Learning to Be in the Rain
Everyday we are hit by continuous waves of sensation. Sound, sight, taste, smell, touch as well as the seemingly unending bombardment of our own thoughts.
Last weekend I went to a beautiful workshop, run by the lovely Kate Pell, focusing on how to learn to deal with that bombardment. How to just feel what we are hit with and sit with it, rather than reacting. How to let it flow over us, or maybe let ourselves flow with the waves and learn to surf. Or as suggested by Aida Mitsuo in the above poem, how to just be in the rain and the wind.
I was thinking this workshop would help improve my own meditation practice, and also help me help others meditate better, but it was so much more than that.
The topic of the workshop was Pratyahara, the 5th of the 8 limbs of yoga (the poses practiced in class are the 3rd, with breath work in between). Pratyahara is often translated as withdrawal of the senses, however, it may be easier to understand as the tempering of the information flowing in from the senses.
Many of us are prone to react to a sensation as we feel it. Broadly speaking, we judge by liking or disliking the sensation and, at times, react before we realise. Reacting so quickly that we fail to take the time to see if the sensation is really as good or bad as we expect andor as good or as bad as the reaction we give. We even have habits relating to some sensations, possibly reacting before we feel them. For example, it's recently been so hot, that we only need to look outside before we start to react like we're standing in direct sunlight. "Oh, it's so hot! It's hard to get anything done!" That kind of thing.
But what if we waited until we were out in the sun. All that time while we are still inside is reaction free. We can still get on with other things, without the heat filling our thoughts pushing out all others. Then once we step outside, notice that there is a sensation "Oh, I feel that." Recognise the sensation "Oh, it's hot!" and sit with that for a moment to see if you really do like or dislike, or if it is a conditioned response. Recently, most of us are thinking "That's too hot for me", so we then adjust our response appropriately by moving to the shade or moving a little more quickly so we spend less time in the direct sunlight.
Recognise the sensation
Let yourself move consciously through the first two steps. See if you can sit with a sensation for longer before making a judgement. Be curious about the sensation and your judgement. Is your judgement valid or just a habit?
Your response can also include not responding
Just be in the rain. Just be in the wind. Just be.
Do you respond just out of habit? I know I do.
Maybe you are uncomfortable with silence so need to say or do something?
Maybe something or someone has pushed you beyond your threshold and you cannot provide any other response at this time. I know I can't at times.
For example, if doing a seated meditation you may find yourself scratching before you even realised you had an itch. Or you may start move before you even feel discomfort in your hip or back. I know if I feel uncomfortable while meditating I move before really identifying the sensation properly. From now on I will try to sit with the feeling a little longer, move my attention through it and see if it is a pain or just discomfort caused by weak muscles. If it is not painful, I sit with it, assuming my posture is good. While practicing this at the workshop, I found the discomfort between my shoulder blades disappeared when I brought my attention directly to it, but it did come back when I moved my attention elsewhere... so it will be interesting to work with this further to see where it goes.
Follow through the same steps with your thoughts. "Oh that's an interesting thought... Oh, I'm thinking that.... Well it's not important now/not true/really a bit over the top/irrelevant/said and done.... I won't give it my attention now...." possible comments at each of those 4 steps, then let it go. For example, when you remember that highly embarrassing thing you did in the 3rd grade/that job interview/last week.
How about you?
Thinking about it, when do you react before even really realising? What reaction habits do you have? Will slowing down, sitting with the sensation for a while help you react less, and give you room to respond, or not, as necessary? We complain about the heat, but previous generations coped just fine without air conditioning for example (this is different for the aged and infirm, of course).
When you notice yourself reacting, slow down, focus on the first two of the four steps, then be in the rain, be in the wind. See how you feel.
At the same time, keep yourself safe and healthy. Do not feel you need to stay in situations that are not right for you - with 'friends', work, partners or family. Removing yourself from a particular situation to maintain your mental and physical health is also a valid response.