There are many times in our lives when we become aware of our desires and expectations and how this compares to our reality. Mindfulness training has led me to notice preference and be more acutely aware of the gap between desire and reality. Last week life threw me a profound experience which made me return once more to looking at how I react to situations. Moreover, it reminded me of the problem of preference.
I had travelled by train to stay with a friend for the weekend. We were excited about going to see a concert on the Sunday. I had gone to a lot of trouble to get the tickets and they were quite expensive. It was a beautiful Autumn day on the Sunday, with a slight chill in the air, reminding me that Winter was close by. We went for a short walk on the beach before heading back to the house to get ready for the concert. All was well in my world.
But then the gap made itself known! My friend slipped very badly on the sea defence by the beach and dislocated his shoulder. This not only resulted in him being in agony, but I watched myself dropping straight into fight, fright, freeze mode, from having to take responsibility and act quickly. I became aware of the anxiety of watching him in pain. I noticed stress levels rising from having to drive his car in the dark on unfamiliar roads for an hour to the nearest hospital. Impatience started setting in as we waited in the emergency department of the hospital. Then a sense of irritation arose as I realised we would miss the concert.
I became completely aware of how I was feeling and reacting. In a heartbeat, excitement and happiness turned to adrenalin pumping, confusion, tension, sadness, fear for my friend, and a heavy low mood for us both. The incident had created a big void between our desired state, going to the concert and the reality of being in a busy A&E department and a yet unknown outcome for my friend.
I brought to mind the RAIN practice which occurs at week 7 of the Mindfulness Based Living Course. It is also taught during module 3 of the Level 1, Being Present course. The RAIN practice allows us to Recognise what is happening and Allow it to be present. We then Intimately inquire into how a certain situation is making us feel. Finally we go through the process of Non-identification, where we realise the difficulty doesn’t define who we are. This means, we can soften around it and let it go.
Rob Nairn describes how we typically react to situations based on preference; what we like and what we don’t like. Using RAIN practice I became aware of my preference and the reactions that were arising. I was able to use my mindfulness, compassion and insight training as a foundation for choosing how to respond, rather than react. Therefore, my practice was able to serve me well in a difficult situation.
In our practice we drop in the question: ‘How do I feel when I look at the gap between how I am and how I would like to be’. I noticed how disliking what was occurring and wanting something different was creating an attitude of non-acceptance. By creating space and softening around my feelings I was better able to respond with kindness for both my friend and myself. Then I was able to accept the situation, as it was, and help my friend to do the same.
Sometimes it’s hard to practice while we are experiencing a moment of difficulty. However, I realised that it’s the power of our regular practice that helps us during more challenging times. It’s the practice that provides a strong foundation which becomes our new auto pilot. Then we are able to respond appropriately from a calm knowing place, rather than react out of fear.
This weeks challenge is to bring to mind any ‘gap’ we may currently have in our lives. Explore the preference of a desired situation and reality and notice how it makes you feel. It’s good to revisit the RAIN practice from time to time and establish an attitude of kindness and acceptance.
I wish you a happy week.