It’s been said that when the Buddha was asked what the difference was between folks on the path of waking up, and those not on the path, the Buddha first shared what everyone has in common – we all get hit by “first arrows”. That is, everyone gets hurt from time to time. This, he explained, is part of being human. The difference, he went on to say, lies in whether or not we fire a “second arrow”. Do we react by hurting others or ourselves (shaming, punishing, threatening, exerting physical violence etc.)? Or, do we treat the experience as an opportunity to continue awakening? Do we respond compassionately by tending to the hurt? Do we proceed with care and wisdom?
This month we’re exploring hurting from a yogic perspective, through the study of ahimsa. A Sanskrit word meaning non-harming, ahimsa is the first yama (ethical standard and first limb of the eight limbs of yoga.) Below is a meditation that can help bring ahimsa to life, in daily life. (Both in an 10-minute recorded format, and written instructions.) Often referred to by its acronym, RAIN, this powerful practice can support us along on the path of awakening, serving as a tool for tending to the hurts caused by life’s arrows.
Tending to “Arrows”: RAIN Meditation
Take a few moments to arrive into a comfortable shape for meditation. Invite an inward focus by softening eyes and grounding into points of contact between your body and surfaces below. Further settle in by sensing into your natural breathing rhythm.
Bring into awareness a mild hurt or tender experience. As this is practice, choose an experience that is about a level 3 or 4 in difficulty on a scale of 1 to 10.*
R – Recognize
Begin by recognizing the sting, frustration or confusion this experience caused. You might say to yourself, Ouch, that hurts. Or, That was rough. Or perhaps, Others would also have a hard time if this happened to them.
A – Allow
Rather than resisting uncomfortable sensations in body, explore allowing sensations to naturally arise and dissipate. If it helps, direct gentle breath into any areas of body that feel uncomfortable.
* If you inadvertently chose too high a level and feel overwhelmed, release the experience by re-attuning to your meditation shape and sensing feet rooting into earth. Once you feel steady, begin again with a milder situation.
I – Investigate
Then get curious. Where do you feel sensations? (In one place? Allover? Do they rove?) What do they feel like? (Sharp, hot, thick…?) There’s no right or wrong. You’re simply getting in touch with how the hurt is expressing itself physically in body.
N – Nurture
With a sense of care, gently inquire how you might bring nurturing attention to the experience of tenderness. You might place a hand over heart (or area in body where strong sensations are present) attuning to warm touch and comforting pressure. Perhaps abide with breath, paying particular attention to the nourishing nature of in-breaths, soothing nature of out-breaths. Or consider an act of self-care (walk in nature, call a friend, curl up with a book, etc.) Notice what sensations arise in body as you explore nurturing attention.
When you feel ready, release the situation with the help of three full breaths, and gently open eyes.
Posted by: Ashley Dahl, MSW, CMT-P / 8 Limbs Executive Director (she/her)