March 21, 2001

(Many newcomers tonight.)

Aaron: Good evening, and my love to you all. I am Aaron. I would like to say to our new friends, I am spirit, you are spirit. I'm no one special. But I'm standing on a mountain top so I can see a bit farther. That is, I do not have a veil in front of my eyes that would prevent me from knowing my true being and yours.

Still, when I speak, I speak only from my own perspective. I do not present my thoughts as absolute truth, although certainly I find what I say to be true or I would not say it. But you must take these thoughts into yourself and ask, is this useful to you? If it is useful, fine, use it. If not, discard it.

We always must use our own heart and wisdom. Please do not try to figure out who I am or if I'm real. It doesn't matter. If you received an anonymous letter in the mail and it was very wise, you might wonder who had written it. But if it were wise and helpful, not knowing who wrote it would not prevent you from making use of those thoughts, of that guidance. Likewise if you got a letter from a famous person and what it said was nonsense, you'd throw it in the trash. So don't worry yourself too much about who I am or whether I'm real. Just relax and listen and reflect on whether it's of help or not.

I usually direct these talks to the most prevalent questions of the week. The question I have heard most this week is about what I would like to call the stew pot in which you live; a stew pot in which there are deeply loving thoughts and emotions and also very angry ones, both within the self and from others.

So many of you ask me, if I am committed to non-violence and non-harm, how can I say no to others even when they are rude to me? It's interesting. When there is outright abuse, many of you seem better able to say no to it than when the abuse is subtle. And yet, compassion requires you, truly requires you, to say no to abuse. To allow somebody to abuse you is not kind. To allow yourself to abuse yourself is not kind. How do we say no?

It gets trickier when the person to whom you must say no is a close relative or somebody with whom you work everyday, with whom there's an ongoing pattern already established. But you bring the same pattern, usually, to new relationships. The primary difficulty most people have is the confusion because thoughts and emotions existing simultaneously in the experience may be deeply kind and loving, be well-intentioned, and also, angry.

Anger is one voice of fear. When you're afraid you'll be hurt or your needs not met or somebody dear to you will be hurt, a certain energy arises in you that we often call anger. Please note that anger does not have to arise. There does come a point in your spiritual path where for the most part anger ceases to arise. But you are where you are. For most of you, anger still arises.

The arising of anger with painful catalyst is what we call possible conditionality. This is distinguished from necessary conditionality. If you are stung by a bee, it will swell and burn; that is necessary conditionality. You understand that is the nature of the human body meeting this little bit of toxin in the sting. 'When I am stung, it will burn and swell.'

You understand that because certain conditions were present, this localized skin reaction happened. If you had long sleeves or gloves on, the bee could not have stung you. If you had stayed indoors, the bee could not have stung you. If the bee was not in your vicinity and drawn, perhaps, by the apple you were eating, it would not have stung you. If you had not flailed at it, it may not have stung you. Because all these conditions were present, it stung you. Once there is the sting then there will be a certain necessary result. So you can see that some conditions give rise to a result in what we could call a conditional way. If A and B happen, then C may arise. If you're there with short sleeves and the apple and a little bit of fear that swats at the bee, and if the bee is present and angry or inquisitive, then the sting may arise. If the sting does occur, then burning will arise and anger may arise.

Let us further consider necessary conditionality. If the sting happens, there will be a skin reaction. It may be mild or severe but there will be some reaction. When you take birth, you will die eventually. Birth is a condition for which the necessarily outcome is death. When you take birth, if certain other conditions arise there may be suffering. Suffering is not a necessary condition of birth. Just because it usually happens doesn't mean it's necessary.

When somebody abuses you, anger need not arise. If somebody abuses you and if fear is present, and if there has not been sufficient prior investigation of fear in quiet meditation, you may feel overwhelmed by the fear and react, then anger must arise.

I'd like to look with you for a moment at the difference between anger and ill will. When anger arises, ill will need not arise. Ill will is very different than anger. Anger is a mind-body experience. It's a certain energy. It's very tense, contracted. Usually tumultuous. It can also be a frozen kind of energy, but that's more rare. It's unpleasant. Because it is unpleasant, the mind usually races to find a way out of the experience of anger. One of the habitual tendencies to escape this mind-body energy experience we call anger is to find somebody to blame it on. In other words, we try to burn up the energy. Another habitual tendency with anger is denial, suffocating the anger. Swallowing it.

It should be clear that if you swallow the anger, it's still there, like some kind of poison you have swallowed and which irritates the gut. It should be equally clear that when you practice your anger while looking for someone to blame, even the self, by stomping your feet and yelling, or even by feverishly searching for a solution to the situation, the anger is still there. It is still a force that must be considered.

If you were to run this slow motion as a movie film, frame by frame, you would see that at a certain point in the discomfort of this anger churning in your gut, or in the practice of the anger through vocalizing it, through control, manipulation, even through 'fixing,' the experience of it just gets more and more tense. There's no release of it at all. Then the mind, which was deeply tilted toward non-harm and kindness, begins to pick up more of an aversion. The aversion shifts from the unpleasant feelings inspired by what was said and done and by the arising of anger, to a desire to attack. Such desire to attack is not the anger itself. Anger is anger, desire to attack is desire to attack. Desire to protect the self is desire to protect. It is here that what we call ill will arises. That is, wishing somebody harm. Wishing them pain.

So anger has got to go very far before it turns into ill will, if there was no ill will present to start. There is all that opportunity to be present with the anger in skillful ways, to note the tendency to turn that anger into ill will. Ill will is not a necessary result of anger. Anger can be a catalyst for compassion. When somebody says something hurtful to you, if the mind is in the habit of jumping into a protected place, pulling out its knives and swords, ill will will arise. When the mind has trained itself to hear what another says without jumping to conclusions, 'He's bad. I'm bad. The situation is absolutely rotten,' or whatever conclusions there may be, then one can be present and know, 'This person is suffering. This person is angry, frightened, confused.'

Mind can be trained into that habit. It's not much different than the way you train a dog. If a few times while chained in his yard a dog has been teased, every time somebody comes along the dog will jump to the end of his chain and begin to growl and bark because he feels threatened. The mind that jumps to ill will has been conditioned that way. The wise dog owner will not go out and beat his dog when he's barking, that only makes the dog feel more threatened. He sees the dog growl and knows, 'My dog is feeling threatened or he feels our home is threatened.' And he will walk out very peacefully, sit down by the dog and call him over. Say, 'Shh, it's OK.' Perhaps wave to the passerby, speak to him and pat the dog. He will convey his own comfort and non-fear to the dog until the dog learns a new conditioned response to passersby and begins to wag his tail when people pass.

You can do it with your dog; why can't you do it with yourself? Are you more conditioned than your dog? Have you less ability to learn this? Of course not. But the dog has it easier because he doesn't think so much, he just reacts. But you, you get lost in your thoughts. 'What should I do? How should I relate? This is good, this is bad.' Judging, warring with the self. The dog doesn't do that. He barks or he wags his tail.

Now, I'm not suggesting we all turn into dogs, that's not the answer, because the dog does not have the power of intention towards the resolution of karma in that way as the human does. But each time you hear yourself 'bark,' can there be the same response? 'Ah, fear is present. Feeling threatened.' Watch yourself wanting to run to the end of your chain, snarl, leap on that abusive intruder and tear him to bits. Note, 'Feeling fear, feeling discomfort, feeling confusion.'

Here is kindness and mercy, the wonderful power of non-judgment and of love. You figuratively sit with yourself as you sat with the dog. You can scratch behind your ears if it helps but I think better is simply to come to your breath, to feel the strong energies in yourself. Helplessness, sorrow, confusion. A sigh, a deep breath, acknowledging, 'This is hard.' Acknowledging that impulse to get away from the difficult feelings by simply jumping to the end of your chain and snarling. Is it really what you want to do? No, I don't think so. Acknowledge the busy mind trying to find a way to control. Know it as 'busy mind' and cut the identity with it. Leave the stories.

Through this small bit of kindness, being present with your feelings without judgment, you open the doorway of compassion. Please note how I state that. You do not create compassion, it's already there. But it's walled in by fear and habit. You open the door. You can then begin to relate so much differently to difficult emotion.

Perhaps you can be with it the way you might choose to be with the bee sting. Are you going to go out and try and kill all the bees in the yard because this one stung you? Are you going to rage and stamp your feet? I think you'll simply acknowledge, 'Oh, this hurts. I wish this hadn't happened. I don't like this. I feel attacked by this bee. But I was holding an apple. To him that was dinner. And I batted at him, which to him was an aggressive movement. I must have been scared. He must have been scared.' And then compassion comes up for yourself and for the bee. There is still pain. There may still be anger.

We talk about right effort and right energy. Anger can actually be a wake-up force that inspires right effort or right energy. It pulls you out of lethargy. The question is not whether or not there is anger but what you do with the anger. How you relate to it. And following that, how you relate to the catalyst for the anger. So here you are looking at your hand and looking at the now dying bee on the table. What a price to pay for wanting a bite of that apple. Feel the pain, the throbbing in your hand, and think of the bee's pain as it lies there dying. Can you feel the possibility of compassion? Fear does not have to be gone for compassion to emerge. Fear has to be understood for what it is, for compassion to emerge. The fear will die away; it won't stay forever. But as soon as there's aversion to the fear and an aggression toward it, it gives fear energy. And then we shift from anger into ill will. Can you see how that happens in your own experience?

The interesting thing is that this kindness and good will is your essence. It's always there. On a cloudy day you can't see the sun but you know it's there. When there are choppy waves on the surface of the lake, you can't see the depths of the water but you know it's there.

Make the decision, then, with kindness and gentleness not to let yourself get away with becoming so absorbed in the clouds that hide the sun, so involved in the ripples and choppy water on the surface that you miss the depths.

Here we come to a different question. Why do so many of you want to deny the existence of this sun, metaphorically speaking? Why are so many of you so fixated on your own wickedness, the judgment you have of the various negative emotions, that you cannot allow yourself to see your goodness? It's a bit like wearing a suit of armor. If you're certain you're going to need to fight, then you definitely want to keep that armor on or you'll get cut to bits. But if you've made the decision, 'I will not fight,' then why would you need the armor? If you're not going to fight, somebody can stab you just as well with the armor as without. At a certain level, the ego has not yet decided, 'I'm not going to fight. I'm not going to rush into this barricade conditioned by fear.'

So what you're asking yourself to do here is quite difficult. It's really to stand naked, in a sense, totally open and vulnerable. It is so hard to do that. The habitual barriers keep coming up. You have thought they protected you but they also lock you in. And then you cry about loneliness and alienation. How can there be anything but alienation when each of you lives in his or her own prison?

At a certain point, one must begin to see what one is doing, to literally see oneself as the reactive dog snarling at the end of a chain, to literally see the prison. And you must realize, 'This hurts. This is not the way I choose to live.' There may be a sense of unknowing, then. 'What will come next? If I stop defending, stop attacking, what else is there? I don't know.' But right there in that 'I don't know' is the beginning of real growth. Right there, when the mind turns away from violence, from ill will, it's like the clouds parting so the sun peeks through. There is that hint of compassion.

It develops slowly, just as it might take many hours for the sun to burn through heavy mist. But you have realized by this point, 'I have a choice. I do not have to live this separation, fear, and the enactment of fear-based emotion.' This is a figure-ground kind of experience. Most of you have done this exercise with Barbara, looking at the fingers moving in front of the face. Eyes focused on the fingers. And then shifting the perspective, letting go of the fingers and looking through to see the background. The fingers keep moving. You let go of the background and come back to the fingers. At first it seems you must focus on one or the other, but with very little practice you learn that you can focus on the ground and still see the fingers move. Not fully in focus but not denied, either.

The finger here is anger and the catalyst for anger. It doesn't go anywhere, it just keeps weaving around in front of your eyes. But slowly you learn to touch that ground of compassion, of good will, of presence. It takes a while but you start to learn that it's dependable, that this heart of compassion is truly always there.

Now, let me offer a different metaphor. I think a rule I once read is one should not mix metaphors; I seem to be a master at mixing them and probably confuse some of you along the way, and I ask forgiveness. But I try to choose images that may help you to see it as I do.

This instrument has a small pond out back, a little man-made pond with a plastic liner. A lot of dirt settles into it through the winter and then she goes out with a strainer and digs up the muck and dirt. After a few passes through she's lifted many things from the bottom that fell there through the winter, and there's not much more on the bottom. The water is turbulent, no longer clear. Then she needs to pause and wait for it to settle. When the dirt she has stirred up settles, she can go back with her strainer, skim the bottom again and pick up more. Each time she goes after that dirt she creates turbulence. In a sense one could say she's giving energy to the dirt even if her attempt to remove it is loving.

The metaphor ends here but when you attack the negative emotions, it stirs up a turbulence so you lose track of the innate goodness. You just give more and more energy to the anger. When you develop enough space with the anger to note, 'Ah, here is anger. Curious,' perhaps aware or not aware of the conditions which gave rise to that anger, but, 'Here is anger,' then you are not giving it energy. You're not stirring it up. Then back to our figure-ground illustration. As the anger settles it's like the fingers becoming still; it's easier to see the ground, to see the kindness, to see the loving intentions to non-harm.

So what does all of this have to do with my proclaimed topic of living in the stew pot, living in the world in a compassionate way?

Only when you have done this groundwork, come to the point where you can acknowledge negative emotion, where you are not so afraid of it, don't jump to the end of your chain growling each time there is provocation, and then when instead of giving so much attention to the negative emotion it becomes a reminder to connect with the ground, to find that ground that's always there, only then can you truly begin to live your life in a compassionate way. These first two steps are necessary. Anyone who attempts to live in compassion without these first two steps is simply offering an imitation of compassion which sooner or later will trap that person because you cannot pretend to compassion, nor force compassion, any more than you can force the spring bulbs to bloom. Only when sun shines on them with warmth will they open.

Please turn the tapes.

(Tapes are turned.)

When the sun shines on them with warmth, they open. Those of you who are most confused may have a very deep aspiration to offer your energy with love but you have not yet learned how to relate lovingly to your own self and to these difficult emotions that arise. You may be avowed not to enact them but then you swallow them, deny them, control them, hate them, and it doesn't work. To acknowledge simply, 'Here is fear, pain, anger, shame, confusion.' Breathe with it a few times. If it's very difficult, know it's very difficult. This is what allows you to shift from the figure to the ground, from the anger to the compassionate heart that lies beyond.

And then you do not destroy the anger but transform the anger. It's energy. It's the energy from which you say no. 'No, you may not treat me like that.' 'No, it's not OK with me that you're late for lunch every time we meet. No, it's not OK with me that you say cruel things to me. No, it's not OK with me that you judge me constantly. No, it's not OK with me that you use me as a dumping ground for your anger.' But it's said with kindness. It's said with such a loving, open heart. 'My sister, my brother, my mother or father, my friend, I hear your pain. Please let us hold this pain together but do not dump it on me.'

Of course, in your daily life you can't say it in those words. But you can say it to the other person. 'I hear how angry you are. Could we talk about it in a calm way? When you attack me it makes it difficult for us to find a resolution.'

If the person continues to attack, you walk out. Not with rage and ill will but with kindness and with the statement, 'I will come back. We will try this again at a time when you're feeling calmer.' You make it clear that you are not going to be a dumping ground for others' ill will. And that's the kindest thing you can do in this world.

First, you must acknowledge your own fear, anger or other negative emotion. And you must learn how to open to the compassionate heart that's always there as a container for this difficult emotion. Unless you do that, you shift off into that necessary conditionality. In other words, the arising of anger is not a necessary condition for ill will. The unacknowledged and not understood arising of anger greeted with fear, barricaded, controlled, this is a necessary condition for the arising of ill will. No wonder then you feel trapped.

I would not go so far as to say it's simple, but it's not that hard. The simple starting place is your own judgment, be it self-judgment or judgment of others. Watch the quality of the mind, the texture of the mind, when judgment arises. Without getting into the story of the judgment and who was wrong or right, feel the texture: hard, contracted, hot, turbulent. Simply label it as 'contracted mind.' Tension. Don't buy into the stories. Go back to the direct experience of tension.

In other times, when there is coolness and spaciousness, bring awareness to it. You so often miss those states of tensionlessness, of space. Just note, when you're taking a walk and the sky is a clear blue as it was today, the sun warm, and you're very present with the beauty around you, just note, 'Presence. Spacious presence.' And feel the texture of your energy field, how open it is.

Just get to know these two experiences, that's the starting place. Then when the mind moves into that contracted space and you note it, right there in the noting is kindness. That which notes the anger, that awareness which notes the anger, is not angry. This is not a disassociation with the anger. Quite the opposite: you must be fully present with the emotion for this to work. Intimate with it. But not caught up in the stories.

Figure/ground; resting in the ground of being, in that innate spaciousness. Watch the anger with so much space that nothing needs to fix or control it. Be with it as you are with a wave coming up on the beach. What if you sat on the beach and each time a wave came you ran quickly to push it back into the ocean? It would be a terrible day. But there's space on the beach and you know the waves will come and go. You let them be. The waves of anger will come and go. Note them. Note the judging thoughts that may arise around them. Let it all be.

From that space, from that innate kindness, begin to practice at first in little ways. Practice it with yourself first. Watch the mind that wants to judge the situation and just say no. 'No, I'm not going to attack myself that way this time. No.' See how it feels. I call it 'putting down the sword.' Just take it that far. Because once you learn to do it with yourself it will feel very natural, slowly, to do it with others. And it is the greatest gift you can give the world, this, what I call dynamic compassion, which doesn't let itself be steamrolled by others' emotion. It also is not reactive but is the actualization of the innate compassionate heart. This compassionate heart is not a dead thing, it's alive! It's alive. It participates in the world. Get to know it. It is an extraordinarily beautiful part of your being. Get to know it.

I thank you for this opportunity to share my thoughts. I would be happy to answer your questions after you stretch a bit. I pause.

K: Could Aaron speak about the sense of connection to spirit, to a strength beyond our human limits, as a part of coming to love and compassion? I sense for myself it is a necessary part of this.

Barbara: … Aaron says, how do you define spirit? Are you talking about your own inner truth? Or are you talking about external beings?

K: Whatever it is, I experience it as beyond what I can know in human terms.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question, K. Proof of the tender heart is all the barricades you put around. If the heart wasn't tender in the center you wouldn't try to barricade it. When you open to this tender heart, when the barricades fall and you come to this place I've called naked, you find that the heart that you touch is no longer your heart but The Heart, this heart we all share. Of course, on the physical level you each have a human heart, and on the mundane level you each have what we would call mundane compassion. This is real compassion but it's a human experience of compassion. But at a certain level, as the walls break down, you touch a place that is not 'my' compassion or 'your' compassion but simply compassion. Kindness, generosity, all of these beautiful mind movements are part of this Heart.

As long as you do this from the personal self, the personal heart, there is going to be somebody doing it and there will be a slight distortion. So ultimately one must move into the direct experience of that Heart. But along the way it's fine to work with the mundane level, to be somebody being compassionate. Certainly that's more skillful than being somebody being angry and having ill will.

Trust the process. First there has to be somebody who is compassionate before there can be nobody who is compassionate, just compassion happening. But yes, the deeper you go into that Heart the clearer and purer the energy that you find and which you are then able to access and which supports your own intention to compassion. Does that sufficiently answer your question? I pause.

K: Yes. Thank you.

J: I have a question about my family relationship. What is not softening my wife's heart? And what future, what will happen down the road with my wife and my two children?

Barbara: Aaron says, so right now you're experiencing your wife's heart is very closed?

J: Yes.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question, J. I can't tell you what will happen. There are probable futures. There are possible futures. What happens will depend on what each person decides at each crossroad to those possible and probable futures. You are experiencing your wife as having closed her heart. Perhaps in the past, from beings in her adult life or childhood, there was provocation which created fear and led her to this tendency to close her heart when she felt threatened. Perhaps you have said or done things that created discomfort for her; perhaps never done so. For reasons that we don't know, her heart is closed.

The question here is simply, what can you do? Of course only she can open her heart; you can't do that. But you can hold the door open for her. This is something I say often. You can hold the door open for another; you cannot push them through. To hold the door open for her is to find this right balance that understands her fear, understands that her heart is closed for unknown reasons, and instead of taking that closure personally, to see how much you can attempt to truly hear and understand her pain. But, in keeping with the balance, if her closed heart leads her to some kind of abuse to you, then with all the compassion you can muster, you say no to abusive behavior.

Your work is to foster your own compassion and ability to hear deeply and without judgment, and likewise to nurture your own deeply heart-centered and wise responsiveness that knows what to say and knows when to say no. This is how you hold the door open for her. Each time that her heart has closed and she says or does something that feels negative, you can tell her, 'I feel your distance. I feel your heart closed.' If she speaks abusively, you can say, 'Your words cause me pain and I will not stay present while you abuse me in that way. But I want to come back later today and talk about it when you feel more quiet because I hear that you are in pain.' And if it's true, add 'I love you.' Offer that if it can be said with honesty.

You just keep holding the door open. It's like being with a puppy that has been kicked and now, with each passerby it howls, quaking, at the end of its chain. Each time, you go out and sit with it, pat it and comfort it. After awhile you start to say a firm 'No, quiet!' each time it howls. You don't beat it. You are very consistent. You say, 'No, quiet.' And then you sit down and pat it because of course it's fallen quiet. You're present with it and non-judgmental with its fear, patient with its fear. Whatever fear your wife has, you must be patient with it. Patient, but not willing to be abused. That is your work, to learn how to do that. May I speak further, J, or is this sufficient?

Q: He doesn't want to hog things right now!

Barbara: It's okay. If you have a further question about this it's probably something that everybody relates to! We find here that when people ask questions everybody says, 'Yea, that's my question too.' So, go ahead.

J: I have a different concern. I have a concern about when I was growing up. I know what type of person my father was professionally but I've blocked out what type of father he was to myself and my sisters.

Barbara: So he had one face professionally and one face to you and your sisters?

J: I know that he was very successful professionally, but I'm wondering how he was as a father.

Aaron: I am Aaron. J, how can I tell you how he was as a father? You tell me. What does your heart say? What did you learn from him that you wish to pass on, in fathering your own children? And what did you learn from him of what not to pass on? I can feel your ambivalence here, just that you have to ask. Perhaps it is difficult to look in that way at your father and say, 'He hurt me in this way. He failed in this way.' But of course all human beings have failures. Compassion is the ability to look at those failings, to understand some of the roots of them and not be attached to anger or ill will, but begin to open the heart and forgive. I pause.

Q: It's no accident I'm here today. I heard a calling earlier this week from spirit. I want to show you this, just the top part … (Barbara takes a card given by a funeral home.) This man was born six days before me. He slandered me on the job. A question: in the context of tonight, how do you deal with slander, anger and compassion?

Barbara: But also the man just died, yes?

Q: I just went to his visitation. I met his wife and she remembered him mentioning my name. It was cordial.

Barbara: How long did you work with him?

Q: I knew him for over ten years.

Barbara: And throughout that whole time he was slandering you?

Q: No, we were friends at first. His comment was, 'Your wife is the nicest person; you must be an asshole.'

Barbara: He said that to you or to other people?

Q: It came to me twice through other people and everybody believed the slander and acted it out.

Barbara: Aaron asks, do you believe in it?

Q: Oh … I can be a hard person to deal with. But I am fair. In other words I say I don't want to do that. I do not want to do things that are not fair.

Barbara: I want to read the card aloud because I don't believe in coincidences. And I'm curious to see what the card says. 'With the spirits of the righteous made perfect, give rest to the soul of thy servant, O Savior, and preserve it in that life of blessedness which is within thee. For thou who lovest me in kind. In the place of thy rest, O Lord, where all the saints repose, give rest to the soul of thy servant for thou only lovest mankind. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Thou art our God who descended into Hell and loosed the bonds of those who were there. Thyself give rest also to the soul of thy servant, now and ever and to ages and ages. Amen. A virgin alone, pure and immaculate, who without stain did bring forth God, intervene for the salvation of the soul.'

Let Aaron talk.

Aaron: I am Aaron. There is a simple yet profound teaching in Buddhism called the Eight Worldly Dharmas. I'll describe them in a moment. But first, the statement, we see that whatever arises is impermanent. When there is peace, there's eventually going to be some turmoil. When there's turmoil, it's going to settle and there will be peace. When there is confusion, it will settle into clarity, and then confusion will come again. It all comes and goes with conditions. Everything is impermanent; everything is changing on this earth plane.

These Eight Worldly Dharmas take pairs of seeming opposites such as pleasure and pain, praise and blame, fame and defamation, success and failure, joy and sorrow. When you're feeling pleasure, it's going to pass and there's going to be displeasure. When you're feeling such pain, it's going to pass and pleasure will come again. When people speak highly of you, hold you in high regard and you say, 'Oh, how wonderful. People love me,' then somebody will slander you. The tide will turn the other way and you say, 'Oh, how terrible.' But it just keeps moving based on conditions.

The ocean does not pound the beach because it hates the beach. The ocean pounds the beach because that is the nature of the ocean, driven as it is by tides and weather. What if the beach were to wail, 'Why does the ocean keep slapping at me?' It's just being an ocean. The metaphor ceases there because this is the ocean's nature and the beach cannot change the ocean. When a person keeps slapping at you in that way, we cannot say that is his true nature, but it is a distortion of his true nature. Nevertheless, that is where he is right now. Since he is dead, one can no longer ask him, 'What is this about?' That would have been the most skillful thing, at that time when he could still answer. Hearing this slander, to go to him and say, 'I heard from various people that you said this. I feel hurt by this. If you have some accusation to make, make it to my face and not behind my back. If I have hurt you in some way, let me know how so that I can awaken to it.' In this way one says, 'No, you may not slander me.'

Where does compassion come in? As long as you are blaming him, fixated on changing his mind, fixing him, there's a kind of force to it. There's a strong attachment. Not much space or equanimity at all. There's much suffering. But when you relax and say, 'Whatever conditions have arisen to place this kind of remark on his lips, and to have others believe this remark, those conditions are present. I'm not going to take it personally, but I will investigate it to see if there is any truth behind it.' If somebody holds up a mirror to you, which they have painted with a pale blue wash, you don't look at it and say, 'Oh my, my face has turned blue!' You know that the mirror is reflecting its own distortion. You know how your face looks. You look through the distortion to that which is true.

So this man was reflecting a distortion to you. But you're getting caught up in trying to fix the distortion rather than simply attending to it. One insight might be, 'Here is a man who is in so much pain, so much confusion that he's announcing this distortion to others.' Compassion looks deeply at him and sees he is suffering. Compassion also is able to say, 'No, you may not do that.' Or one looks and sees that although there is distortion, there is also truth. Then one learns from that truth.

Now he's gone. You're in a different situation. It is no less important to address him directly. There is this that stands between you and keeps you out of each other's hearts. This which limits you. First, in meditation I would ask you to note how much anger there is about what he said, feelings of unfairness, of betrayal, any feeling of wanting to strike back; see all of this.

Then reflect briefly on what he said or what you heard of what he said and see how those words start angering you, as if you needed to defend yourself. If you're not an ass, then his words are a mere label constructed out of his fear or confusion. The hard part for you is that other people believe it.

To what degree do you attach to the label? If this is not true of you, is there any subtle way in which you may be inviting others to believe it's true? I can't explain this or shed light on it at this point without further talk with you, but I imagine there must be at least some subtle way in which you are playing to his label.

But coming back to your work with this man who has now left his body. First is the acknowledgment, 'I am angry at what he said.' Second is the ability to find compassion for both of you, seeing that what he said grew out of his fear, his confusion, and is not an accurate reflection of you, if you feel this is so. There is anger. Perhaps sadness and helplessness, vulnerability. One must be present with all this.

Then in meditation, call him to you. Simply say to him, 'M, we have unfinished business between us.' You may or may not feel his presence; it doesn't matter. At some level he will be present. As clearly as possible and out loud if that's helpful to you, state your feelings. Then, ask to hear his feelings and just sit quietly. You may not feel that you receive any information. That's OK; in that case just sit quietly and reflect how something within him led him to make these accusations of you. Try a little bit of metta with him, simply, 'Aware of your suffering, I wish you well. You have suffered. May you find peace. May you be happy. May you find the healing that you seek.' See how it feels, angry as you are, not to hold on to this anger but to come back to this ground of being of which I spoke, opening to this place of goodness and compassion in you.

Just for experiment's sake, see how it feels literally to wish him well. Carry on this dialogue with him, and I emphasize dialogue, not monologue. His responses may come in many forms, such as a card like this speaking of Christ's forgiveness. You are not Christ. You may not be ready to forgive. Just begin the process of opening your heart. Ask also, 'Why did this man come into my life? In some way our paths were meant to cross. What does he with his condemnation have to teach me? Perhaps he has come for that very purpose. Perhaps, and here I don't know you, it's just conjecture, perhaps to reflect back to you your own self-judgment if that's present, or your judgment of others. Try to see what he can teach you so you can genuinely thank him for teaching you. That will take away some of the harshness of this feeling of being slandered.

Certainly there is much to learn here, much to heal. My sense is that as it heals and you learn more kindness to yourself, out of which kindness you become increasingly able to say no to that which is inappropriate, then people will drop any opinions they may have formed of you, drawn from the words of this man who has died. I pause.

Barbara: He says, our whole earthly process is one of healing. Nothing comes to us except as a teacher in disguise. And still we must recognize that sometimes the teacher is wielding a stick, and there's a human that cries out, 'No!' There has to be kindness and compassion for the human.

One more question …

Q: My wife came to see you. A dark shadow in the closet that followed her from our old house to our new house. It hasn't bothered her but I'm seeing something that is causing me unrest. I wonder if it's harmful.

Barbara: Do you feel this negative energy in the house?

Q: Yes.

Barbara: Your wife and I talked about this, about how to say no to negativity, and that it has to be done with love. I was talking with someone today who is experiencing negative energy. We were talking about how much that energy is suffering, how lost it is, and that one doesn't want to get a stick and beat it out of the house, one wants to acknowledge it is suffering and try to guide it into the light. And in doing so there's also a statement of, 'No, you may not harm me.'

We invite negativity usually for two reasons. One, negativity latches onto our own negativity. That provides an opening for it. And second, again as with the case in the last question with this man who was negative, there's something for us to learn.

One of the most important guidelines in working with such negative energy is to ask, 'Why are you here?' You may feel, 'I'm not capable of hearing that answer,' but at some level, if you meditate and are still, certain kinds of insight will come to you about what this is about. You may find that it's also a teacher. That doesn't deny the negative aspect; we still say 'no,' but we can learn from it.

What does this have to teach you, your wife, your family? Perhaps it's about moving past her own areas of strong judgment, self-judgment, sense of unworthiness and so forth, starting to really open deeper into herself. I don't know you so I don't know where you are in this, but I would suspect that that's true for you too. The practice is to work with this little imp in the house.

I was just leading a retreat in Kentucky, and I had a lovely suite of rooms, very comfortable, bedroom and sitting room. The retreat was housed in a Catholic convent, where there once had been many nuns. There was a mischievous spirit in the room. There was a rocking chair and it rocked, untouched, every time I sat in the other chair across the room. Every time I used my towel, when I hung it neatly over the rack, when I came back it was crumpled on the floor. Every time it played these pranks I just said, 'No, you can't do that. No.' It was eight days so I had time to get to know this little mischievous spirit. I saw my own irritation, wanting to control; no fear, just annoyance, 'The towel is on the floor again.' It's like having a child around who is being mischievous. 'No, you can't do that.' I didn't tell it to pick it up, I picked it up myself. But 'Stop!' So it stopped dropping the towels on the floor and then the windows started opening. 'No! You can't open the windows!' They stopped opening the windows.

I was annoyed because I was very busy leading a retreat, people with needs to meet, responsibility. At first I considered this a distraction, 'What is this distraction about?' And some people attending the retreat felt it too. But it tied in perfectly with the retreat because what I was talking to people about was finding more kindness, finding more compassion. And yet in this room I was living in I was saying, 'What is this distraction?' It's not a distraction, it's a teacher. It's an invitation to kindness, to presence.

The more you can cultivate this in your home, this attitude of, whatever this energy is, it's also a teacher. And it's carrying a stick, maybe, and it hurts. It's scary, it's uncomfortable, whatever. But it's a teacher. Start to look at, 'What can this teacher be? How can I relate to it?'

This is the same thing we do with physical ailments in our body. I was just talking to F, with his badly broken ankle. He's lying there in bed asking, 'What is this about?' Not, 'Why did this happen to me? It's not fair,' but, 'This is how it is right now. Can I just relax into this being inevitable because I can't fix it? What can I learn?'

We ask, 'What can I learn here?' And we really can do that in our lives. Then there's a lot more peace. The peacefulness we bring in becomes the biggest deterrent there is to such negative energy because we're no longer leaving a door open for it through our own uninvestigated anger. It's not anger that attracts it, it's reactive anger, reactive anger and all its guises like fear and judgment and so forth.

Let's sit for a few minutes.




Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Brodsky