developing the art of living in the here & now
"The hardest part is trusting 'the yuck' when it comes up.
Trusting that if I can Recognize, Allow and fully Feel 'the yuck'
that it s the surest way to move it on through and not get caught in the story."
- Recognize: Recognize what you are experiencing in this moment.
- Allow: Allow, as best you can, yourself to know what is already occurring.
- Feel: Feel with tenderness and kindness physical sensations and emotions as they are in occurring in the body, mind, and heart. Attend to these momentary experiences with friendly and compassionate attention. Keep returning your awareness to the bodily sensations, allowing the thoughts to come and go without engaging in them.
- Trust: What is trustworthy about this process? Can you trust that by turning toward your difficulties you can find a way to be with them that causes less suffering? Can you trust the natural presence of awareness? Is it okay to rest, if only for a moment, on the raft of mindfulness that supports & guides us as we flow in the river of life.
"Accepting the moment is simply a matter of experiencing the moment;
acceptance is nothing more than non avoidance."
I. RAFT IS A PRACTICE
The practice of RAFT is essentially one of coming into the present moment. Going step by step from R to T, the practice of RAFT guides us through the tangles of mind, perception, and emotion into the present moment. It creates space by pausing; when we slow down, we come into direct contact with the present moment. The more aware we are, the less we operate on autopilot, and we can make conscious choices that will be more productive and supportive of our values and goals. The secret to this practice is to keep coming back to the container of the body-mind-heart. It is what happens within the field of awareness and within our bodies that matters. RAFT is not a practice for things beyond the bounds of the body in the present moment. It is about coming into a centered space to relate to our experience with wisdom and compassion instead of endlessly reacting.
RAFT is not about other people or their actions. RAFT is not about which of us is "right" or "wrong." RAFT is not about passively accepting what someone else does or does not do. Rather, it is about accepting one's reaction and responding to that reaction with wisdom and compassion. RAFT is not something we do to make bad feelings go away or to create good feelings; it is here to help us accept and understand the nature of those feelings.
II. THE PROCESS OF RAFT STEP-BY-STEP
R- Recognizing what is going on inside of me allows me to slow down and check in with myself. The foundation of understanding begins with that there is something present to attend to. Recognizing the front doorbell has rung allows me the opportunity to make the choice to open the door just as recognizing that there's tension in my back allows to decide to stop and rest or stretch in order to care for my body.
Recognition is most useful when it occurs early in any process, but earlier in the process is when things tend to be more subtle or unfamiliar, so they are easier to miss. The more we pause and listen, the more we notice subtle signals from within, making it easier to attend to something like our back pain before it becomes a muscle spasm that puts our back out.
A- By allowing and accepting whatever is present, I give myself permission to have the experience. When I reject or deny what is happening because I want things to be different, I do not accept what is happening, and I end up in a fight with myself, trying to control things that are not under my control. For this reason, developing a practice of acceptance is a powerful gateway into intimacy with myself. I might say “I see you,” “I am willing to know you,” or even a quiet “yes"-- of which can help me become more accepting.
F- Feeling what is happening in my body, I gently open to emotion and sensation living, breathing, and moving energy. The body is always in the present moment, and it only reveals what is already occurring. By opening myself to sensations and feelings:
I may immediately recognize a sensation as “sadness”, or I may just feel “tightness.” I may notice my eyes are watering up and say “tears are welcome here” or I may notice my hands are in a tight fist and say, “anger is here, tight and strong.” If I am unsure what emotion is connected to the sensation I will start describing the sensation as if I am the sensation itself. For example, “I am a tight ball pushing on this chest wall. I want out. I am stuck.”
I can ask the body-heart-mind “what do I most need right now?” or “what would you like me to know about you?”
T- Trusting and having faith in my commitment to be aware, to heal, and to offer safety to myself and others is a profound gift. It is akin to being able to relax even in a moment of difficulty, because I trust I can respond in a wise and compassionate manner. Trusting supports me in letting go of contraction, trying to control others/things outside of myself; and eases chronic self-defensiveness. In order to support a sense of ease and safety:
- I remind myself of some past difficulty, and of how over time, that situation changed and became more tolerable.
- I acknowledge that life is constantly changing and that disappointments and challenges happen to all beings. Change is a natural process of life.
- I encourage a sense of ease by recalling memories associated with experiences of being cared for, loved and supported.
- I remind myself “I am not alone” and “feelings, no matter what they are, don’t kill.”
- I acknowledge that “this” (whatever “this” is) is not me and does not define or limit me.
- I ask myself how I can offer safety to others and myself and then take action to do so.
III. A PERSONAL EXAMPLE OF THE RAFT PROCESS
I am feeling self-critical about how I interacted with my dear friend earlier in the day. Upon this recognition, which occurred as soon as I connected with how I was feeling in the present moment, I stepped on my RAFT. As long as I stay connected to the present moment, I will continue to be buoyed by RAFT:
- Recognizing the presence of self-criticism
- Allowing myself to see and know the self-critical thoughts and feelings with an attitude of Acceptance
- Feeling what a self-critical thought feels like in my body, and gently opening to the sensations of that feeling like a living, breathing, moving energy.
- Trusting awareness itself to hold and support me, and relaxing and letting go of any tension that is unnecessary. Trusting that this experience does not define or limit me
If you were able to listen to my thoughts, this whole process might sound something like this...
R-Buzzing along in my day, I notice that something is not quite right. I just got back to my desk at work, and I'm distracted. There is a sense of sadness and reactivity present, which is usually an indication that there's something going on under the surface that needs my attention. I recognize that I'm feeling upset, and I turn toward the feelings. I realize that I'm being self-critical; I have recognized the "it" or the “what" that is causing a sense of unease. Now, I can move on to the next step in RAFT, accepting and allowing.
A-Allowing myself to stop and connect with the thoughts and feelings present, I practice acceptance. The experience is rather like seeing a fast train go by. I recognize that it's a train, but I cannot make out any of the writing on the sides of the cars. As I stay with it, the feeling of the ground shaking and the fast motion of a moving train into clearer focus. Staying still and breathing, I hear the sounds of words like "you are being so reactive," "you know better," and "you ruined our time together." By slowing down and pausing, this experience gets quieter and more subtle. It's like train has almost come to a stop, and I see flashing words written on the side of the cars like "idiot" and "how impulsive and reactive" or "you are so immature it's an embarrassment." Having found my way to the source of my distress, I can follow the feelings deeper into my body. It's like a harp string has been struck, and I can see the vibrations as they filter down deep into my body. Following the vibrations into the realm of physical sensations and feelings, I am ready to move into the next phase of RAFT.
F- Feeling physical sensations and vibrations instead of thinking about the words and the judgements, I relate to the experience as I would a string being struck on the harp. It makes a sound that can be felt. I ask myself, what does that vibration feel like in my body? Where is it felt? I'm not thinking about what note is being played, or even how well the note was played. I simply open to becoming the instrument holding the string, allowing the feeling to express itself while knowing the feeling is not me.
Tuning into this experience is one way I can assess the quality of my awareness. How am I showing up for myself? Alert and compassionate, or bored and impatient? The way I attend to my experience matters. When I am self-critical, or try to make my experience change into something better, the vibrations are short and tight. If I am lazy or distracted, the vibrations are hardly felt at all, and fall very flat, as a note would sound plucked on a loose string. Sometimes, without realizing it, I start to simply think about the feeling instead of feeling it. Thinking about things happens easily when I do not bring my attention back to the ever-changing impact on my body. Thinking about feelings is not the same as feeling them. In fact, thinking about them clogs me up and limits my direct access to the moment, often prolonging the feelings and creating more distress. It's important to just feel what is going on as it occurs, and doing so with attentiveness, kindness and curiosity.
When I stick with the actual sensations in the body, I usually end up in the gut, the chest or the throat. Sometimes, it's the groin or the shoulders, and occasionally it's my head. Today, the vibrations caused by the thought that I'm immature lead right to my chest, throat and then into my face, with the warm flush of shame. The throat is tight and hurts like it does after I swallow a pill without enough water. The chest feels like it has collapsed or caved in somewhere. I sink into the small hollow of my chest and find an emptiness there. I open to these feelings as sensations that are constantly in motion, like shimmers of light on the water's surface. I remind myself to offer a caring presence to myself. I am learning how to care about my experience with attentiveness and interest, because it matters to me, the way the birth of a child or the passing of a life matter.
I used to think just feeling was the hardest part. Now, it seems relatively easy; I do not really have to do anything other than open, allow and accept. I just have to recognize the difference between feeling an experience versus thinking about the experience. I have noticed that thinking about feelings is like looking through the glass of an aquarium-- the waves are visible but I can not feel them. The impact of motion is inferred or imagined instead of experienced. In contrast, being in the feeling itself is much more like being in the water itself, and feeling the flick of a fish swimming by, or the motion of the waves.
I think hearing the words "feelings will not kill me" helped me to understand that my limbic brain was responding to intense feelings as if they were serious threats. The Limbic system supports a variety of functions, including emotion, behavior, motivation and long-term memory. However, it is rather unsophisticated in the way it categorizes our experience. One function of the limbic system is grouping our experience into one of three categories: a threat, a promise, or neither. It's a very simplistic way of organizing things, but it is efficient, and it has supported the survival of our species quite well. When feelings are labeled as negative, they activate the fight, flight and freeze system. When we are unaware of this grouping process, it leads to countless incidents of: freezing (that horrible moment of being without agency, a sense of value or a sense of worth); a variety of efforts to flee (through spending excessively, sipping a glass of wine or simply disassociating from body); as well as, the regrettable actions of striking out in fight mode (frequently manifesting as irritable words that create a whole new wave of difficult thoughts and emotions). Knowing how the mind works in this way, I use language to engage the more sophisticated Pre-Frontal Cortex and say to myself “its okay. These are feelings. They are not threats-- there is nothing here that can harm me." With understanding and the support of higher reasoning, I relax and become ready to move to the final process in RAFT.
T- Trusting that none of this is dangerous, I can relate to the feeling like I do a visitor. They have stopped by, but are not going to live with me forever. They are worth listening to, perhaps they have an important message to deliver, or perhaps they just need to sit down and be heard and felt while we have a cup of tea In this way, I ease my way into the back of the chair... into the support of my RAFT. I can feel my feet again, one here and one there, as they press into the supportive surface of the ground. Breathing is easier now. The flush has passed, and I'm cooler. I can still feel the waves of emotion and thought energy the way you do when floating in a raft and the wake of a boat crosses your path. Yes, the body contracts when the waves jostle the raft, causing a question. "Am I okay?" I ask, and I answer, "yes." I answer "yes" as many times as I ask the question, recognizing that the reverberations of my past will continue to surface in the present until the waves have run their course. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "you cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf."
When awareness pervades and guides me, I fully inhabit my body and open to the life and energy felt in the body. The more present I am, the more I am open to everything that is happening. The more I am open, the more I trust in the power of awareness itself. Knowing I am right here in this moment, and neither the past nor in the future, I can lean back and allow my weight to be buoyed by my RAFT of awareness.
Tanya Wiser, RAFT copyright #1-945061161