April 24, 1996

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron.

We're going to begin a bit differently tonight, with a very simple exercise which I will use as foundation for my talk. After I explain the exercise, I would ask you to move into pairs. First, let me explain. You may want to open your eyes and watch Barbara's hands.

I request that you hold each others' hands very gently. I would like you to visualize or experience yourself as a turtle in a shell. You're extending your body out of the shell and making contact with the world. At random, one or the other of you will sharply squeeze the other's hand, not hard enough to cause pain but enough to be pronounced. As you feel the squeeze and then release it promptly, be a turtle and draw back into your shell, keeping just the tiniest bit of finger contact. Feel yourself drawing back into that safety shell and slowly, slowly allow your hand to come out again. Allow the turtle to emerge from the safety of its shell, out into full contact with the world.

The same person may squeeze again as soon as the turtle comes out, or the other person may squeeze. No pattern to it. It is useful that you be surprised, so there's some real sense of withdrawal, some contraction, and not just a make-believe game. You're not going to cause one another pain, but the element of surprise will cause the other to pull back into the shell, to reach for the safety of that shell for as long as it wishes. And when it feels ready, to extend itself again.

What happens if there's a squeeze again? Play with it. I pause here to see if there are questions and if not, I would ask you to join into pairs and simply give this a try.

Q: Are we expanding our energy when we come out into the world?

Aaron: I am Aaron. To whatever degree you wish. Simply be a turtle, as most of you are to some degree. All of you live within armoring to some degree. You're going to feel the warmth of the contact, to enjoy that energy, and there might be a minute or two before there's a squeeze. You never know what's going to happen. See what in you invites outward expansion and trust, what remains defensive. I don't want you to be too cerebral about it. I want you to have a deep experience of this moving into the shell and into a contracted state, and then yes, expanding outward and opening. I pause.

Barbara: Any more questions? No, Okay. Let us simply try it.

Aaron: (as people are working with the exercise) During the time that your hands are connected, let there be some of those times that are lengthy enough to deeply feel the joy of that connection. When there is a squeeze, you should feel at some level that bit of surprise, a small contraction which leads you to withdraw. You may feel that reverberation of that energy. Do not return until that reverberation has died down a bit.

Aaron: When there's a squeeze and you withdraw, observe closely. Try to feel yourself pulling the armor up around you against that sudden surprise. How does it feel to be in that armor? What is it that leads you to extend your energy back out into the open. When you are the one who has squeezed and the other withdraws, how does it feel to have initiated that squeeze? How does it feel when the other returns the energy <in hand>, after a few moments?

We practice this.

Barbara: As we end, I suggest you maintain hand contact while you gently open your eyes, and then slowly, mutually, separate the hands. Aaron would like to start with feedback from all of you about your experience, and then he will talk.

Q: I found it was a lot more comfortable to be inside the shell but then I had an overwhelming urge to break out and be free.

Q: I played it like a game and then after the third grip, I totally removed my hand. Then later I found I kept holding her hand regardless of squeeze or no squeeze.

Barbara: Are you saying that you didn't withdraw with the squeeze? Aaron says, was there contraction of energy with the squeeze or did that cease? Did your energy still contract?

Q: No

Barbara: It stopped startling you? You energy didn't contract.

Q: No

Q: I never really did get startled. Several times Q squeezed my hand exactly the same time as I did.

Barbara: And so did you both fall back?

Q: Once. One time we pushed.

Q: I squeezed one time and Q did not withdraw but just partially. In my feelings of doing it, I felt like an aggressor.

Barbara: Was it hard to do it?

Q: Yes, and I wanted to really feel the sensation of doing it and even the desire to do so was not compelling to try it again.

Q: That is interesting because I think he was picking up my vibes about that.

I did not want to do the exercise and felt very withdrawn to begin with. So mainly I just sat with that feeling and tried to get comfortable with holding his hand. By the time he did squeeze my hand it was very gentle and felt very loving, not threatening at all.

Barbara: But for you it felt aggressive to squeeze?

Q: H's squeezes were gentle, so I was not surprised or felt invaded. So when I withdrew I looked for contraction anyway, and they were there,

Barbara: : Very subtle?.

Q: Yes. I noticed that a contraction was made up of holding my breath a little and a tightening in my chest.

Barbara: So you could feel it physically in the body?

Q: Sure. There were long periods of our hands being withdrawn. I felt like one of those turtles—a tortoise, who lives for 500 years and nobody was reaching out to me. And also I thought that that was very much like my life anyway, and I said, Well, I am learning to be comfortable with that in my normal life, “that” being alone. So I got used to it here as a 500 year old turtle.

Barbara: Maybe you were once! Anyone else?

Q: We had long periods of neither of us squeezing, just holding hands together, feeling very strong energy. I was feeling very strong energy moving through and was very reluctant to break that very nice flow of energy by squeezing!

Okay, Aaron will talk.

Aaron: I am Aaron. You have all heard me call you “angels in earthsuits.” Maybe I should call you “angels in turtlesuits!” You do armor yourselves, of course. At the retreat last weekend in North Carolina, a question was raised and engendered considerable discussion. Two different men, one who is an emergency room physician and one who is a policeman, spoke of their withdrawal and shielding from the angry and pained energy which they encounter in their work. They understand through their experience that when they withdraw, they become less available to the other, and yet they do feel the need to protect themselves from that onslaught of very aggressive pained energy. They asked, Is it ever OK to withdraw and if not, how do I allow myself to be that open? Am I not then inviting another's abuse?

As we examined the question, they began to see the either/or nature of it. Either I lay myself down on the road and let every truck and bulldozer that comes along run over me, or I get up and run away. Either I shield myself and create the separation which says, “It's their pain,” and pull myself into a safe place where I emotionally do not have to deal with it, or I stay deeply connected and offer myself as dumping ground for that anger and pain. As we explored those two options it was obvious to the group that neither was skillful. Then, what other choices to we have?

There are 2 different points here. To be receptive to the pain of another does not mean you become a dumping ground for that pain. You can become a vehicle through which it is released. This is a very different process than taking it into yourself and accepting it.

Picture someone standing under a forceful waterfall. She makes the statement to you, “This is too painful. The water pressure is too sharp, too hard. I need help!” There's great anxiety in her statement. Perhaps there is a small ledge behind her and you can climb on that ledge and literally shield her body with your own. Then you're feeling all the pressure of the water. Or, you can continue to stand next to her and say, “I'm sorry it's too hard for you but you'll have to deal with it.” Those were the two options that people saw at first. But one can climb up on that ledge and simply divert the water. You do not have to have it pour down on you. In just this way you can be a vehicle through which another being's anger, pain, fear, tension, flows and is released.

You do this in several ways. You must observe that which wishes to withdraw and also observe that which is part of fear mind, that which wishes to be the martyr or is willing to move into an unwholesome codependence and suffer the abuse from another person. Of course, the “waterfall” is coming from that person, not from some third source. That mind has generated the anger.

The real question here is what enables us to stay present, because both to withdraw and to force yourself to remain totally open, and allow the other to keep pouring this acidic emotion on you, are kinds of withdrawal. Something is not present if you're going to let yourself sit there and absorb acid! A sense of compassion for you both, of respect for you both, is not present. Clarity that their pain is your pain is also not present. When you allow yourself to stay fully present, the heart can be open compassionately to the other's pain, not separating experience into “their pain” and “I am safe.”

With clarity and compassion, you can agree to be a participant in the release of that pain, while simultaneously strongly affirming that you will not be that upon which the pain is dumped. Can you see the difference? If I agree to be a participant in the release of it, that doesn't mean you may dump it on me. If I stay connected to you, we can release it together.

This is not just for the policeman or physician, of course. What do you do when your partner, or your parent, or your child, or your employer, is angry? What if they're so angry that they become verbally abusive? As with the hand squeeze, most of you withdraw, or follow the dictates of a voice which says, “I shouldn't withdraw” and becomes martyr.

The mechanisms that lead you to be that upon which the abuse may be dumped are intricate and varied. I'm not going to try to specify the reasons. They'll vary for each of you. Guilt. True aspiration to serve, along with confusion about the nature of loving service; fear, are just a few. As soon as you allow yourself to have that ire dumped on you, you become a willing participant in this abusive act. The pain for these men was that while they understood that and refused to be a willing participant, the only choice seemed to be to move back into their shell to protect themselves from the onslaught of anger or fear. They saw that that stranded the other.

Let us look then at some of the techniques which can allow us to stay present and participate in the release of the uncomfortable energy. All of you experienced to some degree that when your hand was squeezed there was a moment of startling. After a few squeezes the startle impulse may have ceased, as one of you described. But at least at first, you could feel the contraction, feel it literally in the body.

My dear ones, we keep talking about these primary contractions.

(pause, then loud shout: “Hey!!”)

Just note “contracting, contracting, contracting.” Is the heart still going a bit faster? Is there still a tension in the belly? Nothing you need to do about it. Just note the physical contraction in the body. This instrument is noting the contraction as unpleasant. I would note here that I surprise Barbara as much as I surprise you, for I had not indicated to her ahead of time that the shout was coming next. So as she is shouting, she is simultaneously startled by it. Interesting.

So there is contraction and it's unpleasant. We come then to what led you to come back out of the shell. That which so chooses out of love presents no problem. The clarity of innate intelligence comes out and opens but will not be dumped on. What else comes out?

This is a metaphor for your entire lives, because by their very nature, there is pain in your lives, which pain sends you into cover. My experience is that it is not the external circumstance, not the other person's anger, fear, or pain, not the loudness of the noise, that most discomforts you, but the body's reaction to this.

We come back here to what we spoke of several weeks ago, the addiction to emotion. There is a startle reflex. It's uncomfortable but at some level there's also enjoyment of it. There's an adrenaline rush in the body. You feel more powerful. Part of you, then, wants to stick your head back out of the shell to get another take of that, whatever the world is dumping on you. More adrenaline rush. More power, like children on a sledding hill who rush back up to the top to get another ride down, and another. I would ask you to observe both that which finds it very discomforting, which is quite clear, and also that which craves it and therefore comes back, holding out that same invitation to be dumped on.

As alternative, you can stay centered, very open, contracting but with no relationship to the contraction other than to note its presence. When another's anger is strong, from that space of center you are very able to participate in the release of that fear, anger or pain. There is a different kind of charge, a different kind of pleasantness and it's much more subtle. It's not the jolt of adrenaline which leads you into an experience of empowered self, separate self. It's a deepening sense of connection. Openness, joy. Yes, one can experience an addiction to that too, but it is easier to work with.

If one is grasping at that place of openness and connection, one cannot find it because that grasping comes from ego self. One notices the grasping and allows oneself to reopen again. There is no “trying,” no attempt to change things, only a natural move back into the open heart. You return to the spaciousness where grasping is impossible, and then you just rest in that energy.

I said I would delineate certain methods which help one to do this. The practice of tonglen, called giving and taking meditation, is the most powerful conscious practice that I know for working from center with another's tense energy. Most of you are familiar with this practice. Resting in pure heart/mind, breathe in light, the deepest truth of your being, let it rest in the heart and send it out to the one who is in pain. Breathe in that one's suffering as though it were a heavy, black, tar-like mass; letting it come through the heart, no separation, and then release it. Note any resistance to letting suffering in to you, any desire to protect the self, and soften around that desire. And then release it.

While tonglen is a very powerful practice, at times you may be too involved with the other to do tonglen, for example the policeman who is busy searching or booking the criminal he has captured, or the physician who is exploring a very serious wound, the employee finding an answer to the employer's forced query or the being speaking to the child or partner who is so angry. Needing to talk to them, how do you stay present? Simply staying with the breath is helpful. Watch the breath as you talk or work with your hands or whatever you're doing. Be very attentive to the contractions of the body which are statement that you are feeling threatened, is helpful.

In all of these practices you must want to serve as partner in the release of the threatened energy. The harder part of this then is to observe that which does not want to serve as partner. The question we've raised in the last few weeks, “What is my highest priority?” is useful. Simply noting, “I am acting to defend myself. Is defense my highest priority, or is serving another, keeping my heart open, allowing growth for myself, and allowing harmony between us, is that my highest priority?” When you ask yourself that question, it allows you to connect with the highest motivation; you are deeply moved to act compassionately, free of self, in service to all beings. Staying connected to this highest purpose is very powerful because that awareness allows you to see the fear which wants to protect and not get caught into secondary contraction around that fear. Of course, when there's hostile energy aimed at you, there's going to be discomfort. There's going to be contraction. Can there be space around that contraction?

Another useful tool here is simply to note when you feel contraction, noting “contraction, contraction,” and note, “I have a choice here—to get into the old stories of the contraction, the old patterns that I have established, or not to.” You always have a choice.

Before you get yourself into these situations which occur so very often in life, it is very useful to sit in meditation. At a point when your energy is feeling open and connected, offer to the universe your intention to manifest your energy as lovingly as you can. Ask the universe to be a witness to this intention; ask for the support you need to honor this intention.

It's very powerful when that frightened energy is pouring out on you and you want to withdraw, to remind yourself, “No, I made a promise,” and to find the place in you that knows it can keep that promise. Here you choose not to identify with the frightened self. This does not mean disowning the frightened self, but simply seeing the frightened self and acknowledging there is also a very strong, centered, responsible aspect of my being here. I made a promise to live my highest purpose, choose to honor that promise, and am able to do so.. I am able to not get caught in the enticements of these fear vibrations but to stay centered and open.

It goes without saying that such centered and open response says “No” very compassionately to that which strives to dump its abuse on you. In whatever way is appropriate, it says, “I will participate with you in the release of your fear, but I will not become a victim of the anger that you wish to toss out.” And that is the most compassionate statement you can make to one who is angry or afraid. Here you are not denying or disassociating from their fear, but by being fully present with it and unafraid of it, you lead them to better be able to be present with it and handle it skillfully. By letting it move through you and releasing it, you teach them how to release it in skillful ways.

Your meditation practice is very important here. When you sit and mind begins to wander, can you note its wandering very quickly, be willing to let go of those enticing thoughts, be they angry thoughts that empower or blissful thoughts that lead the mind often to a blissful journey of fantasy. Can you just come back to the present again and again and again? In our formal sittings in meditation we try to be as present as we can but over a 45 minute period, of course there are periods of time when you're not present. I would like to suggest an exercise which is in addition to your regular meditation and not in place of it. Three minutes. Set a timer and see if you can be fully present for one minute. Start at one, work up to three. As I conclude this talk, let us all try this together for one minute.

Sit up. Bring your attention to your breath. Note any physical sensations or thoughts. To be present does not mean ignoring the physical sensation. If there's a strong tightness in your leg, note it as tightness, tightness, and stay present with it. If nothing else is strongly present, stay with your breath. When wandering begins, note it as “wandering.” Note that there is a letting go involved each time you make the choice to return to the breath. We will start now and see what happens in 1 minute. Be as present as you can be. Barbara will ring the bell at one minute. That is all.

(bell; bell; bell) When you are present in that way, you begin to uncover the angel which lives within the earthsuit.

Barbara: I'm paraphrasing Aaron. He says one of the myths that he spoke to this weekend is that the angel is never scared. He says because we are in our incarnate form, a mixture of this pure spirit body and the heavier bodies, of course there may be fear. He says that which is the ultimate angel, the pure spirit body, is never scared. But this is the aspect of this that has no mental body. This process is not about not being scared but the choices we make about we will do with our fear. He pauses.

He would welcome questions. He says questions need not be on the substance of the talk although he would welcome those certainly.

Q: Aaron just said it is what we choose to do with our fear?

Barbara: He says, it depends on whether you believe in the fear. If you think it is something solid that is going to hit you like a ton of bricks and knock you over, your response will be different than if you see it coming up and know it's just mist. If you think it's something solid, he's saying, then of course you will choose to defend against whatever the catalyst is. But from the perspective of the angel, it's so clearly just mist that there's nothing you have to do about it. As somebody said earlier, after awhile she stopped withdrawing. Does this answer it?

Q: I was thinking about a situation that happened to me where I could have been petrified but I was not. So, I wondered what I did with the fear.

Barbara: What did you do with the fear? Has anybody been in situations like this where, when you look back on it you're scared but in the midst of it there is a deep centeredness and calmness that just knows what to do? Can anybody talk about that? How did that work for you?

Q: You mean how I felt?

Barbara: Q's question—what happened to the fear?

Q: I am usually too busy to think about it.

Barbara: You made the decision not to think about it.

Q: Yeah, just not afraid. Not afraid.

Q: I used to do police work and often had to be in situations that were very emotionally charged. It almost always worked.

Barbara: Aaron asks, was there fear, and what allowed you to stay centered and not react to the fear.

Q: I was just able to step aside and take care of business.

Barbara: Aaron is asking both of you, as you reflect back now, can you see that it was the unconscious sense of truth of this higher purpose, that it wasn't thought out, “I'm going to stay with my higher purpose” because that sense of a higher purpose was so present with you there was no need to shift into the brain and “think” about it..

Aaron is saying it's sometimes much easier in a very highly charged life and death situation than it is in just an emotional situation.

Q: There is no time to think about the fear then, when it is really an emergency. For me, usually there has been a moment of realization of the danger or situation and then a moment in which to choose. I have usually chosen action. The fear did not go away but it was converted into doing something. And usually that decision is unconscious. It happens so fast there is no time to consciously think what should I do, or am I deciding from my highest self. There is just a sense of deciding who you are, actually. For me a memory of saying, “Who am I then in this moment?”

Barbara: Aaron is saying, Excellent, but unless you have practiced with this in all situations over and over, you have not ascertained deeply what the deepest truth is and it can't kick in like that. He's saying, therefore it's very useful and what he would like everybody to do this week is to choose one situation that is more current in your lives and presents irritation more than strong emotion. Choose some grating situation such as somebody at work who's always chewing gum loudly, something ideally that you encounter everyday. You could just be impatient with the traffic on the drive to or home from work. Note the way anger is coming up in yourself, and simply ask yourself, Is this in accord with my highest purpose? And then, he's saying, without denying the anger ...

Aaron: I am Aaron. Not denying anger or fear, but knowing that they are merely energy and can be transmuted into powerful positive channels, like compost turned back into the soil. You make the conscious choice to transform this energy in you, the conscious choice to move back into that which is harmonious with the highest purpose. There is a sense here, I am going to be responsible, so I don't have to sit here cursing under my breath at the traffic light, looking at my watch every ten seconds and noting how late I'm going to be. I just note, “this is feeding my tension.” Here you become both the one who agrees to participate in release of the fear and the one who is fearful, you're taking both parts of it. So one part is fearful and one part habitually has served as a foil for that fear, building it up, getting all worked up about the story of what's going to happen when you're late. Instead, you shift into that which agrees to participate in the release, and then do it. The more you do this the more it becomes a viable tool in a true emergency or highly emotional situation. I pause.

Barbara: He says one wonderful part of this exercise is investigating that which says, “No I don't want to be responsible!” That's OK too. Just note that that part of us is there. Questions?

Q: Several weeks ago I had been practicing the tonglen practice with several people at work. And I found myself on several occasions being very angry and I chose not to practice. It felt like if I was to practice tonglen, I would be a hypocrite. At some level I was also aware I was trying to avoid the pain that I felt.

Barbara: And then what? Could you just note that?

Q: I prayed a lot for guidance as I could not choose to return to the practice.

Barbara: Aaron says, this is important. We are here in human body. We can heap infinite self-judgment upon ourselves ... .

Aaron: I am Aaron. You can heap infinite self-judgment upon yourself because you cannot be perfect in that manifestation of the angel. Or you can find compassion for the human and be aware that sometimes the anger or the fear is so intense that you can't work with it skillfully. Or, let us say, you cannot work with it in the way that would seem most skillful. It's still being skillful not to go in and bat other over the head with a baseball bat. But simply take your anger off and work with it until resolves enough that you can come back to a place of more centeredness.

We're talking about 2 different things. When you are able to stay centered, you work with the being who is angry. In other words, for this emergency room physician, the other's fear did not make him afraid, I would suspect, but simply made him feel uncomfortable. When somebody is angry in your presence it's very uncomfortable so it's normal to want to shield against it. But that doesn't necessarily mean that your own anger will arise, only that you will want to shield. It's very different when the other is literally attacking you in such a way that your own anger arises. And then of course your own anger must be worked with. You cannot agree to be a participant in the release of the other's anger or fear or pain until you've worked with your own.

The first step is to agree to be a participant in the release of your own anger, rather than holding onto it and involving yourself in the story of it. Even that may take considerable time, to come to that agreement in yourself. And that's OK. How many times can the story run through your mind of what you're going to do to this person before finally a wisdom voice steps in and says, “Do you really want to do that?” At one level, “Yeah, I do!” and at another level, “No, of course not.” And then you start to settle into a deeper place. I pause.

Aaron: It will take as long as it takes. What we're talking about here is the old story of not getting into a relationship with our anger, which means not saying “I shouldn't have anger; I'm going to be the compassionate one and deal with this from the highest self,” but just seeing anger and expressing it. “I don't have to kick it out; I don't have to act it out.” You can be very compassionate with yourself as long as you are working with this anger and not asking yourself to be someplace untrue. Then, eventually that voice which says, what is my highest priority here? will step in, especially if you have practiced with it. I pause.

Barbara: We're going to need to stop in a few minutes. Are there any unrelated questions that people want to ask, or any more questions about this?

Aaron asks if you will all practice with this, he says in a traffic jam or some other situation where you can watch that irritation arising and your habitual pattern of dealing with that irritation. He says somebody at work who is always grating on you is an ideal situation in which to work. I asked him what shall I use, he says the newspaper boy who usually throws the newspaper into the center of this big hedge, and the irritation I feel when I come out to get the evening paper and it's just out of reach. Just that irritation ...