May 3, 2000

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. We've been talking for several weeks about right effort and why you create a sense of urgency in your lives, urgency to which you respond with a contracted effort. I mentioned that urgency, the whole concept and experience of urgency, can be almost an addiction. Let's look a bit deeper at this and about what the alternatives are.

Please visualize a scene with me. You are walking in a dark cave, a vast subterranean string of passageways, unmapped. You have both a lantern and torch and you're an experienced explorer. There's a sense of joy, then. Caution, wisdom, but joy, in your exploration.

As you move around a sharp corner, suddenly the ground gives way beneath you and you begin to slide. You drop your lantern, you drop your torch; your hands reach out trying to grab some surface to try to stop the slide. You find yourself falling literally into space and then splash! You are in cold water. (Pause) Deep water. Moving water. There is no light at all. (Pause) You have a sense from the sound of the echoes that you're in a large chamber. There is a very strong current. There is no sound of rapids or falling water. The first thought might be gratitude that you've landed safely, no broken limbs, but almost immediately upon its heels comes fear. You can't see the hole through which you fell; there's no light. (Pause) People know you are in this cavern but they don't expect you out until the end of the day. You've broken a primary rule and come caving alone.

So here you are in the water. You first try to reach out to feel if there are sidewalls. You put your feet down to see if you have any footing. There is nothing to be felt anywhere. (Pause) You begin to swim across the current until finally you come up against a stone wall, but there is nothing for a purchase for hands or feet. (Pause) The current is still moving you and you begin to bat at the wall, pawing it with your hands, trying to find some projection. Finally there's a bit of a handhold and you grab it, just a small projecting rock. It's not big enough to stand on. And where would you go if you did stand on it?

What are you going to do?

What I request of you here is to feel how there would be a tension: wanting to hold on, wanting to climb out, wanting to be safe. Everything in you cries out to escape. (Pause) With danger, our first thought is to control it in some way. It may be fighting; it may be fleeing; it may be controlling in some other way, to be safe.

This is a very ancient habitual pattern for all of you. I would not call it instinct. It is learned behavior. In many situations it has served you well. But perhaps here in the underground river it's not a useful pattern. What are you going to gain even if you find a small place to pull yourself up? You have no light, no idea where you are. In your visualization, I want you to feel this situation as best you can. (Pause)

Now, I am there with you. You don't know I'm there until a soft voice says, "Let go." Maybe it's not even me, maybe it's your own wisdom speaking. "Let go."

One does not abandon fear by choking off fear with the idea, "I will not feel fear," as a command that stifles fear. One abandons fear by noting the reactivity to fear and abandoning that reactivity, knowing it is not wholesome, not good. One abandons fear by turning to the open heart, by turning to that which is inherently unafraid. This place of absence of fear is not to be confused with foolhardiness which is just another voice of fear. Not to be confused with brash mock bravery. Rather, it's a surrender. Within this letting go there is no resignation. You are not saying simply, "I guess I will drown." You are saying, "Here I am. All I can do is to be fully present. If any exit access appears I can be ready to follow it. For instance, if the river carries me past a place where I see light streaming in, then I can act to see if I can access that exit." It's a surrender into things just as they are. If there's darkness, there's darkness. If the water is icy then it's icy. If it's unpleasant then it's unpleasant. There's no denial at all. But there is a sense of trust of your situation. It's not a trust that says blindly, "Of course I'll survive this." Maybe you won't. Rather, it's a trust that says, "I will be present with whatever happens and just see how it works out because there's nothing else that can be done right now. The only gift I have here is mindfulness and this loving heart, a willingness to be present."

Feel how this would be. Wisdom's voice says, "Let go." Let yourself fall into the current. Give a slight push back from the wall so you are midstream and won't strike against the wall. Float. If you're a non-swimmer, imagine that you've got some kind of buoyant device attached to your belt and blow it up. This is not about swimming ability, it's about surrendering yourself to the current but without resignation.

I want you to feel just how that might be, how it would feel to do that. Unknown; it's an uncharted cave, you don't know where this river will take you. Perhaps it will flow out. Maybe; maybe not. Unknown. (Pause)

This tensionless effort, present with things as they are, is what we call right effort. Fear, the sense of urgency, tension, desire to control-these are all very natural conditioned responses for the human. It's not bad that you experience these, but who's in charge? Is fear in charge or is your heart in charge?

It's not too much different a situation than if you're outdoors meditating when suddenly you feel a tickling on your arm and open your eyes to see a bee. Fear says, "Swat it away." The heart says, "This is how it is right now. There's a bee on my arm." For some of you, you won't like that. Others of you might be delighted. But for those of you who don't like it, watch how that contraction comes up, but fear is not the boss. You don't swat at the bee, you just sit. You've all learned how to do that. Bee, snake, rat, whatever might discomfort you. Come back to the breath. Find the innate spaciousness which can make room for fear and relates to it with compassion.

All of you have explored, to some degree at least, the workings of karma. Karma is very specific. In this situation, falling into the underground river, the karma is not so likely to be about drowning, that's incidental. What you have the opportunity to uncover here is the habitual tendency with fear. Both anusaya (habitual tendency) and the asava (outflow) or habitual path of expression of that tendency. Perhaps you do surrender and do float along in the current. Then, five, seven minutes later you feel something slither past your leg. Eyieee! A snake! A muskrat! Who knows. Some underwater creature. Terror comes up again. Again the reminder, "This is how things are right now." Each time fear returns, it's not a problem, it's an opportunity to go deeper, and opportunity for practice. It really is liberation itself if you are able to be with fear and see in fear that which is fearless.

Each time you relax and come back to the present, you are shifting the old karma, the old habitual tendency with fear. If you have not fallen into an underground river but rather have fallen into an unpleasant situation where people around you are angry at you and blaming you, the same habitual tendencies you exhibited in the river will come up in this situation. Looking for a hand or foothold; looking to escape; looking for someone to blame. An unwillingness to be with the situation as it is. River or current of human anger, fear does not have to be in control and each time you see that you create a different habitual tendency, a much more wholesome habitual tendency.

There is a Buddhist sutra in which the Buddha said-we recite it without a precise translation: "Abandon the unwholesome. You can abandon the unwholesome. If it were not possible I would not ask you to do it. If such abandonment created suffering, I would not ask you to do it. But such abandonment leads you to happiness and freedom; therefore I say, abandon the unwholesome. Cultivate the wholesome. If it were not possible I would not ask you to do it. If such cultivation led to suffering, I would not ask you to do it. But such cultivation leads you to happiness and to liberation, therefore I ask you, cultivate the wholesome."

Consider these words and the confused approach people have to these instructions. If I ask you to abandon your effort to grab at the rock wall in this deep cavern, that doesn't mean I come along with a stick and hit you with it saying, "No! Bad!" How can you abandon that effort? To cultivate the wholesome is literally the way you abandon the unwholesome. There has got to be an understanding of what is wholesome and unwholesome, what is skillful and unskillful. All of you have that understanding.

To abandon anger is simply to willingly turn one's mind to seeing the situation clearly and allowing the expression of innate compassion. Many of you have worked with me with the Brahma Vahara practices, these "heavenly abode" practices: lovingkindness, sympathetic joy, compassion and so forth. When you are present without fear, compassion is there. Lovingkindness is there. To cultivate the wholesome means to allow that which gives rise to the wholesome, which is presence. The willingness to see things as they are. The nurturing of faith. Deepening wisdom.

Some of you come to me and you say, "Aaron, I want specific instructions: what do I do first? What do I do second? What do I do third?" And of course, I can't tell you that. It depends what's happening. It depends where you are. If you're in the river, you've got to let go and float. If you come to a place where you see light streaming through then you've got to reach out, not grasping, but opening to this exit, allowing yourself to make contact with the wall, just to climb out. Floating on the surface and climbing out both require effort. Your heart will tell you which one is appropriate.

Returning to this other stream, the situation where many people are angry at you: sometimes just floating there in the experience of their anger is what's needed. You must be present with any sense of shame that may come up or your own anger, sadness, feeling abandoned or betrayed; if it's unpleasant, know it's unpleasant. Just resting there. Just this experience and then a moment later, just the next experience. But this quiescence does not mean that you do not respond. Like our river-floater, who must make the same effort to climb out when he sees light, if in this situation where people are blaming you the blame turns to real abuse, the same effort that allowed you to be present with them, hear their pain, feel your own pain without fear or if there is fear, without reaction to fear-that same effort knows when to say no. It comes from the same clear space.

All of this is nurturing the wholesome. For those of you who are familiar with the Theravadin scriptures, there are so many different lists-factors of enlightenment, perfections, spiritual faculties-all of these different strengths which you may cultivate, and teachings on how to cultivate these. People ask me, "Which ones are most important?" They're all important. But none of them is more important than any other. Balance is what's important.

When there is doubt, let it teach you faith. When there is greed, let it teach you generosity. When there is anger, let it teach you kindness. When there is confusion, let it teach you clarity. I say "let it teach you," but the process is more reminder than instruction, reminder to come home to these innate lovely qualities, to cherish and nurture them.

To abandon the unwholesome is to take that confusion, doubt, anger, greed, whatever it may be, and as if it were a hot coal burning your hands, to know, "I am not going to get stuck in this." It's a very kind statement. Right here is the beginning of metta. Floating down the river, feeling the enormous fear and how much you want something to hold on to: metta becomes that to which you may hold. Kindness opens. A genuine kindness for yourself, acknowledging the intensity of fear, acknowledging the intensity of physical discomfort if the water is icy; not maudlin sentimentalism but genuine kindness.

The kindness is like a small torch. It begins to light up the chamber. Slowly the possibility of letting go and floating becomes more real. We abandon the unwholesome by literally turning to the wholesome. Here is where effort is required. If a thousand times you have done it one way and it hasn't worked, you would think that the thousand and first time you would know it's not going to work. At some level you know that but the force of habit is so strong, no matter how many times you've done it in an unskillful way, habit still calls to you. Effort, then, is the effort to know what has not worked, what has not been skillful, to make the decision, "Even though intense fear or discomfort are present, I am not going to get hooked into the old pattern. I don't know what I am going to do, but I'm not going to bloody my hands and feet trying to climb a wall to nowhere. I will only die that way."

In many ways this decision is the hardest part of it. Try to feel this, how once you've made this decision and push yourself off from the wall and are floating in mid-stream, you can more easily say no to all those little voices of terror, all the little stories. "What if the stream goes into an airless passage? What if it goes over a waterfall or drops me onto rocks?" The stories are going to come up. That's another thing to which you can learn to say no. We say no to the stories simply by seeing how the stories have arisen, and resolving, "I am not going to get caught in the content, storytelling." This is one of the ways mind reacts to fear. Come back to the breath, come back to spaciousness.

A formal recitation of metta could be helpful but you don't really need that. The willingness to let go of what has not worked, to let go of the fear-based reaction, in itself is metta.

And so you float, unknowing. You float along in the river. You float along in a physical illness. You float along in the wake of somebody's rage at you. You respond appropriately. You are prepared to swim toward any light you may see. You take your medicine. You say no if someone becomes abusive. You are cultivating the wholesome. That is your response to the grip of the unwholesome. Slowly it does lose its grip: you create a new habit. Within this new habit of kindness, of spaciousness, of presence, you begin to understand what I meant when I said that right there in greed is generosity. Right there in anger or hatred is lovingkindness. You don't have to look elsewhere for it. You don't stomp out the greed, and when you finally kill greed, then you find generosity. Right there in greed, if you go into the fears deeply, "I will be hurt; my needs won't be met; there won't be enough for me," right there in that greed, when it is met with an open heart, with presence and spaciousness, right there you are being generous, you are practicing generosity to yourself. It is cultivating this innate generosity which defeats greed, not rage at greed nor judgment of it.

Right there in the moment when people are blaming you, surrounding you at work, all of them angry, and your own anger is also strong, acknowledging the presence of anger in all of you, presence, spacious, with kindness, right there is lovingkindness. You don't have to kill the anger. The anger will go when the conditions are no longer present for it. The anger, the greed, any of these "unwholesome" mind states, they are results. Don't get stuck in the results, look at the conditions. As you attend to the conditions, the results will fade.

Let us return to this question of urgency with which we started. We can use the metaphor of wanting to climb the wall of the underground river. Use this as a metaphor for urgency. There is a difference between urgency and panic. I'm not talking about panic, although sometimes urgency may verge on panic.

We talked several weeks ago about why you might create a constant stream of seemingly urgent situations in your lives. We talked about the nature of urgency. Fear-based urgency is truly an addiction because when you react to that feeling of fear-based urgency in the habitual ways, you become a somebody doing something, thinking you are moving yourself back into control and safety. Can you see how it could be? After half an hour of just floating down this river, you see the current picking up a little. Noting the new speed, suddenly the obsessive mind begins again. The stories come up, "I ought to try the wall again." That thought came up because with the gradual speeding up of the current you felt a bit helpless. If you are not present with that feeling of helplessness and able to see it as it arises, able to be kind with that feeling of helplessness, then your energy contracts around it, and the first thing that happens is the idea, "I must climb out now." A kind of urgency. "I've got to get away."

I would request you to watch this pattern in your lives. If you find yourself in a place where the energy field is contracted, not tensionless, and mind starts to spin, "How will I control this? How will I fix it?" simply note it as tension, contraction. Ask yourself, "Can I push off from this wall and float in the stream a bit? Can I come back to the Fearless and the Ever-safe?" If you're not feeling the least bit safe, simply know that. In that kind observation of fear is the spaciousness which begins to give you access to this Ever-safe.

Tensionless effort. I want to end this talk with a description of a story this instrument read some years ago and which for her has served as a very beautiful metaphor for right effort. She does not recall nor do I the source, but it was written by a dharma practitioner who was also a medical attendant practicing in a third world country. He took very seriously his vow of non-harm to all beings. He came to the service of a man who had a very bad wound in his leg, which wound was infested with maggots. The dilemma: the wound has got to be cleansed or it can't heal. This person's life will be in danger. But he can't kill the maggots. He described how he very gently lifted them off with a small wooden stick. He couldn't use a tweezers, that would pinch and kill them. He deposited them all in a bowl, to be safely brought out where they might continue their own lives without harming another. Some were deep. They had to use small probes and lift them out, all the while mindful that he might cause his patient pain.

Think about that kind of effort. Fully present with the man with the cut and the great pain he was in, fully present with these small beings.

He can't choose one over the other. Imagine how present, gentle, kind and careful one would need to be. But as soon as there's tension, you're going to cause pain. Can you do this surgery relaxed, tensionless? So this is a metaphor I want to give you for tensionless effort. We'll talk more about it. I thank you for your attention. Please enjoy your break. That is all.


K1: Aaron said that tension is a learned behavior, it is not our natural instinct but rather a learned behavior. So what would be our natural instinct in that situation?

Barbara: If we had never learned tension, what would we do in a difficult situation?

K1: Yes. We often hear about some reaction being an instinct, but what really is our natural instinct?

Aaron: I am Aaron. The whole identification with the ego and body as self is a learned behavior. If you had never learned this, and of course there is no human who has not learned it, but if you had never learned it, your natural state would be one of presence, kindness, clarity, without identification to a self in any ultimate sense. Resting in that natural self, in that natural being, one observes the body, observes the mind, observes the ego, understands that these are tools that are useful to the incarnation. The skandhas are not "self" but one cannot be incarnate without them!

It's a simple question. There's a screw loose on the closet door. I give one of you a screwdriver. You tighten the screw. Now what are you going to do with the screwdriver? Are you going to carry it until the next screw is loose? How do you get so attached to it? (Laughter) You begin to think that it's part of your arm, you can't put it down. It was a useful tool; when the use is finished, you put it down. The natural state does not own the ego or the body. It picks it up when it's appropriate and then puts it back down. I pause.

Barbara: Will you share what is funny with this!

K1: He used the metaphor of a screwdriver, for example when a screw is loose on a closet door, one might pick up a screw driver. Just before we began tonight I was fixing the screw on the closet door over there, and was wishing I had a screwdriver with me because I usually carry one on my Swiss army knife in my bag, and I do not have my bag so I used my fingers. Anyway, Aaron said that identification with our body and our ego are like tools that we can use and then put down, and that when a person is finished fixing the closet door they do not carry the screwdriver around in their hand waiting for another closet door to need attention, they put it down.

R: Stanislav Grof talks a great deal about the birth process, how the birth canal is the no-exit state because you can't go back and the mother isn't open yet. So it's usually a time of great pain and suffering for the infant. Then there needs to be, apparently, a tremendous push for it to get through, finally for it to get born. Apparently we repeat that pattern over and over again any time there's a new birth, a transition, you go through a period when you can't go back and you don't know the opening yet. There's a time of great confusion and pain. I'm wondering how you would interpret this in terms of no tension in the situation where the child when it's born is in such great danger of dying and being choked. (A number of the sangha, including several present tonight, attended a holotropic breathwork workshop with Stan Grof last weekend).

Aaron: I am Aaron. What I speak of is not "no tension" but "tensionless tension." Let's take this back a step. You are drawn into the birth experience by karma but there is also some agreement to participate in this experience of incarnation or you would never have moved into a first incarnation. The whole process of becoming is one of determination to evolve. Agreed, you're already perfect, so ultimately there's nothing to evolve to. In a sense what you are evolving to is the ability to express that perfection even when there are difficulties that might make you want to withdraw into fear, reactivity and negative thinking.

Once one has taken the first step-that first moment of self-awareness long before the human experience begins-once you take that first step, it's like a fetus coming into the birth canal. You've made a decision and there's only one way out. You are not incarnating for comfort or convenience, you are incarnating … you can phrase it in several ways: to resolve old karma, to find liberation, to learn, to grow. But at a very deep intentional level there is a goal, and that goal, that primary purpose, is not to be comfortable.

The fetus moves into this experience. The play of habitual tendency in this birth experience plus its old conditioning will further its conditioning. It may meet many different kinds of circumstances. For example, the birth process can be very difficult or relatively easy. The mother can be very sensitive to the fetus' distress or very self-involved with her own distress. In general, through a number of births, you're going to get a number of different experiences. These birth matrices are accurate. But they are not making a statement, "Because that happens, this must then happen." For one fetus there is great discouragement and feeling of helplessness if the passage is difficult. For another it comes as a challenge and there's a sense of joy and wonder as it emerges. For one human, a very physically devastating physical illness like cancer or AIDS can lead to helplessness and despair, and for another it can be the source of tremendous healing and growth.

One must consider this birth process, then, in terms of a prior conditioning which A) determines the nature of the present experience, and B) the present karma which also determines the nature of the present experience. While the birth process may bring up tremendous fear, helplessness, pain, it does not necessarily teach you to shift off into this scrabbling at the walls. Actually the metaphor of the fetus and our river metaphor are very close. Through many births the fetus may grab at the walls and panic, and then it develops a way of understanding its process. "I've been here before." It lets go. That doesn't mean it ceases to work towards its emancipation but it does that from a place not of fear any more but of confidence. The confidence can be there long before there is any light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. It's not confident because it feels itself emerging, it's confident because it understands, "I don't have to do it the old way," even if it doesn't remember past birth experiences. This is the shift in karma. What you practice here as you learn how to float through that river without scratching at the walls, it's going to change your next birth experience entirely, because when you come back into the womb tunnel, all of your practice will not desert you but will be very accessible to you, which will change the birth experience.

One of the benefits of this Breathwork practice is that people have the opportunity to practice a different birthing experience, a different way of being with that terror and helplessness. To let go and float down the river, pushing where it's useful, attending but not panicked. Then you bring that knowledge back to your everyday life and see the metaphor of the rebirth experience throughout all of the issues of daily life, which in turn conditions the next actual birth experience, better allowing the practice of tensionless tension. Does this answer your question? I pause.

Barbara: Questions?

K2: What does Aaron see is the group energy that goes on at a Breathwork session? And how is that a part of the process?

Aaron: I am Aaron. There's a great variety of energy patterns. Some people are very stuck, very frightened. Some people are very open and clear. Within most of the group there is a very loving intention to use this experience in positive ways and for the good of all beings. I think people get what they need, K2. There is all this energy filling the room. People seem to tune in on what they most need. Those who need to go deeper into the experience of pain, fear, helplessness, pick up on the energy of those who are screaming, pained, helpless and frightened around them, and it intensifies their own process. I would not say that's good or bad. In some ways it confronts them with their fear because all of the fear in the room is their fear. There is an equal amount of positive, clear energy in the room but they may not be able to access it because it doesn't mirror what's happening in them. Those who are feeling very positive and finding a great clarity in this process are undoubtedly picking up the clear energy in the room which mirrors their own present process. So, it's all there. I see it rather as a great smorgasbord. There's spicy food and bland food, meat and vegetarian food, vegetables, fruits, nuts, cheese. Whatever people need they will take. I pause.

Barbara: I am paraphrasing him, he says I raised the concern that people were being assailed in some ways by the frightened energy of others, and he said if that's not useful to them it will just slip past them. That if they need to experience it they will. He said he agreed with my statement that putting it in a vipassana container would be helpful. Noting the different levels of energy, if one felt oneself assailed by negative energy in the room or fear-based energy, one might look at how that happened, why was one attracted to that, knowing that there are various choices. So that there are certain investigations that become useful.

K2: Aaron's description corresponded closely to my experience. I would hear screaming at times close to me but it was just a mild background at the time. Other times the same kind of screaming would really touch what was going on in me.

Barbara: It's a fascinating process …

B: I've just gone through a very tumultuous experience. I don't know if you remember me but I came to you with some questions many years ago. Since then my husband has met with a sudden death. I feel somewhat guilty about this happening. We were always a very unconscious couple. I did not know how to improve our ability to relate. This needed to be worked on long ago. We married many, many years ago. Now I'm wondering, what was really the cause of his death?

Barbara: May I ask you how he died?

B: (Due to the intensely personal nature of what was shared, and that it was so recent, the details have been omitted. She and her husband were speaking of divorce and debating child custody, so there was tension between them. In his work a vehicle hit an electric wire and started a fire. He tried to move it and was electrocuted. Someone tried to help him but he waved them away, his dying action; that person still tried to help and was injured.)

Barbara: This must have been a very terrible experience. I can't begin to imagine what you've been through. Was it recent?

B: March 22.

Barbara: Let Aaron talk.

Aaron: I am Aaron. My deepest condolences to you for this very difficult pain that you have needed to endure. First, I want to make it clear, you are not responsible for your husband's death. Even if he was angry at you, no matter what you might have said or done, he made his own choices. Sometimes in moments of stress, we do not respond in the most careful and logical way. It's not necessarily a fear-based reaction. I think your husband was a hero even though he acted in a way which was not skillful and which brought about his death. I think his intention in going back to the truck was a fear that somebody would be harmed, that he needed to be responsible and lower this thing, so he didn't think it out, he just moved. He didn't stop to consider. It's like the person who dashes out into the street to pull a baby out of traffic because a truck is coming and will hit it. That person doesn't think, "I could be killed," and measure the consequences. The person just knows, "I need to act." In that way your husband was a hero. So I very much disagree with what people have told your children about it being a senseless death.

No sudden, traumatic death is other than senseless. We can't say, what is the meaning of this death? But it was not a senseless death in being a "stupid" act. Rather, it was a very heroic act, and I hope that you can impart that to your children because it's very important that they honor their father in this way and do not have their own grief compounded with anger that he did something stupid; that idea would further their sense of abandonment and anger at him. It's also important that your children note that it's okay if they feel angry and abandoned. In some ways it may be easier for them to feel that anger if they're told it was stupid. But I cannot go along with that misinterpretation because they have the strength to work it through and resolve their anger and grief, and also to honor. So, you are not responsible, and his choice was perhaps unthought through, but was based on a heroic desire of service to beings, of wishing non-harm to beings.

As for the other man, I hear in you some anger about his choices, talking about suing you and so forth. He is where he is. One does not say this is right or wrong, only this is where he is, working with his own confusion, his own pain. It would be a violation of his privacy for me to tell you more about his situation or his involvement with the truck. I cannot open the Akashic records and violate a being's privacy in that way. I don't think you need to know this. The resolution you seek is not in figuring out how things should have been or what happened so much as opening your heart to the agony of everybody involved. Just as your husband's act was heroic, this man's act was heroic. That much I can say, there was intention to save your husband. That he failed does not demean the intention. Just as your husband's intention had various motivators, this man's intention had various motivators, but I do not see it primarily as ego seeking attention. That that came to him does not mean that that was the primary motivation for his act. I think there was an authentic concern and belief that he could help.

As you seek resolution for this, B, I hope you will work deeply and continuously with a very simple lovingkindness meditation. "Breathing in, I am aware of my pain. Breathing out, may I have release from pain. Breathing in, I am aware of the pain of all beings; breathing out, may all beings find freedom from pain and suffering." Don't get complex with it, stay right there with whatever anger, pain, grief, whatever is predominant. Breathing in and acknowledging the experience of it in you. Breathing out with the heartfelt wish, "May I be free of suffering."

You are going to move through a process of anger, grief, guilt. You must be very kind to yourself and very gentle with yourself, and you must trust you did not cause his death. I pause.

B: I feel a lot of grief that I could never help make a breakthrough in the way we interacted. I lost sight of his initial sense of goodness. We had very primitive ways of interacting and not much intimacy. I wish I could have worked on myself more and not seen the whole problem as the marriage.

Aaron: I am Aaron. This brings us back to my opening talk. Right effort. Grief can become a force in which you drown yourself. Berating yourself, building up more and more anger at yourself, so many "I shoulds." But grief can also be a great teacher. Through the loss of this opportunity to open yourself in ways that you now wish you had, this is where you begin to find the motivation to confront that in the self which has previously been closed because of fear. It's a reminder, "I don't have to stay that closed. I am determined not to continue this kind of pattern in my life." So it becomes a tremendous motivation for opening. It's not going to be quick or easy. It may seem so gradual that you can hardly see it. The first step is forgiveness of yourself, not that there's anything to forgive. I'm not saying you did wrong. But you have blamed yourself.

Imagine there was a child who falls off a dock into a lake, and immediately the wind and current sweep him some distance from the dock. You are a total non-swimmer. There's no pole or life buoy or other object with which you can grasp the child or which you can extend to the child, there's nothing: the only thing you could do is jump in the water, and you can't do it. This isn't bad. One can't say that person's life is worth more than yours. One certainly can't say both of you should drown. There's a certain wisdom, "There's nothing I can do here."

However, if you thought yourself to be a non-swimmer, this was your idea, but in reality at some level you recognize, "I have doggy-paddled through the water, I can float and tread water and know I can support myself in water," then what is limiting you is that old concept, "I am a non-swimmer." It pushes away the swimming lessons you took last year. So fear blocks out the truth.

The first time you freeze up like that, the person who fell off the dock may drown. You can go either way with that, deeper into self-hatred or into the resolve, "I am going to take more swimming lessons. Really strengthen my swimming skills, even take a life-saving course. And I am going to remind myself on a daily basis, 'I can swim.'" Then the drowning is not a waste, in the sense that it has taught you something valuable. Who knows how many other lives you may save all because of this one situation of drowning. So take this grief and use it as a motivation to open yourself to investigate, to find your own innate goodness, strength and clarity. Dedicate your work to your husband. Offer it to him as a final gift. At some level he will receive it. I pause.

Barbara: Are there other questions here? It's 10 of, I want to give some other people a chance to ask.

K3: My question is about pain. It seems a lot of the challenges I face from time to time are in my relationship to pain of one sort or another. Sometimes it's hard to keep pain in perspective and it seems as though it shouldn't exist. And yet I know that pain can teach me about compassion. Does Aaron have more that he could say about pain?

Aaron: I am Aaron. K3, my first response here is that I think you are in some ways confusing pain and suffering. So I want to talk a bit about that. There is going to pain in human experience. The body has nerve endings. Pain is frequent. I won't say constant, but frequent. There is emotional pain. You can't keep what you want. Good things happen and you can't hold onto them. Loved ones come and then they leave. And you can't keep away that which you don't want. These things are all painful. Mental pain, emotional pain, physical pain. But this is not suffering.

Suffering comes from your relationship to your experience of pain and to the catalysts for pain. When there is something cherished that you want to hold on to, and there is a deep pain because you lose it, that's pain. If the mind is spinning and saying, "How could I change it? How could I fix it?" is grasping at some way to control the situation so that you can hold on to that which is pleasant, that's suffering. When there is an acute pain or even a minor pain in the physical body, that's pain. The tension around the pain, thinking, "I've got to control, fix, change this," that's suffering.

A first step for you then is to begin to distinguish more clearly the difference between pain and suffering. I have observed in you occasionally an arising of some pain, and your ability to be spacious with it, sometimes. No, I have not sat in your back pocket and watched you for hours, just here in the room, seeing a small energy expression of pain come up in you and attending to that for a moment. I've seen that you have the ability to be spacious with it. But then mind clamps down and says, "I can't deal with this." This is when you start scrambling at the walls of the underground river. Then you're suffering.

The primary practice I can recommend to work with this is just noting, "suffering." Feel it as the contraction in the belly or the throat, wherever your body holds it. For you it's often the jaw. Tension, contracting, grasping, suffering. Get to know that movement into suffering and see how grasping and desire to control are predominant. It's as if there was a flame on a candle and you said, "No, the flame is too bright, it's bothering me." Painful. And then you reach out with your hand to extinguish the fire. The more you hold the fire, the worse the pain, you're suffering thinking you have to put out the fire. This pain, be it physical, emotional, or mental-can you just let it be? Watch this closely and see how the decision, "I'm not going to burn myself on this pain. I'm not going to get so ensnared with the wanting mind trying to make it different. I'm going to give it space this time." See how that changes your ability to relate to the pain. You will see how even intense pain, grief, despair, physical pain, becomes much more workable. I will be happy to talk further about this. I know we are running short on time. I think it's a very important question and perhaps we can continue it next week if that feels useful to you.

My deepest thanks to all of you for your presence here, for the very sacred container you offer through all of your loving energy, in which beings may come together with these very deep and important questions and feel a safety to express their questions. As the questioner known as B spoke about the enormous grief and pain she had recently experienced, there was such a loving energy filling the room, it was very beautiful to watch it. Good night to you all, I wish you a good week. That is all.

Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Brodsky