October 14, 2010, Thursday AM, Aaron's talk

Keywords: service/seva

Aaron: The word seva, service, is often misunderstood. I want to begin with a short story.

A long, long time ago – long ago and far away – I was on a sailing ship. I was actually a passenger on the ship going from here to there. I did not have sailing skills. We had a bad storm. The ship was rising on the waves and sinking down into the troughs, waves breaking over the side of the boat. The very knowledgeable crew was doing everything it could to keep the boat headed into the wind so it would not turn sideways and overturn. They were all working very hard, much water was coming in.

"What can I do to help?" I asked. The captain directed me to the bilge to pump. There were 3 or 4 of us down there pumping for hours; pumping the water that came in and found its way to the bottom of the boat, back up and out. I was an "important man" on my way to a conference of sorts. I was used to being treated as special. Remember this is well over 1000 years ago.

So at first the thought came up, "Maybe I should be up on the deck encouraging people. Is this all they have for me to do, to run a pump?" I had no sailing skills; this is what was necessary. My hands blistered, my back ached. There was no one to relieve us. There weren't many passengers. Some of the passengers were very sick. The crew was occupied in keeping us alive. I pumped.

It was a very enlightening experience of release of the ego. Watching all the stories that came, watching myself go through the "I should have something better to do. Are they appreciating me? I'm saving everybody; all this water! Without me the ship would sink." Without each of us doing what we did, the ship might have sunk. Finally letting go of the stories, and in pumping, just pumping. In pushing, just pushing; in pulling, just pulling. Pushing, pulling, pausing, aching. Breathing, pushing, pulling.

The self dissolved. There were 4 of us down there and we were exhausting ourselves. We soon realized it would be more efficient to take turns, for one to pump for 5 minutes while the other rested, then to come back with much renewed energy and to pump for 5 minutes again.

It became such a seamless flow of activity, no self for any of us. I think the others were going through the same ego stories that I was in the beginning. And then, just pumping. And in that way finally the storm passed, the seas quieted. We came up above the deck and it was very interesting to watch the crew telling us, "We saved the ship! We did it!" Not us down in the bilge, them. The captain saying, "See what a fine captain I am, I knew what to do. I told you I could get us through the storm safely." And the crew saying, "Yes, and I manned this or that sail or did this or that. We saved the ship." So much pride. We who had been down in the bilge just smiled at each other, kept our mouths closed, and thanked those who "saved the ship".

When you do service, do not try to save the ship, just push where you must push and pull where you must pull. Nobody pushing, nobody pulling. Pumping water out of the bilge is a good metaphor: releasing that which is not needed. Let it go. Each time this inner bilge fills with thoughts, opinions, ideas, ego, just man the pump; push and pull. Release it.

If we had taken the time as the water occasionally got up to hip deep down there to say, "Oh, we're going to drown!" perhaps we would have sunk. It's better not to think about that. If that thought comes, one just notes, "Yes, a lot of bilge water here. Pump." Do it with love. Do it with emptiness. Of course you want to live but if you drown-- after all, who drowns? You'll be back! Just pump.

The original focus of Venture Fourth, to which we are now coming in more direct way, is how to live in the world from a place of emptiness. I won't even say serve in the world from a place of emptiness, just live.

This does not mean that there's nobody there. Your aspirations, your dreams, your hopes, your own deepest truths and inner movement will come up, and all of this is not bilge water. Don't throw away aspirations with the bilge water. Do release strong views and opinions. These views and opinions come from a place of fear. These are not truth; these are thoughts.

Somebody asked me, what is the difference between views and truth? There's no contraction around truth. It's a deep inner knowing. You don't have to ask yourself, is this or is this not true? Can I anchor myself in this belief or not?

For example, the truth of love. You don't go around and take a poll, "Is there love in the world and is it something we can depend upon?" You simply go into your heart. You know the experience of love and you ground yourself there. Can you feel the difference? It's not an opinion, like "One should be loving," or "There is love," even.

What else do you know for sure? The truth of love-- what else? Are there any other truths that come to your mind?

Q: Compassion.

Aaron: Compassion, yes. What else?

Q: The nature of mind.

Q: Impermanence.

Aaron: The nature of mind. Impermanence. Others? Along with impermanence I would have to say permanence. Everything is impermanent and that is a permanent condition! All conditioned things are impermanent and subject to decay. The nature of mind, the nature of love, these are things that endure, they are not impermanent. Everything changes but endures. You get the same answers-- love, compassion, the nature of mind. Mudita, all the Brahmaviharas, really.

Q: Does the Uncreated change?

Aaron: The Unconditioned, Uncreated-- yes, it changes and yet it does not change. There's no way to answer that. If it did not change it would be limited. Unborn, Undying, Unchanging, Uncreated, and yet it is limitless. It is not stagnant. So it must change.

This is not a conceptual question. Ask yourself, is your love limited? You have the ability to enter that field of love. Love grows. Is there any point that you could imagine beyond which there could not be more love? It grows.

Your relationship with this Unconditioned is that each of you has the capacity to grow in ways that enhance and expand the Unconditioned itself, or God if you want to use that term.

So yes, it changes.

These 2 days will be an opportunity first and foremost to be in the open heart, and to watch what pulls you out of the open heart. When you find yourself contracting with "self stories,"

--They're doing more than I am

--I'm doing more than they are

--I left streaks on my windows

--I'm not strong enough to carry this or that

--I'm getting tired, when do we stop?

--Maybe I can switch to another job, I don't like this one anymore

Pause, sit down if you need to for 1 minute, 2 minutes, 10 minutes. Meditate until you come back to the place of center. You all have the stable practice from which to do this. Shift back to the practice of observing the chain of dependent arising: contact and consciousness; perceptions; feelings of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral; the arising of mental forms based on those feelings; any stories that come with the mental forms. Begin to see how it is all empty of a self; it's simply the outpouring of conditions.

You are never slave to those conditions. The small ego self may feel like it's a slave to them, but this inner "one who knows" is never a slave. Ask yourself, what is my highest intention here? Is it to show everybody how good a worker you are? Is it even to get the windows washed? No. But those things will happen much more fluidly-- not to show everybody what a good worker you are but yes, to get the windows washed, to get the logs moved, these things will happen much more fluidly from that place of emptiness.

Become as I was in my story, just pushing and pulling. Each time a story comes, take the time that's needed, whether it be 10 seconds or 10 minutes, to allow the story to pass away. See that certain stories become predominant. They're strong habit energies. For some of you it may be the story, "Am I doing a good enough job? Will people approve?" For some it may be the story, "Poor me, this is too much work. For this I paid all this money to fly across the country?" Watch what stories come. See if there are stories that come more frequently and how they relate to your habitual patterns.

This next is vital. You are NOT attempting to eradicate the stories. You are finding the place that transcends the stories and that can watch them with compassion, because it is only with that compassion that the stories will finally fall away leaving just emptiness and compassion. Don't expect to do it perfectly. In fact, there's nothing to do, so "to do" is probably not the best phrasing, but in the beginning there will seem to be a doer.

As the doer goes there will just be love. But still there's going to be a human whose muscles are feeling a bit achy or who feels ashamed of the streaks on the windows. Just breathe with it. Use this as an opportunity.

Part of the reason we chose this as a way to work – of course there was a deep desire for all of you to give back to Sunnyside – but also here you're in a different situation than if you were, for example, in town serving food in a food kitchen, because you can stop whenever you need to. In your daily life, often – D was talking about taking care of the little ones; it's exhausting and you can't just say, "That's enough, I'm going to meditate now for 10 minutes." The little ones are being little ones. If you're serving the food in the soup kitchen line and you ego begins to become predominant, "Is there no end to it? I'm tired. I'm supposed to meet a friend, it's getting late." – all of these stories come up, and you can't just walk out. So here you have the opportunity to do this as a deep mindful exploration.

I want you to find the innermost meaning of seva, the word s-e-v-a, seva. Tonight in our discussion I want to hear from all of you. Of course, this is just Day 1 and you may have deeper experiences tomorrow and Day 2. But I want to hear from each of you, what is seva to you? What have you learned today about seva?

And the second question, in the traditional idea of service there is a servant and one who is served. As you go through the day, can you find any servant and one who is served? Where do the edges begin to blur? In the experience of no self, which many of you have experienced in meditation where the whole ego structure dissolves, there's no this one or that one anymore. You see your interconnections with everything.

Thus the idea, "I am doing this in service to Sunnyside," is a myth. Sunnyside gratefully acknowledges and accepts your energy and love, but of course it's coming right back to you. See the ways it goes around. What happens when the self falls out of it? You cannot demand the self depart, only each time the self becomes strong, stop. Breathe, meditate, and invite yourself back to a place of center. Ask, what is bringing forth this self? You may find present day stories or even childhood stories of the one who had to be the good one and take care of others. The one who is afraid the whole ship would founder and sink of you didn't keep pumping. Just look.

I don't want to talk too long or we're not going to have work time this morning. Are there any questions? D, B, and G will give some specific instructions about the plan for today or tomorrow. But are there any questions for me?

Q: B has expressed a desire for some of us to help with the visioning of the future of Sunnyside. I feel this is a very important task.

Aaron: I agree, I think it's a very important task.

Q: I am worried that if I keep stopping to meditate, I won't give it the attention that it's due and will interrupt the process.

B: She need not worry.

Aaron: Yes, I think that you're not going to ask the whole group, "Now everybody stop while we meditate," unless the whole group feels that need. Simply watch any tension, "They don't know what they're talking about. This is wrong." Ah, is that so? You don't need to speak just then, just be quiet and breathe and watch this ego that comes in that wants to direct or dominate the conversation or refute others. Just watch it. People will keep pausing in appropriate ways. If tension builds up, the group itself will note, "There's tension, let us pause for a few minutes."

If it would be helpful and not intrusive I would be happy to participate in that session also, but I don't want to intrude in any way on the human realm of visioning. (laughter drowns out a sentence) I will do much more listening than talking.

Any other questions?

I will leave the body to Barbara and let D, B, and G speak to you. Please remember we are in silence through the day, all the meals, evening, and all day tomorrow until 5 in the afternoon. We'll break silence at 5 so you can talk before supper, during supper, and in the evening.

Thank you.

(Barbara returns, taping off and on)

Barbara: Dottie just said they're going to now speak about the practicalities of doing the service work. Aaron says, Please remember there is both form and emptiness. The emptiness is that open heart that holds the space, and the form is the actual work. And we're integrating them. That the form is real.

D: I so appreciated Aaron's thoughts and teaching this morning.

Barbara: He says you are very welcome.

D: My self was getting all snagged by the planning.