October 25, 2000 Wednesday Night Group

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. Several years ago your Halloween fell on a Wednesday night and someone asked me would I tell a Halloween story.  I surmised they were requesting a scary story but with some meaning to it. The story I told that night was about a terrifying experience and the redeeming value of love. Since that night I've told you several Halloween stories on Wednesday nights near October 31. So tonight I was asked if I would offer another Halloween story.

In your customary celebration of Halloween, children dress up as spooks and goblins, witches, monsters. I think it's a good thing, it's a statement of acknowledgment of the shadow in the self and that shadow is not dual with the good. It's important to acknowledge not only that you can feel fear but that you can feel fearsome, that there can be great greed or anger. The redeeming value of love is not only to another but to the self.

These stories that I tell are drawn from the experiences of the beings that I was in past lives. I do have memory of all of the lives, of what was skillful and what was unskillful. In this particular lifetime, the being that I was was a Buddhist monk. He was working with that aspect of the teachings to abandon the kalesas, abandon the heavy mind states.. His difficulty was that they kept coming up. No surprise.

He thought to himself - I'm going to tell this in the first person. Please remember this is not me, Aaron. Thankfully I'm no-body anyhow, just a collection of memories and an energy. But I think the story will tell better in the first person.

I thought, "It's not my fault that I keep becoming angry, that greed keeps arising because the conditions are so difficult.  I need to restrain my experience more. If I don't experience a catalyst for greed or anger then these states won't arise any more. Then I finally will be free." So in this way I misunderstood the teaching. I made the decision with my teacher's approval to go off into the hills to a cave where I had determined to stay for many months in complete solitude. The local villagers were extremely respectful of the monks and were very happy to bring food daily to the foot of the hill where my cave was so that I could come down the hill and simply pick up this bowl of food that was offered for me. I did not have to go on a proper alms round.

Now, in a sense this was wrong because it denies the interrelationship between the monk and layperson. The monk receives the food and at the same time who offers out the dharma. But I felt it was temporarily appropriate because I wanted so much to subdue that which came into my attention .  

Several weeks passed. Early each morning I came down the hill and found the bowl with rice and other food. Water was also provided. I ate there and then climbed back up the hill. I sat and walked all day within my cave and on the platform of rock just outside the mouth of the cave. It was not a deep cave but deep enough to provide adequate shelter. Toward the back of it was a rock ledge just a foot or so off the ground and very smooth and flat. At night I would spread my robe there and sleep for a few hours. Often there was moonlight that shined on the ledge and just into the cave a bit. On other nights the moon was behind the clouds and it was dark.

As the weeks passed, I became peaceful. Some days it was sunny, some days it rained. Some days there was a breeze and other days, no breeze. There was really very little to differentiate one day from another. I was very committed to my practice and did not experience boredom, but rather,  mind was very concentrated on the moment-to-moment arising and passing experiences of body and mind. So I was very peaceful. And I actually thought to myself, "Ah, I am conquering the defilements. At last I am learning this."

One day was rather stormy, some rain, wind blowing. As evening approached there were heavy clouds. Then some rain fell so I did not walk out on the flat rock beyond the cave mouth but simply stretched and sat again, and finally decided to go to sleep.

Late in the night I awoke, hearing a strange noise. Almost indistinguishable, just a "shhhhhsssshhhhhhhhh". And again: "shhhhhsssshhhhhhhhh". And the smallest rattling of pebbles, really tiny, almost sand, grains. It was a quiet sound and yet loud enough to be audible over the stormy night sounds of heavy wind and falling water.  I heard the sound and fear arose. "Something is in the cave with me." I had no candle. Lacking moonlight, all was darkness. I did not care to leave the cave, it was raining hard. But also I was a bit afraid to leave, to move not knowing what was there with me. So I asked myself to continue to lie on this bed of stone. I moved to draw my robe more firmly over and around me, and as I did so I heard the sound again:  "swisshhhhhhhhhhh". Coming closer.

And then suddenly there was a cold touch against the bare skin of my belly, something under my robe, touching, touching.

This icy, damp object moved up my belly and pressed itself against my chest. I knew it immediately, that it was a snake, and a large snake, which had come into the cave to seek refuge from the storm. I could not know what kind of snake, but I did know that there were venomous snakes in this area. I could only presume the worst. So there I lay, snake pressed against my chest and belly. I could not move or it might strike me. There was noone to call for help. I had no idea how many hours until dawn's light would show me what this creature was. I had only my own thoughts, my own stories, my own fear. And fear was there. Terror. I did not want to die. I did not want to die alone in a cave in the dark. I did not want to die the painful death inflicted by a venomous snake. And I was helpless, completely helpless.

Anger came up first. I, who had thought I had passed anger, was enraged at this creature for violating my space. For an interminable time I lay there feeling anger, watching anger, knowing the experience of it. Anger, fear, helplessness. Then came the thought, "It's his space too. He was drawn to the warmth of my body." As I relaxed and recognized his situation, driven indoors by the rain, seeking warmth, I saw that we were brothers in that way and I could not hate him any more but still I feared him. Along with my fear of him was my contempt of myself who had so deeply sought to conquer these heavy emotional states.

I hated my helplessness. I lay there, no longer hating the snake but now hating myself. Different stories arose. If I only got out of this, what kind of snake guard I might build. How I would go back to the monastery to the kuti where I lived, t above the forest, where snakes could not easily climb. Then I saw that these were stories. Each time I recognized the story - fear, anger, and all the stories they brought - there was extreme discomfort but also there was something else. I saw the stories diverted me so I did not have to be present with the experience of this snake pressed against my belly and chest. That was the worst thing. As I lay there, after some time he began to move. I felt what must have been his head moving up my chest. Higher, higher, coming right up to my throat. And then in that cavity of the throat, his head rested.

My heart beat, my breath felt like a rising and falling ocean wave. I felt certain he would strike me and I could not stop my heart, I could not stop my breath. I could not even quiet my breath; it began to come in gasps.

With that move, anger arose again at him , no longer a brother but again a threat. Hours passed. The stories came and went. Anger at the snake, anger at myself, contempt for myself. Finally there were no stories left to come and it was still dark. I had to lay there in the dark and feel the touch of this reptile against me. There was nothing left but  “touching”.

In the touching I felt how vulnerable I was, how weak. He within a fraction of a second could kill me. And he would not mean it personally, he had nothing against me, only I happened to be his bed for the night and he would not be happy if I moved.

Terror. As the stories dissolved there was nothing left but touching and terror. Terror first at helplessness, then terror at death. That was the biggest one. I began to picture the body bloating the next day, how the villagers would wait a few days out of respect for me, thinking me fasting, and then when a week or so had passed, that one of them might come up the path and call out, begging my pardon, simply asking for an answer, was I OK? And then they would find this decaying body perhaps marked at the throat where the snake had struck.

I don't know how to express to you what happened there during the night but as I laid there hour after hour with the thought of impending death, finally I realized, "If not tonight, a year from now, or 10 years, or 30 years, this body will die. All bodies cease; this one will cease. The feelings, the perceptions, the thoughts; all of it will cease. What will be left?" And in that moment I understood that the only thing that I could take with me was my karma.  I had a choice, not whether I would die or not, that was really up to the snake, but how I would die.

In my head I began to talk to the snake, to see him as a brother again, taking shelter from the storm. As I offered myself and him that kindness, observing that we both were mortal, impermanent, and would die, I became able to wish him well, to really forgive him if he killed me. My heart opened to both of us. There was some kindness.

Each time he moved, terror arose again. Each time it arose, I noted it with more and more skill and spaciousness. Terror, just terror. What is the experience of terror? All beings want to be happy. I want to be happy. All beings want to be safe. I want to be safe. My happiness and safety are threatened and I feel helpless and out of control, violated by this small creature. Terror. Noting the contraction of terror in the belly and in the throat. Noting how each time terror arose, the heart beat faster, and the throat constricted so my breathing deepened. And then the snake would move, discomforted by the movement of his bed.

Finally I was exhausted. Perhaps 5 or 6 hours had passed and still there was no light. Finally I fell asleep. I awakened to sun streaming into the cave. Immediately my mind went to the snake. No longer touching. But might he be under my robes? What if he was still there but only an inch from me? Now the terror was even worse. The terror at what you know is nothing as compared to the terror of what you do not know. What if he was still there? What if after having survived the night with him I now moved to arise and he struck me?

And so I laid there hour after hour, now in the sunshine. My bladder was full. Even that could not pull me from this prone position; I simply urinated where I lay. Eyes open, breathing, afraid to move. Touching again the experience of fear. But this time there was more softness to it, a bigger container for the fear.

The hours passed. The day began to darken. I realized the fix I was in. I could not bear another night like this. Soon it would be dark. What would I do? How many days could I lie there waiting for the snake to show itself apart from me so I would know it was not against me? And even then how would I know it was the same snake?

At first I could not bring myself to move. We spoke recently to somebody about fear, courage and fearlessness. Courage is that which acts in the face of fear. Fearlessness is that which passes through fear and knows on the ultimate level there is nothing to fear.

I lay there trying to draw the courage to move, courage pushed by the idea of a second such terrible night. I could not do it. But then I came back to what I had seen the night before. This body would surely die. The death would probably be unpleasant, perhaps painful. It may happen at any time: now or not for a long time. But I realized that I was dying in every moment with terrible suffering and that death could not be worse than this. Courage could not act but finally fearlessness arose, a fearlessness based on wisdom and compassion.

In the last of the light, finally I reached to open my robe. Slowly, slowly. Moving as little as was possible, encouraged by the thought that in all these hours of the day I had not felt this creature. And so I opened the robe. And there was nothing there.

Trembling, I arose. I walked to the mouth of my cave where the moonlight was just beginning to light the dusk sky. There was something new in me then. It was the recognition that this place of fearlessness was there, that terror was really just a conditioned object. A direct experience, yes; but also something that arose out of conditions and would cease. There was the experience of terror in mind and body which I had been able skillfully to release

I recognized that that which could let go of terror is that which I call the fearless. It wasn't courage that let go; it was truth. The ability to see beyond this mind and body and come to a place of deeper truth of who I was.

I cannot tell you I slept well that night. It was a fitful sleep. And each time I rolled over and felt the coldness of the stone, I awoke with alarm thinking it was the snake. But  that nighttime visitor didn't return.

I spent several more weeks in the cave. I began to understand that all these catalysts that gave rise to greed, anger, fear, pride, and whatever other emotions; that these were not the issue. The issue was that I had thought I must conquer these just as I had thought I must conquer my own terror, must conquer the snake, must conquer helplessness. But underneath it all there shone this radiance I would call the fearless. It's not a fearlessness based on naiveté, it understands that it can die, that it can be hurt, maimed. It's a fearlessness that simply knows "This may happen. I can live with prudence, with wisdom, but no matter what I do I will die. I can make skillful choices but there are things against which I cannot protect myself: a landslide of rocks within my cave, a snake, a fall in the dark, a strike by lightning, even."

I understood then that the choice was whether to live this life with fear or with kindness, and that that was the choice I had to make, that once I chose kindness, I invited in the experience of the fearless. I invited in my own divinity, as it were, my own awakened nature. And in that vast spaciousness, that infinite spaciousness of awakened nature, fear could come and go, unpleasant experience could come and go, that which gave rise to anger or lust or pride could come and go, and it didn't matter. They were just as snakes coming in the night, bringing their own discomfort and then  leaving again.

I found it very interesting that the day after the snake had actually left was so much harder than the night because my mind created the story of the snake's presence even once he was gone. And this is what we do. We take an object and create such intense stories around it that long after the object has passed we're still living those stories and recreating them again and again. Living in the anger, fear, sadness, and so forth of these old stories. Stories of betrayal. Stories of not being loved. Stories of helplessness.

This that I call fearlessness is always there. It's not something you have to create in yourself, it's part of this awakened nature and you can realize that it's there. You can begin even very tentatively at first to open to it and rest in it. Sometimes it may not seem accessible. In that case, one is simply with the anger, grief, terror, whatever may be there, with the direct experience of it, not its stories. This small kindness to the self, to say, "No, no stories", this begins to open the door to the fearless.

So the weeks passed and again there was a rainy night. As the nights had passed I had become comfortable again to sleep in the cave. I had not seen another snake. I went to sleep. And again in the middle of the night came this cold slithering up my belly and chest.

I was alarmed, of course. The story began immediately, "Oh no! Why me? What did I do to deserve this?" Breathing, present, pain, anger, fear. And then almost immediately this Fearless came back. It suggested to me, "Don't go to sleep. You might accidentally roll over on this creature. Just rest here. Offer metta to yourself and the snake. In the morning you will be alive or you will dead, and either way, that's how it will be. You can spend the night suffering,  this possible last night of your life, or you can spend the night not suffering. That is the only choice." This reflection brought back fearlessness.

By fearlessness I do not mean a carelessness; something very different. Totally present, totally mindful. Present with each breath and each tiny motion of this visitor. But deeply understanding, "This is how things are." Understanding the roots of suffering and the choices I had.

So I lay there through the night and it was so very different. Breathing in kindness, releasing fear. Aware that fear still existed, that sadness existed, feelings of vulnerability existed, but willing not to get caught in the stories of any of them. Choosing to spend this night, whether it was just a night or my last night, present with kindness. Toward morning the rain stopped. The snake's touch was against me and then suddenly it was gone. This time my eyes were open and I saw him slither over the rock ledge and down the floor and out the door.

That morning I knew I had gained what I had came for. I bowed deeply to this snake, my teacher and to my terror, also my teacher. And I left my cave, no longer to seek isolation.

I thank you for hearing me. After your break I will be glad to speak to your questions. That is all.


Barbara: Let's go on to questions. I have one email question. I would like to keep that for a little bit and start with questions from the floor.

Q: I'm reading several books which talk about that part of us that's not local, that the mind is not local. And that that part of us is beyond time and space. And that we can reach it in a variety of ways. In other words, we can go into a timeless space. And <Roth> talks about it also as being mortal. I was wondering what Aaron thought about that part of us which is everywhere and beyond time.

Aaron: I am Aaron. This is my constant experience. This "Aaron" which addresses you, this is the mental body carried as a tool, not as something with which I identify as self, but it's useful so I don't cast it away. But I have no self-identity. I am everywhere. I am everything. That which remembers is not everywhere or everything. This is the, let us say, part of the residual mental body but that which is aware of remembering, that pure awareness, it's everywhere and it's everything. The mental body is conditioned and will go. Pure awareness is an expression of the Unconditioned. Pure awareness is not my awareness or your awareness, it's just awareness. It is the sea from which we all drink and once we have drinken (we pause for a grammatical correction!) once we have drunk from it, swallowed that water, it's in us. You drink from the sea and one climbs a mountain and the other goes into the forest. And the sea is on the mountain and the sea is in the forest.

I don't know if this is sufficient response. I'd be happy to answer further question about it. I pause.

Q: It feels very mysterious. It's hard for me to understand.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear you say it feels mysterious. My experience is a bit different, not that it's a mystery but simply that it remains, for some of you it remains enclosed in darkness because it is an area into which light has not yet been drawn.

If you come to the door of a dark room, you may feel the room is mysterious. You don't know what it contains. When you open the shades so that the room is flooded by sunlight, it's no longer mysterious. Nothing is hidden. It is your attachment to the self, to the ego, to the physical body, to the feelings and perceptions, thoughts, to the whole stream of consciousness, the identification of all of this with self, that keeps the shades closed. So much of your spiritual practice is intended to allow in light, to reveal the true being. That doesn't mean the rest of these aggregates of self cease to exist, only, we see them for what they are. The question for me is not, "What is it?" but "How can one allow oneself to more deeply experience it?"

What is it which clings to the personality self, the physical self to the exclusion of the spirit-- let us give this a precise name: of the pure awareness mind, of the Buddha nature?

You come into this world with the physical, mental and emotional bodies, and immediately they feel so solid that all sense of the truth of your being dies away. This is the effect of the veil of forgetting we have talked about many times.

The forgetting is essential to your work on this plane otherwise the process of incarnation would simply be one of self-discipline. If you saw everything, you would just push yourself, ignoring fear, discomfort, or whatever else might arise. But to resolve karma, the grounds for that karma must still be present. You cannot resolve the habitual patterns around fear unless there is some fear and acknowledgment of it. . You cannot resolve the habitual patterns around anger unless there is some acknowledged anger, and so forth. And so there must be some forgetfulness.

The question then is, what is the balance between forgetfulness and remembering? Even those who have very profound experience of the Unconditioned still have pain in the physical body,  and sometimes uncomfortable emotions will arise. The deeper knowing of the true self does not mean that these cease to arise, only that there's a spacious container for them, a container which speaks from a deeper truth than that of the personality self and body. So one must ask again, "What is this attachment to the personality self and body? Can I begin to see it for what it is?" Which for most of you at this point is simply old habit. Each time such attachment arises, can I know it? Can I note that the attachment is part of the habitual reaction to feeling uncomfortable, helpless, frightened? We move into this sense of self because then we feel powerful, which is ironic because the small self has no power at all. And this highest awakened self is all-powerful because it is no-self, because it is that sea from which you have sipped.

Do you understand what I'm saying, R? That one must be present with the fear, that wants to be safe, wants to be comfortable, wants to be in control, wants to be loved, connected, and so forth. With fear, with sadness, with any feelings that one might not have that which one wants, one must be present with a kindness. Then, as I just said in my talk, then  fearlessness  is no different than the awakened mind itself. We do not create it, it reveals itself. It's always been there. I pause.

Barbara: Questions?

Q: During the snake story, Aaron spoke about the idea that the catalyst or the object is one thing and then spinning off from it are the stories. And those are completely another thing. And during the daytime in his past life when the snake was not visible or could not be felt, he said the fear was even stronger purely because of the stories. My question is about being present and working with stories. I know that it is important to just note them as stories, aware that stories are happening and lovingly open to the storyteller and just let it be. But it feels like there is something else I am missing. Maybe because I figure, I still have so many stories! I am obviously not doing it right!

Barbara: I'm paraphrasing Aaron. He says two things. First, there's a difference between the stories and knowing the arising of stories. It's like the arising thought. The mind that sees the story arise doesn't buy into the story or perpetuate the story, doesn't run with the story, just sees, "It's old habit. A story will arise." Knowing, we come back to that knower, which is not the story itself, it's just consciousness aware of the presence of the story. So there's no investment in the story. We just let it alone and it will go.

He says, do you remember C's story of the skunk in her living room? C was sitting and reading in her living room one night. The back door was open and she thought the screen door was closed, but it wasn't closed tight. Her cocker spaniel was lying at the floor at her feet sound asleep. She knew the dog was on the floor and she saw some movement out of the corner of her eye. She looked up and there was a skunk walking across her living room. She froze. She was afraid  the dog would hear the skunk and jump up. She tried to stay very still. She didn't know what to do. The stories started coming. She realized: no stories. Breathe. Be present. Note fear. Send loving wishes and metta to the skunk, to the dog,  to myself. Just be present with it.

So she sat there. Finally the skunk went to the far side of the room. She rose,  opened the back doors wide, picked  up the dog and went upstairs to bed. A few  hours later when she came down the skunk was gone.

Aaron is saying, as with C's skunk, the stories will come and sometimes they stink and sometimes they won't stink. This is the nature of stories. We see the story arise and there's just a spaciousness which doesn't get invested in it. So it's not the fact that stories arise, it's what we do with the stories. Each time the story arises, it gives you the opportunity to come back to the pure awareness mind which is capable of seeing stories arise and seeing them pass away. No entanglement in them. But if there is entanglement, that's just another kind of story, being entangled. Chasing the story. The same clear mind sees that; the mind that sees us chasing the story is not chasing the story or caught in it, it's just there.

He wants to say something else. He will say it himself.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I find it very interesting that you pointed out what I said about there being more stories in the daytime. At night there was a direct object, the touch of the snake. It was a very unmistakable object, not unpleasant in itself, I don't mind picking up a snake. If I had known it was not a venomous snake I would have no problem holding it against my belly.  This man I was did not have a dread of snakes and there's nothing unpleasant about that touch. But the touch was a very strong object that captured his attention completely because of the thought it might be venomous. Thus, he was deeply aware of every tiny movement from the snake. Because of that there was not so much time to drift into stories. Terror was also a direct experience, heart pounding, sweating. . Once the primary object with all of its force was gone, then more stories arose with more power. Focusing on a primary object of no touch is much more difficult than focusing on a primary object of touch.

What's important here is there needs to be a primary object to come back to when the stories are present. The breath is such an object. So we keep coming back to the breath, noting the story arise again, making the decision, "No, I'm not going to go with it." Noting the fear. When I say come back to the breath, right there in the breath is the fear, feeling the tightness of the throat, for example, that the breath doesn't want to flow easily, maybe it's grasping or grating because of the fear. Breathing in, I'm aware of the fear, breathing out I'm aware of fear. So the fear is the primary object. The breath also is an object, but there's got to be an object. The story itself is not an object but the direct experience of that which inspires the story can be such an object. I pause.

Barbara: He says, do you have further question?

Q: There is something else in there for me and I cannot quite get a hold of it.

Barbara: He says, if more comes then ask, or next week.

Q: I smile about Aaron's snake story because last night I had to help release a frog from my cat's mouth. Just a frog, but still, fear about scooping it up and taking it outside.

Barbara: Did you get it outside safely? (Yes...)  We each have our own place of  discomfort.  If you get a frog in your cat's mouth again, call and tell me. I'll be glad to come and get it out. But if I have a huge spider in my house, will you come get it!

Other questions?

Q: A quick one. I'm trying to figure out the development of Aaron's lives. Was this Buddhist monk before or after the Christian priest who was the subject of the first Halloween story?

Barbara: Before.

Q: I would have guessed that. And the personality of Aaron was before either of those, correct?

Barbara: The lifetime in which he was Aaron? Yes.

Q: Eventually if I hear enough stories I'll have the whole progression!

Barbara: He said it will take many volumes, a lot of lives. He's a slow learner!

Q: I can identify with that.

New Q: Is there such a thing as a slow learner or a fast learner?

Aaron: I am Aaron. Ultimately, no. Sometimes we do stay caught in the same karmic issues for many incarnations. But having resolved that issue, the being usually will then leap ahead, so to speak, because in that process of learning, while one stumbling block remained, other areas were practiced and learned. I pause.

Barbara: He says he's using an example here, that he's getting back to a time when I was a child in summer camp and trying to pass different swimming tests. I was very stuck on the back dive that had to be mastered to pass a certain Red Cross swimming test. But I didn't spend all my time all summer practicing the back dive. And by the time I had mastered the back dive, the other strokes that I ‘d been practicing throughout the summer had all been mastered very painlessly. So I passed the back dive and I had not passed any of the other skill tests. And I finally passed the back dive and said, "Ah! I've done it!" And the counselor said, "Oh no, you've got to do all the other skills." In one afternoon I just went all through them because I had been practicing them painlessly all along. He's using that as an example.


Q: Today I went to a polarity session. The therapist told me that my father, who died the last day of May, is seeming to be, she feels, possibly pulling on me. If that is so, I'm not really certain as to what is my appropriate response to that?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question. I certainly cannot tell you this is true or untrue, that's not my role. Perhaps this polarity therapist might have phrased it in a different way, stating that he or she sensed certain areas of blocked energy, and conjectured as to whether that blockage could be related to something concerning the father.

What you have to decide for yourself is whether there is any unfinished business with your father. If you feel that what the therapist said resonates in some way as truth for you then you might reflect on what unfinished business there may be. If this does not resonate as truth, then you may wish to reflect on why you get caught in this story, which again points to unfinished business. On the one hand, it may be unfinished business your father had with you. And on the other, it may be some remaining guilt or discomfort toward your father. What do you do with this information? Just take it into your meditation and ask. "Is there any way that my energy field may be distorted, that my whole being, body, energy, mind, may be distorted by something that needs to be resolved in the memory of my father?" If you look and find nothing, can you just let it go? I pause.

Barbara: He asks, does that sufficiently answer your question? He says, (I'm paraphrasing him) nobody has the authority to tell you that this or that is happening to you. The most such a therapist can say is, "I see a blockage in the energy field." Perhaps the therapist has the ability literally to sense your father's energy. That person still can't say to you, "It's pulling on you", only "There's something happening and you might want to investigate." He says very few therapists would be able literally to sense the father's energy field. So, it seems to him that it was more likely a guess, knowing that this had happened, that you had lost your father, there might be a guess that a certain blockage in the energy field was related to that loss. But he says don't let anybody else take away your authority.

I want to come to this question that was emailed.

This person said (Speaking to Aaron), "There were times when I did not feel I was being heard by you."  "My feeling arose more from a sense that the specifics of the issue that I wanted to talk about had been dismissed" (I'm not reading everything, I'm skipping some things.) " as something that was not important to consider rather than by anything you specifically said about it. Typically I would bring up a practical issue or a specific instance and you would direct my attention to what my underlying intentions or concept of the situation were, or you would direct my attention to aspects that I might not have seen of what the other person's intentions might have been. I see this kind of examination as crucial learning for me but in the process I was left with a feeling that the actual practical issue or situation was dropped from active discussion. On that basis there grew in me an increasing sense of not being heard." (There is more but I'm just going to leave it at that, that seems like enough to phrase the question.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. I want to state that I do hear your human pain, confusion, and needs very clearly. I'm not the only being that hears them, you have friends that hear them, family that hears them. And you have the ability to resolve these human needs and issues.

I speak often of the need for a balance between the relative and the ultimate, that we cannot take things merely as ultimate practice and ignore the human situation. And yet, it is possible to become over-embedded in the human situation.

The way I teach or speak to you will differ from one to another. Sometimes there is one who feels overly caught up in the human dilemma, not seeing the big picture as clearly as would be helpful. Or, in another example, one who is one in whom there is a habitual patterning of need to be heard. Now, I can become the one who hears and perhaps that would bring comfort and consolation to that one, to feel truly heard. But in another way I would simply perpetuate the pattern. Then too,  the illusion might come up, "Aaron hears me. Nobody else hears me. As a child, nobody heard me."

My primary emphasis here is not to give you comfort but to help you guide yourself to freedom. So it has felt like a much more important focus  at times, especially for those of you who are caught up in the human dilemma, is to  help you find this bigger picture.

What I find is that when you do find this greater perspective, understanding how this particular dilemma is simply arising out of conditions, often out of old habit, then it will cease. When you understand that it's not self,  the more spacious mind has the ability to come back to the situation and resolve it.

I think of the very simple slogan, "Feed a man a fish and you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him the rest of his life." To feed you a fish, at times, is to try to resolve the present dilemma with you. To teach you to fish is to help you reach that place whereby resolution of this and many dilemmas will come. So it's not an undervaluing of the human situation which guides my choice of how I will work with you but rather it's a very deep trust and faith in you, that if I am able to help you to stably know this bigger picture, then you and your wisdom and compassion will come back to the human dilemma and resolve it.

There is more here. I would be glad to speak further on this if there is any wish from any of you.  Please know that I never disregard your pain, but only try to respond  in ways that seem most skillful to me. Please forgive me if I have caused pain to you in taking this approach. I pause.

Barbara: Is there anybody who wants to ask anything about this?

Q: Am I understanding that what's being said is, #1, that the response given is specific to the need of the questioner?

Barbara: I'm paraphrasing Aaron. He is saying yes, what he says to people is specific to the people. If there is somebody that he's talking to who is overly intellectual, trying to figure something out on an intellectual and ultimate level and in denial of the present experience, then he will do something very different. He will try to bring people's experience and mind back, he'll try to bring people back to the present experience. He'll over-emphasize the present experience. How are you feeling? What are you going to do? What is the reality in this moment? But he's saying, for most of us, we're overly caught up in, What am I going to do? What is happening? How will I fix it? And so he tries to de-emphasize that by guiding us the other way. Does that answer your question? Are there other questions?

Q: Just a statement that I hear and understand the wisdom of that and sometimes it is frustrating because I want to figure out the details of the present thing.

Barbara: Aaron says, but if he goes along with that desire, then he gets involved in the story with you and supports your involvement in the story. Where if you come to the big mind, the story will resolve itself.

Q: I agree. It's just frustrating.

Barbara: He understands. He asks, can it just be frustrating? That's part of the human experience too. What is the direct experience of “frustrating”? Questions?

Q: We have much more psychological knowledge in the west about the specifics of the development of the human from infancy through childhood and later development. I think this knowledge is new to the human race in this form, at least. Sometimes I wonder if the old formulations from Buddhism of a thousand years ago may need to be looked at in the light of this knowledge, and some new forms developed now for this age.

Barbara: Aaron asks, can you give an example?

Q: In the holotropic breathwork that Grof does, there is a conscious return to some of the fearful situations of early development. I wonder if knowing of these possibilities as likely to be important for many persons, that an approach that consciously permits or even encourages access to these experiences might be more helpful than traditional vipassana practice. These are areas that are not a formal part of vipassana practice.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question, K. As we work with students in vipassana, we see a certain progression develop. At first people are very caught in the contents of their stories. This investment in the contents may go on for just a few months or for many years. It has nothing to do with the spiritual maturity of the individual.  There needs to be a certain spaciousness, a certain release from fear and tension before one can move into the next phase of practice which is more an observation that these various discomforts arise and cease and arise and cease, are impermanent and not self. . Here there is more an awareness of the process than the contents.

For a variety of reasons, - I'm not going to go into this in detail here but I would be glad to speak to you about it personally, and perhaps it might be of importance in this upcoming psychology workshop -  for a variety of reasons, in certain areas of growth, some beings will stay very caught in the contents. They may be beyond deep investment in the contents in many areas of their lives but there is still one area that catches, usually an area where there is some very strong karmic distortion  or misunderstanding. One way or another, some of this has got to be resolved. It may be resolved in therapy. It may be resolved using  some of the other modes of experience made available, such as Breathwork. For some  it can be resolved within the vipassana practice itself. But for some the old patterning of fear, holding, confusion, may be too strong and it can more easily be opened up a bit through use of other tools.

These tools are not essential to the vipassana practice. If one only had the vipassana practice, eventually this would be opened. But bringing in these other tools  supports resolution of investment in the story, and allows the movement into the second phase of practice to flow more easily.  I want to make it clear vipassana practice is not incapable of doing this but sometimes a different tool temporarily is more useful . But it must be understood that tool is to do a certain piece of work in support of the vipassana practice.

We are talking about liberation which occurs in different ways. Some liberation from suffering is still liberation and is helpful although it is not yet complete liberation. The Buddhist teachings and vipassana practice will lead to that complete liberation and not just to more comfort. More comfort may enable one to move deeper into the practice.

As resolution occurs about these long-held distortions, so that there is more freedom from the stories themselves, more freedom from the objects that arise, then the shift to a deep resting in awareness of the nature of all conditioned experience becomes more stable. For some beings this stable shift can happen in areas in one's life that are not blocked and then it's not necessary to investigate all the areas that are blocked, only to understand the possibility of watching the process, not getting invested personally in the stories. When the practice becomes stable, one can then bring it into the blocked areas.

So you can work with it either way, through moving into this deeper phase of practice, stabilizing it and then coming back to that which is blocked, and watching how investment in the stories has happened in this particular area. It could be an area such as fear one's needs won't be met, leading to greed, clinging, and so forth. Or, one can work directly with the fear and clinging or whatever was blocked using approaches such as you talked about, using therapy, using Breathwork, until it begins to open. It will be different for each individual.

My first choice is to find those areas where there is opening into this wisdom mind, to build upon and stabilize those, and then to use that stability, wisdom, compassion, that ability to rest more in Pure Awareness mind,  and bring that back to the areas which are blocked, which may open very quickly in the light of that wisdom. It's a much cleaner way to do it when it works because one doesn't risk the danger of repeatedly recycling the old stories.. But if there is no stability then one has to go directly to the old stories with as much skill as is possible not to re-enervate them, but to use those tools which help provide resolution. Sometimes metta or tonglen can be helpful here, or forgiveness meditation. For some people where there's a lot of anxiety and restlessness,  we recommend a prostration practice, for example, or simply a lot of walking practice. The object is to provide balance. It's very individual. Do you wish me to speak further on this, K, or is this sufficient? I pause.

Q: That was very clear.

Barbara: It's time to stop; let's sit for a few minutes.  

silent meditation

May all beings be free from suffering (Bell)

May all beings be happy.  (Bell)

May all beings everywhere find perfect peace. (Bell)