May 21, 2011m Saturday, Venture Fourth, Q&A with Aaron and Donald

May 21, 2011AM Saturday, Venture Fourth,

Q&A with Aaron and visiting teacher Donald Rothberg

This transcript does not include all of Donald's comments, but is mostly just from Aaron; Donald's words were recorded separately. Barbara's recorder was usually turned on only when Aaron spoke.

Barbara: ...The question is with so much that needs to be done at so many different levels, where do we focus and how do we make a difference? Is that more or less the question? You're asking for Aaron's perspective on it..

Q: Yes. Not just what each of us should do, (inaudible)... more, how does Aaron see the overall picture that we cannot see at this time, and something about how we can best serve.

Barbara: A small pause here. I want to share something as Aaron comes into the body. Aaron's been working with me on subtle contractions. I think you know I have bad osteoarthritis in my shoulders, and severe tendonitis pain down my arms. He's been pointing out to me over the past month the little places where there's subtle contraction that tightens the connective tissue and enhances the tendonitis. Right now he's pointing out to me as I'm trying to move myself out of the body, that there is just a subtle bit of too much effort. He's asking me to relax and get out of my own way, just to be completely relaxed and go through the process of exchanging the body that we always go through, to release the body and let him in. I see that subtle tension that he's talking about. So, give us time here while I do this more skillfully without damage to my body.

Aaron: Good morning. My blessings and love to all of you. I am Aaron. It's an interesting question. There are many different aspects to the answer.

The primary work that all of you are doing as humans is learning compassion. Secondary, very important, but not the primary effort, is the easement of suffering around the world. The easement of suffering is a result that will come as more and more of you learn compassion, but from a place of non-compassion you cannot truly ease suffering.

So when you say, “My intention is the elimination of suffering in the world through the awakening of all beings,” that's fine, but when that intention comes from a place of fear and contraction, it can't happen. Therefore, your first work is this deep learning of compassion. I'm calling it compassion but it involves everything that Donald spoke of: mind, heart, spirit. We can't separate the mind and heart, the wisdom and compassion.

The work is to develop yourself in these ways with - as Barbara spoke about the goal of building the sand castle - the deep-hearted intention to ever-further awakening. (Barbara spoke earlier of how when you build a sand castle, you already know when you begin that it will be washed away, that it is impermanent, a fleeting beauty, yet love and joy inspire you to build it anyhow). This is where effort lies, not merely awakening, but to the process of awakening, with love and not grasping, deepening the awakening with that attitude of letting go yet with continuation to strive. This is holding of the goal without attachment; it develops the inner attitude and effort that is the source of true awakening.

The more you know your true nature and the nature of all beings, the more the habitual mammalian tendencies to attack, to contract, to control, are purified. It's not that they cease to arise immediately. It's a gradual process. But those tendencies of the mammal to protect itself shift because everything is finally known as part of the self. As you find yourself deeper in this field of connection with everything, how can you kill anything? How can you attack anything? Why would you flee from anything? Then the work toward right speech, right action, and so forth, will flow much more naturally, with a much more effortless effort, from a place of joy and open heart.

This will eventually lead to that shift into 4th density. Donald probably doesn't know what I'm talking about when I say “shift into 4th density,” and that's okay. (addressing Donald) We talk about the human as 3rd density. Trees, vegetation, animals, these are second density. Gas, rock and mineral is first density. Third density is evolving into 4th density, which is the density of non-dual consciousness.

By density, I am talking about the contractedness of the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual bodies. Rock is dense. A dog's consciousness is less dense. Human consciousness is more open. You must know some beings you think of as enlightened. Their consciousness is so open and spacious, increasingly less dense. These are beings who have moved into 4th density. And 4th density is just part of the way there. We're eventually evolving into 8th density. So this is the whole evolutionary process.

On this chart of consciousness in the book Cosmic Healing, (p. 262) we talk about the evolution into non-dual consciousness and the necessary learning. Look at the chapter on “Trainings” in the book. That explains the progression well. The move from 3rd to 4th  density is the point where negative thoughts and emotions still arise but there's no contraction about them, there's no self in them, there's just the knowing, “That happened. Oh,” such as “Anger arose; Oh.”  Awareness will make sure that if that happens, there's nobody harmed. It will take care of whatever arose and attend the conditions that cause the arising.

So there's no self-blame or other-blame; there's a spaciousness that sees the nature of objects arising and passing away, completely empty of the self, impermanent, and sees that whatever arises is a result. Awareness then looks at the conditions, and attends to the conditions.

Seeing that this is the bigger goal, how do each of you work toward that goal? Let's say we wanted to build a house. We came out here and perhaps for the first weekend, there was no house here. And we said, what we're going to do is to come together 3 times a year for a week and we're going to build a house. Maybe there's a foundation in already. Well, some of you are good plumbers. Some of you are carpenters. Some of you are electricians. Some of you can visualize well and can design the house. Some of you would love to be up high and do the roof. Some of you can paint. There's no one right path, but the house cannot be built unless everybody does some piece of the house. The house is a whole made up of many elements.

The peace you seek on Earth, the equality, the social justice, is composed likewise of many elements, and it cannot happen unless each person takes the area, not thinking, “I have to do it all,” but, what calls to you? What do you have the skills for and the aptitude for? What brings you joy? What makes you passionate? That's where you work. There's no wrong or right area to work.

If you have grandchildren that need your care, care for your grandchildren. If you have clients who seek your guidance and help, care for them with love, compassion, and commitment. If you are called to work in an orphanage in some foreign country, go there and work, maybe just for a week a year. If you are called to join some kind of movement toward social justice in a specific area, do it; really devote yourself compassionately to that work on a large-scale basis,. There's no right or wrong form of service, only more or less skillful ways of enacting that service. Whatever you do, that work will be your teacher of wisdom and compassion.

The question to ask is, am I doing my work with compassion, wisdom, courage, love, patience, and open heart, whatever that work is?

Does that answer your question, or have you further question?

Q: That's good for now, thank you.

Aaron: You're welcome. C is raising a question, in the Chain of Insights and Knowledges, Number 12, the Knowledge of Conformity with Truth, which follows Equanimity with Formations. Can I explain the meaning of that step?

When one has equanimity with formations, one sees the deep truth of emptiness, impermanence, and suffering. Number 12 is about conformity with these truths, with which we live our lives, once we see that everything truly is impermanent and empty of self. If we live our lives as if objects are permanent, if we practice as if each object is permanent, if we practice as if there is some separate self, then we're at a stalemate. We can't go any further. We keep circling back into suffering because we're still at some level not conforming with the truths we've seen in Step 11.

Q: When you say to just do what we are moved to do for service, and to do it with compassion and wisdom, and also, Donald, at the end of your book you speak of this living, being kind to others, living in truth wherever you are, you can change the world in that way, being mindful, being kind, there's a part of me that keeps feeling like that's not enough, and I would like to explore that because it troubles me. There's this sense of I'm not doing enough. I look at the world and just... be compassionate with my clients and others that I come into contact with, being mindful and doing my practice. I know that's a lot but somehow it just keeps feeling like it's not enough, and that really pulls at me. I don't know how much of that is coming from a true place or an ego place, or where that's coming from. It bothers me a lot so I wanted to bring it up.

Aaron: I hear your question. I think it's a larger question, to be divided into two parts. One is about the personality, working ever more deeply with those parts of the self which feel insufficient, investigating them. Who is inadequate? Who needs to be perfect? Seeing the conditioned mind in that.

The other is the reality that we can wait forever for a fully enlightened Buddha to come along and show us the way, for some savior. We ourselves must be the responsible ones, wherever we are. We are the Buddha! There's the beautiful story of a boy who comes to the beach. It's after a storm and it's littered with starfish, so he begins tossing them back. A man walks up and says, “What are you doing?” He says, “I'm tossing them back in the ocean.” The man says, “But there are thousands of them. How can you make a difference?” The boy picks up a starfish and throws it back into the ocean and says, “I made a difference to that one.”

One at a time. We do the best we can. And if he doesn't throw one quite far enough and it lands again on the beach, if he's hasty throwing them too fast rather than with care, then it's time to stop and meditate, and just for a minute or two to watch the impulse, “Got to do it faster!” Tension. “No, I need to do it more carefully.” Release the tension. Start lifting them and placing them back where they need to go. Slow down. So that one watches the ego movements with mindfulness and grows in that way.

The second part of my answer, this comes from a past life where the being I was knew the mountains well. It doesn't matter where or when; long, long ago. There was a drought and my people needed to cross the mountain into a valley on the other side. When I say I knew the mountains well, I was not a mountain guide but I had crossed them several times. Nobody else had crossed them at all except for one man who was hired as a guide.

People were carrying babies, and old people were being carried and helped. People were carrying their food, blankets and some material supplies. We were climbing over the mountain when a very early snow began. Our guide slipped, fell and broke his leg. He could not lead the group. To go back was to go back to these conditions of starvation. The group had already traveled for some days. Here we were near the top, ready to descend into a valley which was much more fertile and would provide food. But the path was certainly much dimmed by the heavy snow.

People turned to me. “You've been over this way before, please lead us.” “How can I lead you? If I lead you the wrong way, you'll all die. But I refuse to lead you, you'll also die. How can I have the courage in my own capacity to find the way, yet still with honesty that doesn't say, ‘Oh, I know the way, just follow me.'? I don't know the way for sure. I've been this way several times; perhaps I can find the way. I invite you to come with me if you wish, but I have no guarantees. I will lead you as best I can in this moment, bringing forth as much honesty and love and courage as I can.

So we proceeded both with humility and with courage, knowing we're not yet completely sure of ourselves, but if we don't lead the way, people will suffer further. And we did find the way. This willingness to move ahead is a heart of ahimsa, dynamic compassion. We are responsible not only for our actions but our failure to act and the results of that failure to act. Thus, it is not only the result of the action or inaction that matters, but what drives that action or inaction, the purity of it. Then all the inner work shows itself.

Donald: I have a thought-- you've got a lot of information, would you like some further thoughts? (The questioner nodded, “Yes.”) Where I was going with your question, in addition to what Aaron said, is that there may be a voice that is saying to act in this wider social arena. We could say: “Whatever you do, be compassionate and kind,” and we could be doing our best with that, but our motivation is always mixed. Not so much to make it a big project, but to see what is genuine and what's not. I think that's part of our work all the time. But maybe just to sit with it and to get information, consider options, and see where you're drawn, to see if you're actually drawn to act in the wider social domain from authentic motivation.

Like I was saying, what's important is (of course we don't have to do everything) to connect those areas in our lives, what I was calling the individual, relational, and collective domains. It may be that you become better informed about what's happening with climate change and you do some local organizational work, or something like that, but that you also feel and understand the connections between the different areas. That's really important. So it's not just that you go do something in this area, but maybe that understanding informs your psychotherapy also. Maybe your psychotherapy shifts in some subtle ways; if you hear someone fearing climate change, maybe you might go there in a different way than previously. Something like that.

Aaron: I fully agree with Donald that motivation, mindfulness of motivation, is vital, here. The motivation is never going to be entirely pure. Watch for what parts of the motivation come from a place of fear and grasping and what parts come from the open heart. Begin to sort it out.

The whole group here worked in our first intensives with connecting with your guidance, working with shamanic journeying, working with your power animals. When you're confused and unsure how much of the motivation is pure and how much comes from a place of fear, pause. Ask spirit, work with spirit in some of the ways you've learned. Do some journeying. Try to find out what the deeper truth is for you, do you have clarity. But you do not have to wait until you have perfect clarity, to act, or you'd never act. Simply pause frequently and ask, “How is this going?”

Q: I have a related question to (previous Q). My question is, how do we hold all the suffering in the world... (pause, sadness) and still feel like we're making a difference? It's a similar question, but the suffering in the world right now is so vast that it's very hard to know or to feel like your drop in the ocean really is addressing it. I wish I could have a thousand hands and eyes. So I guess the question is, how do you hold it all and keep going? I really open my heart...

The second part of the question is, I notice I protect and shut down my heart to a very narrow bandwidth, to function in the world. Again, when I really open my heart, the suffering in the world is so vast, it's hard to know what to do. Does that make sense? I'm called by compassion to help everywhere, but I can't.

Aaron: I think just expressing that is helpful to you. I'd like to speak briefly to this and then release the body to Barbara and have Barbara and Donald reply, and also others of you, because this is a human question. I don't suffer anymore so I don't experience it in the same way. I'd rather you have a human reply.

My own response to all of you who are in this place is to look into that part of you that still feels a bit unworthy and inadequate. You see the radiance of the Absolute and the shadow in the self, and feel hopelessness. You so deeply aspire to come home, and erroneously believe that can only happen by full destruction of the shadow. Explore the aspiration to purify the self to the degree that when you are put up against that infinite radiance there's no shadow. It is fine as aspiration, but you can become lost in fear, and fail to see the already present radiance. You are already perfect, yet there is still work to do. Hold that balance. Those of you who are still fighting with the shadow in yourselves, find yourselves fighting against the suffering in the world in a more personal way, feeling, “I should be able to do this. I should have the capacity to hold all of this.” The work here, then, is the personal inner work to find that which is already radiant and perfect and beautiful in yourself and rest in that place. Then serve from that place. And see not only the darkness in the world but the already-present radiance there too.

That doesn't speak to the present moment's suffering, it's simply the path out of suffering, which you already know. I'm going to release the body to Barbara.

(pause while Aaron releases the body and Barbara comes back)

Barbara: How do we live with the enormous suffering in the world? How do we keep our hearts open to it? I can only tell you what works for me.

When I hate suffering, I contribute to suffering. When I try to keep my heart open--by “try to keep my heart open” what I mean is, when I allow the tender heart to be there unarmored, when I watch the process of armoring again, and again, and again, and each time I respond to it compassionately, I increase my capacity to stay present with enormous suffering. Each time I armor myself, I limit my capacity.

Sometimes the suffering around us is so enormous we don't know what to do. One of my sons seems drawn to very difficult situations. He went to New York immediately after 9-11. He went to Sri Lanka after the tsunami. In both cases as a reporter, but also to help in whatever ways he could help. He talks about being so overwhelmed in Sri Lanka by the enormity of suffering after the tsunami there, and feeling so helpless.

He came to a small village where so many people had died, were homeless, had lost all their possessions and means of livelihood, had lost their loved ones. Many were living on the grounds of a school that was built up high and that was not devastated. Many of the students of the school were there. The school had had an award-winning basketball team, known all over Sri Lanka. These young men - their parents had died, their homes had been washed away, their families had died, they were shoeless with just a pair of shorts. He said that he was so enormously moved that the coach, who was alive, called them all together and said, “Let's play basketball.” He gave them some kind of a goal to work with. So they started to play basketball.

Once they got some energy together playing basketball, the coach said, okay, now let's go out and find some food for the village. Step by step. So my son did what he does well-- he played basketball with them. He said he didn't know what to do down there. He was doing his reporting, he was doing some other things he needed to do, but asked, “What do I do to really help? What is enough in this state of total loss and despair?  Okay, I can just play basketball.” And he said that action gave him space for the suffering, because it gave him a way through the suffering into some kind of meaningful work, some small way of alleviating the suffering.

Donald: ... A few reflections. One is that, actually, when we look deeply at one individual life (mine or another's), and the immensity of it, and the suffering and the ignorance, it can be overwhelming at certain times, just being with that. At times it's pretty hard just looking at how much ignorance there is and where that leads, just looking at my consciousness, for example.

There's a friend and colleague of mine, Larry Yang, with whom I teach a fair amount. He has some great questions. He starts by saying (I'm paraphrasing because I don't remember the exact words): “How do you work with the challenge and sometimes frustration of the immensity of awakening?” And then he says: “How do you work with the challenge and sometimes frustration of the immensity of helping to transform the world? Sometimes it's helpful to see that it's not really so different, but some things maybe at times trigger us more. But they're both immense undertakings.

Then, on a more practical level, because you're asking a few different questions, I think: It seems that one of them is about how to be with the immensity of suffering and a sense of overwhelm. I think it's related to what Barbara said but in a way pointing to a teaching. The teaching of the Brahmavihara is a really good one for this question, because it's really a question of needing all 4 of the Brahmavihara (lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity) to stay balanced. A lot of times when we're unbalanced, it might be that the compassion aspect is really strong, but without the other 3 we get unbalanced and overwhelmed. That was the story with the basketball, I think. To have the joy would bring space, so to have room for the joy. Concretely it could mean to cultivate those qualities: Cultivate joy, or cultivate equanimity, as a formal practice and in other ways. So some of it's to have faith in the ultimate balance of our being. And to know that the sense of overwhelm isn't a problem with the universe, as we sometimes think, but it actually could be a temporary issue of balance.

Related to that, I think it's helpful when one is in a state of imbalance to really be mindful that that's the case, and respond. And to really be careful about the stories one tells oneself at those moments, those moments of imbalance. Because there will be a lot of stories and they may tend to further the imbalance. So when you're imbalanced, not to believe the stories, basically. I think when there's more of the balance, you'll know about the question of what to do.

Barbara: Do you want to talk more about this? Are there others who are feeling strongly about working with suffering? In Intensive Four we did Joanna Macy's Truth Mandala. This would be a good topic, the topic of suffering, to bring into that format. We don't have time to do that today, unless that's a strong direction for people. Then we could, and release something else from our intended program.

Q: I just appreciate (bringing it up; inaudible)

Q: Can I say something to (previous Q)? I (inaudible) too, so I find myself avoiding things, where I see people tortured or suffering. I heard somewhere in our practices that part of being enlightened is being able to hold this, so I challenge myself to be more courageous about it.

So right before the Intensive I got a book out, it was a children's book so it was easier to deal with, but it was about the Salem witch trials. I never approached that subject because it felt too scary. But it was a children's book and it was very approachable. It was still horrendous to see all these people in magical and mystical consciousness killing and oppressing people of rational consciousness. Because that's what was going on.

But I wanted to bring this up because I find myself making some mistake, there are these little rationalizations I bring in to make it easier. So maybe that's okay in the beginning. For instance, Aaron told me once that I care too much about other people's karma, so I'm learning to recognize a movement in that direction and just say, “Let it go, it's their karma.” And after my experience at the last Intensive with the bee, where I experienced the oneness of everything, I used that to help me see the suffering entering in and coming out, and how it's attached to a person's karma.

But he just made that point this morning without, you can't be as effective in easing suffering in the world if you don't have genuine compassion. So I think the mistake I'm making is letting go of a compassionate outlook toward them, in my efforts to be more courageous. So I'm thinking maybe it could be a two-pronged approach in the beginning, or as I become more clear, it could just be a single approach. But in order to gather the courage to use those tools I have... I need to bring genuine compassion toward what they're going through...

It goes with movies, too. I haven't been able to watch a movie that has torture in it or people being horrible to other people.

Barbara: Thank you. I want to say something about the balance of taking care of others and equanimity. Aaron has used an example that we're sitting on the end of a dock that stands in deep water. Somebody comes along, jumps in, and then waves his arms, screaming, “Help me! I can't swim!” So of course we have to pull him out.

You get him back up on the dock, he says thank you, and he turns around and jumps in again, and screams, “Help me! I can't swim! I‘m drowning.” You pull him out again. How many times do you keep pulling him out? At what point do you say to him, “I'm leaving the dock now. If you jump in again, you're on your own. I'm not going to be here to rescue you. It's your decision whether you're going to jump in. Please take my hand and walk off the dock with me.” You go that far. But you can't bring him into your home and live with him for the next 20 years, keeping an eye on him to make sure he doesn't jump in the water again; he's got to be responsible for himself. He's got to learn responsibility. It's a very hard decision. When do we leave the dock, and how do we leave the dock?

Q: ...Something that's really helped me with that overwhelm, because I've gotten to where I can't shut myself off from the suffering (inaudible). What has been helpful is, the enormity of it has moved me out of more of a personal process into something, into a larger context, but it's about the whole. And so even on a moment to moment basis now, if I'm getting spaced out or I don't want to focus, (inaudible) “For the sake of all beings,” and then it brings me right back. It's not just about me getting out of my suffering anymore, it's about me doing this for the whole, the suffering masses. This is the most I can do. And now it's feeling like it needs to move into a larger context outward, too, but for now what has really helped me a lot is (inaudible), saying, “For the sake of all beings.” It's so much more motivating than it was when it was just about me. So that's helped a lot.

Q: I find myself, many times when I read the news, drawn to stories about abuse of children, or stories where a child loses a parent or a parent loses a child. I guess, given that I have 2 young children, doesn't particularly <> to me. I also have memories from the Holocaust of losing children. What I find that those things help me do is actually open up my heart and feel the connection. So to me those are exercises, if you will, in keeping my heart open. It's easy throughout the day-- I'm working and working and working and working and working, my head is stuck in my little stuff, and to forget about everything that's going on. And these kind of stories help me open up.

The other thing that it does for me is that it helps me feel gratitude about what I do have. Whenever I think I've got it bad, it reminds me, I've got it good.

Q: Some of this might sound theoretical but it does have a basis in my experience. And that is, I like what Donald said about when you look at one person you can be easily overwhelmed at the infinite amount of suffering that seems to be there. And then you multiply that by all of the beings in the world. But suffering is based on conditions so it's a finite thing. And compassion is immeasurable. And compassion is what the world is created of. So no matter how infinite the suffering inside of ourselves or outside of ourselves, or (inaudible) seems, compassion can hold it. And I certainly can tell you about experiences where the suffering has seemed overwhelming and infinite, but the times when I've seen suffering most clearly was when I've been able to hold that suffering with compassion.

Q: I have 2 stories about suffering. One was, when I was about (inaudible), a Christian contemplative prayer. One of the teachers I was speaking with about my children and how they were suffering for one reason or another, and how I just sort of wanted to make it all better for them. And she said, “Oh, my dear, I would not rob my child of their suffering. I would not rob my children of their suffering. That's what causes transformation.” When I look back in my own life, that's been true. It's been in times of deep suffering, sort of like the alcoholics talk about the 12 Step program, that take you into the depths of your suffering. And Kahil Gibran talks about that too, from the depths of our suffering come the heights of our joy.

Another story about suffering is that I heard in the Gulf War that many of the soldiers who were in those trenches in Kuwait, that they had no other distractions, no phones, computers, anything else, and as they were sitting in those trenches in the night with no distractions, there were more people who turned to divine help for dealing with those situations than could have been possible if they had not had the pain in their lives. I studied with a grief expert too, who talks about the transforming effects of grief. So I can relate to your sense of overwhelm with the grief, so I'm not trying to fix it or make it better, because I too have that. We hear of tsunamis and we hear of the horrors.

But then the beautiful things that are coming out of Japan, the compassion, there's no looting that's happening, how they're helping one another. And I think when there's a common hurt, it brings people together, it brings community. So I think we need to remember that next to the suffering is the part that's not suffering, as Barbara or Aaron would say. And that there is beauty and goodness and transformation and love, and things that can come out of it. And that's God's ultimate will, is out of the crucifixion came the resurrection, you know, if you happen to be Christian, but there's goodness and healing that can come out of something, when we're talking about suffering, that it's important to remember this part of it too.

Q: You know the saying, there are no atheists in the foxhole?

Q: How many human beings since the first century have turned their eyes from seeing a suffering body hanging on a cross, changing their life? What is the purpose of suffering? I remember several years ago when I first got involved in spiritual movements, we belonged to a group where the teacher gave an example of a woman who was about to be raped by her assailant. His explanation of the dialogue was that she had chosen that position in this life, or before she came into this life. It was a hard saying.

In the last couple of years, Aaron introduced me to Robert Schwarz's book, you choose your soul's plan for this life. And I think that if there's any truth to that thesis, all the suffering that we are envisaging here this morning, what is it doing to us? What's the purpose of that suffering for us?

Barbara: We need to remember there's always going to be physical, mental, emotional pain. This is how the body is. How we respond to that pain is so much what the human experience is about. The pain gives us a catalyst for compassion.

There's that wonderful story about Gurdjieff. In his spiritual community there was a man who would not do his share of the work; hespoke with abusive language to people; he didn't bathe himself, had bad body odor. He was just very, very difficult to live with. Finally the man got fed up with the fact that people didn't like him and pushed him away, so he said, “I'm leaving.” Gurdjieff went after him. This was a community where people paid to live, but Gurdjieff said, “Come back. I'll pay you to live here.” And the people were really upset. “How could you invite him back and pay him?!” Gurdjieff said, “He is your catalyst for compassion, your yeast for the bread. You need him to remind you to keep your hearts open.”

Most of us don't need to invite that kind of person into our lives. We worked with the “famous person” in Geshe Tenzin Wangyal's “Vision is Mind” practice. We don't need to invite the famous person into our lives; he shows up naturally, and constantly. Can we just remember, instead of fighting against this person, to ask ourselves, “What am I learning here? Can I keep my heart open?” But also, can we remember the balance; there must be compassion also for ourselves, and metta does not exclude ourselves from the field.

Sometimes we have to walk away from something, it's just too much. It's more than we feel we can take and handle at that point. And we have to give ourselves permission to step back from it, not to force ourselves. So there's that balance. As Donald said, bringing in all the Brahmaviharas, equanimity, of course, and also mudita. Remembering joy for others, seeing that others may be suffering and how they're also learning, finding joy in that. Finding joy in those who are not suffering, the whole field.

Donald: One small addition. In a classic way, mudita was understood as the joy in the joy of others. It was said that one doesn't contemplate one's own joy, but one contemporary Western change in the practice is to actually see gratitude practice as mudita for self, which is a really important practice.

Q: We're all one anyway, so joy for others is really joy for ourselves. That's what I thought you were going to say.

Donald: Eventually it gets there, but in the short run, it's very helpful to contemplate one's own joy. Sometimes that can be more accessible than the joy of others, as a way to activate that energy.

Barbara: Let me ask at this point if there are other question specifically for Donald...

Q: It concerns the three reference points. I've been working with that and what I'm noticing is, like right now...

(lost switching to new recording file)

Q: The way you're talking about the field, there are 2 different ways. It's the way I experience it also. One is that you access it, it's infinite, and it's always there and it's always present. The other is, it's created and has characteristics: it gets bigger, it gets smaller, you can have 2 people, you can have the group. In what sense can you create something that is already there?

Donald: Maybe it's also related to that way that we keep the two perspectives intermingled, the relative and the absolute... It's not so much that we create the conditions but for skillful purposes one chooses where to focus. We don't create the phenomena, we don't create the conditions, but we do have some choice about where we focus. I think I would frame it more that way. So we can have more infinite focus, which isn't really a focus, or we can go to particular locations, which we do when we're with individuals.

Q: I wanted to see how you responded to it because I'm not sure there's an answer to it. It's like whether a light is a waver or a particle; it's both.

Donald: But it's a way of asking: How do we have aspects of the infinite field when we're doing very determinate kinds of work, or tasks, or being with particular people?

Q: How do you wield that and use it in the world to create something.

Donald: Yes. And this three-reference point relational awareness practice (to be aware of self, other, and the “field”), I think, is a skillful means to do that, and also for me it's much like John was saying, it really is a way of accessing a sense of interdependence and moving out of an exclusive self-focus. And mostly it just takes practice. Mostly just keep practicing, because it's harder to suffer, when we're in contact with the field.

Barbara: It's 10:30. We need to draw this to a close.

Donald: So I'll say a few words. I'm going to just have some alone time until lunch. After lunch I'll be going into Ann Arbor and being with the Deep Spring community this afternoon. I think originally I was going to come back for the bodhisattva ceremony but the logistics are too hard, I think. And then I have to go into Ann Arbor and teach at the Zen temple in the morning. So I think I'm being made good use of!

Q: As far as I'm concerned, you'd be most welcome for my bodhisattva ceremony.

Donald: I think the invitation was always there, it's more of a logistical issue, driving back and forth. I think Barbara worked it out in that way. I would have loved to be here for the bodhisattva ceremony, but, we'll work on that one.

A few small things. I gave to Dan the .mp3 files for the last 2 days. (There will be a sign-up sheet. Additional comments on the CD's.)

Aside from that, it's been great to meet everyone and to be with your fullness, really, and your deep sincerity and commitment. I'm sure our paths will continue to cross.

Barbara: Thank you so much for coming all the way from California to be with us.

Donald: You're welcome. It's clearly been two-way, or multiple-way. It's not like I feel like I just came here and taught, I've received a great amount. I've learned a lot. And partly, this is an advanced group, and the work that I was doing, some of what I've been sharing, it's not the usual way I do it, which is when I have to take stock of people who are more at introductory levels, typically, in some of this work. It's been a pleasure to sort of take this in a new way, and I experimented with some things I hadn't done before. You didn't know all this. (laughter; Now we do!) So I've been experimenting some, just doing things in different ways and exploring. So that's been a powerful learning, and I've also learned from your responses and hearing Aaron... So I leave with a lot as well, it is multiple, multiple way, interdependent.

(taping ends)