November 12, 2003

Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. In the past weeks we have learned a bit of new terminology to help us to be more specific in our description of experience.

Through all that vocabulary there is really only one thing that I have been teaching. That is resting in pure awareness and experiencing the nonduality of ultimate and relative while resting thus. We have talked about different ways of labeling experience, through the kayas, to transcend any sense of duality between ultimate and relative. This is the only thing I have really taught you in all these weeks, the non-duality of ultimate and relative, and what it means experientially to rest in both.

I want to try an experiment with you here tonight. Some of you have a lot of experience working with body energy. Some of you have little experience of it. I think all of you can do this to some degree, regardless of experience.

Right now, in this moment, I would ask you to bring attention to some place in your body where there is at least minor discomfort. It could be a tiny scratch, a hangnail, a small bruise. If there is anybody who truly does not find any place of body discomfort, I'd ask you to create it by literally holding your arm out at right angles to your body, palm up, so that there's a strain on the arm and shoulder. No takers, I see! You've all managed to find something else that already hurts.

You have 4 bodies: physical, emotional, mental, and spirit body. Each of the 3 lower bodies exist on both the dharmakaya and nirmanakaya level. I don't want to get into the complexity of discussing sambhogakaya right now; we'll come back to it.

I would ask you to bring attention to this place of physical distortion, physical discomfort. Be with the direct experience of it. If it's unpleasant, know it's unpleasant. If it's more neutral, know that. How do you describe the experience? Heat? Cold? Is the energy very jitsu, agitated, or is it very kyo, stagnant, still? Does it feel still in a peaceful way or still in a frozen, immobilized way?

Relax and go deeply into this area of your body. As you breathe in, draw the breath into that place in your body, and breathe out from it. Draw in breath all the way into that place even if it's in the foot, and then release from that place.

Begin to feel the many levels of sensation in that place. For example, Barbara's lower back has been a bit painful on one side. It's not a constant ache but there's heat, jitsu energy, tightness. The first level of sensation is contraction and agitation both, a feeling of tightened muscles in spasm around that area of the body. As she breathes in to it, the jitsu energy opens up a bit. A bit more space in it. Then she starts to feel heat as a predominant sensation. The heat itself is not unpleasant, but she can see the emotional body react with a bit of concern, a guarded attitude to the sudden awareness of heat. The question, is this okay?

Going still deeper into that part of the body... 
For Barbara, going deeper, she experiences a sense of withdrawal from the back. There is pulsation, awareness of the pulsation and then separating from it. So she is asking herself to be more fully present with it. The object of this phase of the exercise is not to change the sensation but merely to see the sensation.

When the small self, the personality self, watches these sensations, there may be fear or aversion. Awareness that can watch fear and aversion is at a much deeper level of being than the personality self that experiences it. We phrase it, "that which is aware of fear is not afraid," and so forth.

Still present with whatever body sensation you have chosen... Watch the emotional body relating to that sensation. The fluttering energy, with, "No; Don't want to get close. Don't like this." The work is not to change anything here, just watch. Be aware of the movements and sensations of the physical body, the movements and sensations of the emotional and mental bodies. There is a difference between the emotional and mental body, but for now we will not go into that difference. Let's just call it body and mind, the physical body and the different aspects of mind as emotion and thought.

I'm going to be quiet for a bit and ask you just to rest awareness on the layers of physical sensation, and the mind/emotion/thought responses to those layers.

Please keep breathing into the sensation, deep breaths into that sensation and release... (pause)

Now I want to ask you to bring into your mind - to that particular aspect of the body where there's pain - the way that part of the body might have been in a young baby, a few weeks old, free of any bruises or scrapes. The muscles are soft, the skin is soft. Can you try to literally hold yourself in your arms as if you were that new baby?

If the pain is in the back, see the perfect back of the baby. Pain in the foot, play with the baby's toes and feet. See the innate perfection there. Headache? Go into that in the same way. Look into the baby's eyes. See the brightness there. Happy, smiling, no pain.

This step may feel a little tricky. This is like our wrinkled sheet of paper and the unwrinkled sheet right there with it. Right here with the place of body pain, with the different layers of sensation, can you find the place that is free of pain, literally the ever-perfect?

When Barbara was in art school, sometimes they would send students to a museum to copy a master's drawing or painting. The process was to look at this ideal painting and really see how it was done. Make the brush strokes or pencil strokes to try to bring it forth again. If you looked at your copy and saw that a line was wrong, you'd erase it and try again.

I want you to try an analogous process here. Without abandoning that place in the body where there's uncomfortable sensation, bring attention also to this ever-perfect model. For Barbara, as she does this, she's aware right now that the primary sensation in the lower back is burning, the kind of heat created by friction. A lot of jitsu energy. As she holds that baby to her and holds the back, she can feel the quiet relaxed energy.

Erasing the distorted pencil strokes in this case means consciously releasing the jitsu. This is not getting rid of the jitsu, it's releasing it. It is a work of intention rather than action, offering the intention to release. The willingness for that agitated energy to release.

Breathing in stillness, cool, peaceful. Breathing it right into the sore place. Releasing heat and agitation.

When Barbara and I have done this practice before, me working with her personally, I've asked her to feel as if she was holding the baby, her hand on the baby's back and the other hand on her back. Releasing whatever is not necessary, inviting the back to come into that softness and balance of the baby.

To do this successfully there must be willingness. On the one level there might be great willingness. Of course you want to be free of pain. But on another level you might find some holding to it, almost a habitual self-identification to that place of ongoing pain. This would be different for a chronic pain than with a small scratch, but I recognize that you may not all have chronic pain to work with. So with chronic pain there may be more resistance to releasing. Or, there may be more anxiety, grasping at releasing. It could work either way.

Try to rest in a very quiet place, resting in awareness itself, free of grasping, free of aversion. Present with the sensations, present with the movements, contractions, and releases, of all the bodies. Feel the spaciousness there.

Some of you may find it helpful, literally, to rest your upturned hands on your lap, and hold the baby in one hand, hold your present self in the other.

In essence you are using this baby - it's not quite the ever-perfect, more the first birth out of the ever-perfect - using the baby as a touchstone and as a way of bringing the present into balance. While you are doing that on the relative plane, you are also just resting in that perfection of the baby, that ease, that lack of pain, that sense of well-being, and again I realize that some of you experienced a much deeper well-being as babies than others of you did. If the image of yourself as a baby doesn't work, try to think of any much-beloved baby that you have known, and think of that baby instead. Or even of a kitten or puppy.

I'm giving you Barbara's experiences just as something to give you more guidance, but of course your experiences might be quite different from hers, and that is fine.

She's finding the muscles in the back relaxing a bit. The heat is fading. There is still heat but not as intense. There's still jitsu energy but not jitsu to the point of hyper-kyo, as it was. It's opening up. She's still breathing deeply into it.

Resting in awareness, in spaciousness. Aware of the distortions with no need to fix the distortions. Offering balance from a place of kindness, not of fear.

And now, a new step. Take these two hands holding the baby and the present self and bring them together, one resting on top of the other. Whether it is through an energetic feeling, through envisioning, even through hearing and smelling and tasting, see if you can experience the ever-perfect, right there within the body.

There is no denial of the existence of distortion on the nirmanakaya level. There is increasing awareness of the existence of the dharmakaya right there with the nirmanakaya. Welcoming your wholeness, your inherent wellness, and at-easeness. This step is simply to invite the body to replicate the ever-perfect. The body inviting its own releases and movements, knowing the ever-perfect level of itself and inviting itself back into that innate perfection. Awareness just watches. Let's sit with this quietly for maybe 2 or 3 minutes. (pause)

Aaron: I am Aaron. We're doing this work today with the physical body because it's easier to see these contractions and releases in the physical body than in the emotional and mental bodies. In each of the bodies there exists the nirmanakaya, sambhogakaya, and dharmakaya level.

We cannot try to fix distortion to bring it back to replication of the dharmakaya. That's just another contracted, fear-based act. We simply bring awareness to it. This is the power of awareness. Awareness cannot come from a fear-based ego-centered place. Consciousness can; there can be "fear consciousness." But awareness can't. Awareness can be aware of the presence of fear consciousness, but never involved in it. This awareness is a very powerful tool. It has the ability to hold all of these levels simultaneously and, based on your spiritual development, based on your intention to non-harm, to service, to kindness, an intentionality-force arises with awareness, which can literally resolve distortion.

We're going to be spending a few classes looking at different tools for balancing distortion. We're going to work with the elements. We're going to work with a practice that's delineated in my book, Awakened Heart, called the Seven-Branch Prayer. We're going to look at the tools we have to distinguish these 2 facets of experience, the ever-perfect level and the relative reality level, to understand where the distortions are causing suffering for ourselves and others and how to rest in that spaciousness in which awareness can powerfully create change.

I would ask you in the next 2 weeks to work frequently with the practice that we've just done, especially if you stub your toe or nick your finger. If you have a headache, stop for a few minutes. Touch on the ever-perfect level. Deeply bring the distorted level into the heart, first consciously to invite the holding into 2 separate hands as we first did. Then invite the injury to replicate the ever-perfect. Then, to release any duality, draw the two hands together, one hand resting in the other. Literally bring together the ever-perfect and the relative with its injury. With the powers of intention and awareness, invite the damaged area to heal itself and to release its pain, heat, or contraction.

I wonder how you're feeling, how that area of the body is feeling. There is far less jitsu energy in Barbara's back. It is warm; not hot, not cold. There is a small bit of pulling. I'm going to pause and would like some feedback from all of you. Then I'm going to ask you to break into groups for some discussion. Then we'll come back here and I'm going to talk further, the last 20 minutes of our time here together.

In the small groups you'll have a chance to talk about your experience. What I'd like here now is questions to me about this whole practice. So if there is something special you'd like to share with the whole group, that's fine. Some of you may be feeling, "I don't get it." That's OK. Practice with it for awhile and it will come. I pause.

Barbara: Are there any questions?

Q: The ever-perfect is a more holistic, total-body, total-environment, experience. That's my sense of it. Whereas, holding the attention on the painful area is more of a pointed one. I understood bringing them together, but in bringing in the ever-perfect and dropping the duality, the attention on the painful area was less specific. I just don't know, does that seem to follow your understanding or Aaron's understanding?

Barbara: Aaron says, (I am paraphrasing him) in part, more or less. He says, what happens eventually is there's a shift resultant from bringing them together. He says, using the drawing example, attention shifts away from the erasing of the lines that are off, to finding the perfect lines that already exist. Here's this great master's drawing on the wall, and you start to draw the lines and you see your attempt is out of proportion, and so forth, and as you erase the lines, you start to see the perfect lines are already here in your drawing. As you look at the line that's askew, you start to see the perfect line, you don't have to look up at the Master's work any more; the perfection is right here. He's asking, does that make sense to you?.

He's talking about my experience in carving a block of wood. I would look at the block of wood and if I tried to impose my will on the block of wood I usually got a pretty awful sculpture. But when I really went into the wood to find what was there, and let the wood tell me what wanted to be expressed, then the sculpture just came out of it. The ever-perfect is always there. You've all seen that wrinkled paper image. We wrinkle it and say, "Here is the wrinkled paper. Where is the perfect piece of paper?" And the perfect piece of paper is there of course.

He says we must not abandon the distorted, that which is painful in our bodies and in our emotions and thoughts. But while holding that in a loving way, we make the decision not to expand it. Let Aaron say it.

(tape turns)

Aaron: I am Aaron. This comes back to something very simple. Fear is implied in the movement to fix. When you try to fix body or emotional sensation, you give it fear energy, and that fear energy perpetuates the distortion. When you simply bring awareness to it - and because of the fruits of all of your lifetimes of practice and your deep commitment to non-harm, to service of beings, to the good of beings - then there is a shift in the energy; there is no longer grasping energy to fix. The powers of attention and awareness and of intention come together to draw out that already-perfect body or mind state.

It's important that we understand what we mean by ever-perfect. If you see a rainbow, and with your box of paints decide to paint the rainbow, no matter how you try you're not going to get your painting to look exactly like the rainbow. The rainbow keeps changing.

The rainbow itself is ever-perfect. The drawing has both the ever-perfect level and the distorted level. It's not even so much a matter of outward appearances. You may see the rainbow in shades of brown and gray and black, and draw it that way, and somebody comes along and says, "That's wrong," but it's not wrong. If this was your vision, this may be your perfect rainbow of this moment.

It's really a matter of contraction. If you paint those colors from an uncontracted place, allowing whatever wants to express to express here on your paper, it's perfect. If fear says, "No, it should be this way, it should be that way," even if you get the colors matching what you see in the sky, it can come out very stilted and tight, distorted.

This is subtle. When I ask you to bring it back to the ever-perfect, don't get it into your head that there is just one unchanging ever-perfect. Perhaps we would be better advised to use the word distortion-free, or contraction-free, the uncontracted. Even then we get into difficulty because of the whole flow of kyo/jitsu contraction, and imbalance,. So perhaps we need to state it, to come back to the state of uncontractedness or balanced contraction. Perhaps it's balance that needs the emphasis. In the balanced kyo and jitsu, there is no held contraction, just flow.

It's very hard to talk about these things. I can only keep giving you different ideas and for one of you, something will click, and for another, something else will click. It's like cooking soup. You have the recipe, the ever-perfect. You add all the ingredients just as the recipe said, and it feels a bit flat. You add a bit more of this or that seasoning, and then it's perfect. I pause.

Barbara: He says that what he's saying here is that there is no formula. He can't give you a set of rules and say do this and this and this and this, that it comes to being intuitive. He says it's really mostly about seeing when there is contraction and when there is tension, and relating to that tension in a loving way. Offering the intention constantly to come back into balance, come back into balance, come back into balance. And keep seeing the ways you are a little bit out of balance and come back again and again. He says we do this with persistence but not with fear.


He is saying that while he's applying this now to an area of body discomfort as a way of practicing, he also wants you in these next 2 weeks to look at other kinds of things that come up in your life. Something where a lot of anger or sadness or fear comes up, and to see both the anger and that which is not angry, holding them in the two hands, and how you can bring them together. When we're attached to the anger or other distortion, we don't want to see that which is not distorted. See the meshing of the anger and that which is not angry, and begin to see that which is not angry right there in the anger, rather than somewhere else.

Break for groups

Aaron: I am Aaron. In many of your groups tonight there was some sadness. People are dealing with illness, loss, aging - all the things that bring disruption and sadness to your life...

So many of you experience so much suffering in your lives. We know there is going to be loss. This is how life is. There is going to be pain. What has made it bearable for me when I was in a human incarnation? Two things really. The loving support of others, but also truly being able to see the growth.

I have said to you many times that your work really is to bring light where there has been darkness, lovingkindness where there has been fear, hatred, and despair. Each bit of lovingkindness and light you bring is of enormous value to the whole universe. And even if you lose track of it from time to time, it's never wasted. That lit candle is just around the next bend, the one that someone else left there, or one that you left there when you passed through before.

When we speak about working on the relative and ultimate level with a catalyst, it's easier when it's not too big a catalyst because you do feel overwhelmed when it's too big. And yet, some of you seem to have these enormous catalysts.

How do we keep the light alive? This is one of the reasons I asked you to keep a journal. A journal over a few months does not make a big difference, but when you can look back over a span of years, you see the changes. Journaling doesn't need to be daily, but it's important that you not just keep a journal during the rough places and put it aside during the easy times. The reflection, what have I learned in this year?, is helpful. This is a good one for the time of Thanksgiving. Despite the difficulties of this moment, what is there to be thankful for in my life?

I want to tell you a story. This is a long ago lifetime. The being that I was, was a learned man and a physician or healer. He had a lovely home and family. He was respected by others. He had a beautiful carriage and horses and well-woven clothes. And he identified with all of that.

But he lived with some tension, even in such a simple thing as walking down the street, which was not paved as your streets are but often muddy and with garbage. If he had need to walk in such a place, he was concerned that his clothes would pick up the dirt. When his carriage was driven through the mud, he took offense at the mud spatters. If one of his children was hit by a bully, he was afraid because his son was not strong and in some way that reflected on him, so he could not unconditionally love his son. He was not a happy man.

He had a habit at night of counting his blessings, but the blessings that he counted were often not the blessings that could be most significant. I give him credit that he did not count money. And he was generous to the poor. But he set himself aside from the poor. But he counted compliments, praise, lovely new possessions.

There was leprosy in the place he lived. One day another physician came to him and asked if he would go with him to treat some of these people. The one I was immediately said, "No, no, that's not for me." He used his children as an excuse. He said, "What if I brought this home and gave it to my children?" Such disease was not well-understood in those times so there was much fear of it.

This physician friend did go and treat the lepers. Several years passed. He continued to get together with this friend and they did not speak about his treatment of lepers. I'm going to speak in the first person and not use the awkward phrasing of "the one I was". At the back of my mind, I knew he was doing this, but I pushed it aside, thought it was just a small part of his life. And I respected him as a colleague. The word doctor is not really quite adequate. A healer, I was not really a shaman, not a spiritual man, but knowledgeable about certain forms of healing.

Then my friend became sick. He had some symptoms that were not clear to him. He came to me. With some rash on his body, a fever. And so I treated him. It turned out, finally, that he had leprosy. It turned out further that in my treating him, I picked it up.

When I realized that he had leprosy, I became afraid, distanced myself from him. But by then it was too late. There was no known treatment in those time, and so lepers were outcast. They left their families and friends and lived in their own colonies. When I saw the first symptoms in myself, I was both furious and terrified. I thought, "My life is over." I thought I might take my life. I had seen the way these people lived, really in poverty because they had no way to earn a living. Certainly without respect, or so it seemed to me. I don't know which caused me more pain, the idea of losing my family or of losing my home and respect.

I knew that I must leave my family immediately so as not to endanger them. And knew that I could not morally continue to mix with people, could not pretend that I did not have this disease. My money would buy me some comfort for awhile, but it wouldn't last long. In the end, I decided to leave all that I could to my family and take very little with me. I left in the night. I had not even told my wife of my plight, but left her a note. And I departed.

I look at the Buddha's story, how he left a kingdom, wealth, respect, to go off and be a homeless monk. There was one difference in our experiences, though: he was going toward something, toward enlightenment, toward the seeking of this end of suffering and liberation, not only for himself but for all beings. So while there was a period of struggle, there was also the hope of a great gift at the end. But my feelings as I left were the fear of the upcoming struggle with what I saw as no possible good end, just increased suffering until death. I had the continuing thought to take my life, to leave the incarnation, because I did not think I was up to the struggle, and because I had seen the ways the lepers lived. There was nothing good to be hoped for.

The very few times that I had entered the place in the mountains where lepers lived in caves, in small hovels, they had all pulled away from me. They were well-trained not to talk to others, not to spread the disease. People shouted, "Unclean!" at them and even threw stones. But this time I came without my fancy clothes and carriage.

I came with a small wheeled cart, with some food, some blankets, materials to make a small shelter, bedding. People came out and welcomed me. They welcomed me with kindness and with respect, not for who I had been but for the human being that I was. For many of them, with all the costumes of our daily life thrown off, they lived in an exposure of who they truly were. Their goodness or their meanness, their generosity or their stinginess.

I might prove to them to be stingy and mean, but at first glance their welcoming was as if I were kind and good. They didn't welcome me in that way to get something from me, they welcomed me because I was one of them. There was a large cave where some of the men lived, men more of my age and who had left families behind, and they welcomed me there.

It took me awhile to get past my fear and anger. And I cannot say I was always treated with kindness. But I found that when I treated others with respect, they treated me back with respect. When I brought fear and my own anger and pain into a relationship, others withdrew.

A breakthrough came about a month after I arrived. A few knew me as a doctor, but I did not assume that role in any way in that first month. And then, a crying mother came into the area where people lived, and said that her son had fallen off a cliff. Some of these lepers were children, born to parents with leprosy. Many children were taken from the parents at birth, but in other households, other children still lived there. Probably more where leprosy had developed in several in the family at the same time, so there was parent and child with the disease.

So the mother came running up, wailing that her child had fallen off a cliff. She didn't even know if he was alive. Several went to help. Some men climbed down to him, wrapped him in a blanket, lifted with ropes, carried him up. I could see immediately that his leg was broken but his eyes were open and he was looking around. A broken leg was something I knew how to heal.

I cared for him and then began to look around me. My eyes open for the first time to see the good that I could do in this place. For 30 more years, this was my family. I was no longer afraid of catching the disease; I had it. Because of the disease, my facilities were increasingly impaired; nevertheless I had a lot of knowledge. I embraced these people, and they embraced me. I began to know my true worth as a human being, not because of the beautiful fabric of my clothes, or because of the beauty of my wife or intelligence of my children. I began to know my own qualities of kindness and goodness, of intelligence, of ability to love.

So the turn into leprosy began in my mind as a terrible tragedy, a dead end, yet I was led truly to the growth that I had intended in that lifetime, that had been hoped for, to move past the small and fearful ego self and into the loving heart. I learned how to give without measuring what I gave but what I got back, and how to receive without shame - not only how to give and receive materially but how to give and receive love. This was the primary lesson of the incarnation for me.

Could I have learned it had I not ended up as a leper? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. I can't say it was good I became a leper, but it certainly wasn't bad. It was painful. I lost my wife and children who I loved very much. But in that loss I found myself. I found my true goodness. I learned how to love.

I offer this story as a simple gift to those of you in this circle who are struggling with painful things in your lives. You never know where a situation is going to take you. I deeply understand how painful your lives can be at times. And there are no guarantees that the road will take you to a place of clarity, joy, and peace. That choice is mostly up to you.

The work is no different than what we did here in the circle at the beginning of the evening: holding the relative situation with its pain that is at times excruciating, holding the ultimate - the heart that is truly capable of loving and living with fearlessness - and bringing them together. It doesn't mean you're going to be fearless in a situation where there's pain or loss, only that you see that potential for kindness to yourself and others, even in the most severe pain.

Please work with this practice in the coming weeks. For most of you it will come in little glimpses, when you are stuck in a painful area in the body or the mind, and suddenly experience that brief emergence of spaciousness. Pay attention to the spaciousness and bring it back to the pain. Don't go to the spaciousness to avoid the pain. But do continue to find ways to open to the spaciousness so that you rest in this both, relative and ultimate.

I have kept you here past your closing time and I apologize for that. My love to you all. That is all.

Copyright © 2003 by Barbara Brodsky