March 25, 2013 Monday, Open Heart Class

Elements; chakras; akashic field

Barbara: Good morning.  I'd like to talk a little about what we're doing, here. You've amassed many tools, including your vipassana practice, metta, open heart, working with energy, mindfulness, and so forth. What we're looking at this semester is a deepening in how we use all this together, as skillfully as possible, to express our highest intention. We aspire to live mindfully from the open heart with love, and from a place that's not centered in the ego, but in a connected space. What invites that and supports it? What blocks it? As soon as we get an “I'm going to do this,” that's coming from the ego.

We've given this mindfulness assignment and exercise with generosity, the question being, simply, “Am I more likely to give of material goods, or my time and energy?”, not because one of them is better than the other, but just because it's an open door leading us into the exploration: if it's this one, why isn't it that one? What's pulling me in that direction? What blocks my going the other direction? My intention is to be as flexible as possible, and from this open heart I can respond authentically to the moment, rather than simply employing my historical patterns.

So we're going to start with this exercise, just going around and sharing. For me, I find that one or the other for me doesn't predominate. But whichever one I'm pulled to in that moment, I've been asking myself, can I do the other one? I find a gentle resistance, “No,” - a kind of building up of momentum—“I'm going this way. I don't want to switch tracks and go the other way.” So that in itself is a habitual tendency to explore. The “I” coming in and saying, “No, I'm already rolling this direction. I want to keep rolling this direction.”

Each time this has come up in the past couple of weeks, I've gently asked myself to move the other direction, whichever way it would be; to watch what happens. What I'm seeing for myself is a subtle under-layer of “I should.” “I want to get it right, I'm used to this, I'm already rolling this direction,” just a lot of little grumblings. And then I began to ask myself, what best soothes those grumblings so they resolve? Then I'm more able to come spontaneously and authentically into this moment.

I myself have been working mostly with the heart chakra and with the elements, watching how the elements are contracted or open. Please fill in anything you want to fill in—what helped you when you felt stuck and rolling in one direction, or resistant to the other direction? How did you respond to that? What helped? So this is an exploration, and I just want to point out there's nothing wrong or right, it's just an exploration, a chance to really get to know our inner habitual patterns better and to find more freedom.

AM: I want to add a slightly different perspective on the same thing. What I think we're doing this semester is basically learning how to come to express more and more of our light. And the two ways that we do that are, 1) mindfulness and other tools, to notice where we are contracted and blocking our light, and 2) to use intention and ever deepening knowing of who we are, to cultivate that which we want to express more - that which we think are our deepest values.

It's always just this dance. It's a watching of, where am I contracted? Oh, let me come back a little more to center. Watching where I'm over-pushing, over-grasping for something, and then just coming back to center.

It would be ideal if during the exercises you had no force, no push to yourself, to do them. And yet, when we ask you to do something that's out of our comfort zone, it may feel like you need to force yourself to do it. Our light doesn't shine when we're forcing or contracting. So when you do these exercises, if something is uncomfortable, if you could find a way to invite yourself to try it, just invite it, even just a little bit, not a whole big thing that's uncomfortable, just so that you can see where your resistance is, investigate the resistance. Sometimes the resistance may be something you want to let go of. “Oh, I didn't realize I'm not doing that because of a certain fear,” or whatever. And sometimes you may find that what you are trying to do is incongruent with your basic intention for life, or core values, and you didn't know that, either. So you want to look at that to see, what do you choose to do more of?

So at the end of this, when we experiment with all these types of generosity, different ways of being generous, can you find for yourself what you value about generosity and want to cultivate, and what you want to let go of?

For instance, at Deep Spring we value generosity and have specific intensions for cultivating it such as 1) saying the teachings are offered freely, and 2) that no one will be turned away for financial reasons. We don't have a whole huge thing about generosity, but it is a value of ours with these specific intentions for how we will practice it and manifest it as individuals and as a group. So as you practice with the value of generosity and investigate your preferences and resistances, you will find out more what generosity feels like to you and you can determine, at least for this time in your life, what is it that you want to cultivate about generosity, and what is it that you want to let go of.

The more that we have a deep knowing and feeling for something, the more it actually can manifest in our life. Sometimes we may wish that we were more generous in some way and wonder why it's not happening. When investigate our preferences and resistances we encounter our feelings. We see how it really feels to be generous or not generous in a particular way. And once we have that inner feeling, then when we cultivate, through intention, the part of generosity that we want to manifest more often, our beliefs become clearer, and they are more strongly associated with feelings and knowing. And that's what brings it into the world.

It is like they say in sports, if you can fully imagine how to dunk the basketball, you will be successful at it. But it doesn't mean you're just imagining (demonstrates tossing a basketball successfully in the hoop) in a general way. It's literally beginning to know the details of it such as specifically imagining “bounce the ball once, hold my arm up at a 45 degree angle, push out and up... It is important to remember specifically how the body feels each step of the way - the muscle contracting, the ball of the foot rising, the eyes focusing on the ball, etc. And to feel / experience the flow of your emotions and energy, e.g. free flowing, continuous movement, joy as the ball sinks in the basket”. This whole inner knowing of the full process, experience and emotions is what makes you actually be able to believe deeply that you not just can do it, you are doing it. And your thoughts follow your belief. Otherwise, we're just putting thoughts out there with no actual belief, feeling and knowing that it could ever happen. It is these practices that create the result in your energy field and which then can manifest into physical form.  

The homework assignments and the exercises I just mentioned can be practiced for any spiritual characteristic, value or intention. They help us to internalize and know what we want to practice or not practice, and how to manifest in the world. I know from personal experience, though, that the other piece is, you have to be soft and gentle with yourself. If you make yourself do anything, it doesn't manifest; you just create more resistance. You can't see what's really there. You're just piling stuff on top of stuff.

So invite yourself to practice-play, and if there's a piece that's really, really difficult, don't do it. Just be with the difficulty. There's something there. Be kind.

Barbara: Thank you for your clarity. I want to add something to this that may interest you.

I came home from the Casa this year, and also a week ago from a weekend in Toronto with John of God, with something very new, which is that my voice echoes in my head like a boom-box in my head. I hear the words that I'm saying, but there's also reverberation and an echo. When somebody else is talking, and I was watching Q signing to me silently while Anna Marie was talking, the sound was coming from that side, not from this side. It's like quacking. It's meaningless static, but, like “Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack,”  with different tones for different people. But the quacking was coming with the words and the pattern of the words. Now, you weren't in perfect time with how you were following, but there was a quacking and then your talking, and then a quacking and then your talking.

I want to go someplace else with this, though, to what Anna Marie was just talking about. I just came back this morning on the red-eye from leading a retreat in Seattle this weekend. There was a new person at the retreat who is a medical doctor in the Seattle area, an internal medicine specialist, who works with energy medicine practices as well as his traditional practice, and works a lot with energy and light and alternative medicines.

He asked me at lunch yesterday if we could spend half an hour with his trying something with me. First he asked me to center myself in light, and to feel us both together in that light, really bring the light in. Hand to hand, feel the energy moving between us, all of this silent. I won't go through the whole process that he advised. But then, bring my hands together to hold the energy in. Then he walked around behind me and put his hands on my shoulders and began to tone in my ear. Quacking. I was surprised, because I do hear tones, but I didn't hear specifically his tones. He was not speaking. But what he said to me afterward was, “I feel like you're not letting your body remember how it feels to hear. You've got to fully know the body's capacity to hear.” This is what you said, that triggered my sharing this.

We really have to know our capacity to be in that light with whatever - generosity, patience, whatever we're working with. If we don't know it and it's just conceptual and not really in the heart, then it doesn't come through in the same way.

This is something I've considered conceptually before, but it was very interesting to do it. We tried this several times, this exercise. I could see how, as soon as I heard the quacking, the importance to really remember my body's capacity to hear at the cellular level. Every cell in the body can hear, not just the ears, not just the auditory nerves, but every cell in the body can hear. So this is going to be my practice for the coming weeks. I just wanted to share that.

So we'd like to hear from you what you've done in your explorations with this.

(sharing not recorded)

We have gone around and shared, and now we're coming back into the circle. Anna Marie will talk.

AM: We wanted to work the practice with elements into class at this at this point. It's not that working with elements is particularly special for working with generosity. It's just another tool that you can use. We'll work the various tools as we go. The element practice is actually not one of my most preferred practices. But it's good to have these big toolkits, because you can choose, given the particular situation, what seems better.

For me, with the elements, I don't get into the real details of it. It helps me to think that, it's kind of like two things: cooking and eating. So we're all experts at it already! So, later I will use eating as an example to start with. Remember that all we are trying to do is to keep in a balanced place with the intention to unlock and release the constrictions to letting our light through and to cultivate the positive aspects in ourselves.

We do that with mindfulness and the vipassana, and still sometimes whatever we're dealing can seem too hard to deal with, too hard to just sit with all the time. Or maybe you don't even have time to sit. These other tools can help us deal with the difficult situations, bring us some momentary freedom. I have found that in those momentary experiences of freedom insights often come that help me understand and work with the deeper underlying issues and more permanently change the situation.

If you think about your body, every day the physical body is always trying to keep itself in balance. Well, our mental, emotional, and spiritual bodies are also just trying to keep themselves in balance. They have the perfect innate talent to do that. And yet, our mind creates situations, and we bring situations into this lifetime to learn from that trigger us to react in ways that can throw us out of balance or hide our light.

Often we work to keep the physical body in balance (consciously or unconsciously) by choosing what we eat or changing the conditions of the environment around us. For example, if you're feeling that you are very hot, you can go get a big glass of iced Pepsi or tea and drink it down. When you do this, you are working with the fire element, which is temperature, by diluting the heat with cold until you are comfortable. Another example is when you are cold and put on a coat - here you are working with a container - the coat to limit the escape of warmth and retain any heat that is present.  We are always trying to bring balance.

What I'll get to later is that we can do these kinds of things just using our mind and emotions and intention, rather than necessarily having to drink a cup of coffee or put on a coat. But still, since elements are actual physical elements—earth, air, fire, water, and ether (similar to space) - it is often helpful just to think of an actual physical object that is made up of that.

So we can evoke the earth element, for example, by eating any root vegetable which are very full of earth. They grow in the earth. They help us feel grounded. When you are feeling kind of spacey or light-headed or just flighty, eating root vegetables helps. When you are feeling cold (low in temperature) besides having hot things to drink you could choose to eat hot spices. What do hot water and hot spices do? They make your molecules move faster. Elements are nothing but vibrational energies. Earth, at a slower vibration, where the molecules are moving slower. Water moves a more fluidly and a little faster. Fire is even faster yet. Air molecules are really moving fast. All our bodies need a balance of all the elements.

When you are feeling contracted, or too open, or really just out of balance in any way, just be mindful, pay attention to what you are feeling.  If you are feeling contraction and you can't identify anything beneath the contraction, then work directly with the contraction. You could think about perhaps adding air or the space of ether with the contraction. How would we do that?

You can do that by eating some kinds of foods that are light and airy. Or you can just begin to think about what those foods feel like, how they would feel in your body. You could think of the food, or you could just think of air. What does air feel like? Air is kind of hard to feel. You could think of manifestations of air, like wind when you're in the car and it's blowing past you really fast. What does that feel like? How does that uplift your body?

I know when I'm contracted, I love the water, so going out on a boat where there's all that water and things are moving at a faster rate, and a smooth rhythmic rate, and then I sit on the edge of the boat, and the wind seems to be whooshing by though it is also merging directly with my energy field - the molecules there. So, I just sit and take it in. But if I'm at home and I'm contracted and I can't get out of that space, I can just remember, “Oh, contracted, dense, solid. There's no air or water here. Let me just imagine myself on that boat.” Or, if you get deep into the practice, if you can actually imagine what the water element feels, smells, tastes, sounds or looks like—it kind of goes back to what your preferred sense is, right?

So if you are a person that is really into the feeling, the sensation, you're going to think “Okay, I need to add some water here. How does the water feel? It's rippling. It's flowing.” It's whatever. If you're a person that's going by smell, that's your strongest sense, then you could think about what is water's smell. Because in the end whether you smell that element or you taste it or you feel it or you hear it, you're really tapping into the vibration level of water. And when you bring that vibration into your body, and into the part that is contracted, there a harmonic convergence where you invite the the wavy, soft energy of the water to be right next to the contracted part of you.... You can't force it. You ask your awareness to be with the contraction with soft kindness and at the same time be with the feeling of the water. At that point, if the contracted part feels safe and loved, then the water energy begins to interpenetrate, and balance comes.

The way to do this practice is to start to think about what examples of elements that resonate with you. If you think about earth, what kind of things about the earth element resonate? Is it eating potato chips? Is it standing in mud? What gives you that real visceral feeling of the earth element? We talked about how you have to deeply know the element. You want to go through each element and find an actual example of it that will give you a visceral feeling for it - like the chips or mud.  Or if hearing is your preferred sense, what would the earth element sound like. I don't know. There's probably something but I can't think of it. It would be something that was a slow and low vibration, that evoked mountains, rocks, density, heaviness or something similar.

If you find an example for each element and practice feeling it, then you have those available in your toolkit to work with. This is helpful because it's hard when you're in a crisis to sit and think, “Okay, what's earth and how does it feel before you can actually work with it. Maybe you can go home you can write, what is earth? What is fire? What is air? Each thing, how does it resonate with a each of your physical senses. And then you will have four elements in your toolkit, that when you're feeling out-of-balance you can bring in just by being with the example you worked out before..

Q: When we're too... stuck, or earthy—I'm very earthy—so then I'm visualizing one of the other things, to bring in air?

AM: Yes. Think of it like cooking. There's no right or wrong, there's just playing.

Q: Do you invoke the elements in that tool(box) often?

AM: Yes, although I tend to always think of things as energy. One way to connect directly with the energy is to put your hand on the appropriate chakra. Earth at the bottom of your torso, water just above the pubic bone, fire near the belly button and air near the heart. If you can't imagine to yourself what earth or air feels, put your hand on that part of your body, and put (the other) on the stuck part.

You can also put one hand on the chakra above the contracted area and one on the chakra below.  This invites a flow between the two into the contracted area. So if you're contracted in the belly, put your hand on the earth chakra, and then to add more air, put it on the heart. And as soon as I did that, an insight came and I thought, “Oh, air. I should breathe more.”

Barbara: Anna Marie says that elements are not a primary practice for her. For me they're a very primary practice. There's no right or wrong to it. Sometimes one practice is resonant with you; sometimes another one is. Sometimes it changes from month to month, or year to year.

I first met element practice when we were in Greece, on the island of Santorini. An earthquake had blown away the side wall of the island; it drops down a great distance to the sea. There's a crescent, and you're way up on the top of this rock, 1200 feet of rock under you. Looking out at the sea: Greece, hot sun shining down, water as far as you can see, and wind blowing in your face.

So Aaron asked me first to spend some time getting to know each element, and to see where that particular element was predominant in my body in that moment. Could I feel the wind element literally moving through the body and creating openness and space? Could I feel the part of this body and emotions that were fluid, like the sea. Really feeling the sea moving in my body. Could I feel the rock, really be there with the rock? Feel the sun and be that fire?

After some period of time meditating with that, he asked me to begin to see that each element contains all the other elements. We did this down on a beach—sand, earth element, and the water comes in. The sand is soaked with water, and then half an hour later, as the tide has gone out, it's dried out, and the earth element is saturated with fire, then. Watching the difference.

He asked me to reflect in myself, in a moment when I'm feeling perhaps anger and contraction, to feel how the earth element in my body is heavy and stiff with fire, and there's no fluidity in it. And if my intention is to bring balance, to just begin to imagine the wind blowing through and opening this earth-heavy rock and fire. Wind blowing through, water pouring through like a waterfall, suddenly dropping through and opening. I found that it gave me a very direct access to whatever pattern my body was holding. Anger: still, hard, hot. Okay, let's cool it off. But I don't want to get rid of the earth and fire, only to bring them more into balance by noting in that moment the absence or lack of fluidity. The fire element is always going to be more hot, the water element more cool. But if I want balance and I'm too contracted, too hot, bring in coolness. If it's just coolness and fluidity and I want more power, bring the sun, bring in the earth element.

I can use this now in a very accessible way, if I know what emotion I'm feeling. If I bring mindfulness that anger has come up, or confusion or a feeling of helplessness, for each of these I don't try to say, “Oh, here's helplessness so not enough solidity; invite in more earth,.” Just, “What's lacking in this moment?” As Anna Marie said, using the chakras and the whole body energy, but just inviting, with clear comprehension of purpose: “My highest purpose is harmony and opening the heart and living with love. Is it suitable to hold onto this imbalance of the elements, or is my highest intention here to bring attention to the imbalance?” And then I find it becomes pretty easy to invite in what's easy.

At the retreat I lead every spring at Emerald Isle, on the ocean in North Carolina, it's a week-long retreat, we spend a lot of time sitting on the beach, meditating with the elements. I have people sitting on the sand with their feet out so that when the waves come in, they just wash over the feet and go back into the water. The wind is blowing on their faces. The sun is shining. Really feeling the elements, and feeling, what's balanced, what's imbalanced? Too hot? Inch your way into the water a little bit. Too cold? Slide back up on the beach into the sun a little bit more. Literally hot and cold. Feeling spaced out? Dig a hole in the sand and get into it more. Too grounded? Stand up. Feel the wind blowing.

I find that I can use this as a wonderful tool when I am mindful and know what's happening in the emotions, like resistance for me is rock, hard. It's not just earth. Earth can be light and filled with air. But resistance is rock, right here in the solar plexus. I just stop and pay attention and bring in more space. Breathe more air into the solar plexus. Breathe more air into the whole body. Feel the fluidity, as if I'm lying on the ground and water is washing around me. And in this way, I invite balance, I find that wherever I was stuck begins to release itself.

It's a very primary practice for me. It's part of my almost constant mindfulness of watching how the body is, in terms of the element balance. The other part of element practice for me, and I'm going to talk about this very briefly, we mailed out some information about the akashic field. You were asked just to consider, what is the akashic field? What does this mean to me?

The four material elements of earth, air, fire, and water, are all expressing out of this, what the Buddhist text Circle of the Sun calls the All Ground. There are two parts to this: primordial purity and All Ground. I don't want to go into the distinction between them right now, let's just talk about the All Ground as the container out of which the elements are arising.

If we say that all the elements contain all the other elements, there's a place where they all come together. Where is that place where they all come together? The text Circle of the Sun calls it the All Ground, or we can call it the akashic field. It's the place of everything, the place before anything moved into separate expressions. Before the separate expressions, there's just this.

All I want you to do is to reflect on, first, what the experience of each of the elements is, and how they intermingle. Start to see that it's not just fire, not just air, not just water or earth, but there are differing balances of each. And then, just ask the question lightly, as you meditate: where is the place where these all come together? Can I just sink into that place? Just rest there, even for a moment? And begin to feel this direct experience, not conceptual at all, but of the akashic field, the place before anything moved into individuation. Just rest there for a moment. Don't let it become theoretical.

For most of you in your meditation practice, there will be moments when the mind stops and the body is no longer owned. I don't want to say dissolution of the body, but dissolution of self-identity with the mind and body, and dissolution of self-identity with the elements, which is part of the mind and body. And we just sink into this ground.

Just experience it a bit. Through these weeks we'll talk more about it, but I don't want to take it too far. I just want you to play with it. Okay? Any questions?

I love working with the elements because they're a constant outer expression in the world. They're everywhere, constantly. You take a walk through the woods or take a shower, the elements are around you constantly. And then we can get to see them in the body.

AM: Besides practicing with the elements in your meditation and in your body, if you want to really remind yourself of how the elements work together, make a cake. Put that dry flour or box mix in a container. Add the liquid. Watch how they are laying on top of each other, not mixing. Add the air by beating it together. See what happens. Things actually change, right? The water blends into the dry mix. Just observe what is happening every time you're cooking, what are the elements and what's being transformed and transmuted? When you add temperature to that, what happens? It dries out the mixture.  If you have an egg white it there, it has the capacity to hold the air and lighten up the mixture. This is the same kind of thing to what is happening inside your bodies when you're bringing in the elements to work with balance.

Barbara: That's a beautiful example, thank you. And for those of you who don't have the energy to make a cake, make pancakes!

Q: A student of mine who studies geology told me that the continents that we think of as so solid are not, that they are really just floating on the magma of the earth.

Barbara: I was given a scientific quote sometime in the past 6 months, and I don't know if I can remember the details of it. But it was something about the individuated cell, and the nucleus of that cell, the nucleus is like the size of a baseball in a football stadium, and the rest is all space. There's just this little nucleus, with space.

Okay. Keep going with this particular generosity practice for now, this week, and instructions will come about—what date do we switch to the next practice?

AM: It's in the last email. March 31.

Barbara: So the rest of this week with this, and then we'll shift. But it's all part of the same mindfulness practice with generosity.

(taping ends)

For two talks from Aaron on the elements, see: May 20., 1998 and May 27, 1998