January 10, 1996

Aaron: Good evening, and my love to you all. I am Aaron. I wish you all a new year filled with much joy and peace and of course, with deep awareness of the love within your hearts.

That love is so powerful, the brilliant essence of who you are. And yet, like a candle flame, it flickers so easily. Unlike the candle flame, it cannot go out. But the winds of thought, of opinion, of fear, create a flicker, which leads you to lose faith in the ultimate brilliance of the flame. Most of the flicker grows out of your relationship with heavy emotion.

We seem to talk in cycles here, touching a subject, working with it for awhile, letting it go, and then coming back to it again and again. You are all familiar with my basic teachings of working with heavy emotion. I want to talk about emotion in a slightly different way tonight. About what I would call, the direct experience of emotion.

First, I would ask each of you to sit in silence for several moments to reflect and bring up some memory of shame, or desire, or strong emotion. It can be a subtle breeze of emotion; it doesn't have to be a hurricane. I want you to find some memory whose tension you can truly feel. Something that creates a tightening of the jaw or the gut, something that creates a stir of excitement in you, not necessarily pleasant excitement. I'm going to pause here while you find this memory and become aware that you are holding the tension of that emotion in your body. Let us do this now.

Most of you have got something. Some of you are trying to decide, should I choose this one or that one? It doesn't matter. Please settle on something and simply let yourself feel that emotion within you. Right now we are working with an unpleasant emotion. But the exercise we are going to do here can be done equally as well with a pleasant emotion. Unpleasantness is a bit more noticeable of a sensation.

Let us label this emotion in a very simple way, as tension, or contraction. Feel the way your energy contracts around it. <pause> Through your meditation practice, you may have previously had deep understanding that there's really no separate self experiencing something solid, that the sensation is what is called a conditioned arising. Nevertheless, when it grabs you, you get sucked into it. A voice of wisdom may suggest that you make some space around it but sometimes it's very hard to do that.

I want to spend a bit of time looking at why it's so hard to make space. Most of you are in that predicament of the young child who is offered an enormous box of candy. He eats until he gets a tummy ache. At some level he may be aware that that tummy ache is a result of the eating, overeating, but while he is eating the candy, it tastes so good! If he was offered a beautiful hot coal and as soon as he touched it, he was burned, he would drop it, and would learn very quickly that he could admire it, but could not touch it. Seeing the candy, he remembers its sweet taste and desire arises. He chews it and it is very satisfying. Somewhere part way through chewing the first piece, and before it is swallowed, desire arises again wanting more of that sweetness, that first bite down into the soft center of the candy. (If candy is not your idea of a treat, please picture my words substituting a hot roll or tangerine.)

It feels good. You want more of that good. It satisfies some place of pain or longing, really cloaks over the pain or longing. You will have to watch the process very carefully in yourself, because each of you is different, and precisely how this process works will differ subtly from one to another of you. But in all beings, there is a desire to feel fulfilled, whole, free of desire. Ah! Did you hear me? Desire to feel free of desire, because there is a burning sensation around desire. So somehow we have moved into the distortion, that if we can finally get enough, desire will stop. Burning will stop; discomfort will stop! But it doesn't stop. The only way to finally come to ending of desire is to look desire directly in its face and come to understand the nature of it. Even then it does not necessarily stop arising, but it stops ensnaring you, as you come to directly experience its conditioned and conditioning nature. It is only here that there is space.

So you keep wanting more. You hope that somewhere along the line, the tension of desire will stop. Desire for what? Here is where what is primary will be subtly different for each of you. Desire to feel safe, to feel loved, to feel whole, to be at peace. Desire not to feel any pain or fear, not to feel alone. The list goes on.

Desire takes many directions. But there is always something out there that you think is finally going to do it for you, to give you this safety and freedom from suffering. As you become more spiritually mature, it stops being the piece of candy, a better job, and becomes, perhaps, spiritual experience, enlightenment experience. Ah, that's finally going to do it.

Burning with desire in this way, you tend to solidify the self. What happens as I see it, is that there is a surge of energy, of power—I can get this, and finally I will be safe, or peaceful, or happy. If I don't see, just at this moment how I can get what I need, then I can figure it out. Just a problem to be solved, and then I'll be happy. In this way, a pattern is established in which the self is constantly solidified.

We come back to the child and his box of candy. Each time he gorges himself, he gets a bellyache, but he refuses to draw the connection because he does not want to give up the pleasure of eating the candy. Each time you move into grasping and clinging, desperately trying to fulfill desire, you create a metaphorical bellyache, tension, and a sense of separation. What if this child, when he got the bellyache, thought, “Half an hour ago I was so happy, what was I doing then? Oh, I was eating candy. I'll go get another box of candy, it will make me feel better.” And for a few minutes as he absorbs that sweetness, he may indeed feel some solace, until he notices that he is feeling increasingly sick. This is the nature of your “sickness.” It is an expression of ignorance of the way things really are.

When you move into a relationship with the emotion, it solidifies itself, and increases the suffering. This pattern has become so familiar that you literally cannot envision any other way of perceiving it. If I have a bellyache, I've got to get something that's going to fix the bellyache. I've got to get rid of the bellyache. If I have a heartache, I've got to get something to fill myself. Because for a brief time absorbed by the emotion, you feel better, you don't recognize the trap you're setting up for yourself.

When you're feeling an emotion, even an unpleasant emotion, you are somebody. You feel strong. If the emotion arouses anger, you may direct that anger against that which catalyzed the emotion. Somebody who said something nasty, for example, or some incident that was painful. Through your anger, adrenaline arises in the body, you feel empowered, and you believe that being thus empowered, you will be able to find a way to that safety and happiness for which you long.

Other emotions—craving, for example; the craving in itself is unpleasant but it sends the mind spinning, figuring out how I can get it. It's the same myth—when I finally get it, I'll be safe and happy. Jealousy—not much different, a mix of craving and anger. Shame—a very different one, shame. Shame carries with it an aversion to the self and to that circumstance in which shame arose. There is not usually that same arising of adrenaline in shame. Nevertheless there is a very solid self. Instead of driving out, when shame barriers go up, again there's a sense of safety.

We have talked at length here about noting the arising emotions, making space for them, finding some equanimity with what has arisen. This process makes sense to many of you, and sometimes it works. But at other times, the very process of trying to make space, to just be with it, seems to solidify the emotion. As soon as there is self relating to the emotion, someone trying to make space, both self and emotion become solid. We must suppose that when this happens, at some level there was intention to allow that solidity. It is a diversion, even if a painful one. On the surface you would say you do not want that emotion. What happens though is that the usual pattern, in attempting to step away from that emotion, is like the child returning to the candy box. You want to be free of it and yet it creates some kind of diversive tension so you crave it.

We go from one extreme to the other, absorption in the emotion and despising of the emotion. Here are the child who has re-gorged himself on candy, thinking it would make him feel better, and the one who says, “No, I will never have candy again,” and judges himself for having eaten it in the first place. There seems to be what I would almost call an addiction to emotion, like this addiction to candy.

There is a process by which we can begin to work more directly and simplify this whole pattern in which most of us are entrenched. The first step is mindfulness. Some of you are smiling. Of course, the first step is always mindfulness! You cannot come to know the interconnected essence of you which has no need to crave or attack because it is not separate, until you become mindful of what seems to separate you from that experience of interconnectedness. As you look, you will begin to discover a rhythmic pattern almost like that of the ebb and flow of the tides. You may begin to watch your body's energy grasping.

As a very real and simple example, this morning this instrument had an hour to ski. It was a glorious day, clear air and blue sky, fresh snow. She noted that pleasant though the experience was, she had a hard time staying in the moment. Her mind kept drifting—planning, remembering, even snatches of old songs arising. She knows herself well enough to know that when she cannot stay in the moment, there's usually some tension pulling her out. She paused, just sat down on an fallen tree trunk for a few minutes, and saw in herself how much desire there was. It wasn't that she wasn't enjoying the day, but there was the pain that this hour was going to end. She wanted to go out to a large woods and ski for the whole day. She wanted to hold the moment. Desire, desire. And of course she could see the suffering in that desire. She is also wise enough to know that she cannot simply attack that desire, that wanting the desire to go away so she can be peaceful cannot lead to peace.

Allowing in the force of the desire is like stopping when there is the bellyache, and instead of saying, “If I eat more I'll feel better,” you stop and just say, I have a bellyache, and it's unpleasant. And be there with the bellyache, be there with the desire, with the grief, or the anger, or the shame. So much of that repetitive pattern comes from trying to escape that emotion, at times by escalating it. And sometimes it seems to work for awhile, just as the child going back and eating more candy brings brief relief from discomfort.

For a simplistic example, a way of eating candy at that time for Barbara, would have been planning a skiing trip, a way to fulfill desire. Instead, she was able to look both at the longing, and as she looked at the longing, to look at that which felt separate and wanted something to relieve longing. Then, being fully present with her situation, she experienced what I would call a shift in time. In that moment, just sitting with desire, with the beauty of everything that she needed present in that moment, she experienced its fullness.. You have heard Thich Nhat Hanh's statement, “Present moment, wonderful moment.” The present moment can't be wonderful when there is intensive craving to continue the present moment, and fear that you'll lose it.

This is subtle. This is where I ask you to draw on the experience, the emotion with which I first asked you to connect.

We will work experientially. First, let us feel ourselves gathered here in a circle. A pleasant fire on the hearth. Candles lit. Loving energy surrounding you. People who support your spiritual work. “Present moment, wonderful moment.” Feeling peace, love, connection. Now, as fully as you can allow yourself, I ask you to invite in the recollection of this unpleasant emotion. Let the whole memory in of how you experienced it. All the anger, the pain, desire. Can you feel the shift in your energy field from open to contracted? Focus deeply. The more you allow this pain, the more import this exercise will have.


What are your options here? The wheels in your brain can start spinning, planning how you could fix that situation. Ego. Control. Or you could push the whole thought of it away in denial. As you sit with it, what happens with the “present moment, wonderful moment?” Are you still feeling the loving connection, the beauty of this moment? Or is it tarnished?

Most of you probably experience several different streams of energy moving through. You may be able to feel a difference, this that we sometimes call, “small ego self.” Fixated on getting rid of the figurative bellyache, or getting away from it. You may also be able to feel a deeper essence of what you are. A place of deep peace and wisdom, which sees the ego self toying with what has arisen, and has the spaciousness to just watch it.

Breathe in and out, noting “desire to fix” if it's there. Desire to escape. Tension. Turmoil. Whatever is predominant. What has stopped the present moment from being a wonderful moment? Is it the inviting in of that thought, the power of that memory, or is it your tension around it, desire to be rid of it, to be back in control, to escape?

Look closely. What if you just say, Yes, here is pain? Or shame, or craving. No need to do anything about it. Can you come back into that, which through its deep interconnection with all that is, is always safe? By always safe, I do not necessarily mean that this physical body is always safe. But on the ultimate ... <tape turns>

Seeing that tension and your relationship to that tension, can you see that as soon as there is tension, the habitual way of working with it is to shift into the solid self? This has been self-defeating behavior. It means taking more candy after the bellyache. Nevertheless it's an ancient pattern. What you are asking of yourself is very difficult. As soon as pain arises in whatever form, the old pattern is to move to defend the self, and thereby to solidify the self, whereas what I am asking you to do is to note the desire to solidify the self and come back to that place of connection, that spaciousness.

“Present moment, wonderful moment.” The fire and candles are just as bright even with awareness of discomfort. The group around you is just as loving. The wonderful moment is not just in your mind when there is nothing painful arising in mind or body. The wonderful moment is right now with whatever is arising. Try it. If your eyes have been closed you may wish to open them and look around the room, to see how very wonderful this really is. You are alive! You are sitting in a warm and loving space, and in this very moment you are capable of being free of suffering.

“Present moment, wonderful moment.” You don't need to escape the pain. You don't need to find a sweet or other consolation. You don't need to fix or figure. Take a deep breath and rest in your intrinsic joy and peace. Rest in that which is infinite in you.

When Barbara did this while skiing, looking at her desire and opening back into the present with its pain and its wonder, she felt herself fully in the present moment, in a more profound way than she usually allows. She felt it a very powerful and deeply moving experience.

I would request of you in the coming week that each time you note the arising of an uncomfortable emotion, note that it is unpleasant, note the desire to be free of it, and how your argument with it, trying to control it or escape it, leads into a further solidification of self. Then I want you to stop; at first the practice may seem a bit cerebral. I request that you ask yourself, what is wonderful about this moment? Is it perfect just as it is? Do I have to fix anything?

Take a few deep breaths, and work with “present moment, wonderful moment.” You're not trying to brainwash yourself. You are not denying your discomfort. You are finding that you do not have to act to change anything. Of course if your discomfort comes from touching a hot pot, you're going to let go of it. But then, there's a burn on the hand, “burn, burn,” and wanting to get away from the burn, noted as aversion. “Present moment, wonderful moment.” Even with the pain in my hand, I do not have to contract my energy in relationship to this pain? What happens to your energy field then? Can you truly experience the wonder of the moment.

You will need to persevere. You do not establish this pattern of getting caught in relationship with arising by doing it 2 or 3 times, but many billions of times. Fortunately it will not take you billions of times to move out of it. The wise person with a bellyache who sees the box of candy coming around again and says, “Yes—no, I think I'll pass, I'll just be here with my bellyache,” sees that the bellyache dissolves itself. The power of resting in that wonderful moment is immense. I invite you to try it.

I thank you very much for your attention. After your short break, I will be happy to speak to your questions. That is all.

Q: What is “present moment?” I don't know exactly how to express it, but for me, whenever people talk about being in the present, I always feel that the present is pregnant with all times, and that I bring into the present all my being, all my experiences of the past, even when I am very mindful in the present. This has been something I've been struggling with for some time, and I wonder what Aaron thinks about it.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question. Yes, of course the present contains the past and also the future. The present contains everything. The difficulty is that your stories sometimes overpower, so that you are unable to perceive clearly the reality of the present.

A simple example. One who was once attacked and bitten by a dog may come into a room where a gentle dog is present, wagging its tail. That gentle dog may approach that one who was once bitten, and nudge it with its nose, as a dog is apt to dog; sit down and reach with a paw. It does not take one who knows dogs well to see that this creature really is asking for attention and affection and has no malice in it. But one who is dwelling inordinately in the past will be so possessed by its fear that it cannot see the reality of the present expression.

You cannot be without that memory if you are the one who was bitten but when you can note, “Fear is rising,” when you know that that fear has been conditioned by your past experience and do not need either to deny that fear or to act on that fear, but can make space for it and just feel the unpleasant tension of being afraid, then you are able to look at your situation without the filter of that myth that dogs will attack. You're able to look with equanimity at the present dog. So you are not trying to deny the past. That is as unworkable as acting fully out of the impulse of the past. You are acknowledging the past, acknowledging whatever emotions are arising conditioned by the past and fully allowing yourself to feel the force of those emotions. It is at that point that you can come back to “present moment, wonderful moment,” not wonderful because the fear is gone; wonderful including the fear. Everything is perfect. By working with my fear in this way, I am being given a gift of learning that I do not have to be afraid of my fear. My willingness to open my heart to my fear allows me finally to see this dog wagging its tail. Does that answer your question? I pause.

Barbara: Aaron would like to expand this out a little further He'd like some feedback. As you worked in this guided meditation with him, feeling the warmth of the room and then feeling the arising of the emotion, he is asking as you came back to “present moment, wonderful moment,” to, what he just said to Q, making space for what has arisen, were you able to come back to the wonderful moment again? How did that work for you?

I'm getting some yes's, some no's, some blank looks. Anyone want to talk about it?

Q: I felt OK with the experience; my question, when I feel emotions like fear, I sometimes want to avoid a deep experience of that fear, to choose to create a space for that fear and leave it in that space. My question is, am I truly trying to avoid the fear, or am I becoming more skillful in staying in the present moment.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Both. You can become still more skillful in opening to fear. You learn that we do not have to be so afraid of fear, or pain, or unpleasantness. But the ego also becomes more skillful at its games. One of the ways that ego can avoid being enmeshed into fear and having to confront fear is by, “pretending” is not quite the correct word, there is a movement that is very much the opposite of just being with fear. And yet, seems the same at first glance. It's a kind of blackmail—being with the fear conditionally because if I am with it, then I will be in control of it and it will go away. That's very different than being with fear and just being. Do you see what I mean? I pause.

It's very important to watch that. When you see the desire to be free of the fear or pain or discomfort, the anger or desire, you simply have got to know, here is aversion to it, here is desire to be free of it. That desire becomes the primary object. The fear is no longer primary; the desire to be free of fear is primary, and then you work with it in the same way. Just note it, here is desire, desire to be free, desire to be comfortable. And I don't have to do anything with that one either. Do you see how it works? I pause.

Barbara: Others? Do people want to talk about what they experienced?

Q: At first, I felt an expanded, warm, not-contracted type of being. Then, when I brought the mind, the heavy emotion back, I felt contraction of energy and emotion. Then, a feeling of expansion or space about the contraction, but the contraction was still there, and it was not nearly as nice.

Barbara: Aaron says, I'm paraphrasing Aaron, Aaron says, That's it! The contraction was still there. You can't do this to get rid of the contraction. Or, there's a lot of ego trying to get rid of, but as soon as the contraction can stay or go and it's OK either way, then we are no longer trapped.

Barbara: Aaron is asking, could you feel the spaciousness there, that the contraction still existed but suddenly there was no longer a need to get rid of it. That it could be unpleasant.

Q: I still felt a preference to get rid of it.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Preference is just a preference. You also do not have to follow the dictates of the preference, but just watch it. Can you see that? I pause.

Q: Yes, it is an important point for me that contraction is OK.

Barbara: Aaron says, it is an important point for everyone. This is the place where we get so hooked in, the myth that we have to get rid of the contraction or fix it in some way in order to be comfortable, instead of just being uncomfortable with it. He says, “comfortable in your discomfort.”

Aaron: I am Aaron. As soon as the contraction can stay or go, if it stays it's unpleasant, and you note the unpleasantness. Then you are no longer tensing your energy into any kind of relationship with the contraction. This is where peace lies. This is the place where no new karma is created. This tension-free state. While I call it tension-free, it does not mean it's free of discomfort or contraction. As long as you are in a human body, certain kinds of contractions will arise. There's no relationship with those contractions. . I thank you for your example. I pause.


Q: I found that when Aaron said something like, can we see that the present moment is perfect, even when the heavy emotion is present, I thought, No way! What does he mean by “perfect?” and I watched that part of me that was so unhappy about what was bothering me, the heavy emotion.

Barbara: He says, intellectually can you grasp how it's perfect, even if the emotions aren't ready to go along?

Q: I thought of something Emmanuel has said which was that as humans, we are perfectly imperfect, that all our imperfections are perfect for the way they serve us.

Barbara: It's what we're experiencing right then in that moment, that emotion is just exactly what we need to be experiencing and in that way it's perfect. It also may be very unpleasant. And that's perfect too, and if it stops, that's also perfect.

Q: That's part of a common myth, that perfection is pleasant (laughter). But that's not necessarily true. It can be, but there's no guarantee.

Barbara: When I was skiing today ... Aaron says he talked a little about my experience skiing. And suddenly feeling this desire, wanting more, knowing time is running out, and opening myself to all that desire, I looked up. The sun was coming through the trees so that I could see separate sunbeams, and the snow was glittering like a billion diamonds sparkling, and a bird swooped and flew through, it was so breathtaking, it was so perfect, and the desire was still there and the pain of the desire. I could see how the desire, everything, came together in that one moment, and it was so perfect, and it was so beautiful, I just started to cry. And I also understood - this is harder to explain and I don't want to get into it now, but Aaron talks about non-linear, simultaneous time - I saw that moment, suddenly it shifted from this moment and this moment and this moment, stretched linearly, to the reality this moment was everything. The next moment was beside it, and I would step over into the next moment, but this present moment stretched eternally. It's hard to explain, but time shifted out of linear into simultaneous, where I felt, “how could I want more of this? I could never lose this, it's forever.” The pain of it and the beauty of it, it's right here and it's forever.

And then the bird flew away, and I turned back a different direction into the woods, and the snow stopped glittering, and that was the next moment and that was also forever. I was in a state of awe. It took me half an hour walking one step at a time, watching this moment, this moment, this moment. It just was amazingly powerful and beautiful. But in that moment there was just as much pain as joy. And it was all perfect.

Other reflections on the exercise, or questions about something completely different? If there's any such.

Q: Aaron brought it to my attention recently that I hide from anger. During this exercise, I held lots of anger. So I tried to stay with it. I was amazed that this kept pouring out and out and out. I wanted to experience something more than anger but didn't. I don't think I worked right with it.

Aaron: I am Aaron. You cannot know that infinite capacity for love within you, the infinite capacity for joy, unless you also acknowledge the depth of emotions. You do not have to be afraid of your emotions. They will not possess you. Diane, you expressed surprise that that much anger was there. You weren't getting angry, you were just allowing the anger that was there to rise to the surface. When it does that, you do not have to fear being overwhelmed by it, because you in your wisdom will only allow so much to rise to the surface, not more than you feel you can make space for. It may stretch you to the limit, but at that point where you feel that's enough, you tend to push the rest back under. Then as you practice creating more space for it, more and more anger will come up.

In the course of profound spiritual work, many people doing profound lovingkindness meditation suddenly touch on a place of enormous rage in themselves, that builds and builds and builds, and they say, I never knew it was there! It is exactly that creating of space around the rage that allows you the deepest expression of lovingkindness and compassion. Can you see how it works? I do not mean theoretically, but from within your own experience. Trust yourselves. You are in a process of opening your heart to all that is there. You cannot open your heart compassionately and non-judgmentally to others until you have made space for everything in yourself.

You will begin to find in your rage, your greed, and other such emotions, a certain kind of beauty, not that the activities of those emotions are beautiful, but you will find a certain beauty in the depth of feeling of which the human is capable. I pause.

Barbara: One last question?

Q: Aaron said shame carries with it aversion to self and to the circumstances in which it arose, but nevertheless, there is safety there. What did he mean by that?

Aaron: I am Aaron. Shame is a way of shutting down your energy, feeling small, powerless. Often anger is underneath shame. There is a certain safety at times in shame that masks the depth of that anger, anger to another or anger to yourself. Can you see that?

Barbara: We've promised to stop, it's 9: 35.