MBSR Week 7 – How is it going?

My post from 18 months ago about week 7 of the MBSR follows this introduction. Later in the post I reflect upon the themes discussed that week and consider how it is going for me now.

How it was

Week 7 of the MBSR at Swansea University centered upon how we can make choices in our life that support us. We considered a mindful practice known as RAIN and reviewed a normal day, identifying when we made nurturing or depleting choices. The session was completed with a 40 minute guided meditation led by our tutor, Sinead Brophy of CMWR.


This mindfulness practice is particularly supportive for dealing with intense and difficult emotions. The initials each stand for a particular element of the practice. Here they are.

R – Recognise what is happening
A – Allow life to be just as it is
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
N – Non-Identification/Natural Presence

Recognise what is happening

Difficult and intense emotions consume our present moment experience. Our first intention is to notice and recognise the emotional reaction. It is likely to be very familiar to us. Our tendency to distract or avoid this experience is to be resisted. Instead we recognise the experience, we feel any physical reaction to the emotions in our body. Quite often these can be present in the throat, chest or belly. Listen with kindness to the thoughts that are present, try not to judge yourself for having the thoughts or experience. Try to soften familiar preconceived ideas. If this is difficult stay with the physical sensations.

Allow life to be just as it is

In this stage we are building on our intention to rest with our experience just as it is. We are not seeking to change our thoughts or feelings. We are not turning away from our experience and doing something else. Instead we turn towards the experience and breathe. We feel the physical experience in our body. We rest with the difficult thoughts. We may even say to ourselves, ‘Ah, I recognise you. Hello.’ as a familiar intense feeling arises.

This part of the practice has similarities with physical pain. If you bang your thumb with a hammer, instead of distracting yourself from the pain, focus on the experience. You will notice that the pain is not constant. It ebbs and flows. It pulses and fades. If you try to focus on the emotional thoughts a similar experience may follow as you hold yourself with kindness.

Investigate inner experience with kindness

Investigating our inner experience may be helpful if the emotional thoughts are part of an entrenched behaviour pattern, or an ongoing challenge in our life, and the experiences that trigger the thoughts are constantly being reinforced. In these cases it may be helpful to inquire into the experience. Tara Brach explains this in her book ‘True Refuge’

“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…….We need to offer a gentle welcome to whatever surfaces. This is why I use the phrase ‘Investigate with kindness.’Without this heart energy, investigation cannot penetrate; there is not enough safety and openness for real contact.

Imagine that your child comes home in tears after being bullied at school. In order to find out what happened and how your child is feeling, you have to offer a kind, receptive, gentle attention. Bringing that same kindness to your inner life makes inquiry, and ultimately healing, possible.”

Non-Identification/Natural Presence

Non identification means that the sense of who you are is not limited by your emotions or stories. It encourages the loosening of our attachment to our smallest version of ourself and allows us to feel a connection to the largest sense of presence: our connection and part of the whole. You may call this sense of immense connectivity something (God, Jesus, Buddha, higher self, Gaia, Allah, soul). Whatever your perspective this belonging to a larger sense of ourselves can support us when we imagine that our intense personal experience is ours alone.

Choices in your normal day

Here is the exercise we did in this week’s session. Useful for reviewing the choices you make in a normal day and those that you could change.

Write down a list of your activities in a ‘normal’ day. For ‘normal’ maybe choose your most common sort of day. List every activity in chronological order. Then go through each line and put next to the activity a N if the activity is nurturing (makes you feel calm, centered, increases your sense of being alive and present, rather than just existing) for you or a D if it is depleting (pulls you down, drains your energy, makes you feel tense, fragmented).

This surprisingly simple exercise helps to summarise your day and may help identify opportunities where doing something different, or in a different order could increase the amount of nurturing activities/time in your day.

The depleting activities could also be looked at in a different way. Maybe by being completely present with them, using them as an opportunity to practice being mindful, you can change how they make you feel.

How it is now

R – Recognise what is happening
A – Allow life to be just as it is
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
N – Non-Identification/Natural Presence

I feel that it is now clear to me that regular meditation supports my intention to live a mindful life. In particular it provides the quiet and capacity to follow the RAIN practice: one practice supports the other. It is also true that following the RAIN practice with honesty and and openness is a challenge. ‘How so?’ you ask. Let me explain how it is for me.

First up I have to recognise that something is happening. Meditation helps with this as it trains me to pay attention to my thoughts and feelings, all the time returning to my anchor after I notice and recognise where my mind has gone. However, there are circumstances and situations I am more attuned to and those which I have a little bit of a blind spot. The difference between these two situations is probably dependent upon the entrenched nature of the behaviour and my willingness to accept that change is necessary.

For example: I am currently planning to shoot some videos for my new online course. I am fully aware that this fills me with trepidation. I have fears around the videos being interesting and my voice being a barrier to viewers engaging. I even have dreams about barriers stopping me from getting across the river! I know that this is going on and I know that I will prepare thoroughly and then just get on with it, eventually.

On the other side I have a pattern of behaviour that is prevalent; it is the desire to be busy and perfect in developing my ideas and projects. this drive can blind me to how I actually am physically and can result in an impact upon my health. Does this situation resonate for you? Do you find it difficult in some situations to recognise what is happening?

Once recognised, the allowing and kindness of the next two steps seem to be variable, dependent upon the situation. Again some are more natural than others. But it is enough to notice and treat that with kindness. In time this too will soften.

The final step, recognising the biggest version of myself, is one that is supported my quiet and meditation. Within all the busy-ness of our lives it is essential to provide this space for everything else to flourish. One provides the ground for the other. They are two halves of your whole. How are you providing this space?

Since New Year, and my latest health wobble, I have re-committed to space in my life. I have increased my meditation time by 10 minutes and have committed to a daily sit. I have also booked a three day retreat in February at my favourite retreat centre in the Welsh hills. Weekly mindful photography is back on the agenda, in fact the photos that accompany this post are from last week’s practice.

I can confirm to you that this does make a difference! I hope that in the drive to succeed this year in every avenue of your life you find some time to cultivate space and quiet. It will support you to become the person you already are.


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