Imagine you just found out that your child was suspended from school. Imagine your boss just told you to “start over” on a report you’ve worked on for a month. Imagine you just realized you’ve been on Facebook for three hours and have finished off a box of cookies in the process. Imagine your partner just confessed to an affair.

It’s hard to hang out with the truth of what we’re feeling. We may sincerely intend to pause and be mindful whenever a crisis arises or whenever we feel stuck and confused, but our conditioning to react, escape, or become possessed by emotion is very strong.

Yes, there are times when being present feels out of reach or too much to bear. There are times when a false refuge can relieve stress, give us a breather, and help lift our mood. But when we’re not connected to the clarity and kindness of presence, we’re all too likely to fall into more misunderstanding, more conflict, and more distance from others and from our own heart.

About 12 years ago, a number of Buddhist teachers began to share a new mindfulness tool that offered in-the-trenches support for working with intense and difficult emotions. The tool is called RAIN (an acronym for the four steps of the process), and it can be accessed in almost any place or situation. RAIN directs our attention in a clear, systematic way that cuts through confusion and stress. The steps give us somewhere to turn in a painful moment, and as we call on them more regularly, they strengthen our capacity to come home to our deepest truth. Like the clear sky and clean air after a cooling rain, this mindfulness practice brings a new openness and calm to our daily lives.

I have taught RAIN to thousands of students, clients, and mental health professionals. I’ve also made it a core practice in my own life. Here are the four steps of RAIN, presented in the way I’ve found most helpful:

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