Discomfort is painful;
Discomfort is liberating.
Overall, these are all experiments…
Over-reliance on any “strategy”, “technique”, or “practice” of any sort will likely lead to the feeling that “this just doesn’t work anymore…”
That being said, yet another way to experiment with feelings of mental distress or emotional discomfort is to work toward integrating that feeling with its opposite – to begin to see that every feeling, thought, sensation, etc. exists not as an individual, separate “thing”, but on a spectrum or continuum of dynamically shifting and changing experience.
How do we begin to experience this union of opposites?
First, generate a state of distress or discomfort in the mind. You can think of a time you actually experienced this emotion or simply imagine what that emotion feels like – try to fill yourself up with it – try to really lean into the feeling. (It typically won’t permanently hurt you to feel something you might spontaneously feel anyway. Rather, in this case, you are controlling the fact that you feel it: you are inviting in the wound.) An essential aspect of this step is to treat it as an experimental exercise; this means set aside a time during which you are not already greatly challenged by life circumstances (don’t apply this to an argument you might be having with someone, for instance) — [note: If your particular brand of distress includes traumatic pain (pain that is overwhelming, out of control, way too intense, intrusive, and/or leads to dissociative or “un-real” feelings), please seek guidance from a trained therapist to explore this area of your life rather than “experimenting” on your own.]
Then, use RAIN to analyze that state of distress/discomfort:
Recognize it consciously
Allow/Accept it as being what is happening right now
Investigate its detail with clarity: its location, its passage through time, the quality of its felt sense
Non-Identify with the experience: Come to view the experience of distress as “Not-self” (not-me, not-who-I-am, etc. — in other words, don’t identify with it)
Next, generate the opposite state… if you started with fear, generate a feeling of safety; if you first generated grief, cultivate a feeling of joy; if you began with shame, build within yourself a sense of potency or strength; if sadness was your downswing, make happiness your upswing.
In order to cultivate a positive state of mind (positive affect or emotion), use the body, use words, and use images: Look to your own physical form and gaze deeply into the simple sensation of being here breathing (try “just-sitting, just-breathing, just-being”… do nothing else). Or, you could commit yourself to silently reciting a word or phrase reflecting positive affirmation, gratitude, kindness, or the specific positive emotion you are trying to generate (pepper in some of your spiritual views by using a word like, “God”, “Christ”, “Buddha”, “Allah”, or what-have-you) – match this word or phrase to your breath to really open up opportunities for positive affect to enter in. Visualization is also a powerful tool to elicit positive emotion: imagine yourself in a calm, safe place; picture yourself in one of your favorite life-memories; draw up a recollection of the last time you spontaneously felt purely joyous!
Much like the distressing feeling, allow it to seep into you… Think of this phase of the experiment as an opportunity to “HEAL” the wound: Have a positive experience, Enrich it with tender care, Absorb it into you as it absorbs you into it, and Link the experience with the past (who you have been) and the future (who you are becoming).
Once this positive state is cultivated, use RAIN as before to thoroughly know it with clarity…
At this point, you have known both poles of the spectrum – the negative distress and the positive cultivation. Your job now is to alternate between them…
Moving between opposing emotional states allows you, your body, and your conditioned habits of personality to experience that which was previously “known” to be completely different (e.g. sadness and happiness) to be mere shifts on one continuum of being alive and awake.
“Sadness is like this…”; “Happiness is like this…”; These phrases come from the place of “me-knowing”… that place from which all knowing comes and to which all knowing returns: the “real” you that connects and integrates sadness and happiness, grief and joy, shame and strength, fear and safety… the “real” knowing that knows that these all can exist together at the same time and are all appearances of the one same Awareness…
When you feel that spaciousness of possibility (that spectrum or continuum), finish the experiment by then turning the knowing attention toward that “real” place… the place that allows, the place that connects, the place that integrates – watch yourself slide out of that wide-open, groundless-ground and back into it again, over and over.
And, if you can, rest for a while in its stillness and silence…