February 7, 1996 Wednesday Night Group

Barbara: There are questions from 4 different people that Aaron says will fit together. He asks me to read bits and pieces of those questions and then in his talk he wants to draw it all together. I am extracting from several pages from different people:

“I am wondering about what we call the sense of self. ... When I think I have a little sense of self, when I have forgotten myself and I am lost in thought, I seem to be experiencing an extended, blurry, rarefied, dense sense of self. When I am ‘remembering' myself, aware that I am aware, paying attention to the awareness of being present, the sense of self seems to be concentrated, focused, dense, bright. If I imagine a situation where I am vulnerable, where I am relaxed, present equally in all directions, and then feeling I am being attacked from one direction, I can definitely see a sense of the self solidifying and pulling into a defensive structure. Finally, I observe the sense of self that I experience, for example in the Sky Yoga exercise, where the sense of self is quite extended, if that's the right word, spread equally through a large body but not thinned.

Would Aaron make an attempt at placing these questions in a meaningful framework.”

What is the sense of self? What is self?

Second question.

“How do you build up a healthy ego while still letting go of ego? How can I learn to feel better about the self and also be selfless?”

The questioner speaks of fear of rejection when writing articles, not enough separation between self and product, so that the solid ego -self which feels inadequate comes up. How to let go of that which seems unwhole?

Question 3. Again, I'm extracting from parts of these. Asking about a loved one who has died.

“Aaron has told us many times that if we are confused and unskilled on Earth, things don't change on the astral plane. One doesn't suddenly get clarity by virtue of being discarnate. Yet (loved one) seems to have reached clarity and seems so much more evolved. After death does one drop one's low self, existing only on the higher self level, ultimate without relative?”

Finally, question 4.

“I am continuing to experience confusion about the levels of choice in which we participate. I have talked about this before, that there is a level of me, in which I choose how to respond in each moment, to each experience, which is reflected by the cycle of dependent origination. But there is also another level, a deeper, higher level, in which we choose the situations, experiences, encounters, in which we find ourselves. This level of choice becomes more consciously available to us as we evolve, although we're not there yet. Could Aaron talk about who is choosing on these different levels? Who is the larger chooser, and who is actually choosing in day to day experience? And where does the ego or self fit into all of this?”

Barbara: There's a wonderful story told about a Sufi teacher named Nasruddin. He's both a wise and comic figure. Stories are often told about him which are brought into the current timeframe. He goes into a bank to cash a check, and the teller says, “Please identify yourself.” So, he pulls out a mirror, he looks at it for a minute, and says, “Yup, it's me.” (laughter)

Any input, any related questions, before we get into all this?

Q: I do have a question. I get confused about the use of all this philosophical pondering. Is it really useful, could Aaron speak to why this pursuit is, what is really relevant in it?

Barbara: You're asking is it useful to get into the philosophical stuff? Only for some people. If it's not useful for you, just drop it.

Q: I'm very good at that! But I also suspect it's useful at some level or I probably wouldn't be here. So I would like to have him address, at some point. I would add my question, why is this useful?

Barbara: When is it useful to understand this. Okay. Others? (No questions)

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. Understand that this can become part of an intellectual game. I think you know me well enough to know that while I occasionally indulge joyfully in such games, I do not consider them constant fodder. Do you need to know this? No. Is it helpful to know it? Yes. Not helpful if you merely stay in the intellectual realm, but helpful if it provides a map guiding you into experience.

I think this is the primary purpose of all talk. It leads you into considering a new dimension, a new perspective, a new way of being. This is part of the reason for your arts, for writing, for painting, for music. They open you into places which are dimly remembered inside, and gives you a road map of how to access those places. They give you the courage, as you come to know that the road you walk is not totally untravelled, but that you have comrades on your path, and that there may be a light around the next bend.

Those who are not yet ready to move into experience will simply hear words as intellectual play. Some few who have already engaged themselves so deeply and courageously in experience have no real need of the road map but only their own silent meditation. Those of you who gather here are of course somewhere in between, because I do ask you not just to listen but to participate. And I conjecture that those who visit us once or twice and do not come back are not fully ready to participate.

There is no required level of participation. At first one may stay on the main road, then one may begin to explore side roads, then finally to step off the roads entirely into the trackless wilderness of one's own deepest inner experience. If you get lost, perhaps it is a comfort to you that you can find your way back to a proper path.

Let us talk about these questions, then. The first part of the question: What is self? And along with that, how do I practice selflessness when I do not yet feel that I have a substantial self? The self exists on many levels. Let us use a metaphor of a vast, infinite and eternal sea. Perhaps that sea opens into a bay. The bay is one expression of the sea. The shoreline becomes the container which shapes this expression.

On one edge of this bay, let us say there is a large aquarium, a place where sea water moves in to a large tank big enough to hold whales. The water is not the container. The container simply shapes this essence which is an expression of the whole, only a small piece of it, but not inferior or different in any way. One lifts a bucket of water out of that tank. One dips into the bucket with cup. One dips into the cup with an eyedropper and takes one drop of water. It is no different than the sea.

Bucket, cup, and eyedropper are containers which shape that particular expression. In its deepest essence, it is simply the sea. No difference. “Not two,” is the way it's sometimes phrased. There is only one sea, and this drop of water is totally non-dual with that sea. Its energy is stepped down. One drop of water does not contain the same energy as this infinite sea.

Let us call God, or Unconditioned, the sea, “the sea” serving as metaphor for this infinite divinity. The higher self is the tank, just a container. The individual incarnation is the cup of water from that tank.

Let us lay this image aside for a moment. I want to offer a subtly different image, to take us into the next step. Picture the Earth: a wide, rounded panorama, and expressing itself from that earth, there's a mountain. On the top of the mountain, a giant boulder. Crumbling off the boulder, a rock, and a pebble, and a grain of sand.

If the mountain had cognizance, it would know itself to be an expression of the Earth. Where is clarity lost? We talk about a veil of forgetting. At what point does the grain of sand forget that it is part of the mountain and part of the Earth? The soul knows what it is. It has absolute clarity in recognizing itself as expression of the Divine. I am not going to get too precisely tangled in terminology. The word “soul”—we've bantered it around. It is adequate as a label here, although not precise.

At a certain point, as a mountain becomes a boulder, becomes a rock, becomes a pebble, becomes sand, clarity is lost. Think of the root of a plant. What if it thought itself to be separate from the plant and tried to hold the moisture it absorbed for itself? The plant would not receive moisture and its leaves would wither. Then it could not bring in the sunlight and so on. Eventually the roots would wither and die.

It is easier to see that the roots are part of the tree. Can you see that they are also part of the soil?

This is the situation in which you often find yourselves when incarnate, thinking that you are separate. You fight against yourself and you fight against that which connects with you and truly is a part of you. In our metaphor, as if the roots fought with the branches and soil, instead of working cooperatively with them.

You are, each of you, in a rich growing media. You are all part of one plant.

And within yourselves, each of you is a unique expression of that plant. The small self moves into the delusion of separation, and begins to fight against itself, as if this root of the tree reached out with an ax and tried to chop off that root of the tree so that it could get enough water.

So what is self. You are the grain of sand, you are the pebble, you are the rock, you are the boulder, you are the mountain, you are the infinite Earth. They are all self. Each one is an expression of the Whole. They are not lesser than. Even though it is small, the grain of sand is no less important than the mountain.

When you begin to understand that it's all self, you also begin to see where you've set up conflicts within that self, so that the clear messages from the higher self cannot reach the small self. This is where your life becomes confused, painful, and difficult. Clearly, in your human form, you cannot always remember the truth of who you are. But when you do not remember that truth, you become like a blindfolded man trying to thread a needle. When the man remembers he's not blind and takes off his blindfold, then it's easy to thread the needle.

What are the blindfolds about? This is the ongoing confrontation between fear and love. You are not trying to get rid of fear but to draw fear into love, to see that fear is also an expression of the Divine. What keeps the blindfold in place is not the presence of fear but your relationship to fear. My dear ones, do I sound like a broken record? But this is how it is.

The highest self exists on the astral plane but above the highest self is a pure awareness free of even mental body. This essence, empty of small self, exists on the etheric plane. On the astral plane, the mental body is present. This higher self is the mixture of spirit and mental body. Mental body is known as tool and accepted without ownership or identification.

In between lifetimes, there is the awareness that that essence which is totally empty of self exists, and that that which experiences on the astral plane is an expression of that essence. Then this higher self offers an expression of itself into the incarnation. With the birth, or after birth, the veil of forgetting descends and you become like those actors on a stage that we've talked so much about, who have forgotten that they are actors. They've gotten so involved in the process of the play, so involved in playing their parts, that they've lost any clarity that there's anything beyond this stage. When they occasionally glimpse into the wings, and see people walking about, they think that they're viewing an illusion. At this point of course, the small self is in control, and your learning becomes more difficult because you do not know who you are.

The important point here is simply that the more clarity you find through meditation, the more clarity with which you are able to walk this relative self through its paces in incarnation, the more easily the intentions of the highest aspects of the self are manifest in relative reality. Let us look at how this works.

Let us say that a being has the intention to offer its energy as purely as it can in service to all beings, and to come to understand what obstructs that offering. Furthermore, it has the intention as part of this process of growth, to observe those obstructions of fear, of greed, of jealousy, and to understand how it has habitually contracted its energy in relationship to those arisings. So it expresses this intention. If there is great clarity, the relative self will understand what it's doing, so that when it's in a situation where perhaps ... a story a friend told us recently comes to mind. Her highest intention is to serve others, specifically to serve a dear friend whose son has AIDS and is slowly dying at home. And yet, she has fear for herself. She recognizes that she can support her friend by taking her out for lunch, giving her an ear to talk to, but she recognizes that one thing her friend badly needs is simply some respite from the care. And she is afraid to offer that personal care, to change the man's diapers, to clean up after him. She is not squeamish about it, in terms of any soil, but afraid of contact with the virus.

One with great clarity will see this as an opportunity for learning, will observe the contractions of fear in itself. She will not be foolhardy in taking needless risk but will understand what the fear is about, and that this is the universe's offering of an opportunity to practice with such a fear. When the small self is in control, it doesn't understand what it's doing. It doesn't understand the intention for learning and for serving expressed by the higher aspects of the self. It only understands the desire for self-preservation. So the highest aspect of the energy says, “Let's take care of this man,” and the smaller self says, “No! No!”

Perhaps eventually that particular opportunity for learning will shut itself off. Now, you're never going to learn everything that you could have learned, nor is it necessary that you do so. It doesn't have to be 100% perfect. But if there was no learning at all, just feelings of guilt, “Why can't I do this,” self-anger, self-judgment, and then the window shuts. In this case, the being might die, the one who is sick; the highest self says, “We still haven't learned this.”

Higher self does not manufacture specifically-shaped learning opportunities. Rather, the experience is like that of walking through a store in which many products are displayed. If you don't need cereal, you won't walk down the cereal aisle. If you eat cereal but do not eat sweetened cereal, your eyes won't rest on the rows of sweetened cereal, but you will be attracted to that of which you have need. Myriad learning experiences go past. When there is one that is particularly useful to you, it's like a magnet, it attaches itself to you, and you to it.

So this friend is not necessarily going to have this young man die and suddenly have another friend with a child with AIDS call her and say, Please help me. Rather, her highest intention is to learn about her fear, and how to give of herself in connection to others, rather than being ruled by fear.

At some level, the higher self will agree, and the lower self will carry out that agreement, where perhaps she will find herself driving down the road, and it's muddy and she'll skid. Crash into something and people will be injured. At the scene, selfless giving of herself will be asked. At some level of herself, there is agreement to re-enter that situation, and again and again and again until it is learned. This is what karma is all about.

So which self is learning? On one level, nothing was ever learned nor needed to be. On another level, each aspect of self is receiving the information it needs and the opportunity to practice skillful living with that information.

What does this mean for your daily life? There are two parts to my answer. When you find yourself running like a small animal in a treadmill, stop and ask yourself the simple question, What am I doing here? You all have the ability, not to get rid of fear, but to allow that fear to become transparent enough that you can connect with the highest self's wisdom, and the wisdom. of pure awareness mind

As soon as you feel yourself reaching a state of panic, stop. It really is that simple. You can ask yourself several different questions. A first and obvious one—”What am I doing? Who is running the show right now, fear, or love?” At a deeper level, with your meditation practice, you can learn very distinctly to pick up the cues that tell you when you are resting back in this pure awareness, in the highest levels of your being, and when you are contracted into the small self. The more observant you become of it, simply noting: “contracted,” using that as a keyword that reminds you that you have stopped being the mountain and pulled yourself down to the perspective of the grain of sand, the less you are caught in the view of the grain of sand. Come back. We've used many expanding outward practices here. Choose whichever one suits you best. Stop and let the sand reestablish its identity as part of the mountain.

There was one more part of this question. “Do I need to have strong ego, a strong sense of self, before I move into selflessness or egolessness?” This is a difficult question which has been tossed about by many teachers for many generations. What I offer you here is simply my own perspective, but clearly I believe the truth of these words.

You can take a being with very little sense of self-worth, extreme experience of unworthiness, and through specific meditation practices, bypass the whole neurotic structure, which has held that being captive to its sense of unworthiness. As soon as that being starts to understand the truth of how it is, that neurotic structure begins to be shed. The neurotic episodes may continue to arise but identification with them as “me” subsides.

It's not going to be instant. And certainly there are many treacherous side paths, such as seeking that place of expanded self as a hiding place, and refusing to participate in relative reality. So it does take work and ideally, skilled guidance. But no, one does not need to develop the ego self, the small self in an inflated sense, because the small self cannot help but understand its own value as soon as it has direct experience of its divinity. The meditation practice cuts right through the unworthiness.

What this means on a practical level is that when you find yourself mucking around in the thoughts of unworthiness, feeling it getting solid, again you can just label it as contracted, contracted, and come back into a meditation working with the expanded Self, learning to open to and rest in the divine Self. Simultaneously there must be careful mindfulness work with the arising of the emotions: with craving, clinging, anger, sadness, jealousy. Learn to accept these arisings, not to hate the self for the fact that these do arise.

Through this mindfulness, when one does learn how to open to and rest in the divine Self, it does not become an escape, because the relative self is no longer hated. So there is a balance of practices here.

The questioner is caught in a common dilemma. He senses his tendency to want to hide in the divine self, and judges himself for that. That judgment brings him right back to the small self, and then he becomes that mouse on the treadmill trying to fix the small self. You don't need to do that. The more awareness you have for the tendency to do that, and the more you practice both knowing when you're judging and condemning, seeing it as the mouse on a treadmill, or seeing the contractedness of that state, and opening to the highest level of your being, the more you receive the direction from the highest level of your being and the more the highest levels of intention can be carried out gracefully, joyfully. It really is as simple as that. It takes very hard work. When I say it is simple, I don't mean easy, but straightforward.

I've talked for a long time. I thank you very much for your attention to my words. After your break I would welcome your questions. There are a few more written questions here to which I wish to respond. That is all.

(remainder of session not yet reviewed)