February 5, 1997 Awakened Heart, Part 4, Mindfulness, Presence

February 5, 1997

Wednesday Night Group

Awakened Heart, Bodhicitta part 4

Aaron: My greetings, and love to you all. I am Aaron. I welcome our new friends here tonight with the comment: please process whatever I say through your own discernment. If my message is not in accord with your deepest truth, simply lay it aside. If it is helpful to you then bring it into yourself and make it your own.

In December, I began to offer what I said would be a series to be offered occasionally through the winter and spring. This is the fourth part of that which I intended to be an approximately 10-part series.

All of you here want to live lovingly in the world. All of you wish to live with non-harm to others, with kindness. There is occasional confusion over what harm is. When one asks of you that which feels distorted, is it harm to say yes, or to say no? What I choose to address tonight is not this question of when do you say no, not what IS non-harm, but how do we offer non-harm at a time when there is a separate voice within of fear which desires to protect, to grasp, or in some other way to separate the self and perhaps to put the self's needs above others' needs. How do we best speak to that fear so that the final message may be one of non-harm?

I'm going to spend just 2 or 3 minutes here on review, not only for our new friends but because some others of you have not heard all of parts one through three. For years I have been teaching you that as long as you are in a physical body, fear, anger, greed, pride, impatience, jealousy, all of these fear-based emotions are going to arise on occasion, just as physical sensations are going to arise.

If you step on a tack there's going to be pain and blood. There's no way around it; you're in a physical body. You're not bad because there's pain or blood; you accept this is the normal way of things. If you metaphorically step on an emotional tack, there's going to be pain and a reaction. Neither are you bad because that pain has arisen, nor because anger or greed or any other emotion has arisen. We see that whatever sensation or thought arose, did so because the conditions were present for it to arise. You learn that you do not need to act out that emotion or suppress it but learn to make space for it in the ever-growing compassion of the heart. Then the emotion itself is gateway for wisdom.

It is in this way that you first conquer negative emotion. And yet, such negative emotions DO continue to arise, no matter how skilled you have become at creating this greater space.

With this series of talks, then, we're moving in to address the issue: what do I do about this recurrence of negativity? Is there any way in which I really can clarify these emotions, not because I've labeled them bad, and not with the misconception that I can cause them entirely to cease to arise, but simply because they clearly are painful to myself and to others?

You understand that such emotions arise because conditions are present for their arising. You cannot attack the emotion. That doesn't help it at all. To see anger arising in the self and say, “No, I won't be angry!” well, where is the anger going to go? To see anger arising in the self and know it as resultant of conditions, impermanent and not self, that is helpful, and true but this wisdom may be disconnected from the heart. To see anger arising in the self and note that fear is present and has given rise to anger, if that's the situation, or to note very precisely the conditions that gave rise to that anger, such as habitual attitudes, will lead you into a deepening compassion which knows it need not enact the anger. When you understand the conditions, your experience of them changes. This understanding is what changes the conditions, and then changes what has arisen from those conditions.

When you understand, for example, that somebody came in and verbally attacked you because they were feeling such dreadful pain upon hearing, perhaps, of the death of a loved one, that does not justify the attack, but with the understanding of their pain, your anger fades. Their anger does not change, but your experience of their anger changes, leading you to a response of compassion rather than perpetuated anger. When you understand that your anger arose because of old feelings of helplessness or fear that you would not be safe, that clarity similarly changes the anger itself. The question to be raised here, then, is how do you nurture those mind states which wish to deeply see and understand, and become less controlled by those mind states which desire to defend?

I said in part 2 of this series that certain specific ingredients are necessary in order to walk this path. First, with the arising of heavy emotion such as fear or defendedness and the anger they precipitate, there must be an awareness, “this emotion is not bad, but it is painful. I feel sorrow that this emotion is arising strongly and I resolve to reflect about the conditions under which it has arisen; to find the degree of understanding out of which I need not move deeper into such negative thought.” We do this by a very specific process of reconnecting with the ever-open, ever-loving heart. This awakened heart of infinite love is not something that you need to “get” or to create, it's innate in you, so I very precisely choose the word “reconnect.”

In Buddhist teachings, the word used for this awakened heart is “bodhicitta.” I've preferred to hold onto that name because it expresses things that are simply not translatable into English. “Bodhicitta” is a combination of understanding, compassion, willingness, discipline and resolve. It's the pure awakened mind which really sees how things are and is willing to accept the way they are even if there's some discomfort to the self.

So you may work with various practices that touch this already existent awakened heart and allow the armor around it to dissolve, a process much like that of penetrating the clouds around the sun so that its radiance may shine through. Practices which support this work were delineated in talks 1 and 2 and I will not repeat them here.

In talk 3 I spoke of willingness and its relationship to resistance. I used a metaphor. If you have a splinter in your foot, walking on that splinter may be painful. You may try to close off the pain and pretend it's non-existent, but after awhile you're going to need to admit, “this hurts.” The antidote to the splinter is to take a needle and tweezers and dig it out. Yes, that's going to create some pain, but there is the awareness, “this needs to be removed. It is kindness to remove it, and so I am willing to tolerate this pain.”

In the same way we must be willing to apply the antidotes to these heavy mind-states. One example that I used 2 weeks ago was about the arising of fear and greed, clinging to what you have with a fear that your needs may not be met, that you must hold on to it. When you see that kind of clinging arising, generosity is an antidote. I suggested to the group that night that anybody for whom that was a primary issue spend some time in the next 2 weeks giving things away. I suggested, take that record you got for Christmas and give it to a friend. Do it gently with awareness of your own fear. Move deeply into the experience of sympathetic joy, observing the joy of the one to whom you gave it. I said that you could promise yourself that if after a week had passed, you felt, “I really need this. I can't live without it.” then you might allow yourself to go out and buy a new one. I requested that, just for experiment's sake you try it. How does it feel to give unconditionally?

Can you see that this is like pulling out the splinter? There is the wound, the wound of ancient fear, which wants to cling to everything for protection and for safety. It is not bad that the being that you were felt unsafe. What's there is simply old fear, no judgment about the fear. But this mind-state of fear and clinging is very uncomfortable. I give the antidote, literally to give it away with mindfulness and see how it feels. It's like digging out the splinter. The first thought is, this is going to hurt. But once you try it you find there's a sense of relief, because you see, “Yes, I CAN give that way; yes, the armor around my heart opens. It feels good to give in that way. And I did not need that which I thought I needed.”

We talked similarly 2 weeks ago about the antidote to anger. One antidote that I offered was service to another, especially to one toward whom you felt anger, or offering energy in some loving way to that person. Later this evening I would like to hear your experiences as you worked with these exercises.

So there has got to be willingness. The open heart is always there. There has got to be willingness to confront your fear, to confront the illusion of limitation and separation, if you are to access that awakened heart.

As I've been offering this series of talks, they have been given in conjunction with a book written in the eighth century by a monk named Shantideva. What I'm offering here is not so much a commentary on Shantideva. Rather, I'm using Shantideva's teaching as a framework, a foundation to support my own accompaniment.

In the first chapters of Shantideva's book, he talks about his ideas of how to allow the clouds to part so that this ever-awakened, radiant heart can express itself. Now we shift to the question, once the heart is exposed, how do we continue to enact the movements of that heart? What offers us support to do that rather than to reapply the armor?

There are a number of tools that you have at your disposal. Once you have found this radiant heart and found the willingness and the deep resolve to live from this heart for the good of all beings, the next tool is mindfulness. I want to go into this in a bit more detail.

Mindfulness is a catch-all phrase. We can talk about it at 3 levels. Mindfulness, bare attention and pure awareness. It may not seem useful to some of you to differentiate, while others of you who have been practicing meditation for some time will find the distinctions very helpful. So for those of you for whom this distinction does not feel immediately useful, please just let it pass through you and trust that it will be available at that time when it becomes helpful.

Mindfulness means knowing what's happening in any given moment; being present with the body, speech and mind and the ways they interrelate amongst themselves and with other objects. If there are sensations, know there are sensations. If there is speech, know there's speech; if there is movement, know there's movement. When feelings and thoughts arise, know they're present, and be aware of the inter-connections, the way mind gives rise to emotions, movement, speech and thoughts. With such mindfulness, you start to understand that actions and speech arise because certain physical or mental conditions were present. You see the interconnections of mind and body. You understand how everything in the conditioned realm is at once the result of other conditions and in itself, serves as condition for new arising (sankhara) . None of it has an independent “self.”

Bare attention is that which is willing to go deeply into any facet of what has arisen. Mindfulness brought it to you; bare attention moves deeply into it so as to allow understanding of it. The relationship of bare attention and mindfulness would be like looking at a pond from a distance and seeing that it looked murky, then coming up and looking at the water closely. Mindfulness attends the presence of “self,” “eyes” and “water” and observes the possibility of seeing. Bare attention allows the clarity of that seeing, undisturbed by old conditions. Bare attention does not have preferences: clear water or cloudy water, it merely brings attention and understanding. With bare attention you look deeply into the conditions which gave rise to the object, in this case murky water. Mindfulness is the doorway to understanding and bare attention is the key.

The third aspect is pure awareness. which is that level of awareness which is empty of self. There's no “I” in pure awareness, there is simply being fully present with and seeing. clearly from the face of emptiness and absolute clarity.

If you were in a hypothetical situation, where you came in from the desert to a small oasis, and with you were people who were almost dying of thirst, if in that oasis there were animals playing, stirring up the water, mindfulness would be aware of the situation, aware of the needs including the self's need. In mindfulness there would be seeing the situation, experiencing thirst, knowing the thirst of others, seeing the pleasure of the animals, seeing the muddied water. Mindfulness might also be aware of the arising of thoughts about the situation and perhaps also of fear or anger.

Bare attention would look clearly and deeply at it all. It would look at the humans in pain, the biases and opinions of the self, any present emotions, sensations or thoughts. Bare attention would look without bias on the self's biases! From bare attention there would not be a preference voiced as “I want” but merely a preference that says, “For the good of all beings, the water needs to be allowed to settle. The animals need to be escorted out.”

Pure awareness is awareness that sits back and looks at the whole scene, sees how it really is but from a different perspective than bare attention. It sees the people who are extremely thirsty, sees the animals that have come to play, sees the potential for clear water once the silt settles. Pure awareness doesn't contract or try to fix, it simply is there. Pure awareness sees the whole without contraction. There is no one to contract. And it sees the innate perfection. With bare attention there is “somebody” who is paying attention. And mindfulness is the doorway which allows bare attention and pure awareness to be present.

For those of you with much experience here, it is not only useful but essential to foster all three. Clarity is derived from all three. Mindfulness and bare attention offer clarity in the relative realm; pure awareness allows clarity in the ultimate realm. Skillful choice derives from the balance.

For those of you who are newer to this work, I would simply say that you must be present. In a gambling casino you might find a sign, “you must be present to win.” You must be present! It's not as simple as it sounds. You cannot will presence. You must be willing to observe the resistance, observe that which wants to stay safe, which wants to stay distant, wants to work in the old ways of separating the self. Those ways have created pain and yet they've given an illusion of safety. You must be willing to observe those arisings with a will not to enact them into the physical experience.

When I say you must be present, then, this is not a dictated presence from some military sergeant which shouts, “attention!” . Rather, it's a very soft and loving presence which continually re-invites you to come back to this moment and whatever joy or pain this moment might hold, over and over and over.

I want to move away from the abstract and into concrete example. It's fine to say “be present,” but it may be difficult. If you have a room full of people whose deepest aspiration is to offer their energy lovingly to others, you also have a room full of people who sometimes fall short of that resolve because their own fear arises so strongly that it prevents the natural action of loving response. I can ask you to be present with that fear, but sometimes that suggestion is too broad because it's hard to pin down exactly what the fear is about. So it's very useful to use specific practices with which to foster mindfulness in areas in which fear is most common, such as that the self may be hurt or the self's needs may not be met. . One practice that comes to mind is generosity. I do not mean here simply generosity as giving of objects but generosity of energy, generosity of sharing of your time, your love, and self.

To practice this kind of generosity, you must be present with any sensations and thoughts that arise, but there's something more specific to watch so it's easier. Each time that a thought arises to give something to another, you deeply consider, can I do that? I'm not suggesting that in a parking lot if you see somebody walking in the rain you hand them your car keys and say, “Here, it's yours.” but suggest giving in ways that seem more possible. If the thought to give arises and some small voice says no, challenge that voice. Who is saying no? Is this the voice of fear? If what you hear is, “I am afraid. If I give this, I will have not enough for myself.” of course, you're going to need to consider the situation. But what prevents you from giving of your energy or your self in any way? If it's a voice of fear which does not have a basis in the present moment but mostly basis in old habit, what allows you say to that voice of fear, “No, you may not direct this; not this time.” Lave must say it, not further fear.

It's the same challenge I offered 2 weeks ago: give it away; give the record, give the socks, give that 20 minutes of your time. I repeat, I am not talking about situations where there is real reason for fear. I'm not suggesting that you pick up a stranger in your car in a bad section of the city. It is not fear but wisdom that stops you. You all understand the kind of contraction we're talking about, that little voice that says, “I will be hurt. My needs may not be met.” It's ancient fear. Attend to it and ask yourself, “as much as possible, can I just give, and do it very mindfully and see what happens?”

Deepening moral awareness is another area of support. As example, what if your neighbor's car wasn't working and she came over to see if you were going to be going to the market. You said, “ I need to go but I don't have time.” She replied, “If I may borrow your car, I'll do both our marketing, just give me your list. I'd be happy to do that for you.” You give her your car.

She comes back and leaves the headlights on. The car won't start when you go out an hour later. Observe the irritation that comes up. “Look what she did!” Observe the desire to go over, knock on her door and say, “You left my headlights on.” What's to be gained by that? Is she going to learn anything by hearing that she left the headlights on? We're presuming here that this is not an habitually irresponsible person or you would not have leant her your car in the first place.

The practice of non-harm brings mindfulness and bare attention to this arising sense of anger, helplessness and fear. You've just been deprived of the use of your car. You are inconvenienced. Look at the way you want to use that energy to attack another. Here is another kind of generosity, not needing to give that angry feedback. Not needing, also, to suppress it. You know, “I feel angry,” forgive your neighbor and let go of the whole thing. You find, when you do this, you come right back into that radiant heart. It feels wonderful to let it go, truly let it go. Can you see that you're not getting rid of the anger because it's bad. You're not denying the anger, and you're not enacting the anger. When you practice repeatedly in this way, these little moments that trigger anger cease to trigger anger. You begin to just be able to smile and say, “Ah! She left the headlights on.”

It's not that anger doesn't arise because you thought it shouldn't arise, there's simply so much space in this loving heart. It's just a poignant moment: “Here is some human pain. Nothing I need to do about it; no doors I need to go banging on, nothing I need to harm, just a moment of human pain, the pain we all share.” It is some of the frustration of being human. It is in this way, through repeated willingness to be mindful of what has arisen and to allow the heart to open around what has arisen, that these heavy emotions cease to be a habitual response. You really are shifting one habit for another: shifting to a habit of spaciousness, compassion and kindness to all of you.

I would add here, of course, that if this same neighbor leaves your car in such a way three times, of course you're going to tell her. That also is kindness. But the telling doesn't have to come out of a place of anger. It's kindness to say, “Do you realize you're leaving on the lights. You may borrow my car but please be very sure the lights are turned off.” Your intention is to ask her to pay attention, not to insult or discomfort her to assuage your own anger. We expand this into all the ways that you must not be a doormat to another, for to do so is simply a different way to offer harm.

What I'm talking about here is simply the issue of noting arising of anger or greed or whatever mind state may be there and developing the skillfulness to begin to diminish that habitual arising of anger or greed. You do so through mindfulness, through willingness to be present and through the great resolve of the loving heart that you are not going to continue forever to be caught in the grip of such habitual heavy emotion. It's very workable.

In Shantideva's chapter 4 about attentiveness, he again addresses the heavy emotions as an evil. My dear ones, it is so important that you not think of anything that arises in the mind or body as evil, but that you simultaneously be aware that certain mind-states that do arise are very painful and that you do have a choice. This takes us back almost to my very first teachings with this group many years ago. The choice of fear or love. It really is as simple as that. In those days I simply said you can choose love, a new idea to some of you at that time. But now we must refine that as you discover how you choose love and what aids your resolve to choose love.

I pause here. I would be very happy to speak to your questions. That is all.

Q: I have a question about finding the right antidote. Aaron said on a different week that we need to use our intuition if no teacher is there. So tonight after he described mindfulness and bare attention and pure awareness, does bare attention produce the antidote?

Aaron: I am Aaron. When you say, does bare attention produce the antidote, the clarity as to the nature of the antidote is there in the awareness of the pure mind. But in order to get at that mind you must move the clouds away. Bare attention pierces the clouds and dissolves them. Resting in that spaciousness and brilliance of the clear sky, of pure awareness mind, the antidote shines out, speaks its truth. I pause.

Barbara: (I'm paraphrasing Aaron) He asks, can you see how that works? (Yes). He says to get at the sense of intuition that already knows what skillful and loving action is, we've got to get through the storm clouds. Mindfulness is that which reminds us of our willingness to penetrate the storm clouds, and bare attention is that which actually penetrates them and gives us access to our intuition. He pauses.

Q: It seems like I have been practicing more, not with actions of kindness but with thought. Aaron suggested giving things away as part of discovering the nature of fear; that action is easier for me. I'm working more with clearing away thinking that clouds over the open heart.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I understand your statement. Both are necessary. You can practice this forever on the mind level and not bring it into the relative experience. You can note the arising of fear. Forgive yourself that such fear is present, find the space around that fear, not need to enact that fear in terms of throwing it out at other people, but there's still a contraction of fear present. So what we're asking here is seeing that the contraction of fear wants to stick and be in control. What begins to dislodge it? Here is where working back to relative reality and simple action becomes very useful. If the fear is stuck there, we give ourselves a little push by asking ourselves, can I give something away? Or in some other way, give of myself, not really in opposition to the fear but testing the fear. This choice leads us to reconnect with the deepest resolves of the awakened heart. Do you understand? I pause.

Q: I think I understand. I will have to work with it.

Aaron: I am Aaron. We begin with the assumption that each of you has reached a level of spiritual maturity where you earnestly aspire to offer you energy lovingly. Then it becomes useful to differentiate between active and passive harm. What does it mean when we say, do no harm? To do no harm does not mean only not to move in active ways that harm another, not to figuratively or literally throw things at another. If you withhold something from another of which the other has need, is that not harm? So what we ask is a dynamic sense of giving, of compassion. There is a Sanskrit word, “ahimsa” which applies here. Ahimsa is dynamic compassion. Ahimsa is rooted in non-violence and in harmlessness but ahimsa understands the need for action as non harm.

A very simple example. If somebody is abusing you and anger arises, to throw your anger at them is harm. But simultaneously, to simply be the victim of their abuse is also a way of harming them. So you must say no to the abuse but you must not say it with anger. While you may deeply resolve to do that, all of your old habit is geared toward another kind of response. It's geared either toward throwing out the anger, or toward strict censure of the anger, or perhaps toward drawing the anger in toward the self. So you want to respond lovingly but you really don't know how because you don't know what to do with your anger, how to transmute that anger into compassion. That is what these teachings are about.

In response here to Q, I think part of what you're talking about is that you have worked with the part of it which allows compassion for the other's pain and you have learned somewhat skillfully to say no to the other's pain. You understand they may not abuse you because of their pain. But you have not fully processed what to do with your own pain and how the actual application of antidotes can transmute that pain. So I think that's precisely the next step that we're talking about. I pause.

Barbara: Others?

Q: I have always liked Aaron's metaphor of the spider in the box. I kept going back to that to see a metaphor for this new step. I saw myself watching the spider, getting used to it, having a bigger room, more space, oh yea, that spider again, until finally I put down a puppy next to it and watched that also. I try each time I see that spider to put down a puppy, and finally instead of the spider it is a puppy.

Barbara: There's so much old conditioning that says, “Splat!” to the spider and says, “Awww” to the puppy.

Aaron was talking about that spider metaphor today. Do you know the metaphor? Briefly, Aaron has said if we found ourselves in a tiny little box with a big tarantula, we'd probably take one look and leap out of the box. If we found ourselves in a 10x10 space with a tarantula we might be uncomfortable, and as soon as it started to walk we'd leap out of the box or swat it. If we found ourselves in a room this size, we might be able to sit and watch it and, as it drew near, to get up and walk across the room, and just continue to watch this creature. We could stay in the box. So what he talks about is making this kind of bigger container for our emotions. We see our anger, our greed, our pride, whatever emotion has come up as this kind of tarantula and say, “Aaaaa!” Swat! Or I won't be near it,” instead of allowing ourselves space to be near whatever discomforting thought or emotion is present.

What he was talking about today is the habitual way we see the spider coming toward us and we don't even think of it as spider, we just say from all of our old habits, SPLAT! After doing that 10 or 100 times, habit has really hardened and I don't look any more to even see if it is a spider. Recently I felt a tickling touch on my arm, my hair raised on my neck, “feeling fear” I restrained myself from brushing it off, looked, and it was a lady bug! So the spider appears. Maybe I don't need to squash this thing, maybe I can just watch it. But that doesn't happen until we've squashed it enough times that we start to observe ourselves squashing it and ask, “why am I doing this?” Aaron will talk.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I said to a friend earlier today that after you squash the spider mindfully a number of times, a certain kind of regret may begin to arise on doing harm to this being. “This is not what I really want to do.” It's not until there is that degree of regret and mindfulness that you can begin to consider a different option, and then you ask yourself, “What choices do I have?” Here is where willingness and the application of antidotes comes in. That is all.

Q: Would Aaron or you expand on the definition of ahimsa?

Aaron: I am Aaron. Ahimsa simply means “dynamic compassion.” Non-violence is one aspect of ahimsa, but to be non-violent can come from many motivations including a very strong sense of self, someone who wants to be the good one, big ego and so on. Within ahimsa is the compassion which notes all of the multiple motivations of non-harm, finds forgiveness for those which are ego-based or fear-based, and deeply aspires to act from the heart on those which are based on the higher self and on love. Within this deepening awareness, the wisdom of the awakened heart, there is much clarity about what negative action must be withheld and also about positive response, the ways in which you cannot withhold actions from others or you do indeed do them harm. There must be consequences.

As very simple example, you may think, “I would harm a small child by saying no to it so I'm just going to let it explore.” The child starts to push things into light sockets, or to turn on the stove. Certainly you are harming the child if you do not say no. The question is not whether you say yes or no but what says yes or no, love or fear. Ahimsa, then, is what speaks and acts from this deepest aspiration to be of service to others, and simultaneously from the clarity of the awakened self. Both factors must be present in ahimsa. Does this sufficiently answer your question? I pause. (Yes)