Seattle - November 15, 2001

Aaron: My blessings and love to you. I am Aaron. I thank you for coming to share your evening with me. I would begin by saying that it doesn't matter if you believe that I'm real or if you're skeptical about it. If what I am saying is useful, if these words are useful, use them. If they're not useful, discard them. Don't worry too much about the source.

Last night I promised not to repeat the introductory material so I simply want to say to those who are newly come tonight that yesterday evening led us to a discussion of making choices, and how to choose from a place of love, not from a place of fear. We acknowledge that fear will arise at times. Fear isn't a problem.

If you have a mosquito bite on your leg and it itches, the itch isn't a problem; it's just an itch. It arose out of certain conditions. When the conditions cease, the itch will cease. Fear is also a natural object that arises out of conditions. We don't have to make a big fuss over it, it's just fear. One doesn't have to suppress it, feel shame that it arose nor act it out. It's just fear. When you begin to regard fear in this way, it is love itself that regards fear in this spaciousness. Then the fear is just fear and it doesn't control the circumstances.

Some of you have talked to me about situations in your lives where there was some doubt, where people were experiencing difficulty and you wanted to help them. You were not sure what help meant. When does intervention help and when does it add to the difficulty and create harm?

You can't save somebody from them selves. What if you're sitting at the edge of a pier projected out onto a lake? Somebody comes out on the dock, walks past you and just keeps walking and falls in the water. He starts splashing his arms, says, "Help me! I can't swim!" You throw him a life preserver; you pull him up; you help him back up onto the dock. He says, "Thank you" politely, turns around and jumps in again. "Help me! I can't swim!" You pull him up the second time. "What's going on?" you say. "If you can't swim, why do you keep jumping in?" "So you'll rescue me." At that he turns and jumps in again.

How long are you going to sit there at the edge of the dock and keep rescuing him? People have said to me, "But Aaron, I can't leave; he'll drown." You can't leave while he's in the water but as you pull him out, get him back out on the dock, before you let go of his hands, you can say, "As soon as I let go I am going to turn my back. I am going to walk off the dock. If you jump in again, you're on your own." And then you must do it.

Then you say to me, "But Aaron, what if he jumps in? What if he drowns? Then I'm responsible." You are not responsible. Are you going to save the whole world from itself? Beings must act out their karma and resolve their karma. Each being is responsible for his or her choice. You are responsible for saying no. "If you are intent in jumping into the water, you'll have to find somebody else to save you. I have done it 3 times and that's enough. Now I'm leaving the dock." When you give the person that information, you're very clear: "I will not do this again. You are responsible for your own choices." I think that so much of the suffering in your world today occurs because people do not understand that they are responsible for their own choices, and because so many of you are willing to take responsibility for another's choice. This is not wholesome. It does not lead to healing. It does not lead to happiness.

It's very difficult to turn your back and walk off the dock, and yet it's the greatest gift you can give the other person. What makes you stay on the dock? Here we get into this whole issue we call unwholesome co-dependence. He likes to be saved and you like to be needed, so you sit on the dock. It gets to be past midnight; you're shivering. "Woe is me! What a martyr I am!" But you never got up and said no and left. And it's easy to feel resentment. "It's his fault. He keeps jumping off the dock." His jumping off the dock is his jumping off the dock. Your staying there to rescue him is your staying. That's your choice.

With your loved ones, your parents, your lovers, your children, your close friends, it's very hard. And yet this unwillingness to participate in their unwholesome choices is a gift, a very compassionate gift.

Last night we were talking about compassion and the power of compassion. Compassion is not to sit there on the dock until this person finally exhausts him self, it's to say no. Now, of course, there are different situations. If you come to the dock and the person is intent on suicide, that's a different situation. You've got to make it clear you're not going to let him kill himself. That if necessary you're just going to tie him to the dock and go and get help. Maybe you're going to have to sit there until he exhausts himself if you don't have any rope or means to keep him from jumping. That's a different situation.

What we're talking about now are the everyday unwholesome patterns you create. We approached this subject last night talking about the world situation. When there are international terrorists, murderers on your streets, abusive people in your workplaces or your neighborhoods or your families, what does it mean to say no? And what says no? It can be hatred, and that just breeds further anger and distortion. And it can be compassion that says no. This is speaking from a place of love rather than a place of fear. And my dear ones, you are incarnate to learn love. You've been practicing fear for thousands and thousands of years. Aren't you tired of it?

It's not that you have to totally transform yourself and end fear to allow yourself to live from a place of love. The loving heart is already there but it's been buried so deeply by the workings of fear that you're not always sure how to access it. This is what I want to go into more deeply tonight. How do we reach that loving heart when fear is predominant?

There are many difficult mind and body states. Pain, feeling too hot or too cold, sickness of the body, mental confusion, agitation, humiliation or shame, all the voices of fear such as grasping and aversion. These are all very difficult states. Most of you in your culture have learned to avoid these states, and if you can't avoid them, to control them as quickly as possible. If there's pain, go take aspirin. If there's emotional pain, take a drink, go call a friend, flick on the TV. Do something to get away from the pain. This is what your culture has taught you. You've moved into a delusion that you're weak and that these states are strong so you must avoid them or control them, that you must control discomfort at all costs. Then you don't have the opportunity to understand the nature of both pleasant and unpleasant mind and body states or your own nature, and so to find your infiniteness, your unlimited compassion and wisdom. Gradually you lost touch with and trust of that part of yourself. The more you disconnect from your essence or ground of being, from this infinite wisdom or compassion, the more you think you have to control difficult experience. The more afraid of it you are.

Then difficult experience comes your way and you see it as a burden, an injustice. Why me? Why am I sick? Why did I lose this job? Why is that person angry with me? Why me? Why should I have pain? My friends, pain is part of the human experience. If you wanted to stay comfortable, why did you move into incarnation? It's very uncomfortable to be an incarnate being, human or animal or vegetable, very difficult. You entered the incarnation because comfort was not your highest priority. On that plane prior to the incarnation awareness understood the deep aspiration to grow, to learn, to learn how to live this human potential of the infinite, compassionate and wise heart, how to bring that out into the world. It's easy on the astral plane, there's no difficult catalyst. When you move into a body you forget who you are, you forget this essence of being and you start to identify with the body, thoughts, opinions and emotions. Awareness loses itself in those and forgets its true nature and its mission, which is the practice of love.

You are not incarnate only to wake up. Waking up is just half of it, waking up to the truth of your being. You are also incarnate to find the courage and love to bring that truth out into the world, to embrace all of the difficult mind and body states and draw them into this loving heart. You are incarnate to stop the cycle of fear and hatred through your daily practice, changing the habitual pattern that acts with aggression toward negative thought and body state, developing equanimity and kindness.

I'm not suggesting that you cease to attend to difficult mind and body states, but one attends with presence and kindness. That's very different than attending with hatred. In fact, one really cannot ‘attend' with hatred. Attendance is spacious. Hatred leads you to contract around whatever arose and this very act of contraction is what creates an ongoing karma with the situation, leading you back to explore it again and again and again. Then lifetime after lifetime you either are the one sitting on the end of the dock wondering how many more times you're going to have to save the other, or you are the one jumping off the dock, wondering if somebody will continue to save you. Lifetime after lifetime you are the one trying to be kind and distorting that kindness into a suppression of your own feelings or you are the aggressor, provoking the one who is kind.

The question I would ask you is, how long do you want to go on doing this? There's a wonderful Buddhist teaching story about a man who was a renowned cruel killer, who was said to be heartless. When he killed people he cut off their index finger and he threaded it in a necklace, that's how closed his heart was. People were terrified because he killed with no seeming reason.

The story goes that the Buddha came into a town and all the people were behind locked doors. Somebody saw him coming, opened his door and said, "Come! Come! Come inside to safety. This murderer is abroad." The Buddha thanked him politely and walked on down the street. Before too long he heard footsteps behind him and then a voice shouted, "You! You there! Stop!" The Buddha kept walking. A louder voice, "Stop! I said stop!" He kept walking. Finally the footsteps got right behind him and then somebody passed him, turned around and confronted him, blocked his path. "I told you to stop! Don't you know who I am? I told you to stop!" The Buddha looked in his eyes and said, "I have stopped. When are you going to stop?"

The Buddha's words and composure awakened this murderer. He saw just exactly what the Buddha meant, that he had been living perhaps many, many lives acting out his fear and he had not yet learned how to stop. He was so shaken by the Buddha's words and presence that he begged his forgiveness and asked to ordain as a monk. He became enlightened. He was a very great monk and of course he also bore the results of all the murders. That is, dressed in his monastic robes, when he went into a town and was recognized, he was stoned. Garbage was thrown at him. He was feared and hated.

Because of his enormous change of heart, he took each of these incidents simply as an invitation to practice forgiveness and to ask for forgiveness, an invitation to practice with anger, which must still have arisen at first. I think it would arise for most people if they were stoned or had garbage thrown in their faces. He learned that he did not have to enact his anger in the world. And then he was free.

This is the same lesson all of you are here to learn, to stop enacting the negative side of your experience and begin to offer kindness to whatever arises. There will be this shadow side of your being with a million negative stories. It's part of the human experience. Someone gave Barbara a wonderful T-shirt last summer. It says, "Don't believe everything you think." Reflect on that for a moment. "Don't believe everything you think." There's a habitual pattern: somebody says something of insult to you. The habitual response is that anger comes up. You move into a fight or flight reflex. You look for somebody to blame for your anger, using it to strike at others, or you blame yourself, "I should be a more experienced spiritual practitioner by now. I shouldn't become angry." Maybe you even make the statement, "I won't be angry." And you smile very sweetly, swallowing the anger so that your belly roils with it.

If the conditions are present for anger to arise, it will arise. If you were walking here on the floor barefoot and there was a thumbtack you stepped on, there would be pain and a drop of blood. You wouldn't say, "I should not bleed." You understand this is how the body is. You might say, "I don't like this bleeding. I don't like this pain." But you wouldn't say, "I shouldn't feel pain." There's kindness to your self. You take the foot and pull out the tack, pat the foot a bit. Offer it kindness. But when somebody says something offensive to you and anger arises, you say, "I shouldn't be angry."

The anger is a result. Usually at the root of anger there is some kind of fear, perhaps a fear that you will be hurt or your needs won't be met. When you can acknowledge not only that anger has arisen but also there is fear, fear that you'll be hurt, fear that you'll hurt another, fear that you won't be in control, or won't be safe---ahhh- just that acknowledgment is kindness. You attend to fear, just as with the tack you attended to pain. "Breathing in, I am aware of fear. Breathing out, I smile to this fear. I will not be a slave to my fear. Fear is just an object arisen out of conditions. I'll make a bigger container for it. I hold the fear with kindness and eventually it will pass." The anger will pass and all this time you are practicing kindness instead of negativity.

How many times have you practiced the negativity? 10,000? 100,000? A million? You're not going to turn this around overnight. But each time you practice kindness, you create a different set of conditions where anger becomes a catalyst for compassion. When angry feelings arise, instead of compounding the angry feelings with tension, with a contracted mind and body that wants to do away with the anger, that wages a war with anger, you open your heart and simply note, "Here is anger." Right there is kindness. Right there is courage. Right there is love. And each time you do this you train yourself further in creating this spacious container for anger, for greed, for jealousy, for pride, for impatience, for any difficult emotion. They cease to be the enemy.

To be present with the direct experience of fear, anger, greed or any difficult state does not mean to entertain the stories that may arise out of that mind-state. One befriends the experience, that is, one opens to the experience and allows it to be there without hatred, just observing the characteristics of impermanence and selflessness in tat experience. One observes how getting caught up in identification with the experience leads to suffering. Just do that much. Be present with the direct experience with kind, spacious awareness.

It is only once you make friends with yourself in this way that you can begin to make friends with others. We come back to that hypothetical situation, sitting on the dock. You come back to the dock, hoping to be alone this evening, to watch the moon over the water. Here comes the one who would jump again. Right then, seeing him, you can tell him, "If you're going to jump tonight, I'm leaving right now," but it's said from a place of kindness. There's no judgment. "To jump is your choice. If that's what you want to do, that's fine. To not spend tonight hauling you out is my choice. With the deepest love and respect, I'm leaving the dock."

At first, seeing this person coming, there may have been anger. "Oh no! Here he comes again!" Feeling anger. Feeling fear. Perhaps fear that I won't be able to handle the situation skillfully. Fear that I'll do harm. Fear that I will feel the need to spend my whole night hauling him out of the water. Unpleasant. Difficult. Opening my heart to myself, I smile at my fear. I smile with kindness at this human who doesn't want to be pushed around by others, and also doesn't want to harm others. Smile at the human dilemma. He's still walking out to the dock. Smile at him. He is so caught. He doesn't yet see what he's doing. He is driven by his fear and his habitual pattern. It is so difficult for him, so painful. "My friend, I salute you. May you be free of this pain and confusion. I love you, truly I do. That's why I have to leave the dock now. May you be happy." And then you go. It's prompted by compassion.

People have asked me often in the past 2 weeks, how do we say no to bin Laden with compassion? How do we say no to any terrorists? I cannot dictate the means you must use, only that you must begin to see that all terrorists are frightened, angry human beings. Each one had a mother and father. Some of them were loved and treated with much tenderness, and some were abandoned. They each suffered their own pain in childhood. They each grew up with certain understandings and misunderstandings. They are not even your brothers and sisters; they are you, simply other faces of yourself. Seeing this fact, it's not so easy to hate them. Each being will act and each nation will act in the ways that its own conscience and habits dictate. Some will be more skillful than others. What matters equally to what is done is the attitude with which it's done.

Of course, it's very hard to kill another with kindness, so perhaps killing is not the best alternative. What other ways does your world have to say no to terrorism? What promotes terrorism? What leads people to be so willing to give up their lives to suicide in order to say no to somebody else, because that's what they're doing, saying no, but without compassion, with hatred instead, with fear, with blindness. An eye for an eye simply leaves both people blind.

Be creative. What are your options? You are limitless. Do not limit yourself to the thoughts of your traditional cultures. What are the options? These are no longer people living on the other side of the world, nor even people living in your back yard, they are people living in your own house. For your world today is just one house, one room, even. How are you going to get along with each other?

If you lived in one room with several other people, if you had food and they were hungry, could you live peacefully together? What if you gave them some of your food? What if you became hungry and saw that they were lazy and didn't work, left it up to you to get all the food? When is it compassionate to stop feeding them?

We come right back to asking them to be responsible for their choices. It's the same situation as walking off the dock. You might need to leave your room or you might decide, "I need to fast for as long as it takes, to stop providing food. I can't stop providing food for them and still give it to myself without arousing hatred, so I will just fast. It will be uncomfortable for a while. If they are happy to fast, we'll all fast together. At the point where they decide they don't wish to fast, they will find a source of food. They will learn to work."

The changes that are coming in your world are not all going to be easy or comfortable but I do think they may bear wonderful fruit. I think your world has reached a time of readiness for this lesson, that over so many millennia the doctrine "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" has been promoted, and it hasn't worked. You are ready to learn that the only force that will see you through is love. This isn't just some sentimental statement. Love and compassion are all-powerful. It begins with learning to love your self. It begins with learning not to despise your self when a negative thought or body state arises. Not to despise the state, not to despise the self. Then we offer that same compassion out into the world.

When people ask me how I feel about this tragedy of September 11th, of course it's a tragedy. There was enormous suffering, much loss of life. And yet it can be an all-powerful teacher if we want it to.

There's a song that one of your writers created in the 60s, "Blowin' in the Wind." There's a line, "How many deaths will it take till we learn that too many people have died?" I think that's the question for today. Are you finally ready to put aside the old habits of fear and hatred and begin the new habit of lovingkindness and compassion, of understanding? This is your choice and you will reap the results, whether wholesome or unwholesome, happy or painful. I have great confidence in your ability to do this work. It's why you came. Thank you for permitting me to share my thoughts with you. I would be happy to answer questions after your tea period. That is all.

Q: My question is about something that Aaron said before. Something about when seeking perfection, if you're not supposed to seek it in ritual or prayer, then what steps can I take to release blocks?

Barbara: There's something I'm unclear about here. You're quoting something from Aaron; don't seek perfection in ritual and prayer. He says, but not seeking perfection in ritual and prayer is different than using the tools of ritual and prayer in skillful ways, not to seek perfection but to come to understand the roots of the delusion of imperfection. He says, can you see the difference.

Q: Are you saying that ritual and prayer will help you find the roots of delusion?

Aaron: I am Aaron. First, ritual and prayer are not the same. Ritual can be done in a mechanical way and can be an escape from experience, a separation from experience. Ritual can also be done in a very present and heartfelt way and can help connect you with your body and your heart. So you've got to understand why you're doing it. The same is true for prayer. Somebody praying to something out there creates separation. But when you understand your own divinity and enter deeply into that divinity, offering prayer that leads to deeper connection, then the heart opens. In both these situations, as the heart opens, the blocks to living that openness reveal themselves. So ritual and prayer are tools.

When I say, "Don't seek your innate perfection in that way," I address the delusion that you are imperfect. Don't use ritual and prayer to try to get rid of an aspect of your being. The relative being certainly is imperfect, or seems to be, and yet that very imperfection is perfect! . Let me explain what I mean by that. Let's look at anger. Is anger an imperfection, a flaw in the human being that must be gotten rid of? Or is anger simply a teacher, part of what helps you to open to your innate perfection?

There's a wonderful story told about the spiritual teacher Gurdjieff. Many people lived at his spiritual center in France, including an elderly man who was very obnoxious. The story goes that he was very rude to people. He didn't do his share of the work. He didn't even keep his body clean and he smelled bad. People despised him. This man got sick of their disrespect and he left. Gurdjieff went after him. Other people were paying to live in this center. He said to the man, "Come back.", "No," was the reply. "Come back, I'll pay you." The people there were aghast, they said, "How can you pay him to come back?" Gurdjieff said, "He is the yeast for the bread. Without him how would you learn compassion?"

The enactment of anger in ways that do harm is an expression of imperfection. It's harmful. It creates pain. Anger itself is just energy. It's neither bad nor good. But without anger, without any difficult emotion, how would you learn compassion?

Barbara lost her hearing 30 years ago. It was very painful. She suffered enormously at first. And yet, because of the gift of this deafness, and the anger that accompanied it, she learned what she came into the incarnation to learn, about compassion and non-separation, about kindness. Is she imperfect because she's deaf or is her deafness perfect? The gift continues, because people come to retreats and evenings like tonight. Those of you who are here just once won't talk much with her. But when people come to residential retreats or come week after week to work with her, they learn what she has learned. She doesn't grasp at hearing words any more. She knows she doesn't have to get it all. She doesn't feel unsafe not hearing. People who come and speak with her learn from her attitude that they don't have to say it all and she doesn't have to get every word. They can relax and trust that what needs to be communicated will be. They learn to slow down and not use so many words. Again, is the deafness an imperfection or is it perfect?

When I say that you are innately perfect, certainly there may be certain personality traits that you find unpleasant. There may be certain physical characteristics that are difficult. Still, they're perfect. Everything is always just the way it needs to be to provide you with the next lesson.

So, when I say, "Do not seek elsewhere for your perfection" what I'm saying is, start to know your innate perfection. If there are difficulties like fear or anger, you don't need to bring them out into the world in ways that cause suffering for people. Start to appreciate who you are, all of it. Don't look elsewhere for your perfection; look at where you are right now, at this human with its joys and sorrows, its ease and its pain. This is perfect. Begin to trust your life experience instead of waging war with it.

But certain practices like meditation, prayer, practices of generosity or patience or other kinds of spiritual practice, those are all helpful, they're tools, a means to an end, not the end itself. I pause.

Q: I was hoping that September 11 would create a paradigm shift. Why is it that you think that we are ready to move into love and leave retaliation behind? We still seem to have leaders in the old paradigm.

Aaron: I am Aaron. When I say that things arise because the conditions are present for them to arise, you must understand that international incidents arise co-created by the aspirations and the karma of the entire world. This attack on September 11 is not something that happened to you; it's something you all participated in. I've said this before, shortly after that date, that I think one of the reasons that this destruction fell on this nation… Let me backtrack. There was this force of angry energy in the world, people with enormous suffering whose needs were not met, people who felt unheard. Certainly they do not have the right to kill others because they feel unheard. The killing was a terrible expression of anger. But that hatred had to erupt somewhere since, as world karma, it was not attended, and I think it was drawn to this country in part because you do have more capacity than just about any other nation to respond to it in a skillful way. There is also a world karma moving toward peace, and that loving energy was willing to absorb this blow if it had to come. Certainly these acts have aroused hatred and schemes of retaliation, but far fewer than even I had dreamed would be possible. But instead so many of you are asking the right questions, which is not "who is to blame?" but "What can I do to truly hear one another across the world? What can we do to touch this hatred with kindness and lead it to healing?"

Amongst those who died I found it very beautiful how many stories there were of people who called loved ones. They didn't say, "Kill the bloody bastards!" They said, "I'm dying. I want you to know I love you." There were people who were able to die with thoughts of kindness. Certainly there was fear, probably great anger. But you are all evolving. You have killed one another and been killed so many times, and you are finally learning this truth that each of the world's great religions teaches: hatred can never diminish hatred, only love can diminish hatred.

Because your lives are relatively short, you don't see the progress as much as I do. As short a time as 2 or 3 hundred years ago, if there had been the weapons of destruction that there are now, such violent attack against you would have provoked an attack that would probably literally have destroyed the Earth. You are maturing. At least, this is how it seems to me.

I see so many children coming into incarnation today who are what I call old souls, very wise, very aware of what's going on in the world and very willing at a young age to do the hard work in themselves with their own anger and difficult emotions. Here is a generation of very wise and compassionate children. Of course, not all children fit into that category. There will be younger souls. Simply, this is how I see it.

And I think even your leaders are responding with more kindness and care than many of us had dreamed possible. They are not perfectly skillful. You live in a country in which nobody dictates policy but it must be discussed. There must be some consensus. So the progress is going to be slow. And yet, because nobody dictates, because of the way your government runs, there is an opportunity to reach those who create the laws, who create the policy. And I think that they are showing a remarkable sensitivity to the general will of the people, which is against the kind of retaliation that picks out one scapegoat, such as a nation or religion, and pounds it to death for some kind of satisfaction, of revenge. This is what would have happened a few hundred years ago. You are learning. I pause.

Barbara: He's asking, can you see that when you reflect? Can you see the difference in the attitude in the world just over the past 20 or 30 years? (yes)

(Q&A omitted)

Copyright © 2001 by Barbara Brodsky