Class 4: October 31, 2006

Barbara: We meditated and then the group broke into 3 groups to talk about these different experiences of access concentration, pure awareness, jhanna. How they relate with what they experienced, especially during the retreat. We're going to let the groups report now.

So may I hear from Group 1?

Q: No one wants to talk, but I'm going to. Okay, so from what I can remember… the difference between access concentration and pure awareness, one idea is that in access concentration, you're watching the objects come and go, and there's still somewhat of a self there in that there's somebody watching the objects come and go. (Barbara: To be specific, there is no self in access concentration, but there is an observer, not registering as 'self'.) So in pure awareness, there's not that separate self. It's more of an experience of oneness. We just had a lot of conversation around that.

Then we spent some time talking about experiences of the Unconditioned. There were different experiences, some during meditation, some during quiet periods, some psychedelics, some Breathwork…

And the experiences seem to be pretty personal, so what's a common thread? A common thread is feeling like coming home. A common thread is, it's not intellectual, a feeling of coming home. And really the whole experience is usually sort of beyond the kind of physical/mental/emotional expression. So you have this, what I call, multi-dimensional experience, and then somehow we have to shove it into words and pictures and whatever. But it's hard to explain.

So beyond that, the various experiences people had varied, but they were all, maybe a word we were using was 'remembering' how you are, uncovering it, vs. attaining anything. And saying to yourself, 'I'm never going to forget how this,' but then forgetting how this is! Because your physical body can't really hold onto it.

Barbara: Thank you, Group 1. Let me toss out a question to all of you, extending this one step. With access concentration, there's still an observer. With pure awareness, there's no sense of observer vs. observed. For those of you who have experienced anything of jhanna, is there an observer? (Q: No.) I don't experience what I would call an observer in jhanna, but reading LB's material, he says in jhanna there's still a subtle observer. I understand what he means but it's very subtle. But in pure awareness, it goes completely. So this is another distinguishing factor.

Group 2

Q: We talked about everything that Group 1 talked about. (Laughter) And we went a little further. (Group 1: Ohhh!) Really, we did talk pretty much the same things; people's experiences were a little different. We did talk about how this affects our daily life, and what difference does it make. And for everybody, even though different things made the differences, I think, it has made a difference, it has made a profound difference, it sounds like, in all of our lives in terms of having what Barbara talks about as verified faith and a sense that there is something beyond just the realities that we see with the sort of normal consciousness mind. Some people talked about whether it's the brain chemistry that's changed or whatever it is changed us as individuals, and changed us in terms of how we relate with other people. And it's not something that we are doing, necessarily, consciously, it's just a change that's come because of the practice. The energy was pretty high, I think.

Q: The other piece was that most of us did not think that we had a direct experience of the Unconditioned.

Q: A couple of people felt that they might of but not sure if they had or not. But those descriptions were, the difference was that there were, in one experience it was that there was no awareness, really, of the experience until afterwards there was some memory of the experience. Another person felt like there was more of a, they didn't use this word, but channeling of something coming just through them, that was not at all conscious or part of this human body.

Group 3

Barbara: I want to say something here about the direct experience of the Unconditioned. Has everybody here experienced the sun? Anybody here ever been off on a spaceship right into the heart of the sun? Anybody here who does not have a direct experience of the sun? It's a little bit removed, maybe one step removed, but there's no doubt about what the nature of the sun is, about the heat and light that are the essence of the sun. Anybody have any doubts about that? So you don't have to go into the heart of the sun to have a really good taste of the sun.

Now, in our practice, speaking metaphorically, we go directly into the heart of the sun, everything else is gone, there's just the sun, there's just the Unconditioned. I'm using the sun here as metaphor for the Unconditioned. But all of you in some way or another have had a sense of the Unconditioned through body energy, through the mind that becomes very still and clear, through nada, through light. You know it through the ongoing dissolution, those little glimpses of everything dissolving and through equanimity with dissolution. You've all had some taste of this.

Begin to reflect to yourselves, what is it I find out there? Not yet going into the heart of it, but what is it? What am I finding there that is this Unconditioned, expressions of it at this point and not the direct deepest experience. And yet it's still the Unconditioned. It's everywhere around us, it's constant. You can't lose it. It's always there. It's the substance of your life 24 hours a day. What is it?

Let us hear from Group 3.

Q: I will talk. We began by talking about the meaning of words, semantics. Pure awareness and the Unconditioned are not synonymous. Our experience of access concentration. Most of us were at the retreat and found things that you and John said during the retreat very helpful in helping us define our understanding of these states. We remembered conversations there. We talked fairly freeform about the three marks of existence and faith and belief. How the Unconditioned informs our daily life. One said that it is very helpful to concentrate on the Unconditioned in the other rather than the day-to-day conflicts, or how to manage that overriding understanding can make all the details easier.

Barbara: Thank you all. My first deep conscious experience of the Unconditioned came almost 20 years ago, just after I met Aaron. I had experienced this before, years earlier, but had no idea what I was experiencing. I had no frame of reference for it.

I was sitting in my living room and meditating. It was 4am. John was visiting. We were not leading a retreat that weekend, he had just come up to visit for the weekend. We had been meditating together for an hour, very early in the morning. He went off into another room to do yoga.

I was meditating and had the vision of floating down a river or stream and objects were approaching on the bank, mostly what looked like familiar faces, my family, my children, young children at that point, my parents, and so forth. And as they approached, they seemed to burst into flame and burn up, so that there was just the ash shell of them left. You know how when something burns sometimes the ash remains almost in an intact outer mask, but it's very delicate? It will crumble easily. So there was a feeling of anguish—everything in my life is dissolving, everything is burning up, and so much fear.

For the weeks before this, I had been looking at dissolution of objects, watching everything dissolve around me and very aware of it. But here I was in access concentration, the objects were arising one at a time, full presence, vitaka and vicara. With each object, seeing it as impermanent, seeing it just flaming, just this little bit of ash. And then the thought came, well it still exists, it's just the ash is there. And I knew I had to reach out, not physically, but in my mind, and crumble it. Not so much 'I' as there was very little 'I' but it had to be crumpled. When it was touched, these masks of my children's faces, my parents' faces, just nothing, crumbled down into the earth. It's one of the hardest things I've ever done. It pulled me out a bit.

I said to Aaron at that point, 'I can't do this alone.' I don't know if I said it to Aaron or just to spirit in general. 'If John can come back, it would be wonderful.' And at that moment, John was doing yoga in another room and he said he felt a movement, 'I need to go back into the living room where Barbara is.' He came and sat down next to me and took my hand, and somehow that human contact was just enough. It gave me courage. It gave me a sense of connection. But there was no mind thinking, 'Ah, now I have a sense of connection,' again there was no I at that point. There was just awareness watching everything crumble and dissolve and letting it go. And the willingness to, I would say to take the fear as the object and see the fear, what is this fear like, coming on the bank or the shore of this river. Seeing that also burn up and dissolve. Everything was dissolving and falling away, crumbling into dust.

The sense of the flow of the riverbank speeded up so that I could no longer see, this is this person's face or that, it was just thousands of objects, like a timewarp. It was like breaking through, I think of the Star Trek opening pictures where they move into warp speed and everything goes whoosh! It was that kind of experience.

And suddenly it broke through into a place of absolute stillness. John says I let go of his hand. There was no sense of me or of thinking or of anything but resting in this place of profound stillness and peace, and a very deep sense—there was not thought while I was in it but as I came out of it—'That was it. That's the heart of everything.'

I rested in the afterglow of that space for quite a long time, nothing arising or dissolving, until Aaron finally said to me, 'It's time to wake your children and make breakfast and get them ready for school.' I saw my reluctance to come out of that space. And he said to me, 'If you are grasping and holding on to that space, you haven't understood anything. You can't lose that; you don't have to hold onto it because it's always there. It's the heart of everything. Rest in that heart and while allowing yourself to stay connected into that heart, get up and wake your children and cook breakfast. The children don't care that the world and everything in it has just disappeared, they want their breakfast!'

So it was a very good way of learning not to attach to that space. I see that I probably would have attached without Aaron's guidance, at that point.

For about a week afterward, it felt like I was halfway in that space all the time. It wasn't something that came and went, it was more like half of me was in that space and half of me dealing with the world. And I was just so deeply rooted into that level of consciousness that I couldn't lose it. And then slowly it began to fade. The ego came back. I would phrase it now, the body moved into a different and lower vibration that was no longer able to sustain that level of consciousness as everyday awareness.

The memory of it remained, and the memory was very helpful in my daily life in that each time the ego and its negative stories, fears and so forth, started to come back, there was much more ability than there had been before this experience, to question it and to note, 'This is simply arising out of conditions.' Sometimes the noting was more intellectual, but as soon as I would note it from that intellectual level, it would take me back into the experience, back into the truth of yes, it is just arising from conditions, this particular fear, this particular old habit energy you're storing. Much more ability with the practice of clear comprehension, to see that it was not suitable to go with this story or that habit energy, and I would not phrase it 'to release it' so much as to go to that which was clear, right there with the old story or fear or habit energy. Do you understand the distinction I'm making?

So I was not saying, 'I release this and go here,' but simply, 'This old energy, it's just here. It also is like one of those faces that will burn up and crumble and dissolve. It's just old habit energy. Stay in that which is clear without any fear of this old habit energy.'

As I worked with that, the stories did dissolve. Then there was a 3-month period of very intense practice. Needing to bring this experience into my daily life and really integrate it into my daily life. In that first experience, there was no awareness of being in that space while I was in it, there was only the memory of it afterward. There was awareness of this sense of going down the river and things breaking up, but once I broke through, I used the image of warp speed—whoosh—breaking through. Once I broke through, there was no more mundane consciousness until I came out of it, just what we call reviewing consciousness, looking at the experience.

So there was about 3 months of very intense practice. My life at that point was like a retreat. I was getting up at 3 in the morning and sitting for about 3 or 4 hours, sending my children off to school, sitting and walking, doing formal practice for many hours during the day, and mindfulness practice, integrating this experience. I could see later how important that integration was, that it was not enough to have the experience. What did the experience mean to life? Was I living my life congruent with the experience? Where I wasn't, I needed to clean it up. Where I was creating a self and so forth; I had to really pay attention to that.

Then at the end of about 3 months, I went to IMS and was there for about 2 weeks. I had 10 days of teacher-led retreat and a few more days there, so I was on retreat for about 2 weeks. About half of that period at IMS I sat in the meditation hall, I was grasping, looking for some kind of experience, and I was also grasping because there was nobody to sign for me. Grasping at not getting instruction, not getting dharma talks. There were very kind people who took notes, but I would get one page of notes for an hour's dharma talk. I was just getting the gist of what was being said. So I made the decision to just sit in my room.

It was very hot, a very hot week. I was sitting by the window in my room at maybe 2 in the morning. Watching, 'hot, hot, unpleasant.' Then the little breeze came in the window, just a small cool breeze outside—'ahh! Pleasant!' I sat for maybe over an hour and then got up and did walking meditation. I could feel my mind and energy was grasping. Aaron at that point led me into walking meditation very similar to what John led at the retreat. He asked me to walk with my eyes open, feeling the spaciousness. I had not done any formal dzogchen practice at this point, but was aware of the need to open the mind and energy field, to rest in awareness so that I moved into the place where the observer disappeared, where there was just spaciousness and light. And there was awareness of the lifting, moving, placing.

There was a flight of stairs, as I remember, and I was walking up and down the stairs. It gave me a very precise object concentration, just stepping, lifting. Stepping, lifting the foot, placing, lifting the body. It provide a very precise object for concentration.

So I was in 2 different places. There was a space of just pure awareness. It was a very beautiful stairway with a room at the bottom, with soft lights and some candles. It was 3 in the morning; I was the only one there so it was very quiet. So there was simultaneously this spaciousness and awareness able to watch consciousness. I'm phrasing this in a very specific way. Awareness was present, able to watch consciousness picking up the objects of the walking. Does that make sense, when I say, 'awareness able to watch consciousness?' It wasn't my awareness, it was the vast field of awareness but still able to watch personal consciousness picking this up.

So after about an hour of walking, I went back into my room and sat in front of the window again. Hot. The room was stifling hot. Noting, 'Unpleasant' but with no contraction around unpleasant, no grasping at it being different, just watching the body discomfort with the heat. Then the breeze came, felt as pleasant. This pattern kept repeating. Then, again, there was finally this (whoosh) warp speed, just seeing all of these different sensations and feelings arising and passing away. There wasn't fear about it this time. It was more familiar. Mind was able to go into that space, and suddenly it just broke through.

But this time there was sati within that space. I'm using the word sati not as mindfulness and not as awareness, as we've been using it, but sati is more like Ajahn Chah's 'the one who knows.' It wasn't a personal me knowing but there was an awareness of intelligence and presence able to observe the experience of that profound peace and stillness, nothing arising or dissolving. And to direct sati like a light beam, to direct it within that experience so that there was almost a sense of being able to catch where arising could start again, not within that experience but from the edges of it. So that there was, during that time, no experience of the feet or the heat, but there was some ability to direct sati within the experience, so that awareness opened (I say opened as it did not arise, but opened; it is always there) of the creation of the karmic field and how karma arises. I saw how within that space of cessation there is no karma, and the very subtle beginnings of karma as we come out of that. Awareness came to the edge of that and back in a number of times. I can't tell you what finally brought me out of that space, but it was close to morning at that point. Maybe the sky getting light, awareness of the day beginning, sounds around me—I couldn't hear, but movement around me.

It was a deeper experience than the first one in that I was able to bring awareness into the experience. I was able to see how to use pure awareness and the spaciousness of awareness to support the experience. Again, there was a time of integration, this time 6 or 7 years. Because I had seen so clearly into the nature of karma in that experience, there was a very strong sense of the need to clean up everything, to balance karma, to resolve karma. And that I was not ready to go into that experience again until this was done. That if I went into it again, it would simply be because it was pleasant, because it was blissful, not because it was useful. So it was 7, 8 years, I would say.

The next deep experience of the Unconditioned was during a 3-week personal retreat in upstate New York. John and I went to a place that offers small, private lodging and a meditation hall for experienced practitioners. I was sitting outside on an open hillside all day, doing dzogchen, then coming into the meditation hall and doing vipassana.

This retreat was after I had first met dzogchen. The 2 month long dzpgchen retreats I attended were '93 and '95. So this was maybe '96, so it was 6 years after the first experience. I now saw the need to stop thinking of it as 2 separate practices, as dzogchen and vipassana, how to integrate these two practices.

As I was out there breathing, eyes open, there was so much light everywhere. It was summer and the sun was out, the weather clear. Light was the predominant quality, everything flooded with light. First just earthly light, but also ground luminosity becoming so predominant that as I came into the meditation hall and moved my attention not to nada but to the breath, the breath was glowing. As I breathed in, it had a luminous quality, and as I breathed out, a different light quality. And the light was so much right there in the breath, that immediately within the vipassana practice, the light became the primary object. The light as direct expression of the Unconditioned does not arise or cease. Awareness opened into that experience, just fully present with light.

I could see the interplay of the Unconditioned, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated, and the relative world, objects arising and passing away. It took me—the retreat was 3 weeks, this didn't happen immediately, but after a few days of this—into another direct cessation experience, but this one quite different from the first two in that there was a strong ability to move back and forth between that ground and the objects arising, so that I would move into the place of cessation and then could pull back with, I don't want to call it consciousness, but there was some intelligence or awareness directing this, that directed a pulling back to see the objects arising and dissolving, and then move back, like… they're still there, and that's still there, these are still there, and they arise and they dissolve, and that infinite space of cessation is still there.

The whole 3 weeks was an ongoing investigation of the relationship of the conditioned and unconditioned, with not just the cessation experience, which is beautiful and healing and wonderful in itself, but much wisdom, understanding the relationship of conditioned and unconditioned. Through those weeks, there was not just one cessation experience but a number of them on top of each other, not as deep, but moving into and out of, into and out of.

There have been some experiences in these 10 years since that. Each one is different. Each one goes deeper. I just wanted to give you some picture of the way I have experienced this, which is not how you should experience it. We'll each go into it differently. We set the intention. We stabilize the tools of practice, and get skillful with these tools. And when we're ready, it all comes together.

These experiences are life-changing, and one must be willing to take the time to do the integration work after each of these experiences, not just to say, 'Oh, whoopee! Let's do that again!', but, 'What does this mean to my life?' And to really be honest with oneself and look very deeply at what there is that is not resonant with this experience and needs to be attended to in one's life. So it's an ongoing process of growth and of joy.

Are these so called 'enlightenment experiences?' I would hesitate to use that term. They are openings into the Unconditioned, which teach and change us. Further labeling isn't useful. So that's it from me. I would like to hear from you now, we have about 15 minutes left. How do you integrate these experiences into your life? What does everything we've been learning here this fall, working with pure awareness, working with access concentration, what does this mean to your daily life? So I'd like to pass this on to you.

Q: After these experiences, I just have this feeling that it's kind of about being the most pure channel for that connection and expression, as if the human being has the capability of operating on all the levels if the human being's clear enough. Even though maybe in everyday life… (signer asks for repeat) Wanting to operate, be a channel for all that energy in everyday life, from the Unconditioned, highest frequency down to 3rd density, even if the mind is unable to consciousness hold that high frequency. I strongly believe, have experienced that, it's that kind of being thing. Like if you let go enough, the energy will flow through you and your life can be congruent with it, but it's really just about letting that energy flow through and having a life intention of supporting that. And I think with enough of us doing that, then the whole planet shifts to that level.

So my practice is more about just being that in every moment of every day, even more than the meditation cushion, just letting go to let that through. And having those experiences just made it more palpable so I could kind of get the idea of how that could happen.

Barbara: That's very beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. Others?

Q: I was particularly pleased with John's walking meditation because it brought really clearly to me what we were talking about: the ability to be single-mindedly focused on our foot touching the ground. Very clear and focused and precise and physical, and then opening our awareness way out to the whole room, and across the lake.

So that practice of bringing the focus to something very specific and at the same time, opening our mind out wide, felt to me like a kind of Aha! experience for these 2 practices in my life. And then John suggested to me that for me, it would be useful for me to use the chi energy as a primary object because it's familiar to me. And then to work at feeling it all the time. So when AM was talking, it feels to me like the ability to walk around and be connected in whatever way we do. And to have that connection more and more and more of the day, more of the time.

So I guess what I wanted to say was that that little practice of walking meditation the way John was teaching it this weekend was very helpful in terms of giving me a clear experience of both access concentration, very clear and focused and precise, and pure awareness concentration, at the same time. It just helped.

Q: I always felt that the reason we did walking meditation was to take the practice walking into our lives everyday. And so being able to hold awareness of my own processes and awareness of the field, and if I think of the field, the whole space around me and beyond and beyond, as the Unconditioned, then I can keep that connection between my little this-and-that's and the big picture of the Unconditioned, how everything about me is rising out of conditions, or the bus I'm getting onto, but we're all in this big field. So it can carry both at once. That was what turned me on, when John was teaching, that we would be doing both at once, which I can easily translate into life.

Q: A part of this for me is like curiosity that killed the cat. It feels kind of like a mystery or a detective thing, and I get charged up about, and sometimes fearful about, what's next. I call many of these experiences woo-woo—that's a new Pali term! (laughter) …So that's part of, I'm just intrigued and amazed, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle and finally the seeing the whole picture. It's kind of fun. And sometimes scary.

Barbara: Thank you. One thing we did not include in these 4 weeks is the experiences, the levels of consciousness that come in Breathwork. This is another whole area of conscious experience. Is there anybody who's done a fair amount of Breathwork who'd like to speak to where that comes into it, for you? Does Breathwork take you into pure awareness and access concentration and to completely different states of consciousness? Do you gain insight access or pure awareness through Breathwork?

Q: The Breathwork takes you into an altered state of consciousness which opens the transpersonal domain to you. That which lies between you and all that is, whatever that is. In that state for me, I am still a conscious entity experiencing what is going on without the limits of normal consciousness. And it allows something to come to the fore that's very healing. Without a doubt, I know that there's more going on in the universe than what I thought. And I am very grateful for that. That's it. I don't think that answers the question very well.

Barbara: I can't articulate where Breathwork takes me, it's an altered state of consciousness. But it's not pure awareness, there's a self in it. It's not access concentration, but there's a very deep seeing of relationships and of how things are. Once in Breathwork it took me into a direct experience of the Unconditioned. There was no sati within the experience, it just sunk into that experience briefly and came out of it. But I don't know where it fits into the broad scheme of it, just another state of consciousness. There's a lot to explore.

We are out of time. It's been …

Q: I just wondered where your conversations with Aaron fit in?

Barbara: When I'm talking with Aaron, I'm—not channeling Aaron for others in which I'm in a deeper trance, when I'm just hearing Aaron—I'm in a subtly altered state of consciousness in which I simply can hear him. A lot of this is about, when there's contraction there's a lower vibrational frequency. When there's a lower vibrational frequency, we can't tune into this vastness. When there's more non-contraction and a higher vibrational frequency, we can feel body energy. Some of you may see auras. You hear nada; you see ground luminosity. If you are thus attuned and there's a spirit there talking to you, you can hear him. In that spaciousness, I'm able to pick up Aaron's thoughts so that we just converse. And I hear him very loud and clear.

In the very beginning, one of the first very vivid memories of Aaron, when I was going through questioning, 'Is this real?' , is that he asked me to take a pencil and write down, and dictated the Diamond Sutra to me, a very specific sutra. He asked me to reflect on the meaning of it. He didn't tell me what it was, he didn't tell me it's a Buddhist sutra, I wouldn't have known what the word 'sutra' meant. He just said, 'Please write this down and reflect on the meaning of these words.' It's a long sutra. It took me 4 or 5 pages to write it out. I obediently wrote it out, and it wasn't until 6 months later that I came across it written out as Diamond Sutra.

So, clearly I was hearing. So, it's just tuned in. I can't answer it beyond that. But there are so many different levels of consciousness. It can be interesting out of curiosity to explore them, but I think we really have to start with holding the intention, what AM was talking about, moving into the highest and clearest level of consciousness possible for the good of all beings. Clarifying, purifying our energy, our bodies, our minds, our emotions, and allowing ourselves to move into an ever higher, non-dual level of consciousness with the intention for the good of all beings. And as we do this, what we need will come, whether it's the direct experience of the Unconditioned, or hearing our guides, or whatever healing states that we might access through something like Breathwork, it all will come out of the purity of our intention. And this is what's most important. Remembering we're not doing this as a game, we're doing this because this is the work we came to Earth to do, for the good of all beings. We must hold that intention.

But the direct experience of the Unconditioned is very powerful and healing and life-changing, so I wish it for all of you. Now you have accumulated a number of tools to further help you to that end. It's hard to do on a weekend retreat. It's harder to do just sitting in your house in the morning, although that was how I first came to it. It can be done that way but it's harder.

I hope some of you will consider the February retreat and a week of deep silence. You know the February retreat is a self-retreat, so you're sitting in your room, walking in the hallways or in the chapel or wherever. It's a chance to do really deep, silent practice. This is useful because you have Aaron and I to meet with regularly, to support you through it. Certainly you can just go off yourself and do it also. It's easier to do with support. So consider giving yourself this kind of opportunity, to do a longer retreat and go deeply into this now that you've got a bigger toolbox and more skillful understanding of these tools, and see where it takes you.

I've enjoyed this class very much. I hope you have. Next fall we'll do something similar, a short series of classes at the retreat on a specific, deep practice-related subject.

Okay, good night, Happy Halloween! Take some candy with you as you go.

(taping ends)

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