Finding Presence through RAIN
This is a good little model to connect mindfully with what is going on for us in any given moment:
R stands for recognising what is happening, recognising what is going on in the moment. Question to ask ourselves: ‘What is going on?’
A is for allowing. Question to ask is; ‘Can I just be with this right now?’ or in Tolle terms; saying ‘yes’ to the Now
I is for investigate and intimacy. Question to ask is: ‘Where do I feel it and what does it feel like, what colour, what texture, what density etc.
N is for not identifying, knowing that what we are experiencing, feeling or thinking will pass and only says something about being human rather than about who we uniquely are.
How are you experiencing the world: Bottom-up or Top down?
There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body. The Buddha, Anguttara Nikaya.
Every Tuesday morning about 10 women meet to sing. A member of the group is a mother who has a 7 month old little girl. The baby spends most of her time in a little baby sling attached to the front of her mother. When the group sings her whole body moves. She kicks, and her arms gesticulate. Her whole body is experiencing the music.
This type of experience is what Dr. Dan Siegel, a professor and neuroscientist, refers to as a “bottom-up” experience. In his book The Mindful Brain, Siegel talks about the difference between experiencing the world from a ‘bottom up’ process, rather than from what he calls, a “top-down” process, which is how most of us experience things. According to Siegel a bottom- up experience is “raw, in-the moment sensory data that emerges into awareness” and not influenced by prior learning. A top- down experience is influenced by your past. For example, if we as adults were to smell a rose, all of our prior learning about roses would come into play and significantly influence how we experience that rose in the present moment. The little baby in the sling is having a bottom-up experience because there is little prior learning that is likely to significantly influence her experience.
We have all been there. Just think of putting your mouth around the edge of the desk you are sitting by, or a piece of timber or the handle of a knife in your mouth. I am sure you know exactly what it feels like in your mouth. It is a body memory from when you were a toddler and used to put everything in your mouth! Everything we have ever experienced is stored in the cells of our body; it is in our tissue.
So why did we move from experiencing life through body sensations to experiencing life predominately through our minds? Why did we move from a “bottom up” paradigm to a “top down” paradigm? Ethnologist, Ellen Dissanayake, explains that “literacy (even more advanced technology) is the major possession that separates modernized from the unmodernized persons.” Not denying the enormous benefits of reading and writing, nor undermining the value of critical thinking (the bit that is left…) literacy has its cost. The literate mind tends to favor abstractions, classifications into categories, analysis, and generalizations. And so we become distanced from our direct experience. We tend to automatically stand back from experience and examine it with our minds. So literacy means thought and words over body and sensation (Life With Full Attention – Maitreyabandhu)
Siegel contends that through mindfulness we can disengage those top-down influences of the brain and actually amplify the bottom-up experience. He believes that mindfulness cultivates the ability to get back to bottom-up experiences and experience life with wonder and curiosity as if seeing something for the first time. In this way he says “We have more in our lives because we’re not imprisoned by all these past experiences.”
When we see a flower for the first time, we ‘take it in’. We are curious and investigative. However, after seeing many flowers, we start to recognize and categorize the flower as a flower only experiencing it through our minds.
An example of a top-down way of experiencing things is illustrated by the following story: A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.
Three minutes went by and a middle aged man noticed there was musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.
A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip: a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk.
A few minutes later, someone leaned against the wall to listen to him, but the man looked at his watch and started to walk again. Clearly he was late for work.
The one who paid the most attention was a 3 year old boy. His mother tagged him along, hurried but the kid stopped to look at the violinist.
Finally the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.
In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.
No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the top musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.
Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats average $100.
This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour:
Do we perceive beauty?
Do we stop to appreciate it?
One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?
So what are we missing? What did you miss today or yesterday?
Another perspective on this topic is that when we experience life primarily through our mind we tend not to be present, and not aware of the “Now.” The mind usually spends much of the time in the past or future and overlooks the present.
The body is the portal to the Now. Every time we come back to the body, we establish ourselves in the immediate sense experience. Rather than being ‘somewhere’, we are right here. Mindfulness is the perfect way to start to enter a subtler and richer relationship with our bodies, and to start noticing how the body is the map and history of the mind.
One of the great advantages of mindfulness is that we can benefit from it immediately. Mindfulness allows for experiencing the process, or ‘experiencing the experience’. This is something we are all capable of doing, something we certainly did as children. But as adults we seem to have lost sight of experiencing the world in this way.
So here is an exercise to start you off. For the next week, take notice when you eat, or drink, one specific thing. It could be tea, juice, coffee, chocolate, sandwich, whatever you like. You may want to close your eyes while you are eating and just be aware of your senses experiencing the process of eating. Be aware of the smell, the texture, the sound, the sensation in the mouth, the temperature, the tongue movement, and the swallowing.
How is this experience different than when you normally eat?