“Mindfulness is like a net that catches proliferating, automatic reactions.” Ajahn Chah
To develop the ability to be with things as they, learn to be aware of your feeling tones, and how to allow yourself to just be with the feeling without adding a story, even when it is unpleasant.
Whenever we see, hear, taste, smell or feel something, we unconsciously label it as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Since we typically ignore the neutral, our lives are filled with pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and disrepute, and praise and blame.
Pay attention to what your senses let in the first 20 minutes after you wake up.
“That time window is when your subconscious mind is most impressionable and soaks up information like a sponge. Whatever you hear, see or are exposed to in that first 20 minutes will affect you and set the tone for the rest of your day.” Kimanzi Constable
The same thing happens when we see people. Even if they have done nothing wrong, we sometimes assign an unpleasant feeling tone to a person or group of people. Maybe we were raised to be afraid a specific group pf people. So just seeing them gives us an unconscious unpleasant feeling tone. We are not even aware of the negative feeling, but it impacts what we think, what we say and how we treat that person. That is where mindfulness comes in.
We often think that the feeling tone of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral comes from the person, the object or the experience itself, but in reality, it comes from our perception of the person, object or experience. Purple is not inherently pleasant; it is my perception of purple that makes it pleasant for me. Yet I unconsciously assign the color purple as giving me pleasure. Just as I may think the color orange is unpleasant. It is not the color, but my perceptions of the color that make me feel unpleasant.
The same thing happens when we see people. Even if they have done nothing, we sometimes assign an unpleasant feeling tone to a person or group of people. Maybe we were raised to be afraid a specific group pf people. So just seeing them gives us an unconscious unpleasant feeling tone. We are not even aware of the negative feeling, but it impacts what we think, what we say and how we treat that person. That is where mindfulness comes in.
By strengthening our mindfulness, we become aware of the feeling tone sooner, hopefully as soon as it begins to arise. We notice it before we act on it.
Every experience begins with a contact with an object or person. Through that contact, a feeling tone arises; it could be unpleasant, pleasant, or neutral. The feeling tone creates an intention. The intention of an unpleasant feeling tone is aversion, to push away. The intention of a pleasant feeling tone is desire, to hold onto. And a neutral feeling tone is to ignore. And our intentions drive our thoughts, words, and actions.
We want to notice the feeling tone when it first arises, so we can respond instead of react. But feeling tones can be quite subtle. We often don’t notice the pleasant feeling tone until it is a 5 on a scale of 1-10. On the other hand, we notice the negative as soon as it is -1. By becoming aware of the feeling tone, we can stop and take skillful action.
If we are aware the feeling tones that arise, we may be able to transform ourselves. It is the feeling tone keeps us hooked into our conditioned behavior of craving and aversion more so than the emotions. We want more of what feels pleasant because when the pleasant ends, it can feel unpleasant. We don’t want what feels unpleasant, so we push it away or cover it up with short term pleasures. Then we contract into a feeling of poor, poor pitiful me, or we blame others and attack. We often remain unaware of anything that feels neutral.
Here are the four steps of RAIN presented in the way I’ve found most helpful:
- R – Recognize what is happening
- A – Allow life to be just as it is
- I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
- N – Non-Identification and Nurturing
RAIN directly de-conditions the habitual ways in which you resist your moment-to-moment experience. It doesn’t matter whether you resist “what is” by lashing out in anger, by having a cigarette, or by getting immersed in obsessive thinking. Your attempt to control the life within and around you actually cuts you off from your own heart and from this living world. RAIN begins to undo these unconscious patterns as soon as we take the first step.
Recognize what is happening:
Recognition is seeing what is true in your inner life. It starts the minute you focus your attention on whatever thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations are arising right here and now. As your attention settles and opens, you will discover that some parts of your experience are easier to connect with than others. For example, you might recognize anxiety right away, but if you focus on your worried thoughts, you might not notice the actual sensations of squeezing, pressure or tightness arising in the body. On the other hand, if your body is gripped by jittery nervousness, you might not recognize that this physical response is being triggered by your underlying belief that you are about to fail. You can awaken recognition simply by asking yourself: “What is happening inside me right now?” Call on your natural curiosity as you focus inward. Try to let go of any preconceived ideas and instead listen in a kind, receptive way to your body and heart.
Allow life to be just as it is:
Allowing means “letting be” the thoughts, emotions, feelings or sensations you discover. It is acknowledging your feelings and the situation with clarity instead of getting caught up in your brain’s stories. Instead of judging yourself or the experience, you simply witness it. Allowing doesn’t have anything to do with resignation, giving up, or being passive. According to Nataly Kogan, it is boldly embracing reality so you can stop wasting energy fighting it and instead use that energy to figure out the best way forward given how things are and how you feel.
It is really hard to just let unpleasant sensations or thought be. You may want to whisper an encouraging phrase. You may say, “Yes, this is happening.” Or “this to” or “I can be with this.” At first you might feel you’re just “putting up” with unpleasant emotions or sensations. Or you might say “yes” to shame and hope that it will magically disappear.
In reality, we have to consent again and again. Yet even the first gesture of allowing, simply whispering a phrase like “yes” or “I can be with this” begins to soften the harsh edges of your pain. Your entire being is not so resistant. Offer the phrase gently and patiently, and in time your defenses will relax, and you may feel a physical sense of yielding or opening to waves of experience.
Sometimes, simply working through the first two steps of RAIN is enough to provide relief and reconnect you with presence. Other times, the simple intention to recognize and allow is not enough. For instance, if you are in the thick of a divorce, about to lose a job or dealing with a life-threatening illness, you may be easily overwhelmed by intense feelings. Because these feelings are triggered over and over again—you get a phone call from your soon-to-be ex, your bank statement comes, you wake up to pain in the morning—your reactions can become very entrenched. In such situations, you may need to further awaken and strengthen mindful awareness with the I of RAIN.
Investigation means calling on your natural interest—the desire to know truth—and directing a more focused attention to your present experience. Simply pausing to ask, “What is happening inside me?” might initiate recognition, but with investigation you engage in 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?” or “What does this feeling want from me?” You might contact sensations of hollowness or shakiness, and then find a sense of unworthiness and shame buried in these feelings. Unless they are brought into consciousness, these beliefs and emotions will control your experience and perpetuate your identification with a limited, deficient self.
When I first learned RAIN I had problems with the investigation step. My investigation took me into thinking about what is causing it and how to feel better. It also triggered judgment: “I know I’m supposed to be investigating this shame, but I hate it…and I hate myself for having it.” And I was so divorced from my body that I wasn’t aware of the sensations. I have learned that responses reflect our natural resistance to feeling uncomfortable and unsafe: thoughts swarm in our head, we leave our body, we judge what is happening.
Non-identification and Nurture:
I have learned two different things that N stands for. The first, from the original incarnation of RAIN is Non-identification. Non-identification means that your sense of who you are is not fused with or defined by any limited set of emotions, sensations or stories. Just because you are angry doesn’t mean you are an angry person. The second is Nurture. Sometimes we need to nurture ourselves to allow ourselves to be free of the small sense of self. When you answered, “What does this feeling need from me?”, you may have discovered that you need to practice loving-kindness or self-compassion.
In this meditation, we will be using a tool called RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Non-Identification and Nurturing. We begin by Recognizing what is really happening in the moment. It may be something we are self-critical about. We will just let it come into awareness. Once we have recognized what is happening, we just Allow it to be. We don’t criticize ourselves or try to change it. Then we Investigate it with kindness. You might ask what most wants attention. And finally, we come to N, which can mean either of two things. First is to not-identify with the problem or behavior. I am not the behavior I dislike. Second is to nurture yourself, send yourself loving kindness and compassion.
Take a few moments to scan your life. You might notice where you have turned on yourself in some way. It could be with your relationships with others or in your own behavior. It may be a conflict where you are feeling bad about yourself. Or you are at war with yourself for the way you are behaving with a partner, a friend, or your child. It may be something difficult at work.
Where do you get into the trance of unworthiness? Where you have the belief that you are falling short? Not lovable, not OK? Feeling something is wrong with you?
We begin RAIN by recognizing that that feeling or belief puts you in a trance. At war with yourself. Recognizing the thoughts and feelings of the trance. Recognize
Just allow this to be here right now. This is how it is right now. Allow
We begin to investigate with curiosity. Be gentle. What is it like when you are in trance? What are you believing right now? I will always fail. Things will never get better. No one could love me. I am not good enough. Notice your beliefs.
Notice how your body feels when you are in the trance of unworthiness? What are you feeling in your chest? Your belly? Where Investigate
The most important part of investigating is connecting with what it feels like in your body. That will help you be aware of the trance coming on in the future.
Sense the most vulnerable part of you. Where you feel the worst? Sense what that part most needs. The part that feels not OK. What does it need? Does it need to be seen in a different way? Loved? Understood? Held with kindness?
Remember you are not the bad behavior or feeling. I am not the behavior I dislike. Non-identification
As you are feeling into that not OK place, experiment with putting your hand on your heart. This is the beginning of the nourishing part of RAIN. Perhaps there are words you offer to yourself. It’s OK. I am sorry and I love you. I am sorry you are suffering. You may sense the love of the divine flowing in you. Nourish with self-compassion.
Keep exploring what really allows you to feel love flowing in. Just the intention to let love flow inwardly deconditions the tendency to be at war with ourselves.
Sense the tenderness and spaciousness of being when we are not at war with ourselves.
What did you learn?
Who would you be if you no longer believed that something was wrong with you?