November 26, 2003

Aaron: Good evening. My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. In many years just before your holidays of Thanksgiving, I have offered a special talk on gratitude. I'm going to weave that talk into your regular class work tonight.

We have been speaking about the simultaneity of dharmakaya, ultimate reality, and nirmanakaya, or the form body, which is all of the forms of physicality, thought, and so forth.

For your homework last week, I asked you to recall that difficult experience with which you began the year, perhaps a physical distortion or an ongoing difficult emotional pattern. I requested you to hold in your hearts both the distortion and the Ever-Perfect. We used the image of a bridge, the Ever-Perfect at one side and relative reality at the other, and I invited you to see the ways they literally come together.

Barbara had an interesting experience with this exercise yesterday. This was not an item with which she had chosen to work with back in September. She tripped and hit her face quite forcefully, cutting her eye. There was a lot of blood and immediate swelling. It looked at first glance as if it should have stitches. But her vision seemed fine. She called her eye doctor who said they would not stitch an eyelid anyway.

She was at her cabin in Chelsea. She washed the wound, of course, and put a band-aid on it, Then she sat, wrapped in a warm blanket, and held ice on the injury. She spent perhaps an hour feeling the jitsu energy of it, and feeling also the Ever-Perfect energy. She did what we described last week, holding that newborn baby with its soft skin, free of bruise, free of body distortion, the perfect young baby, right there with the injury.

So she envisioned the baby Barbara's eyes, eyes that didn't need glasses. Eyes that could see clearly. Eyes and forehead that were free of any bruising. And she also worked to release the jitsu energy around the eye. That was all. She took some homeopathic remedies. Then she returned to work. She repeated the meditation that night.

This morning when she pulled the band-aid off, there was no black eye, as had started to happen almost immediately after the injury, and little swelling. Just a thin line of a scratch, healing, and a small, streaked bruise.. Very interesting to see how quickly the skin can heal. Not instant, but quickly. She asked me, "Aaron, if I was an expert at this, would it be all healed this morning?" I said, "It is already all healed, you just can't see it yet!" But yes, one really could bring forth that instant healing.

But, you have not yet learned those skills and probably will not in this incarnation. Those are skills you had once, some of you, on other planes. For some of you, the body feels so heavy, slow to move, slow to heal. But I remind you, you did not come here to avoid experiencing the catalysts of this heavy earth environment. You came here to learn love, compassion, and wisdom, and these bumps and bruises, and even your serious diseases, are your teachers.

There is a balance to it. When you regard them as teacher, so much of the fear dissolves around them. And yet it's still a difficult experience. I want to help you get away from thinking that you're doing something wrong if you have a difficult body or emotional experience. It's just teacher knocking on the door, saying, "Pay attention!"

We can't look at an accident or an illness and say this or that caused it, only, how am I going to relate to it? Barbara asked me yesterday, "Why did I injure my eye? Is there something I didn't want to see?" I said, "You injured your eye because when you fell, your glasses knocked against a hard surface, broke and cut your eye. If your glasses had been in a different position, you might have cut your forehead. It's as simple as that."

We can use the experience to ask, "Is there something I don't want to see if I injure my eye? Is there some way I don't want to be self-supporting if I injure my legs?" But you cannot jump to the conclusion that the injury happened or the illness happened because "I don't want to see" or "I don't want to be self-supporting."

The injury happened, the illness happened, for a vast number of reasons. It's a little different emotionally. If somebody is always getting into a feud with other people, and feels very tight, contracted, controlling, certainly one of the reasons for his constant arguments is this fear energy that he carries. But we cannot make that same analogy for physical ailments; we can only ask, "What can I learn here?" And sometimes all that one can learn is to offer kindness. And that is a major area of learning.

During your group period, I hope you will each share your experiences as you looked at this assignment, with the others in your group. Were you able both to see the Ever-Perfect and the mundane form of the experience, physical, emotional, or mental? What happened as you brought them together?

We have been talking about contraction and the Uncontracted. We have made the point that these are also simultaneous experiences, that there can be contraction and you can also touch the Uncontracted, this open-hearted expansive aspect of being. If you get lost in the contracted, you lose the Uncontracted. If you escape into the Uncontracted, you may deny the contracted.

I spoke to the Deep Spring teachers recently about contraction as related to negative polarity, and the Uncontracted as related to positive polarity. By "uncontracted", I mean that expansive state, heart open, deeply connected with your body, your mind, those around you, the earth itself. When there are such deep feelings of connection, it's usually very peaceful, very joyful. Then a thought comes up, perhaps a blaming thought, something somebody said to you in anger or that was simply judgmental: "You made a mess of this!" or "I hate what you said!" Those kinds of statements. You hear that and suddenly everything contracts. The Uncontracted is not gone. We simply lose touch with it.

In the coming weeks, we're going to look at those qualities of mind and heart that help re-open us when we're contracted. Mindfulness is necessary. Of course, if you're not present, nothing else can follow. But then, at times there may be some resistance to being open. Or a strong pull toward maintaining, not just boundaries but barricades.

What's the difference between a boundary and a barricade? Please consider that. I think you can feel the difference before I speak about it. From my perspective, what I call a boundary is offered appropriately, lovingly. There's no fear as motivation in creating a boundary. It helps to clarify where you are, where you end, and where the next person begins on the relative plane. The establishment of boundaries is part of of saying "no," offered with compassion. But when the boundary is offered through fear, it becomes a barricade. Then, not only negativity cannot get in, or so the belief is held, but also love cannot get in.

All of you form barricades at times. Controlling mind can be a kind of barricade. Judging mind is a sort of barricade. Greed is a barricade. Strong opinions can serve as barricades. They're all prompted by fear. Sometimes strong aversion arises, or the mind begins to obsess, such as obsessing about a negative comment from another. "What did she mean by that? Is she angry? What did I do wrong?" The questions won't stop! Mind obsesses in these ways. With greed, fear, aversion states, grasping - in all of these states, the mind and body, and the energy field, are contracted.

We have spent some time here recently talking about the difference in direct experience between the Uncontracted and the contracted. You have all observed how contraction can exist, the contraction that comes, for example, when Barbara shouts, at my request, and there is sudden, startling noise. And then the Uncontracted comes right into it, noting, "Hearing, startled." You open into that spaciousness. You don't have to get rid of the contraction. The body energy may still be contracted for a bit, resonating with that startled experience. And you can feel the simultaneity of spaciousness, of quiet energy.

But when you feel this kind of contraction, the habitual pattern for many of you has been to try to get rid of the contraction. We talked often about this "contraction around the contraction."

In the past 2 weeks I've had a number of emails from people asking, when there is this contraction around the contraction, for example, aversion arising and then judgment, another contracting experience arising around the aversion, how do I get rid of it? In each case I've answered you, you do not get rid of it. You step through it. If it stays there, that's OK. But the question still remains, how do we step through it?

Here is the anger, at hearing somebody's critical statement. Then here is the judgment. You think, "I don't want this anger experience. I shouldn't have it. I should be more mature than that." Then you note, "judging, judging". But the energy stays contracted.

For so many years I have been teaching to make space for negative mind and body experiences and not try to fix them. And yet, they still arise. And they still are part of your karmic experience and do create the future.

Therefore, we must consciously bring in balance. There are many ways to do that. For some of you, the recitation of metta is helpful. But sometimes such a recitation can become mechanical, another way of separating from the self. It becomes a mantra to keep out negative feelings rather than a statement that softens the heart so there's more space for the negative feelings, pain or fear.

What works? What really softens the heart? What invites us back to spaciousness? I find that one of the most helpful things is gratitude. Here is this person blaming you, "I don't like the way you did that. And last week you did the same thing." Maybe it's your boss at work. You're getting the opinion he thinks you're rotten at your job. Maybe he's got a toothache and he's taking it out on you, but you don't know that. You're just hearing criticism from him. The heart closes. Fear comes up. The mind starts to obsess. "What should I say to him? Is he going to fire me? But I didn't do anything wrong." And so forth, the classic statements.

Metta can be helpful here, a reminder to offer yourself and your boss's pain your loving thoughts. But I find that gratitude can be, let's say it is less likely to be mechanical. So there you sit. He's just walked out of your office. You're feeling very unjustly accused of doing some poor work.

Here you may consciously invite in gratitude with the question, "In what ways can I be grateful even for this difficult experience?" Here is this experience and it is a teacher. It's painful. It's painful if he's wrong and you have not done your job carelessly. It can be even more painful if he's right and you recognize the truth in his words.

When you ask, "what is the gift here?", if he is right, then there's something to be learned about yourself and how you work. If he is wrong, it offers you a wonderful opportunity to watch the fear arise and not get carried away by it. You can get deeper with gratitude. "What is my prior relationship with this person? What kindnesses has this person done for me? What am I grateful for about this person?" With gratitude you are pushed into, not away from, the feelings.

Perhaps he's a crude boor but he's highly skilled, and you've some wonderful skills from him, albeit painfully. Perhaps he's a terrible manager and you've learned how not to do certain things that he does. We're not just fishing for something to be grateful for. There is no human situation in which you cannot find something real for which to be grateful.

There was a beautiful interview on television several months ago with the survivor of a concentration camp. He was the only one in his family who had survived, a young man at that time. His parents died, his children died, his wife died, his brothers and sisters died, and he saw some of them killed. The interviewer asked him, "How did you survive this, and how was it that you are not bitter and filled with hatred today?" He answered very eloquently, how he learned from the experience, saw that difficult as the experience was, there was a choice; he could close down his energy, become obsessively selfish, grasping, filled with hatred, or he could try to view the whole thing through the eyes of compassion to see how his jailors were also imprisoned, how much they were suffering.

He made an interesting statement. He said, "Gratitude saved me." The interviewer had a hard time understanding that. Kept asking him a similar question repeatedly, "How could you have gratitude?" He said he had gratitude because he was alive that day. Gratitude to see the blue sky and sunshine. Gratitude for the loving smile of a friend. He said there was always something to be grateful for.

Through this choice of gratitude, he avoided closing himself up into fear and contraction. Because of this, he was able to radiate himself out into the world and do enormous good, both in the concentration camp and the work he has done in the decades since then.

I want you to understand that you really do have a choice. When everything seems to be going against you, you have the choice to be bitter about it and say, "This is the way the world is and the system stinks," which it well may, or to say, "This is the way the world is and I think the system stinks, but nevertheless, I'm going to work here as compassionately as I can in service to myself and all beings."

Sometimes people in a situation like this man's keep asking, "Why? Why me? Why me?" There's no real answer. You could say it's karma, but that's far too simplistic an answer. Of course, the heart of the answer is karma. But sometimes it's better to just let go of the question "why me." Fear is what wants to know "Why me? Why am I in a concentration camp? Why is my child dying? Why am I dying? Why did I break my leg or lose my job?"

I'm not suggesting that it's never useful to explore that question, because sometimes we turn up habitual patterns that keep bringing a recurrent negative experience. But also, you must know that sometimes the "why me?" can only be returned with "why not me?"

Here is another story, this told by a friend. He tells of a friend of his who is in a wheelchair. He was in Paris for a week. This man is a physician living in this country. He's well-respected. He drives a wheelchair accessible car. He's very independent. But in Paris he was quite dependent. He lacked his car. He didn't have the friends around him to support him, nor did he have the physical setting, ramps, curb-cuts and so forth. So he had been sitting in his hotel room all evening after the meeting held earlier in the day. He decided, "I want to go out."

He wheeled the wheelchair he had with him in France, not his regular motorized wheelchair, he wheeled to the elevator. He wheeled out into the street, where it was raining a bit. He thought he'd go down the sidewalk and find a restaurant. He got a bit lost, and then the wheelchair fell off the curb. He literally fell into the gutter. As he tells the story, he says he lay there for several hours, filled with fury, saying, "Why me?" And slowly the thoughts came of his patients in the hospital who had asked him that question 10,000 times, "Why me? Why do I have this tumor? Why do I have this disease?" He realized, "Why not me? Difficulties will befall us all. Who am I to think I should always be exempt from such difficulties?"

With that "why not me", his heart opened. Tears of compassion began to flow for himself and for all his patients. He saw the ways that he had answered the patient who said, "Why me?" saying, "Well, it happens." But with that "it happens", really excluding himself. So he saw how he had separated from his patients in that way, not really been able to have compassion for their pain. As he tells the story, he says that lying there in that gutter, he learned compassion. But, it took a few hours of lying there in the rain before he softened enough to come to the "why not me".

As he tells this story, he is filled with gratitude for that experience. He says it changed his life.

Gratitude. We say thank you so often with a closed heart, mechanically. When did you last say "Thank you" and really mean it? When were you fully there with the thank you and how did it feel? How does it feel to give fully, unconditionally? How does it feel to receive in that way?

Your center here operates on what you call a dana, or "generosity", basis. People donate money to pay the rent, to pay the bills. People donate time as volunteers. This is freely-given, without measuring what you give by what you will get in return. It is giving unconditionally and with an open heart. This kind of generosity supports gratitude and gratitude supports this kind of generosity. When there is a more stingy, fear-based kind of giving, with a contracted energy, the person receiving it feels the contraction in the energy and the heart can't fully open. There's a certain stinginess, a tightness there.

I think this is a wonderful question to ask yourselves as a sangha. I have a challenge for you, one that many of you may feel is impossible, a dream. But I'll toss it out. What if you did not charge a class fee? What if everything here was freely available? What if there was a clear statement, "This is what our expenses are on a monthly basis, on a yearly basis, and if we meet those expenses we can continue to support our programs."

What would it do for people? Probably the amount you give would be similar, but you would have the opportunity to experience generosity deeply. You would have the opportunity to experience gratitude to all the members of your sangha who continue to support Deep Spring Center and its programs.

So I think that the system you have here is an attempt at balance between your Western cultural ideas for fee for service, and the ideal of dana. But there is still that tinge of fear in it. Could we really give that much? What if some people don't give? What if it doesn't work? Well, you'll never know if you don't try. What if it does work?

What if it does work? What if it leads your entire sangha into a much deeper experience of unconditional generosity and openhearted gratitude? Are you afraid of that? Sometimes when I have suggested something like this, people have said, "But Aaron, our world doesn't work that way. People would take advantage of me if I did that in my outside life." Maybe they would. Maybe it's your responsibility to teach them. Meanwhile, your world runs on fear. Each of you will have a sense of how far you are able to go to speak the truth to that fear, to say no to the perpetuation of that fear.

So this is just a challenge, something I hope that the whole sangha will consider in the coming months or year. What would it look like to offer all your programs in that way? Just a reflection…

Coming back to your personal lives, what would it feel like to give of yourselves to others in this unconditional way? When you're about to leave your office and somebody comes up and says, "I'm having a problem, could I talk to you for a minute?" tension may come up, with the thought, "Oh no! Not now!"

I'm not suggesting that you must stay and give up your time. It's OK to say, "I can't do it. Not tonight. I have to meet somebody in half an hour. Or, I have a class to attend. But I'd be happy to talk to you about it tomorrow." With such response the energy stays open, connected. You bemoan the separation and alienation you feel, but you keep closing in into these small selves, pushed there by fear and habit.

What would your daily experience be if you allowed yourself to deeply feel gratitude for all the pleasant and unpleasant gifts that come your way. Are you willing to risk living in that openhearted a way?

I'm going to end the talk here. I'm going to ask Barbara to describe an exercise and then let you break into your small groups. We'll come back together in the end to hear some of the thoughts that come up in the groups, some of your experiences.

Before we stop, I'd like to ask you to sit for 5 minutes with the question, for what am I truly grateful? If all mind can think of is "Nothing! Life is hell!" stop and note how much anger there is, and just be persistent, kindly persistent. "Feeling anger, fear, and yet I ask the question again, for what am I truly grateful?" To be grateful does not mean that life is not sometimes hell. It simply means that you can see the gratitude right there with the discomfort. You don't get lost in the discomfort that way.

Let us have a few minutes of silence, and I invite you to work with this question. And if you wish to share it in your groups, to do so. Optional. I'll be quiet now. Thank you. Clean to here

Aaron: We have grapes. In your groups I want you to take a grape. Feel the richness of the grape, the joy of that grape. And then turn to your partner, feed it to your partner. How does it feel to give your partner the grape? How does it feel to be totally open to receive the grape? What bars you from receiving it fully? Chew it slowly, enjoy it, there are probably enough grapes for each person to offer 2 and receive 2. You don't have to go back and forth with only one person. A can offer it to B, B to C. Play around with it. Practice with it, just the full receiving, giving, openhearted.

Also in your groups, please talk about the question that was given as your homework for last week. This was in three parts, seeing the synchronicity of relative and ultimate, not denying the relative experiences even though they're sometimes very painful or difficult ones, and remembering to open to the ultimate, the dharmakaya. Can you be in both places at the same time? If you've explored this in these 2 weeks, share your experiences with each other.

And also, finally my last question. What do you feel gratitude for. You might like to share that with one another. Even in the toughest situations, we may find gratitude.

(Group time)

Barbara: We're not going to try to hear from the small groups. One bit of feedback I've already heard is that two of the groups chose not to do the exercise; they felt uncomfortable feeding one another and being fed. That's okay. You are always welcome to say no to any exercise that feels uncomfortable.

There is a practice that Aaron introduced in the book "Awakened Heart." He didn't create the practice, simply shared it. It's called the Seven Branch Prayer. It's a step-by-step way of releasing energy and reminding ourselves to come back to the present, in order not to get caught in the stories of the contraction. I'm going to email this to you in the next 2 weeks. I'd like you to read the material. It's also in the book "Awakened Heart," but I will email it to everybody. We'll teach it to you in the next class, but I'd like you to read it, for some sense of what it's about.

When we channeled the book "Awakened Heart," it was during a series of Wednesday classes. A few of you were part of that class. Aaron said then, he'd been talking for years about making space for negative emotion, and yet negative emotion continues to arise, and we get to a point where we say, "Yes, okay, I'm more spacious with it, but I still get furious! How do I work with that? It's still coming up." That's what the Seven Branch Prayer practice is about.

In that class he did not relate it to the simultaneity of difficult emotion and spaciousness. He didn't speak from the view of, "That which is aware of anger is not angry," and that we can rest in that "not-angry" awareness that is present simultaneous with the consciousness of anger. He was talking more about the progression on a linear term, feeling the anger and then releasing the anger to come to that which is not angry. So this is not just going to be a repetition of that teaching. We're going to start with that teaching, and then once we understand the linear progression of the teaching, look at the question, how do we get into the simultaneity? How do we feel and release anger and know that which is not angry, all at the same time?

That's where we're going. Tomorrow I assume most of you are spending time with family or friends, doing something with this holiday, even just sitting home. One friend that I talked to and asked, "What are you doing?" said, "I'm having an absolutely quiet day at home. I'm not going to get out of my nightgown."

What is it you're thankful for? Can you really experience a sense of gratitude? We call this Thanksgiving. It's such a mechanical thing, Everybody "should" give thanks for something. But what are you really thankful for?

We have about 10 minutes here, so I'd like to toss this out. I wonder if there's anything anybody would like to share. Not just that question, "What are you thankful for?" but on much wider terms. Anything you'd like to share, or any questions you have for Aaron?

Q: I have a question. It's separate from this. But it's about mediumship. Doing that kind of work. (Unable to hear a full sentence or question after this.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. You are all mediums. You are all channels. You are energy and you are the vessel through which not only your own energy but the world's energy flows.

Barbara used to have a kind of toy that many of you probably had, a hanging frame with 5 metal balls. When you picked up the first ball and dropped it, let it go, it swung down and hit the second ball, which passed its energy to the third, to the fourth, to the fifth, which swung out. Then it swung back and hit the 4th ball again, which hit the 3rd, the 2nd, the 1st, which swung out again. It just kept swinging back and forth in that way.

This is the way in which you are mediums constantly passing what comes through you. But the difference for the human is when something negative comes in to you, you have the choice to pass it on or to filter it out and release it. It is this mediumship that creates how the world is around you, because if you keep passing out poisons, the earth around you will become poisoned, a toxic dump. But if you find skillful ways to transmute those poisons, then the world around you will reveal its radiance and goodness. Poisons will still turn up. Each time a poison turns up, you can either pass it on or transmute it. This is your mediumship.

Your channeling of the energies is not as with a pipe. The pipe doesn't choose whether clean water or dirty water will flow through it. The pipe is just a pipe. But you are different. You have some responsibility for what flows through you. It's as if the pipe had the ability to keep itself clean so that the water that flows through it does not pick up distortions. You have this ability with your free will to choose to hold onto the negativity, the fear, the various distortions, so that they impact all of the energy that flows through, or you have the choice to recognize that such distortions have arisen but not get centered in them in such a way that they send out their energy further.

I pause.

Barbara: He says, does that answer your question?

Q: What about like, when people have passed over, to contact them?

Aaron: I am Aaron. Long ago, somebody asked me, "Aaron, what is it like to be dead?" I said, "I'm not dead, I'm very much alive. I simply no longer have a body." Some people are more conscious mediums than others. Some have more ability to tune in to the energy or to the physical or thought energy passed on by others, but it really is irrelevant whether that person still has a body or does not have a body. Again, you are all mediums because you are all picking up this energy from each other and translating it out back into the world. Some of you have developed the ability to do that more consciously. You may pick up that energy or thought form someone stil in a body, or no longer in a body. It is the same process.

I pause and would invite other questions.

Q: (Asks when Barbara will teach a class on channeling.)

Barbara: When there's time! Maybe next fall. This spring is pretty packed. But we want to get some different kinds of workshops in the fall. Are there questions about tonight's material?

(Reading written question) "What do you call a dwarf who channels and has just broken out of prison?" "A small medium at large!" (Much laughter and applause)

Barbara: Any questions about tonight's work?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I just want to remind you that this uncontracted state, the state of joy and gratitude, is your natural state. When you find yourself contracted, fearful, angry, you don't have to get rid of those, just remind yourself, "Joy, gratitude, spaciousness, are here." I keep coming back to the image of the sun and blue sky on a cloudy day. They haven't gone anywhere, but to see them you've got to move through the clouds. There are 2 approaches. One is to investigate the nature of the clouds, which investigation helps to disintegrate the clouds so the blue sky and sun re-appear. The other is to just let the clouds be and break through, in which case you have to remember that the clear sky is there and accessible. Neither method is the right method; use both of them. Intuitively know when you need to investigate the nature of the clouds, or when you simply need to remember the light. Are you investigating the nature of the clouds in such a way that it entraps you in the clouds and takes you further from the experience of light? Then look to the light. Are you turning to the light to escape the clouds? Fine, move into the light, but know you need to come back and look at the nature of the clouds. Just put it together.

Enjoy your holiday. My deepest love to each of you, and my gratitude for your presence - dare I say - in my life? That is all.

Copyright © 2003 by Barbara Brodsky