Dharma & Meditation: Deepening Practice
September 23, 2008
Class One

Key words: awareness, spaciousness
Key concepts: Simultaneity of relative and ultimate

Aaron: First I want to welcome you; I'm going to challenge you in these weeks, to take your practice as deep as you can, each of you in the direction that’s most important for you. Some of you will be working more with watching strong emotion or body sensation, some of you with deepening resting in awareness, some of you both, because of course we hold emotion and its sensation in that field of awareness.

My primary instruction to you, what I want you to work on in this two weeks, is to watch the mind and body objects that arise. Maybe your neighbor is mowing the lawn: the ear organ touching the sound, “Hearing, hearing.” It may be pleasant or unpleasant. If he is mowing his lawn and you want quiet, you might experience the lawnmower sound as unpleasant, but there's nothing inherently unpleasant about the lawnmower sound; it's just a sound. If you glance out your window, feeling anxiety about the sound. and you see that he's mowing your lawn, is it suddenly pleasant?

Watch the stories the mind creates with pleasant or unpleasant catalyst or neutral experience. With neutral experience, one feels bored by it, doesn't want to hold one's attention to it. One would say on the surface that passing a cup of water back and forth is not a particularly interesting pursuit and yet each of you found yourself very present with it, really found it a deep experience. Don't be dismissive of neutral experience. (Before Aaron’s talk, the class members did an exercise, in pairs, passing a cup of water that was full to the brim, back and forth, offering full presence to the giving and receiving, but with the instruction to watch and release tension. This exercise was aimed to help the student identify the experience of resting in awareness, and what we might call, ‘effortless effort.’)

When something arises that is unpleasant in the mind or the body there may be a contraction around that experience, perhaps one leg falling asleep, pins and needles prickling, uncomfortable, unpleasant. Sensation, burning, pulsating, unpleasant, and then aversion may arise. To this point you are still working with mind and body consciousness, present with the object. That which is aware of pulsation is not self identified with it. That which is aware of aversion is not averse. See the spaciousness that exists, right there with unpleasant sensation, or with aversion.

Driving in your car, stopped at a traffic light. Impatient. That which is aware of impatience is not impatient. I want you to watch how both can be present, consciousness of impatience and spaciousness. You do not have to stop the impatience to experience the spaciousness. The spaciousness is there, it's always been there. As long as you are focused believing, “I must control my impatience,” you can't feel the spaciousness. Or if you deny the impatience, you cannot feel the spaciousness. But when you know, “Here is impatience. Breathing in, I am aware of the impatience, breathing out I smile to the impatience. I hold space for it,” and then look around, what is aware of impatience? You might say “me”. Who are you? Just this collection of skandas, or aggregates.

What is this awareness? Get to know awareness, the experience of awareness. It comes in little bits and pieces, little glimmers of it coming through you. All I want you to do is to say, “Ah, that’s it!” By the time you say it, may be gone. Don't worry about it, just get to know the experience of awareness.

Each of you in that water passing exercise did experience awareness. Get to know it. That is my full instruction to you for these two weeks. Well, not my full instruction because as Barbara said, we do ask you to commit to a daily meditation practice, because if you're going to recognize awareness, it's going to come a lot faster if you practice regularly. It’s fine to see it in the car when you're impatient at the traffic light, but it's much easier to watch it on the cushion.

Whatever is coming up in your practice is okay. There's no special object that should be predominant. Whatever has arisen, that is the practice. Watch the tension that wants to change the way things are. Can you just come back to this moment, just as it is, without trying to change it? Peace is not in creating some artificial state of peace by holding things still, but by resting in that spaciousness of things as they are.

I want you to imagine this cup full of water. What if, as you passed it, you had put your hand on the top to keep it from sloshing over? Would that have quieted the water or disturb the water? Perhaps because the cup was not completely full it would not have disturbed the water, but picture if the cup was filled right to the brim and you put your hand on it. When you try to quiet the mind and body by saying, “I will quiet this tension, this anger, this body sensation," you're just giving energy to it. You just create more disturbance, and then you're further from the peace you seek. When you can simply hold the object, whatever comes to you–it's just this cup of water coming to you, you take it, and–when it's ready to release, you simply release it. There was nothing to fix in the cup of water. There's nothing to fix in anything that arises in the mind and body. But if there's agitation, tend to it with love.

Are there questions?

Our original plan was for Barbara to come back and lead a discussion about the reading, but I will do so. Is there anything that struck you strongly in the reading that you'd like to talk about? Any questions that arose from it, or anything that was especially meaningful you'd like to share?

Q: I was struck by the author’s commentary on, just as you were speaking about, for example, a sound or a particular sensation does not have to be pleasant or unpleasant, but I got off thinking about the very concept of unpleasant as negative and pleasant as positive, so that even labeling it can lend itself to attachment or aversion. I got a little confused by that.

Aaron: You have a hole in the tooth and go to the dentist. It's very painful to have him give you an anesthetic or fill the tooth; unpleasant. Would you prefer just to let the tooth continue to hurt and decay? Can you see that it's both unpleasant and pleasant? The sensation of drilling is unpleasant but one simply holds space for it, trusting, “This also is okay.” The movement to heal the tooth is wholesome. When something arises that’s unpleasant can you try to be with it in that way–“This also is okay,” or sometimes, “This is a teacher for me.” So is the unpleasant pain negative, or not? If you decided to leave, tooth not repaired but still anesthetized, yet realizing the pain will return, is this positive?

Everything changes. Barbara was speaking recently about climbing into her hot tub in the winter. “Ah! Warm!” And then a few minutes later, hot; too hot. Climbing out, she jumps in the snow–freezing! But pleasant. Burning and yet pleasant because she was so hot and yet in a minute, shivering–back into the hot tub–pleasant, pleasant. And then in a few minutes, unpleasant, too hot.

The mind and body experience these different sensations and mental formations as pleasant or unpleasant. Right there with pleasant and unpleasant is the awareness that holds the whole thing as just,” Ah, so. This is how it is.” Doesn't contract; doesn't try to fix. Of course if one is stepping on a thumbtack, one lifts the foot and steps off the tack. Awareness attends to, but there's no personalization of it; there's no story, “Who left the thumbtack?" or, “Oh no, I'm going to have a sore foot." One just pulls the tack out. Present. This is the quality of awareness that I want to deepen for you. Others?

Q: Finding the relationship of the depth of mindfulness when there is awareness, and how the mind is involved in mindfulness often, but with awareness the mind does not define it.

Aaron: Yes, wonderful. The mind is still, with awareness. This is a major part of the distinction. Mindfulness is still a form of mundane consciousness; awareness is awareness, supramundane consciousness. No self, no mind, no stories, just presence. Thank you.

Q: Could you say that again? My experience is watching mindfulness and seeing what that practicing relates to, when awareness is present, but the mindfulness is a conscious thinking practice and awareness is not a thinking process. The mind cannot really define or describe awareness very well.

Aaron: Because in awareness there is no longer articulation, there's just presence. I thank you, this is another finger pointing to the moon. Is this clear?

Your practice is a balance. We're not suggesting mindfulness is bad in any sense. You must develop mindfulness. But don't stop at mindfulness. For many of you, the next step in your practice is to hold the field of mindfulness and, simultaneously, to open to that spaciousness awareness. I hope this is some of what you experienced, at least, in passing the cup of water.

I will ask you, if you have not read this first week's assignment, please read it. And please read the additional 10 pages for the next class. Barbara will find out who needs the e-mail…

I would ask you each to come prepared to talk about your experience. A vital part of this circle of sharing will be your willingness to share your practice as teacher and learner, each to the others.

Q: I'm learning how tenacious mind is on everything. It's to the point where, he says in the book, how do you stop thinking? Just stop thinking. Well how do you stop? You just stop. How do you stop? The mind will always come back with, how can you do it? And that's my mind. That was really profound for me to read. I just find that I struggle with doubt, that really enquiring into everything that comes up, I start to doubt, “This isn't going to really do it.” Then I start to look at that! It just keeps coming, it just keeps coming. There's more, and more, and more, and more.

Aaron: Who stops thinking? Who is thinking? Is there anyone there, or just thought arising, the result of conditions?

Doubt is just doubt. It's just another kind of mind state like aversion or fear or irritation or impatience. Get to know the experience of doubt without any stories about it. Just to be able to say, “Ah, this is doubt." It’s good to stay with doubt until the mind just gives up in exhaustion. What remains? The personal self gets caught up and awareness just watches and smiles. Like watching a small child with a crayon and a maze, trying to figure something out, “Which way should I go?” The parent is sitting behind him, watching and smiling. You don't have to fix it for the child, it's just doubt.

So at this point we invite awareness, we allow ourselves to step back into awareness without trying to fix the doubt. Just let it be there. But not getting into the story, watching that pole into the story. No, not going there. It's just doubt. Investigate that: what is the experience of doubt, the direct experience, before any stories come up? Even the story, “There shouldn’t be doubt.” Do you understand?

Barbara underlined these words and I want to bring them out for you. On page 42 “I can be aware when stupid thoughts enter consciousness, or intelligent ones. There is a discerning that is not judging.” Please reflect on that. This relates to what we said just now about doubt. “As soon as I see some stupid thought and start to judge it, “That's a stupid thought,” I'm taking a personal stand against it. Stupid thoughts, intelligent thoughts. Emotional maturity; emotional immaturity. It's it is what it is, what arises and ceases, so it's not self.”

If there are no further questions, I'm going to release the body to Barbara and let her lead you through this recitation. I'd like for you to leave quietly after the recitation, taking the energy of it home with you in silence. Thank you.

(Recording ends; class reads through the mala recitation. They are requested to choose a section of it on which to focus with special mindfulness this week)

Copyright © 2008 by Barbara Brodsky