Four Principles for Mindful Transformation
Recognition and acceptance lead to the third step of RAIN, investigation. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls this “seeing deeply.” In recognition and acceptance we recognize our dilemma and accept the truth of the whole situation. Now we must investigate more fully. Buddhism teaches that whenever we are stuck, it is because we have not looked deeply enough into the nature of the experience.
Buddhist practice systematically directs our investigation to four areas that are critical for understanding and freedom. These are called the four foundations of mindfulness—body, feelings, mind, and dharma—the underlying principles of experience.
Here is how we can apply them when working with a difficult experience. Staring with investigation in the body, we mindfully locate where our difficulties are held. Sometimes we find sensations of heat, contraction, hardness, or vibration. Sometimes we notice throbbing, numbness, a certain shape or color. We can investigate whether we are meeting this are with resistance or with mindfulness. We notice what happens as we hold these sensations with mindfulness and kindness. Do they open? Are there other layers? Is there a center? Do they intensify, move, expand, change, repeat, dissolve or transform?
In the second foundation of mindfulness, we can investigate what feelings are part of this difficulty. Is the primary feeling tone pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral? Are we meeting this feeling with mindfulness? And what are the secondary feelings associated with it? Often we discover a constellation of feelings.
A man remembering his divorce may feel sadness, anger, jealousy, loss, fear, and loneliness. A woman who was unable to help her addicted nephew can feel longing, aversion, guilt, desire, emptiness, and unworthiness. With mindfulness, each feeling is recognized and accepted. We investigate how each emotion feels, whether it is pleasant or painful, contracted or relaxed, tense or sad. We notice where we feel the emotion in our body and what happens to it as it is held in mindfulness.
Next comes the mind. What thoughts and images are associated with this difficulty? What stories, judgments, and beliefs are we holding? When we look more closely, we often discover that many of them are one-sided, fixed points of view or outmoded, habitual perspectives. When we see that they are only stories, they loosen their hold on us. We cling less to them.
The fourth foundation to investigate is called mindfulness of the dharma. Dharma is an important and multifaceted word that can mean “the teachings and the path of Buddhism.” It can also mean “the truth, the elements and patterns that make up experience.” In mindfulness of the dharma we look into the principles and laws that are operating. We can notice if an experience is actually as solid as it appears. Is it unchanging or is it impermanent, moving, shifting, re-creating itself? We notice if the difficulty expands or contracts the space in our mind, if it is in our control or if it has its own life. We notice if it is self-constructed. We investigate whether we are clinging to it, struggling with it, or simply letting it be. We see whether our relationship to it is a source of suffering or happiness. And finally, we notice how much we identify with it. This leads us to the last step of RAIN, nonidentification.