Thoughts, emotions, and feelings are kind of like weather systems...they come, can feel quite intense at times, and then they pass. Sometimes these systems can feel like torrential downpours that make you feel like you're drowning. Life transitions can sometimes bring about these torrential downpours, and the foundation that used to hold you up, doesn't seem to be solid anymore.
I know I'm using a lot of analogy, but if you have experienced the sense of loss, confusion, lack of purpose, and depression that can accompany major life events such as retirement from sport or really any loss, you know what I'm talking about here….
I can only know my personal experience as I transitioned out of the sport, and I know I was fraught with a loss of who I was without the sport, confusion, depression, among many other very challenging thoughts and emotions. I now know, after speaking with other athletes, that I wasn't alone in my struggle, but at the time, I felt quite alone. One reason I didn't ask for help was because I don't think I fully understood what was going on at that time.
So, hindsight is 20/20, and I want to make sure that current transitioning athletes know they're not alone and that there are tools and resources available to help get through the "torrential downpours". The tool I want to share with you follows the acronym RAIN, so it fits in nicely with the weather system analogy.
The acronym stands for:
N—Nurture and Non-identification
This acronym was coined by Michelle McDonald a couple of decades ago and is a powerful mindfulness practice that you can use in any moment where you feel you are being taken over by emotion or painful thought patterns. This is how you might utilize this practice in a difficult situation...
Let's say you're struggling with a lot of fear around what you're going to do with your life now that you don't have gymnastics (but this can be any challenging emotion or state of being). So you simply recognize that fear is present. You can say to yourself, "oh, this is fear", or just gently repeat "fear, fear, fear" in a calm way to yourself. There's a saying that goes "Name it to tame it", so just in the recognition and naming what is going on, it loses a little bit of power over you.
The next step is to bring acceptance to what is arising. Now acceptance doesn't mean liking it, and it's very normal to not feel like you wholeheartedly accept it. But you simply accept that this is how it is right now. You may feel resistance to the acceptance, and you can notice the resistance, too. You always start right where you are. You can kindly say to yourself, "This is how it is right now. Fear is present right now."
Once you have recognized and accepted what is going on, you can gently investigate the situation. People can run into trouble here when they start to mentally try and figure it out. This isn't a cognitive process where you analyze and try to get a concrete mental answer. It's more of a kind inquiry into what the embodied sense is, i.e what this feels like in the body. You can gently ask "what is this?" and just notice where you feel it in the body. See if you can stay with what comes up with a kind attention.
The final step is to nurture and not identify with the challenging emotion, thought or feeling. Nurturing means bringing kindness and a more loving awareness to the situation, and not identifying is resting in a more spacious state where you are the observer of what is coming up instead of feeling like you are, in this case, the fear.
You can practice R.A.I.N in any challenging moment, and you may notice that what starts as a torrential downpour may turn into a more pleasant and soft spring rain. You may also notice that underneath the initial emotion lies many other emotions and experiences, and you can simply apply the practice to each of them. It is a practice, and the more you use it, the more natural it will become for you. So let it R.A.I.N, and see how, in this allowing, a greater freedom and spaciousness naturally open up and you bear witness to the rainbow following the storm.