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Stepping Behind The Waterfall

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The many emotions we may experience under the umbrella of grief can feel incredibly heavy, intrusive, and uncontrollable. Imagine you are standing under a waterfall. The pressure of the water falling on your neck, shoulders, and back is intense, strong — even painful. All you can see, feel, hear, smell or taste is the waterfall. When the intensity of an emotion is like standing under a waterfall, start by taking a step behind the waterfall. 

A woman meditating in front of a waterfall

How To Take A Step Behind The Waterfall

Start with your breath. Your breath is your anchor. Like a ship moving in the sea — sometimes gently rocking, sometimes caught in a storm — you can begin to slow things down, find calmness, find stability, get grounded, centered, all by focusing on breathing. Inhale for two counts through your nose, exhale for four counts through pursed lips. Inhale for three, exhale for six.

Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again. — Thích Nhất Hạnh 

Bring Awareness To The Moment

By bringing awareness to the moment, you will be more present, in the here and now. Our thoughts tend to wander. Notice where your thoughts go. Do they take you to memories of yesterday or long ago — are you trying to make sense of the past? Or do your thoughts lead you to worries of tomorrow, fears, anxieties, things that we cannot control? Notice these thoughts, validate them, acknowledge them. Allow these thoughts, emotions or sensations to pass through, like clouds moving in the sky or boats cruising in the sea. 

With acknowledgment and validation of your thoughts’ importance and purpose, give yourself permission to be in this present moment, where you have chosen to be.  Remind yourself that you will return to your thoughts and have a plan in mind to do so at a chosen time. Having a plan in place will then let you come back to your breath more easily. 

Inhale through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Breathe in relaxation, breathe out tension; breathe in safety, breathe out anxiety. 

Connect With Your Senses 5-4-3-2-1

Connecting with your five senses will help you be more present in the moment, feel more grounded and give you a break from intense emotions. 

  • Sight — name five things you notice with your eyes. Shapes, colors, shades of colors, light, dark, details, names of items. Go ahead, try it. 
  • Touch — name four things you notice with your sense of touch. Notice the clothing on your skin, the different points at which your body touches another surface, your feet touching the ground or reaching with your fingertips and noticing texture, softness or roughness. 
  • Sounds — name three sounds you hear in your environment. Notice sounds made by nature versus sounds made by humans. 
  • Smells — name two smells you notice and focus on the aroma. 
  • Taste — name one thing you notice through your sense of taste. Perhaps you notice lingering flavors or how your mouth feels. 

Connect with all five senses and notice what you did not notice before. 

The Psychoeducation Behind The Waterfall

Our emotions serve a purpose. They are our body and mind’s way of having us slow down and turn our attention inward. Our bodies have a similar function when we suffer a physical injury: our body signals that we should turn our attention to the wound, to tend to it, nurture it and help it heal. Emotions are our mind’s way of helping us notice ourselves — signaling that it is time to sit with, process, explore, investigate or make sense of a situation, so that we can to begin to let go. Emotions are part of being human. The intent is neither to push these feelings away or to grab and hold on. Instead, mindful breathing allows a flow — a chance to remind yourself that it is important to notice these emotions so that we may tend to our wound, nurture it and begin to allow for the grieving and healing process to continue. 

Now that you have stepped behind the waterfall, apply the lessons found in the acronym RAIN, developed by Tara Brach. 

RAIN: A Practice of Radical Compassion 

The acronym RAIN is an easy-to-remember tool for bringing mindfulness and compassion to emotional difficulty. 

  • R: Recognize what is going on.
  • A: Allow the experience to be there, just as it is.
  • I: Investigate with interest and care.
  • N: Nurture with self-compassion. 

You can take your time and explore RAIN as a stand-alone meditation or move through the steps whenever challenging feelings arise. See a full description of RAIN here.

By Channie Amato, LMFT