October 29, 2003

Barbara: Before people move into small groups, I want to speak briefly about the assignment. We start by looking at the catalyst, the mind or body object received, the response to the catalyst as a thought or an emotional response, and then the habitual tendencies that come with that response.

My personal habit energy is fix-it energy. If I drop a glass on the floor I look at the spill. The first experience is "seeing", seeing the spill. Mind might think "mess". Then the habit generally is, "okay, it spilled." There's kindness." But then there's this subtle voice that comes in and says, "Why did that happen? How can we fix it so it doesn't happen again?" So there's subtle judgment that comes in. And I hear that judgment and I smile to it and don't get carried away by it. But this is a habit energy. Whenever I see something, my first experience is to look at it and say, "How can we fix that?"

What I want you to see here are these kind of sneaky habit energies that come in. Often there's the catalyst and then the mental formation and then the habit energy in very rapid succession. We may not get carried away by that catalyst, or by the thought that comes next, but then the habit energy creeps under and it can nudge us off center.

When we can bring mindfulness to that whole progression, we don't take any of it so seriously. We're much less likely to believe the last story. The important thing here is to recognize this "That which is aware of the habit energy is not caught up in it," and that these voices, of kindness and judgment, may be happening simultaneously. Aaron is going to talk more about this in his talk, about the simultaneity of tension or negative thought, and spaciousness, and the way we can choose one over the other.

Let's move into groups. (Break for groups)

Aaron: I am Aaron. My blessings and love to you all. I want to add an aside to Barbara's comment about dana (Barbara had mentioned that the class is offered on a dana basis and that there is a bowl for donations in the front of the room.). We are having a bit of a discussion here. She would prefer me not to talk about it. I don't interfere with her talks; I ask her not to interfere with my talks. (Group laughs.)

This is not about donations to Barbara. The word dana does not mean donation, it means generosity. Generosity is not only material generosity. There's generosity of spirit; kindness. Generosity of energy, giving of one's energy in support of others. You are practicing dana when you let somebody pull out of the driveway in front of you, and there's a certain warm feeling that comes. You are practicing dana when you stay on the phone that extra 15 minutes with a troubled friend, knowing that your dinner is not prepared for your family. And you're practicing dana when you prepare the dinner for your family.

The reason I'm bringing this up is because I see there is often a misunderstanding about the meaning of the word. The practice of dana, of generosity, is so important to your spiritual practice because it leads you into the place of uncontractedness, of joy, of peacefulness. It leads you into a space of connection with others, and away from the fear-based place of self. It's very helpful not only to practice dana, but to practice it mindfully, to give in all of these small ways and watch how it feels. What do you experience? Sometimes you may experience a sense of self, a somebody who is giving. That's OK. If you note that somebodyness, go beyond it without judging yourself for the somebody, even the somebody who says, "Oh, did anybody watch? Did anybody see what I did?" Just note that little voice of ego, come back to that direct experience of giving, and find the joy in it. Resting in that joy, ask yourself, "Is there contraction here or is this a direct experience of the Uncontracted?"

In this way I would ask you to practice dana, generosity, in many ways in the next 2 weeks and see how that practice relates to fear and contraction. We talk a lot about doing metta when there's fear, not much about practicing generosity. And yet, the direct action of generosity right there with the fear can allow you to break through the fear and come to this joyful uncontracted space.

This leads me directly into my talk tonight. There can be a fear-based contraction and the uncontracted space, there at the same time. Barbara is doing some construction at her cabin, or rather, others are helping her do it. They rented a posthole digger. She's paying people to work. The posthole digger kept dying, the engine kept dying; it wouldn't work. It was time-consuming, and she was paying for it by the hour.

So she took it back and she noticed the contracted state of her energy. "How much is this useless posthole digger costing me?" Fear, contraction. By the time she got to the store, she realized that she needed to make it clear that it didn't work, but also simply to offer to pay for it. If they accepted her payment, fine; if they did not accept it, fine. She relaxed.

She entered the store with a smile and a lightness of being that had broken through the fear. The man who works on the tools came up to her very apologetic. We're sorry this happened. He was very kind, very concerned for her extra effort. I'm sure that if she had entered belligerently, he might have gone through the form of apologizing, but there would not have been the smile and loving energy, the kindness.

No matter how much contraction, you can touch on this place of kindness. When you do this, it will not always shatter the contraction. Contraction and spaciousness may remain there side by side, but you don't take the contraction quite so seriously.

Some years ago, Barbara was in the hospital with a bad leg infection. It was very painful. The leg was very inflamed. She was fighting with the pain, or rather fighting to be spacious with the pain, trying to do "good practice" with the pain. She was really pushing herself, with so many concepts of what she should be able to do. And no matter how she worked with it, the pain was taking all of her attention. She was very caught up in how to fix it.

So I asked her one morning, "Does your other leg hurt?" "No." "Does your head hurt?" "No." "Throat?" "No." "Do you have a bellyache?" "No." "Toothache?" "No."

I asked her if she could give equal attention to the parts of the body that did not hurt, that she might trying scanning the body, truly offering appreciation for this wonderful body where the organs were digesting food, working properly. The vision was clear. No headache. And this wonderful right foot - no pain, strong, she could hop around on it.

It did not stop the left leg from hurting, it simply created a wider container for that pain so that she wasn't so focused into the pain, so contracted into it. It allowed the release of the idea, "Either I have to fix it or I have to find equanimity with it," both of which may be impossible. Just, "here is pain. And here is no pain." No denial of the pain, just not totally absorbed into it.

This may seem confusing to you because you are taught in your vipassana practice to be present with what arises and is predominant in your experience. If pain is that intense, it's very predominant.

Here the issue was not the pain itself, which was the initial catalyst, but the fear around the pain, and the impulse energy to fix the fear, or even to make space for it but as a somebody, a doer making that space.

Barbara was aware of the pain and focused on it, breathing with it and so forth, but she was ignoring that whole aspect of her being that was her habit energy, as she noted earlier tonight, "How do I fix this?"

Her energy was very hyper-kyo. That is a very compacted jitsu energy, as I described it several weeks ago. By bringing attention to that which did not hurt, bringing up gratitude, which is a sister to generosity, by bringing up that gratitude, she created some spaciousness into which the energy flow could open again.

Here I want to offer something very precise. You have 4 bodies: physical, emotional, mental and spirit. With strong pain, there can be a lot of jitsu energy in the physical body. If the mind is agitated in relationship to that pain, there will be jitsu energy, a jitsu imbalance in the mental body. If there is a lot of anger about the situation, there may be a jitsu imbalance in the emotional body. But just because there is a jitsu imbalance in the physical body as a result of the condition of physical pain does not mean that there necessarily will be imbalance in the mental or emotional bodies.

During that first week in the hospital there was a lot of jitsu energy in the physical, mental and emotional bodies. Then, on about the 10th day, when I asked her to shift her attention to the rest of her physical body and literally consciously practice gratitude, then she became aware of how constricted the mental and emotional bodies had become. The gratitude acted as an opening force. It allowed the mental body to come into a kyo-jitsu balance. That in turn allowed her to see how much fear there was, fear of losing her leg, and fear of being overwhelmed by the pain. The continuing practice of gratitude, and of metta, brought more balance into the emotional body. She was able to see the jitsu energy of fear and also the very spacious loving energies that were there. She wasn't thinking of it analytically, like a chemist measuring ingredients, but more just aware of the shifts in energy as she changed her focus.

Somebody in the group we sat with tonight asked me, can both and kyo and jitsu energy be both positive and negative? There is no such thing as positive or negative energy in the physical body. It's just energy. It may be jitsu, it may be kyo, it may be very balanced, or unbalanced. It is not good or bad. With the action of punching somebody, the intention is negative, but the action is just a body action. It has harmful results. We think of it as negative action, as we think of giving somebody an apple as a positive action. But the positive and negative quality is entirely in the mind. The action is just an action.

Kyo and jitsu energy in the mental body also are not really positive or negative. We can have an angry thought. We think of it as a negative thought. This is a confusion of your language. When you hear "negative thought", you think "bad thought" and then think, "bad person." So we have to understand what we mean by negative thought.

To me, negative energy is self-centered, fear-based energy, energy offered in service to self with no thought for others. It is energy offered around a separate self with no sense of interconnection. Positive, or what we call positively polarized energy, is energy offered from a space of lovingkindness and in service to all beings. It comes from a place that recognizes the individual self on the relative plane and simultaneously the interconnectedness of all that is on the ultimate plane, so that it knows that harmful action really harms the self as well as all beings.

Negative energy and positive energy are really the result of the movement into the solid self based on contraction and fear and the movement out of the solid self, the uncontracted state. We can best describe negative energy as an imbalanced contracted state experience and positive energy as an uncontracted state experience. These energies are the result of negative or positive polarity and do not define it. But it's helpful because when you experience mind and body as contracted, there is almost always negative thought involved. When you experience them as uncontracted, you may use that as a reassurance that the state is more centered and positive.

The contracted state of course is not always harmful. We've just discussed this in the definition of kyo and jitsu. To receive the apple, there has to be a contraction. There's nothing negative there. Kyo energy can also be harmful or non-harmful. To refuse to take what one needs out of detachment in an unwholesome way, or depression, not reaching out to receive what is helpful, this is also negative. Here one is also not experiencing interconnection, but separation. The energy may be very kyo and this can do harm. We cannot say that contracted energy is harmful and uncontracted energy is not harmful, we've got to see the bigger picture.

I think it's more important to ask, is the intention here offered from a place of connection and presence and with an open heart? Or is the intention offered from a place of fear and separation? How is that intention affecting each of these 3 heavier bodies (physical, emotional and mental)? Finally, what would bring balance? Metta, compassion, generosity, gratitude, joy. Even equanimity, although it's harder to actually practice equanimity in the way we can practice the others. Equanimity is more of a result, although we do some equanimity practices. Patience is another one. Simply looking deeply.

These are all things that can bring balance to agitation, which may take an outer form of heightened kyo or heightened jitsu. The whole process is about watching the 3 heavier bodies contract into a heightened jitsu state, or collapse into an imbalanced kyo state, and to bring forth the intention to balance because of the deep commitment to do no harm, and for the good of all beings. If we honor that commitment, we cannot continue to allow ourselves to indulge in further and further imbalanced jitsu and kyo states. We call ourselves back. We simply note, "Where I'm going is unskillful. It's not where I wish to go. I come back."

Of course, you can't just snap your fingers and come back. It's a bit like flying a kite. You get it off the ground, it's flying in a balanced way but you can't always keep it there, just attend to the changes. Barbara used to fly kites by the ocean on a fishing reel. Sometimes she would release the tension and let it spin out. The wind would catch it-off it went! And seeing that it had gotten too much wind, was zipping back and forth, looking like it would shatter, she would reel it in. I think that's maybe a helpful metaphor to you. You attend to balance first by recognizing where the energy is going, in some kind of a destructive or self-destructive pattern. Bringing forth the intention, remind yourself of the intention, that do no harm also relates to the self. And then, reel it in through using whatever means seem most skillful, to offer balance.

Taking this a step further: everything I am speaking of here is relative practice. There is a doer practicing generosity, practicing metta, practicing mindfulness. You exist simultaneously on the relative and the ultimate plane. The effort that is needed is a balanced effort between relative and ultimate practice. On the relative level, you do need to be mindful and present and practice these things. And, on the ultimate level, you wake up (clap!)to your true being. You find the uncontracted and rest there without abandoning or denying the contracted.

As Barbara lay there these years ago in the hospital bed, practicing a relative reality practice of gratitude for the 80% of her body that was functioning beautifully, she started to find an enormous sense of joy right there with the pain. The pain did not go away. It was still distressing to her. The fear was still there. But there was joy. And in the spaciousness of that joy, she found the ability to be present with the pain without trying to fix it. Without tension, without fear. This does not mean that she stopped doing what she could to heal, using both the traditional medicines offered by the hospital and alternate therapies. It was done with love, though, not with grasping. There was a relaxation to it, a trust of the process. The more you move into this trust of the process of your lives, the more you connect to the Ever-Perfect. You cannot connect, for example, to the Ever-Perfect leg if you are absorbed in the infected leg. And, you cannot attend to the infected leg if you deny it to hide in the Ever-Perfect leg. There is this balance.

At the start of the semester I asked each of you to choose some area in your life that you would be watching this semester. Tonight and in the next 2 weeks I want to steer us back into whatever it was you personally chose. We've given you a lot of tools and right now you may not feel certain how to use them. Certainly it will not always be smooth and easy. Whatever that situation that you originally chose, I want you to watch it with increased focus in the next 2 weeks, seeing the catalyst of that situation, the mental forms that arise with it, the habit energy that runs with it.

I would ask you to look at the relative side. This difficult or painful situation is painful, like a thorn in the foot. As relative practice, practice metta, compassion, gratitude, joy, with the situation and with what accompanies the situation. For example, if your good friend is angry with you, it may be hard to find gratitude or joy there. There can be gratitude that you have a friend who cares enough to be angry, or gratitude for all of your friends, for all of the relationships that teach you so much. There is gratitude to your life for bringing you in contact with just what you need to learn. Don't force it. Of course, if you're not able to feel gratitude there, that's OK, then just practice lovingkindness with the human being that's in such pain.

Knowing that certain actions or thoughts will enhance the pain, start to explore why you follow in that direction. And you do, all of you do. It's habit energy. Begin to see that habit energy clearly where, for example, when somebody is angry at you, you close up and begin a whole story of how unworthy you are, how they'll be sorry when you are no longer in their life. See where your mind takes you. Watch how mind wants to go to habitual stories.

Also bring in ultimate practice. Know that the Ever-Perfect foot is there, right with the thorn. The Ever-Perfect friendship is there, even with the anger. Play with this, explore with it to see what kinds of balances you find. Allow the heart to open. Allow some of the fear to dissolve so that there can be more clarity around the situation. Some practices bring joy, healing, peacefulness. What enhances the tension and pain? Work with both the relative practice of metta, gratitude, and the ultimate practice. Not one or the other, but both.

We're going to conclude this talk with an exercise. Barbara will lead it. I will say a few more words, but will pause here.

(Ice cubes are gotten from the freezer, in an ice bucket)

Barbara: I'm going to explain what we're going to do before we start so you're not sitting here with an ice cube melting in your hand. At least not for too long.

What Aaron wants you to do is take one towel, folded up, put it on your lap. Take one towel and hold the ice cube against the back of your hand. It will feel uncomfortable. It won't do any harm but it will feel uncomfortable. There may be a burning sensation. Uncomfortable.

First, just watch the "I don't like this" that comes up, the tension. Really be present with the tension, watching the mind, the thoughts, the impulse energy of wanting to pull it away. Annoyance. Aaron will speak.

Aaron: I am Aaron. What I wish you to do is two-fold. Examine literally your relationship with the ice cube. Your relationship with discomfort. Your relationship with the mind that feels aversion to the discomfort.

We're using Barbara's leg in the hospital as a parallel. What brings you back to spaciousness? What brings the energy back to a kyo-jitsu balance? Using different terminology, here is this nirmanakaya level experience, in the physical body, the mental, the emotional body. Feel the mind giving rise to aversion; feel the touch giving rise to discomfort. What takes you back into this Ever-Perfect, into the dharmakaya? Feel also how it would be to space out in the dharmakaya, in denial of the discomfort. What I want you to find is that place of balance.

Bring awareness to what's happening in the physical, mental, and emotional levels, and awareness of the real spaciousness, to the tensionless state that is simultaneously present. The emphasis then is not either-or, but both. What happens when you come into this space of both, resting in pure awareness, holding physical discomfort, mental agitation, aversion, or whatever may be there, holding it all in the spacious container of awareness,?

When Barbara tried this at home on Monday, the ice cube melted very, very quickly. Although the ice was numbing her hand, without a conscious decision, the body simply diverted energy and heat to the hand. And it was very interesting to see how quickly the ice cube melted. You're not trying to melt the ice cube fast, Just, an experiment. Are there questions about the nature of the experiment before we pass the ice out? I pause.

Barbara: Any questions? OK. (Ice cubes passed out.) As soon as you get your ice, start...

(Long pause while exercise in progress.)

Aaron is asking if you can feel the immediate tension with the discomfort. There may be a story that comes up right away. "I don't want to do this." Or, "I don't like this coldness." Then, what is the habit energy that comes with the story? Is it a "shut-up" kind of energy, or is it a kinder, "I hear you"?

(Pause, exercise continues)

He's asking, without stepping aside from the physical discomfort, can you find the spaciousness that creates a large container for the discomfort, then move through that spaciousness, and really come to the Ever-Perfect. Coming to the ultimate level. Balanced kyo and jitsu. Quiet mind. Simply cold on the hand. But if thoughts come up around it, no contraction around the thoughts. Resting in this uncontracted space while experiencing whatever physical and mental objects may come.

(Pause, exercise continues)

Aaron is saying that the emphasis here is the practice of the "both", not the either-or. Resting in that place where one can be aware of the discomfort of the relative experience, and the spaciousness. Even aware of the mind agitated and saying, "How do we stop this?" Or one of the stories it wants to tell. And the spaciousness. There's no need to get rid of the physical sensation. No need to stop the stories to find the spaciousness.

If your ice cube has not totally melted, here's the ice bucket...(ice cubes returned to ice bucket).

We have just a few minutes. May we hear any comments or questions, sharing experience?

Aaron is laughing at me. I told you my habit energy of improve or fix-it. I'm thinking "We need a big clothesline so we can hang up all of these paper towels and dry them out so we can use them again!"

Anything people would like to share?

Q: The ice is a good thing to practice with because it naturally brings up a numbing, it's more tolerable as time goes on. So that seemed helpful for the metaphor.

Q2: It's really interesting to me because I HATE cold. It's not even bothering me. I wondered if I was spacing out. And I don't think I am. It's like I'm resting in something else. And then as soon as Barbara talked about passing the ice bucket around, seems like, "Oh, I'm supposed to do something. Something's supposed to change. I'm supposed to please somebody." And then I could feel it, because I contracted. This is very interesting to me.

Barbara: I don't think you're spacing out, I think you're finding the space, which is very different than spacing out.

Q2: Sort of going to it a little bit, to feel it, but it's not painful and I'm not contracted, and that's very different.

Barbara: Even with the contraction of cold, the uncontracted is there. Others?

Q3: I have a more general question. It seems that in the relative, non-resistance or acceptance are almost the same as the spaciousness of the Unconditioned. And I'm wondering if you or Aaron can identify what the subtle differences are. Because they seem so close.

Aaron: I am Aaron. You are right; there is a strong connection, but it's not identical. When we think of the relative experience, releasing, there's still a duality. With releasing there is non-release. I choose releasing. I do not choose holding on, contraction. But it's subtle because from that place of choosing, let me rephrase, that choice can come from a very loving place or from a fear-based place. There still may be tension, the tension to be the one who lets go, with an emphasis on either place. To be a somebody, a doer, or on letting go.

When we rest in the Uncontracted, there's no longer a doer. There's nothing done. We rest in the place in which there was nothing to let go of and nobody to let go of it. And we watch the relative mind and body move through the experience of being a somebody letting go. It's a continuum. We begin with being the doer, letting go, and then we step back more and more into awareness. All the tension dies out and then you come to the place that Q2 just spoke of, simply space. No tension around the experience at all. How could there then be anything left to let go of, or anybody to let go? I pause.

Barbara: He asks, does that answer your question?

Q3: I think these are boundaries that I want to play with and just watch that as the practice deepens or broadens, and see what happens.

Barbara: Just now as you were talking, I was feeling where I have a little sore on my finger. As I rubbed another finger against it, it prickled. I didn't realize I had a little sore there. It prickled and I contracted. And then there wasn't even a thought, letting go, there was just breathing into the contraction. Looking back, I could see there was a progression but it was such a fast progression that I hardly saw it. Somebody noticing, contraction, stop, don't follow further, and then almost instantly the breathing into the contraction, coming back into the spaciousness where the whole contracted energy that was starting to form in that hand from that little prickle released completely. I could feel the energy close up with that first contraction, and then, in 5 seconds with the breath, the holding opening again.

Q4: I think I have experienced that several times, that process. And I may, more than anything, be caught in the duality of relative and ultimate.

Barbara: It's 9:30, we need to stop. Please take this home and look at it. Use that first experience that Aaron asked you to consider before the class started, something that's an ongoing catalyst in your life, relationship or physical experience, or whatever it was, and watch it intensively in the next 2 weeks. The not either-or but both, being with it in the relative way, attending to it skillfully in the relative way. And knowing the space of pure awareness in which the whole thing sits and there's nothing to do, there's nothing to take care of. And, while there's nothing to take care of, we still need to attend to it. If somebody is angry at us, we can't say, "Ah, it doesn't matter," we have to deal with it. But it's not fear that's dealing with it. It starts to come from this place of awareness. Just watch the differences.

Please, I hope you are all keeping a journal of some sort, and I'd like to encourage that you do this practice journal. Your notations can be brief, but write down some notes so you can share them with your group in the next few weeks. And I hope you are all meditating regularly. Remember, this was part of the commitment for the class. So please stay with the meditation practice too. That's all. I'll see you in 2 weeks.

Copyright © 2003 by Barbara Brodsky