discouraged or even paralyzed. Still others may resort to addictive behaviors to avoid facing their shame and fear. Any of these strategies can lead to either defensive or aggressive behavior with others, or unhealthy attachment.

Some of us are at war with ourselves for decades, never realizing how our self-judgment and self-aversion keep us from finding genuine intimacy with others or enjoying our lives. One palliative caregiver reports that a key regret of the dying is not having been true to themselves. Rather than listening to and trusting our inner life, most of us try to live according to the expectations of others, which we internalize. When we inevitably fall short of the mark, we condemn ourselves.

Though it may sound depressing or overwhelming, learning to recognize that we are at war with ourselves is quite empowering. One meditation student described the trance of unworthiness as “…the invisible and toxic gas I am always breathing.” As he became increasingly mindful of his incessant self-judgment and feelings of inadequacy, his aspiration to free himself from his painful inner prison grew.

AAllowing: Taking a Life-Giving Pause

Allowing means letting the thoughts, emotions, feelings, or sensations we have recognized simply be there. Typically when we have an unpleasant experience, we react in one of three ways: by piling on the judgment; by numbing ourselves to our feelings; or by focusing our attention elsewhere. For example, we might have the sinking, shameful feeling of having been too harsh in correcting our child. But rather than allowing that feeling, we might blame our partner for not doing his or her part, worry about something completely different, or decide it’s time for a nap. We’re resisting the rawness and unpleasantness of the feeling by withdrawing from the present moment.

We allow by simply pausing with the intention to relax our resistance and let the experience be just as it is. Allowing our thoughts, emotions, or bodily sensations simply to be doesn’t mean we agree with our conviction that we’re unworthy. Rather, we honestly acknowledge the presence of our judgment, as well as the painful feelings underneath. Many students I work with support their resolve to let it be by silently offering an encouraging word or phrase to themselves. For instance, you might feel the grip of fear and mentally whisper yes in order to acknowledge and accept the reality of your experience in this moment.

Victor Frankel writes, “Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and our freedom.” Allowing creates a space that enables us to see more deeply into our own being, which, in turn, awakens our caring and helps us make wiser choices in life. For one student, the space of allowing gave her more freedom in the face of urges to binge eat. In the past, whenever she felt restless or anxious at night, she’d start thinking of her favorite food—trail mix—then mindlessly consume a half pound of it before going to bed, disgusted with herself. Learning to recognize the cues and taking a pause interrupted the pattern. While pausing, she would allow herself to feel the tension in her body, her racing heart, the craving. Soon, she began to contact a poignant sense of loneliness buried beneath her anxiety. She found that if she could stay with the loneliness and be gentle with herself, the craving passed.

I—Investigating with Kindness

Investigating means calling on our natural curiosity—the desire to know truth—and directing a more focused attention to our present experience. Simply pausing to ask, what is happening inside me?, can initiate recognition, but investigation adds a more active and pointed kind of inquiry. You might ask yourself: What most wants attention? How am I experiencing this in my body? Or What am I believing? What does this feeling want from me? You might notice hollowness or shakiness, then discover a sense of unworthiness and shame masked by those feelings. Unless you bring them into awareness, your unconscious beliefs and emotions will control your experience and perpetuate your identification with a limited, deficient self.

Poet Dorothy Hunt says that we need a “…heartspace where everything that is, is welcome.” Without such an attitude of unconditional care, there isn’t enough safety and openness for real investigation to take place. About ten years ago I entered a period of chronic illness. During one particularly challenging period of pain and fatigue, I became discouraged and unhappy. In my view I was terrible to be around—impatient, self-absorbed, irritable, gloomy. I began working with RAIN to recognize these feelings and judgments and to consciously allow the unpleasantness in my body and emotions to just be there. As I began to investigate, I heard an embittered voice: “I hate living like this.” And then a moment later, “I hate myself!” The full toxicity of self-aversion filled me.

Not only was I struggling with illness, I was at war with the self-centered, irritable person I believed I had become. Unknowingly, I had turned on myself and was held captive by the trance of unworthiness. But in that moment of recognizing and allowing the suffering of self-hatred, my heart began to soften with compassion.

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.

When I recognized how my leg was in a trap—sickness compounded with self aversion— my heart filled with sorrow and genuine self-care. The investigating deepened as I gently put my hand over my heart—a gesture of kindness— and invited whatever other feelings were there to surface. A swell of fear (uncertainty

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.

When I recognized how my leg was in a trap—sickness compounded with self aversion— my heart filled with sorrow and genuine self-care. The investigating deepened as I gently put my hand over my heart—a gesture of kindness— and invited whatever other feelings were there to surface. A swell of fear (uncertainty for my future) spread through my chest, followed by an upwelling of grief at losing my health. The sense of self-compassion unfurled fully as I mentally whispered, It’s all right, sweetheart, and consciously offered care to the depths of my vulnerability, just as I would to a dear friend.

Compassion arises naturally when we mindfully contact our suffering and respond with care. As you practice the RAIN of Self-Compassion, experiment and see which intentional gesture of kindness most helps to soften or open your heart. Many people find healing by gently placing a hand on the heart or cheek; others, in a whispered message of care, or by envisioning being bathed in warm, radiant light. What matters is that once you have investigated and connected with your suffering, respond by offering care to your own heart. When the intention to awaken self love and compassion is sincere, the smallest gesture—even if, initially, it feels awkward— will serve you well.

NNatural Loving Awareness

Natural loving awareness occurs when identification with the small self is loosened. This practice of non-identification means that our sense of who we are is not fused with any limiting emotions, sensations, or stories. We begin to intuit and live from the openness and love that express our natural awareness.

Though the first three steps of RAIN require some intentional activity, the N is the treasure: A liberating homecoming to our true nature. There’s nothing to do for this last part of RAIN; we simply rest in natural awareness.

The RAIN of Self-Compassion is not a one-shot meditation, nor is the realization of our natural awareness necessarily full, stable, or enduring. Rather, as you practice you may experience a sense of warmth and openness, a shift in perspective. You can trust this! RAIN is a practice for life—meeting our doubts and fears with a healing presence. Each time you are willing to slow down and recognize, oh, this is the trance of unworthiness… this is fear… this is hurt…this is judgment…, you are poised to de-condition the old habits and limiting self-beliefs that imprison your heart. Gradually, you’ll experience natural loving awareness as the truth of who you are, more than any story you ever told yourself about being “not good enough” or “basically flawed.”

A friend of mine was sitting with her dying mother while she was in a coma. At one point the mother opened her eyes, looked at her daughter with great lucidity, and said “You know, all my life I thought something was wrong with me.” She closed her eyes, sank back into a coma and died shortly thereafter. For my friend, her mother’s words were a parting gift. They inspired her to dedicate herself to the mindfulness and self-compassion that frees us.

We each have the conditioning to live for long stretches of time imprisoned by a sense of deficiency, cut off from realizing our intrinsic intelligence, aliveness, and love. The greatest blessing we can give ourselves is to recognize the pain of this trance, and regularly offer a cleansing rain of self-compassion to our awakening hearts.

This article also appeared in the August 2014 issue of Mindful magazine.


How Does Meditation Change the Brain?

Meditation can change the shape of the brain and improve function.  Watch this video from Scientific American about the latest research findings from studies done on new and experienced meditators.


The Art of Stillness

OnBeing’s Krista Tippett interviews author Pico Iyer on the “Art of Stillness“. There is a need for the impersonal overly-connected part of us to spend personal time with ourselves in order to reconnect with our center and to nourish our understanding of this being we were born with.


Mindfulness Software

Mindfulness apps to interrupt your day and pull you out of automatic pilot and bring you back to the space of centeredness, presence, awareness, and wisdom. Some of these apps include meditation training programs. This summary was put together by the people at Thich Nhat Hanh’s website www.plumvillage.org.  List begins below:

Many times when we work with our computers, we are completely lost in our work, and we forget to be in touch with ourselves. Or we may forget to pay attention to our conversations, getting carried away by juicy gossip, criticizing, complaining, or other unmindful speech.

We can program a bell of mindfulness on our computer, and every quarter of an hour (or as often as you like), the bell sounds and we have a chance to stop and go back to ourselves. Breathing in and out three times is enough to release the tension in the body and smile, then we can continue our work. A few softwares below might of help:

  • Headspace

The app requires Android

headspaceHeadspace is meditation made simple, a way of treating your head right. Using proven meditation and mindfulness techniques we’ll show you how to train your mind for a healthier, happier, more enjoyable life.

How it works
Starting with our free Take10 programme, we’ll teach you the basics of meditation in just 10 minutes a day.

If you enjoy Take10 and want to learn more, then you can choose to continue and get access to hundreds of hours of original meditations, including guided and unguided, ranging from 2 to 60 minutes.

Download Headspace ›› from Google Play

  • Insight Timer

The app requires Android

insight-timerWith beautiful Tibetan singing bowls and a dynamic worldwide meditation community, Insight Timer is the fun, connected way to support your meditation practice.

Now with free guided meditations by your favorite teachers: Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hanh, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn and many more.

If you’re new to meditation, you’ll find introductory guided mediations and a supportive community to help you get started.

If you’re an experienced meditator, you’ll feel right at home with our beautiful Tibetan singing bowls and guided meditations by experienced teachers that you know and respect.

Insight Timer is the world’s most popular meditation timer app. Insight Timer has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes Magazine, Men’s Journal Magazine, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and O, The Oprah Magazine.

Download Insight Timer (Free version) ›› or Insight Timer Deluxe ›› from Google Play

  • Mindfulness Bell

The app requires Android

mindfulness-bellThe Mindfulness Bell rings periodically during the day, to give you the opportunity to hold on for a moment and consider what you are currently doing, and in what state of mind you are while you are doing it. According to the Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, this is an effective means of developing mindfulness.

If you wonder where the “menu button” is: it is the three little dots in the corner of the screen, next to the “back”, “home” and “switch apps” button.

Download Mindfulness Bell ›› from Google Play

  • Menthal

The app requires Android 4.0 and up

menthalMenthal provides feedback on your mobile phone usage, and thus allows you to maintain a sustainable digital lifestyle. To this end, it tracks the full range of interaction between you and your phone. Running in the background, it records, for example every time you unlock your phone, every time you start an app, and every time you receive a call. The data is sent to our data vault once a day. There we extract the most interesting indicators, such as the total time you spent with your phone or the number of times you used a particular app. On your phone, you can then browse this aggregated information, and interpret it in the context of your lifestyle.

For more information please visit Menthal ›› or download from Google Play ››

  • MindfulClock

Operating System: Linux (Ubuntu)

With the MindfulClock you turn your device into a Bell of Mindfulness. During the day, it will periodically invite the bell and gives you the opportunity to pause, and enjoy the present moment in mindfulness.

MindfulClock homepage ››

  • Google Chrome Extension &
    Firefox Add-on

Operating System: Windows | Mac | Linux 

A bell that reminds us to breathe and be mindful of our body and mind.

In the busy time of our daily life, we let our mind float away to many distractions. We forget about our body, our breath, and our mind; we forget about the unity of our mind and body. In order to remind us of this unification, the bell of mindfulness is meant for us to bring our mind back to our body. When we hear the sound of the bell, please stop what we are doing and take three breaths to bring our mind back to our body. Let this unification happen and be happy in the present moment.

Add to your Chrome browser ›› 

Add to your Firefox browser ››

  • Mindful Clock

Operating System: Windows
Download Mindful Clock ››

Download extra bells below here by right-clicking on the file name and choose save as

Download Big Bell ››
Download Small Bell ››

Just download these into your C:\Program Files\MindfulClock directory. favorite browser. Once the files have been downloaded, open the MindfulClock control and select the new sounds by double clicking on the sound file names.

This software created by David Steigerwald.

  • Time Out Free

Operating System: Mac

TimeOutIt is very easy to fall into bad habits when using a computer for hours on end. You care about what you are doing, so can sometimes push yourself too far, or over-strain yourself. The human body isn’t built to sit in one position for endless hours, gripping a mouse or typing on the keyboard. Dejal Time Out is here to help. It will gently remind you to take a break on a regular basis.

Details visit: Time Out Free ››

  • Stilness Buddy

Operating System: Windows | Mac

stilness-buddyStillness Buddy is a powerful software app that is helping thousands of people around the world to live in the present moment, feel happier and more at peace. For more details please visit Stilness Buddy homepage ››


CBS & Anderson Cooper: Mindfulness

|Anderson Cooper puts down the mobile devices to meditate and report on what it’s like to try to achieve “mindfulness,” a self-awareness scientists say is very healthy, but rarely achieved in today’s world of digital distractions.

Why Compassion?

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The Inner Tyrant

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