May 16, 2012 Wednesday Night with Aaron

Anger and negativity; why am I faced with my own and other people's anger? How do I work with it?

 “yeast for the bread”; compassion; the “chain” of contact, consciousness, sensation, mental formation; opening to pain; startle/shout exercise; compassion precedes forgiveness; practice of clear comprehension; release of habitual tendencies;  Four Empowerments and Seven Branch Prayer; relationship to catalyst; two Milarepa stories; knowing the pure self and the negativity as non-dual; pushing exercise; not the catalyst but the habitual response that creates suffering; Asking, “What does this recurrent emotion or thought protect me from?”;

Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. I rejoice in seeing your radiant faces and energy. Thank you for being with us tonight.

I look like Barbara, and perhaps I sound like Barbara. Some of you who are new are saying, “Is this real?” It doesn't matter. If what I am saying is useful to you, use it. It's like finding a book with a cover torn off on the ground, no sign of the author. But you begin to read, and it's useful. You don't throw the book away just because you don't know the author. And similarly, if the book is by a famous author, you read it and it doesn't make sense to you, dispose of it. If what I am saying is useful to you, use it. If not, throw it away. It's as simple as that. Don't worry about whether I am real. The thoughts are coming from somewhere. Knowing from where is not essential.

My topic tonight relates to the questions I've been receiving all month: people with an angry spouse, parent, child, boss, neighbor, asking, how do I deal with this? I get pulled into their anger and I push back. It doesn't work. Why am I in this situation in the first place? I wanted to move into a lovely neighborhood or a pleasant job with pleasant people. I wanted to have loving parents, loving children. Why am I faced with a situation where people around me are angry and abusive? So this is a frequent question for many people.

First, let me remind you. If you wanted an entirely abrasive-free, simple experience with nothing whatever that would ruffle your feathers, you probably would not have incarnated, because from that pre-incarnation state you would know it was going to be a bumpy ride. It was not going to be easy. There was going to be challenge. Why is incarnation defined that way?

There's a powerful story from Gurdjieff, a spiritual teacher. People paid to live in his spiritual community. There was one man there who was always angry, didn't do his share of the work, dressed in a slovenly manner, even had poor hygiene and a bad body odor. People really disliked him, and he felt that dislike. One day he packed up and said, “I'm leaving.” Gurdjieff went after him and begged him to stay, said he would pay him to stay. The others in the community were aghast. “We pay you. Why are you paying him, who is so disruptive, to stay here?” Gurdjieff said, “He is the yeast for the bread. Without him, how would you learn compassion?”

These difficult people in your lives, regard them as the yeast for the bread, as the teacher of compassion. At some level you intended this. You came into the incarnation to learn how to be more loving, how not to be reactive when pushed, and also how not to topple over on the ground when pushed. People misunderstand compassion and think of it as weak, but compassion is strong. It knows how to say no, but it is not rage that says no but kindness and an open heart.

When something pushes you (demonstrating with a partner, K), most of you tense and push back. Can you see yourself there? Push again... This is a common reaction. Another reaction... is that (pulling back sharply) . Which one do you do? Sometimes one; sometimes the other, probably. Or, “Well, I shouldn't respond,” while gritting your teeth. “I'm not going to get drawn into this. I'll be stoic.” That is a third.

K: That is Barbara's bad shoulder...

Aaron: They're both bad (laughter)...You notice I am not using the arm to push back. No more of the pushing arms demonstration. But pushing against the shoulder will not hurt it. Push a little bit, gently, down a little bit further, not right at the shoulder...

What we learn to do is to feel the touch, feel the push, and to sway with it the way trees sway in the wind. If a tree remained rigid in the wind, it would crack or uproot itself. Push... We sway, and swing back. It's really just touching. Somebody is pushing; it's felt as unpleasant. Actually K's push is so gentle it's not unpleasant. But a push may be perceived as unpleasant. We don't want to be pushed, so we tense up.

Now we have the option to watch this whole progression. Pushing, sensation, touch, feeling pushed. This is part of our meditation, our mindfulness, to know that one is feeling pushed when one is feeling pushed, whether it's verbally or physically. More often in your lives it's verbally.

Then, with the push, feeling pushed, there may be tension around it. “I don't want to be pushed.” So we label that. We know that there's aversion. “I don't want to be pushed.” Tension. The feeling, “I'm not going to react.” But you can feel the whole body contracting. That becomes predominant. The push is no longer predominant. (K, keep pushing, ongoing...) It's possible to relax with it and just keep talking. It's just a push going on, like a breeze blowing. There's nothing really happening. If there was a butterfly flying around your head, you wouldn't feel aversion to it. Somebody's anger is just an angry butterfly. It's fluttering around. The words are uncomfortable.

First, we must allow compassion for ourselves and our own discomfort before we can feel compassion for the other person. The other person is abusive, pushing, talking in an angry way, because of their own patterns and karma. They are suffering. Can there be compassion for that person with the knowledge “This person is suffering.”?

Do any of you know Thich Nhat Hanh's poem, “Please Call Me By My True Names”? I don't want to take the time to look it up; I should have asked Barbara to bring a copy of it. It's a beautiful poem. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen master and poet... We will skip reading the direct poem and invite you to read it for yourselves. If you look at it on your Google, just “Please Call Me By My True Names” it will certain come up. I'll ask Barbara to append it to the transcript.

"Please Call Me by my True Names"  by Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply; I arrive in every second

to be a bud on a spring branch,

to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile, learning to sing in my new nest,

to be a caterpillar in the heart of flower,

to be a jewel hiding itself in stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, in order to fear and to hope,

the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,

and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond,

and I am also the grass-snake who approaching in silence, feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,

and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve year old girl, on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,

and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,

and I am the man who has to pay his  "debt of blood" to my people,

dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.

My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills up the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and my laughs at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up,

and so the door of my heart can be left open,  the door of compassion.

He wrote the poem after hearing of a 12 year old girl who was raped on a boat by sea pirates and threw herself into the ocean and drowned herself. At first he was so angry at the sea pirate. As  he watched his anger, he realized that he wanted someone to blame for this girl's death, and it was very easy to blame the sea pirate. But he thought about it and realized if he had grown up in the culture, in the village, where the sea pirate was raised with much abuse, and learned disrespect for others, then he might have been capable of raping a 12 year old girl. Who do you blame? Do you blame his parents? His culture? His village? His grandparents, who probably abused the parents? Who do you blame? There's really no one to blame.

So he understood that two things had to happen. He had to see the desire to blame and to let go of that desire. Wanting to blame was a way of protecting his heart. He needed to open his heart completely to this pain. It's very hard. We're used to armoring ourselves. We don't want to experience pain. But sometimes we have to allow ourselves to go directly into the pain, to feel the pain.

So everything in our habitual patterning is toward armoring and stopping pain through different patterns, like the arousal of anger in ourselves, projecting that anger onto others, wanting to blame, wanting to fix. These are the old habitual patterns we use to protect ourselves. He realized he had to allow himself to experience that pain, the pain of how we are conditioned in so many ways to hurt others and ourselves. He had to really let himself feel it. And then he had to allow himself to feel compassion for his own pain, and then the sea pirate's pain, and the child's pain.

With practice, “my” pain becomes “the “ pain, as I begin to understand that this pain is shared by all beings. It is that deepening insight, through meditation, that allows us to open to such great pain without it overwhelming us.

This is what we're learning. He says, in the last line, “So the doors of my heart may be left open; the doors of compassion.” We do this work to keep the heart open. And of course the heart is never going to stay fully open. We just note when it begins to close: closing, closing. You can feel it. You can feel the contraction. When you are pushed, startled, angered, you can feel the contraction.

Let's try something here that I've done many times. Some of you have done it often with me. I'm going to shout. Some of you are laughing. You've experienced it before. So I'm warning you. Sometime in the next few minutes I'm going to give a loud shout. You're going to be startled by it. I simply want you to note: hearing, hearing the shout. What happens? Feeling the body contract. Startled. Along with the experience of being startled, there's probably aversion. “I don't like this. I don't want this. Why is he doing this?” Maybe there is blame, or feelings of anger.

Just watch it all come up and breathe with it. Can you hold space in your heart for this human that you are, that in this moment is feeling contraction and it's unpleasant? Like all conditioned objects, it's impermanent, it will pass. You don't have to be afraid of feeling contracted or angry or uncomfortable. It will (shout!)

Breathe... and again, breathe. That which is aware of being startled is not startled. There is a much deeper aspect of your being that is, let's call it the observer. Watching this human self being startled, experiencing aversion.

Can you hold it with comfort? Imagine what happens with a baby who is startled out of sound sleep by a loud noise. You go in and pick up the baby, hold the baby, comfort the baby, reassure the baby until the baby nods back off to sleep. It's not bad to feel startled. It's simply part of human conditioning that anger, armoring or fear may come up.

If you were walking across the floor here barefoot and you stepped on a tack that punctured your foot, you would feel pain, yes? A drop of blood? Would you say, “I shouldn't feel pain” and keep walking? “I won't feel pain.” No, you'd stop and sit down and remove the tack. Wash off the foot; hold the foot lovingly, until whatever small pinch or burning subsided. It's the natural result. If you step on a tack, it's going to puncture the foot and there will be pain.

When someone pushes you, it's a kind of tack. When somebody verbally abuses you, it's a kind of tack. But so often you say, “I shouldn't be angry. I won't be angry. I WON'T be angry!” It's just anger.

Instead, can there simply be sitting with an open heart, noting, “Here is anger. Out of this emotional tack, anger has arisen. First I bring compassion to this human, who's experiencing the anger, and then I turn to the person who is the catalyst for the anger and see if I can find compassion for that person.”

Compassion is not the same as forgiveness. Forgiveness is another step. And compassion does not mean you condone the negativity of the other person. This is the next step that we'll talk about, how to say no. But first there has to be a ground of compassion before you say no.

So Thich Nhat Hanh was not condoning the sea pirate. Thay was not saying what he did was okay. He was simply finding his own natural impulse with anger, wanting to fix, wanting to blame. And as there was compassion for himself, there was increasing compassion for the sea pirate and the awareness, “There is no one to blame. Can I hold this whole human situation in kindness?” And then we look at how we can respond appropriately and say no in a very clear way, but from that ground of compassion.

So now it's a few minutes after my shout. Are you still feeling the reverberations of it at all? Has it passed, or is it still there? How many are still feeling it? It passed. If I asked that 30 seconds afterward, it would not have passed. But now, 5 minutes later, it's passed. Whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. When something pushes at you and tension arises, it's conditioned and it will cease. You don't have to build stories on it, like, “Oh, I'm bad that this arose.” Or he or she is bad that he served as the catalyst for it to arise. Just, it arose, it will pass.

But (Aaron invites push; partner pushes repeatedly)... Now, K, we know I've asked you to do this, so please don't take these words as admonishment: “K, that's enough.” So I'm not criticizing you. I'm just making a clear statement, “That's enough.” Now of course I asked you to push me, and I appreciate your compliance! I'm not scolding you in any way. I know you understand that. But this is how we do it. When somebody is talking abusively to us, first we find this heart of compassion from which we can say, not “Stop doing that!” but “That's enough.” in a very clear and loving way.

It might be that you say to the person, “You sound very angry today.” It may be that person always sounds angry, but you don't have to remind them of that. That's scolding. In this situation, you simply say, “You sound very angry today. Is something going on that's creating all that anger? Can I be of help?” So you're not being pulled into the anger. You're also not trying to fix the anger. You're allowing the person to remain angry as long as they need to, until they're ready to take responsibility for their anger and allow themselves to come into this place that's not angry.

Going back to the Gurdjieff story. “He is the yeast for the bread.” You did not take birth to live a life of complete ease and joy without ever any abrasion or friction. Maybe you think you did. Maybe you'd like a life of total pleasure and ease. But by now you realize that's not going to happen, and you did not take birth for that, because what would you learn?

It is through, not being pushed off the boat, not being pushed off the top of the building, but the small pushes that life provides daily that you learn to watch the inner response and to know, “I have a choice. I can get sucked into fighting with this and fighting with that, or I can breathe and enlarge the container so that there's a big enough container to hold this pain.” There is always a big container, but when you contract, you lose touch with that big container.

Now I'm going to shout again. Again I'm warning you. When I shout, I want you to feel the way the body energy contracts. The second time it may not contract as much, but even with a subtle contraction, I want you to feel that contraction. Instead of focusing on the shout itself, note the shout, startled, and focus on the contraction. Breathing in, I am aware of contraction. Breathing out, I smile to the contraction. Feel the possibility of spaciousness right there with the contraction. Remind yourself the contraction is not bad, it's just “knee jerk”. It's so deeply conditioned that when there's a loud noise, you startle. The body contracts. When you step on the tack, the body contracts. This is simply the way the mind and body are. It's human conditioning.

You are here, my dear ones, to transcend this conditioning, to demonstrate the possibility for kindness, not to get caught up in that old rut again and again and again and move further into negativity and contraction, but to make a conscious choice: “I choose spaciousness. I choose kindness, to myself and to others.”

So, when I shout this time, I want you to watch, first, startle reflex, and then after the hearing, almost immediately, body contraction, and it's probably an unpleasant feeling. When the body is contracted in that way, we lose touch with the bigger container. Hold in your heart the intention to remember that bigger container. You're not trying to get rid of the contraction, fear, startle reflex, anger, whatever may be there, but simply to remember, right here with all of those things is the bigger container, and I have the capability to remember it and return to it. The container of the loving heart. (shout!)

Contracting. Breathing in, I am aware of the contraction. Breathing out, I smile to the contraction. You've got to really smile. Right there, with the ripples of disturbance running through the body energetically, can you feel the spaciousness? If you need to, put your hands over your heart. Breathe deeply into the heart with kindness. “This was an unpleasant experience, but it's okay. I don't have to be reactive to it.”

There's a beautiful practice that accompanies mindfulness called the practice of clear comprehension. The first two parts of clear comprehension are “clear comprehension of purpose” and “clear comprehension of suitability.”  First is to know your highest intention. If it's to be right (push again, please, K, I'm going to push back), “She can't push me! What does she think she is doing?” Is that my highest intention, or is harmony my highest intention? Second, is what I am about to do suitable to my highest intention? So, pushing back hard is not suitable. Getting up and walking out, well, I could do that, but my other intention is to remain here and talk to you. So I just say, “Enough.”

Clear comprehension is a beautiful practice. The first two: clear comprehension of purpose, and clear comprehension of suitability. We run with the old habit energy, of being startled, pushed, abused-- aversion, contracted, and what usually happens when the body energy is contracted. Or, we note, “I have a choice. Can I open to that bigger container?”

Did the body open faster this time? If so, in part because you had done it once; in part because you were paying attention to the experience of contraction, knowing it was unpleasant, and knowing it will pass.

Are there questions about what I have said so far, before I go on?

Q: I would like to know how to get past the habitual reaction.

Aaron: I'm going to talk more about that further on. But the first step is simply mindfulness and watching the reaction. Watching how much self-identity there is with it. Me, I'm the one that always gets pushed, or I'm the one that's going to be strong, or I'm the one that won't let myself be pushed. We all have different patterns. Watch what happens. At a basic level, the whole thing is about body reaction. When somebody yells at you, (yelling) “AH, WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?” can you feel yourself contracting? Nobody likes to be abused in that way.

So, often we take it personally instead of seeing that this is simply this person's, either their character or where they are at this moment; this person is in pain. We do not have to stand there and be abused. We have a choice. But the first step is to realize, “This is unpleasant. I am contracting and closing in my energy field, which makes it impossible to experience the open heart.”

Clear comprehension of purpose; perhaps to keep the heart open. Clear comprehension of suitability; just to breathe and understand this person's pain. So this degree of mindfulness of the body responses and the mental responses is the first step.

There are some specific practices I'll talk about a little later in this talk, for working with habitual patterns that seem to hang on. Many of them are detailed in my books:  Path of Natural Light and also in the book Awakened Heart. These are the practices of the Four Empowerments and Seven Branch Prayer. These books can be downloaded freely from the Deep Spring website. There are clear instructional steps, how to do these. The Four Empowerments are the four central steps of the larger Seven Branch Prayer.

These titles for these practices are within Buddhism, but the same practices can be found in many different religions. They are simply given different names. There's a Jewish practice that's almost identical to this. There's a Muslim practice. There's a Hindu practice. There are practices from aborigines and Native Americans and other groups that are almost identical to these. I give it the traditional Buddhist phrasing in these books, taken from Shantideva's Path of the Bodhisattva.

Q: On a couple of occasions, you mentioned you did not take birth because you expected it to be smooth. Could you explain that a little bit more, about pre-birth states and why you took incarnation.

Aaron: I think you've misunderstood me. I can think of no time when I ever expected a life to be smooth. At times I held back at taking birth because I knew it would not be smooth, because I knew it was going to be very challenging.

Q: (It's the) pre-birth stages that I'm asking about.

Aaron: Before we come into birth, if we have taken the time and not been impatient and impetuous, we've worked with our guidance. We have explored the previous life; what we learned and what we planned to learn. We've come up to a clear understanding of the blueprint for the next life, what we hope to learn. It might be something like patience or generosity, more selflessness, less self-centeredness, more compassion, more playfulness or humor. Often it is several of these. So we come into the incarnation with a plan. However, with birth we usually forget the plan!

We know that we're going to find catalyst that tries to shake us from our plan. For instance, it's easier in some ways for someone who has little to be generous, but if you come into an incarnation and find yourself in a place of great wealth, then the giving may be different. It's easy to give a little, but you're not really touching the heart of your wealth. If you have $10 million, can you give $9 million of it away? Maybe you can give $100,000 very easily. Can you give $9.5 million away? At what point to do you say, “I don't think I can give anymore?”

We're always being challenged. In the same way, with compassion and kindness, it's easy to be kind and compassionate when you're surrounded by loving people. But all of you, all, have come into the incarnation with the intention to learn deeper compassion. That means you're going to invite things that push you. That means you're going to know, “This is going to be unpleasant.”

Often there is a pre-birth plan to incarnate with certain people, often people with whom there is past life karma. Maybe a parent or sibling with whom there was much anger in a past life, with the intention to resolve and balance that anger. You may find yourself more able to do it than the other person, so the other person is still screaming and yelling and stamping his or her feet. And you're scratching your head and asking, “How did I get into this situation? Why am I here? I don't want to be here!”

You do not have to have the other person resolve and balance the karma from their end for you to do it. At the point where you're no longer caught up by the person's pushing at you and can just say no and walk away, you'll find it's done. You'll do more balancing of that karma with other people, teaching. One of the reasons Barbara teaches as she does is it's her way of balancing some of her old karma. The karma was resolved, but it needs to be balanced. In teaching, she helps to balance it. So you're all helping her balance her karma. Thank you!

We start to learn to view these catalysts as teachers, but also to know that we have the power to say no. We are not expected to simply tolerate abuse, but the learning of compassion involves two parts: not blaming another and getting caught up in their stories, and knowing how to say no from this loving heart.

In those lifetimes where I held back a bit it was because I felt, “This is going to be too hard. I want some more r and r. It's peaceful here. I don't think I'm ready to go back. I'm not ready to do this.” Like a baby bird, I needed to be nudged out of the nest a bit, as all of you at times have needed. But you are here with a purpose.

I'm not going to detail the bardo states here. They are written in many places. Along with the traditional texts, you might like to read Testimony of Light, by Helen Greaves.

I want to go deeper into the practice of the Seven Branch Prayer, the Four Empowerments, and also loving kindness and forgiveness meditation, and other supportive practices. Are there any more questions, at this point, before we move on?

Q: What if the problem is with myself and my lack of compassion for myself, that I am my own worst enemy? It's not in relation to another.

Aaron: This is quite common. Many of you find it's much easier to be compassionate with others than yourself. It's the same practice.

There are specific questions we can ask that are helpful, such as, what does this anger protect me from? If I were not feeling so angry at myself, what might I be feeling? Sometimes the answer is fear or helplessness, perhaps anger at others that is redirected toward anger at the self because it doesn't feel comfortable or safe to be angry at others. So, many of you have the pattern to direct the anger at others onto the self. And that turns into shame and feelings of unworthiness.

Let us move on a bit, and there will be more time for questions after.

At this point I want to stop and have you do an exercise, and then we'll have some discussion of the exercise. And then I'll move on and talk further about some of the “how do we work with this?” questions.

I'm going to ask you to break into pairs. I will ask you to sit facing each other. (demonstrating) K is going to push me with two hands, sometimes on the shoulders, the forehead, the belly, or chest. One hand, two hands. She's not going to push me so hard that I topple over backwards, but she's also not going to give just a tiny tap, like that. I'm going to feel it.

My eyes are closed. Her eyes are open so she can see what she's doing. I watch myself contracting. It's unpleasant to be pushed in this way, and I don't know where the next push is going to come from. I can feel my body tensing. The pushing is no longer the predominant object. Tension, tension. Breathing in, I am aware of the tension. Breathing out, I smile to the tension. Can there be compassion for this human being who doesn't like to be pushed?

Gradually I feel the heart open, the body energy field open, the chakras open. Tension, tension. At this point now, the tension is pretty much resolved. The pushing is just pushing.

Do this in one direction until the person being pushed says, “Okay. I've felt the shift from tension into more spaciousness.” Then do it the other way. The other one will close the eyes. This one will open the eyes. The one who is pushing will wish to explore the tension/ spaciousness shift too. Thank you, K.

K: Your energy is getting bigger and bigger!

Aaron: That's interesting, because when you first pushed, you could feel it contract. But as my heart opens, the energy gets bigger. There's a big energy field there just sending love to myself and to K; to all of you.

We start to see that there's a choice, not about being pushed, but how you react to being pushed. The push can come from the driver who cut you off; the person texting in the next lane on their phone; the traffic jam; the leaky roof; the stormy day; the phone that stopped ringing just before you answered it; the salesman who's called seven times in a row. There are so many different catalysts to this kind of push. Your life is full of them.

As humans, you will never be free from this push. How you relate to it is everything. There's a wonderful story of a very well-known and much loved Zen master who lived in a cave on a mountain. People came from far and wide to talk to him because he was so serene, so happy and at ease in his life. He limited the number of visitors a day. When he said, “That's enough,” people immediately would leave. Food was brought to him. He had a comfortable place to sleep. All his needs were met.

His students said, “Master, please come to the city so more people can have access to you.” And at first he was hesitant, but then he came into the city. They had to drive him in a car, at first, and then he took a train. He got off the train and he was in a big city with thousands of people milling around. After the train and he had to get in a subway train packed with people. He was getting tense and agitated. So they took him to the room that was prepared for him and said, “Lots of people are coming to have you talk about ease and serenity.” And he said, “Take me back home. I am not serene!”  Where does it go?

You really are here to learn that you can find serenity in the midst of chaos. Serenity is not about what's happening around you and to you, but how you relate to it. And from that place of serenity, you can give a clear compassionate response. We'll get into that after your exercise. Are there any questions about the exercise?

All I want you to do is watch the body contract and see how you habitually relate to this kind of contraction. If it's unpleasant, know it's unpleasant. Is there self-judgment, “I shouldn't be contracting.”? Anger, “Who do I blame for this?” Blame me, I'm the one who suggested the exercise. Blame yourself. You're the one that came here tonight knowing I do exercises like this. How about we don't blame anybody? What if we just say, “Okay, here's a learning situation.” Blame is the old habitual tendency. What does this blaming mind protect me from? If the desire to blame were not here, what might I be feeling? Fear; sadness; helplessness? Can you let yourself feel it? Just let it be there without fear or judgment, but if there is fear or judgment, just let that be present too.

Before you do the exercise, I'm going to share one more story. There are several stories about the Tibetan saint Milarepa. Here is one. Hideous demons come to his cave, dangling bloody knives and swords, flesh hanging in shreds from the bones. He takes one look at them and says, “I've been expecting you. Come in and have tea.”

We expect these demons are going to appear. This is part of the human experience. Do we do battle with them, or do we invite them in for tea? But they want to talk,  to tell stories. He says, “Shhh. Sit and drink your tea. No talking. We're not going to get into a dialogue. You're not going to draw me into your story. Just drink your tea.” So we make peace with these demons, our own fear, our anger, our feelings of helplessness, frustration, impatience. We don't do battle with them and we don't dialogue with them. And we know they are impermanent. They are arisen from conditions. They'll drink their tea and leave.

There are many stories of Milarepa. One of my favorite was the recent subject of an article by a good friend of Barbara's, Aura Glaser, who lives in Ann Arbor. It was in Tricycle Magazine a month or two ago.

Milarepa returns to his cave from collecting firewood. He finds the cave has been taken over by demons. There are hundreds of demons there. He lays his wood down, grabs a large stick and tries to chase them out. They laugh at him. They're delighted by his antics. He sees, “I'm not going to get rid of them by trying to chase them.” He thinks about it and says, “Maybe if I give a dharma talk, they'll leave.” So he starts talking about kindness, patience, generosity, all the beautiful qualities of the heart, and they just roll their eyes and ignore him. They're on to him and know he's still trying to get rid off them, to manipulate and control. He sees, “I can't chase them away with anger. And I also can't chase them away in this more subtle way. Maybe they've been here all along and I've never noticed them before. But here they are. What am I going to do with them?”

He decides to just let them be. Once he stops paying attention to them and ignores them—not ignores them in an “I won't look at you” way, but just goes about his life, aware of them but not caught up in any special interaction, all but one of them dissolve. They all leave. They're not interested in him anymore. His cave is no longer an exciting place to be. But there's this one fierce-looking one with big fangs, a huge mouth, and bulging, bloodshot eyes; he's just staring at Milarepa. Milarepa decides there's only one thing to do. He looks deeply at this demon and he finally says, “Eat me,” and puts his head in the demon's mouth. The demon dissolves.

This is a very hard teaching. It's a way of saying, “We are not separate. You represent all of the negativity I've seen in myself forever. I am willing to merge with you completely and allow that which is radiant and beautiful in myself to shine out in both of us.” When he puts his head in the demon's mouth, declares that non-duality,  the demon dissolves.

Our practice is nothing less than this. Ultimately we have to put our head in the demon's mouth. This, in answer to your question; to see what it is that's driving us again and again to all these subtle evasive tactics—to fix it, to get rid of it, to do anything with it, other than just to recognize it fully as arisen from conditions, and by ending the war with it, to open our heart so deeply that we merge, the sublime qualities of ourselves shine forth, and the demon dissolves.

This is another way of saying, for example, if you find yourself to be stingy at times, and there's fear of giving, when you give in a deep way, gradually that whole fear of a self that's needs won't be met is addressed. We start to see, “My needs are always being met. I am safe.” The demon loses its power. The one who feels unworthy, the one who feels unloved: these are the demons where we're asked literally to put our head in their mouth, to go right into them and merge with them.

I repeat: it's a hard practice. Some of you are newer to this spiritual practice, so I'm not asking you to put your head in the demon's mouth tonight, only to give it tea. That's enough for now. But for those who have the depth of practice to sustain this work, try to explore what these habitual patterns are, and what it means to literally put your head in the demon's mouth.

I do recommend Aura's article, and if you look on the Tricycle website, I think you'll be able to find it and download it.

Okay, let's move into pairs now. One at a time, we'll spend about 10 minutes on this, so you have plenty of time.


(dialogue on the side (with AM, K, V?) during the exercise, some lost to background exercise chatter)

Aaron: K has said she was surprised my energy field was so big.

AM: I heard that. I said, send a little more our way!

Aaron: I have learned that if I'm not to knock people out, I must keep my energy field quiet, because I do have the same size energy field as Brother “D,” or bigger, and bigger than the Mother. So I've learned how to keep my energy field to a level that does not knock people out.

AM: You used to put a lot more people asleep.

Aaron: Part of the difference is that I've learned to control my energy field and part is that you've all raised your vibrational frequency and are more used to my energy field. But at the Emerald Isle retreat when Ariel incorporated, people were a bit blown back, because Ariel is not so used to keeping his energy field quiet.

K: But we did not all fall asleep.

Aaron: Because he was limiting it, much more so than in the days at Barbara's house, in the  times he incorporated there.

Q: That was (inaudible)

Aaron: Barbara once slightly tossed aside something I said with the thought, “It was only Aaron.” And I came back to her saying, “Is that what you think I am?” and gave her perhaps 1/10 of my energy field in a big burst. She saw the huge light and energy. I just wanted to remind her: “only Aaron” is something quite big. The larger part of the iceberg is hidden beneath the surface. I was not trying to impress her, but to remind her to be respectful and aware of the energies around her.

AM: I think that Rob Schwartz' comments bring this to mind, because he is always calling you the ascended master.

Aaron: Well, I am. But I don't focus on that aspect of my being because I don't want you to put me on a platform. I want to be a spiritual friend and teach in this way. People are more receptive to me this way. I don't want to be the authority.

Q: So about the conversation about names, how about shall we call you “Grandpa”?

Aaron: Sounds good! But I'm happy with just Aaron. Father John suggested calling me Father Aaron, but I declined.

Q: It has been fun talking about these names. We looked for one for Brother V.

Aaron: He suggested that we call him Father Kindness, and I think that is  perfect for him.

AM: I like the time Dottie calls one of them the “Squint-Eyed (inaudible)”.

Aaron: We know each being by the energy field, so names are quite irrelevant to us, but you use them as labels. So we're content to use names. You want something to call us. I've said from the very beginning, when I gave Barbara the name Aaron, her alternate was “Hey, you!” She wasn't comfortable with that. She wanted something to call me.

AM: So if we did not use a name, would I just imagine your energy field?

Aaron: Exactly. You don't have to say “Aaron.” That's your way of approaching. All you have to do is envision my energy field and call it to you. This is why I can find beings in the akashic records, in the akashic field, so easily. When somebody says, “What happened to my friend who died?” I pick up their feeling of the person's energy and just move right in on it. I can find it instantly.

I used the metaphor once. If you are driving past the market and you see your friend's car parked there, you know, “Oh, my friend is inside.” It is a d distinct looking car. “Oh, my friend is inside.” You don't have to see your friend to know your friend is inside; the car is there. The energy field is like that. It's the outer wrapping. But it's more essential, it goes down to the core.

AM: I think you said it once, there was a sound and light signature?

Aaron: The energy field is comprised of sound, vibration, and light. It expresses in many different ways. There's even a scent and a taste energy.

AM: So it is just the vibration (inaudible)

Aaron: The energy field is expressing itself through all the supramundane senses. Mostly you will focus on one or another of them.. When you're in your house and somebody walks up to your door, you often feel their presence before they knock on your door, feeling their core energy field. It's their vibrational frequency, their energetic presence. When there's somebody in the room who's very angry, you feel that anger. It disrupts the energy field, sends ripples through it. When there's somebody who's deeply joyful and compassionate, you're very drawn to this person; you feel that in their energy field. But these are more superficial expressions, the anger or joy. There's something even more basic that's THE vibrational frequency of that being regardless of whether it's angry or joyful. It's a very deep core energy.

AM: When I am stuck in some part of my energy field, I like to rest in your field as a more complete expression to remember mine. And also to invite in my field a growing more complete expression of the Ultimate's energy through the physical <> expression. So a being who has been human is helpful to me to have that expression shown.

Aaron: But beings that have not been human, like Q'uo, also have a very loving energy field.

AM: That feels good, and sometimes I am working with manifesting more of that quality in human energy.

Aaron: This is a part of what I would like to do with people next year.

(Everyone has completed the exercise, normal clear taping resumes)

Aaron: People are discussing their responses to the exercise, some experiencing very little or no contraction. Others, she is saying she experienced contraction. Go ahead, please.

Q: And after a few minutes, I noticed a change in my body. Then I began to relax. And then it was just the pushing, it wasn't the contraction any longer.

Aaron: So you were able to see the possibility of not being self-identified with the contraction, holding space around the contraction, and eventually it dissolving. It is the self-identity with it, and even the need to fix it, that keeps it running. Others?

Q: I felt a lot of contraction. He probably pushed me 30 or 40 times, it seemed like a lot. The first 2 or 3, even though I was trying to stay open, I felt a big jumping. And then I kept paying attention, and the contractions became much smaller. They were just really little, but I could always notice they were there. And then for the last 30 or so, I really wasn't jumping-contracted, but I always noticed there was a very, very slight contraction.

Aaron: You probably noticed that if you note the contraction, and something in you says, “Now I have to fix or control this,” that gives more energy to the contraction. It perpetuates it. But when you notice it with kindness that says, “Ah, contracting, contracting-- well, this is normal for this body. It's okay that there's contraction.”, that which is aware of contraction is not contracted. Right there with contraction, can I find that which is not contracted, with no denial of the contraction but simply opening my heart to the body itself, the cellular tissue that contracts? Without building a story of “It's good” or “It's bad.” The thought  and contraction both are just old conditioning. It's just the knee-jerk response. When I stop giving energy to it by trying to fix it, then it gradually lets go. Thank you. Others?

Q: First I felt anger. Then I felt I was tolerating it. And then it felt familiar, like I was used to feeling negative or self-abuse, or whatever. Finally I relaxed. It just felt very familiar.

Aaron: Thank you. I'm reminded here of Barbara's response when her very loving collie walks up while she's working and begins licking her with his tongue. And at first she's startled and there's a contraction. And then the thought, “Oh, it's just Sulu.” And then the reminder, “He's expressing some degree of affection to me. He's happy to see me. He's pushing his nose at me. He's licking me. He's wanting to get my attention, wanting me to come and play with him,” and releasing, not only into non-contraction but a sense of love and connection for the dog.

I hope this was a helpful exercise for you. The primary point of the exercise was that it is not the outer catalyst that is important, but how you relate to the catalyst. That you do not always have a choice what the outer catalyst is. Although, for example, if you're sitting outside in your yard and it begins to rain, you can come in. If you're in a traffic jam, you can simply pull your car over to a shady spot and sit until the traffic breaks and opens up again. So there is some choice.

But sometimes there's not a choice. The rain begins as you are hiking 10 miles from any shelter; the traffic jam occurs as you are trying to get to the airport for a plane. How are you going to relate to it? Is there a habitual tendency to relate from a self-centered place of trying to fix, to control? Or can you find, right there with that trying to fix, the open compassionate heart? Can you really touch on that open heart?

If you repeat this frequently in your life, you will find that the habitual tendency to fix and control shifts, and the first impulse when something pushes at you becomes compassion. So eventually the self trying to fix and to control simply dissolves. And the push immediately wakes you up into the compassionate heart.

In my book Presence, Kindness, and Freedom I have a chapter “Anger as a Catalyst for Compassion.” Some of you may wish to read that chapter. It's very much about what we're speaking of here.

You will find that there are certain habitual tendencies that just don't give way. You pay attention to them. You work with them in skillful ways. But they still come up. For example, somebody who, when people walk away from them, feels abandoned or unworthy. Eventually they stop reacting to that. They don't get caught in the belief “I am unworthy,” but there is still the painful feeling, “I am unworthy. I am unloved.” And it comes up again and again and again, and it's painful.

The Seven Branch Prayer (and its shorter aspect of the Four Empowerments) is helpful here. We note that this habitual pattern arises with what I call compassionate regret. In other words, we're not attacking ourselves that it arises, but there's a regret, “This still is arising in me. It's so deeply conditioned. With compassion for this human, I want to pay attention to this and see where it ends.”

We ask for help. We state our intention to resolve this particular karmic stream, and we ask for help. This is an important part of it. You are not alone. You could ask your guides, if you feel an alignment with them. You can pray to Jesus or Mary, Kwan Yin, the Buddha, or some other great master with whom you feel an alignment. You can ask your friends, your dharma brothers and sisters, “I keep getting caught in this. Please pray for me.” But you align yourself and your positive intention with a high positive energy. You ask for help.

So, there's compassionate regret, asking for help. The willingness to see this pattern come up again and again and again, and each time it comes up, to just say, “Here it is again.” At first, “Just have tea. I will just sit with it.” And then the willingness to apply the balances, the antidotes.

Coming back to our feeling of unworthiness, you might simply ask the question, “What does this unworthiness protect me from? If I was not feeling unworthy right now, what might I be feeling?” Ah, anger. Well, I'm angry at myself, yes. Is there other anger?

So one might start to see how this pattern has developed as a way of shifting your anger, which feels wrong toward others, to yourself; that it feels safe to be angry at yourself, but you do not either spiritually or emotionally permit yourself to be angry at others. It might be fear: “I'm not safe. My needs won't be met.” We start to ask, what does this protect me from?

You'll have to play with it to find the appropriate balance with different habitual tendencies. I used unworthiness. The tendency could be simply be one of the judging mind, that is constantly judging itself and others. No matter how much metta one does, the judging mind keeps coming up. Open to compassionate regret that this is experienced, and ask for help. Be willing to receive that help. Really feel the possibility of the release of the judging mind, because of course the judging mind has been a kind of armor that protected you from something. Ask, “If I was not experiencing judgment right now, what might I be experiencing? What does this judging mind protect me from?”

You're not trying to analyze it intellectually but literally to put your head in the demon's mouth, to go right into the judging mind, know the direct experience of that judging mind, and go through it to find that place that really does not need to judge. Right there with judgment is that which is not judgmental. Can I rest in that non-judgment, in that open heart? Can I be courageous enough to let myself experience the fullness of the open heart? You're vulnerable, you're naked, when you release the armoring around the heart. Can there be compassion for this human that doesn't want to be this vulnerable? So we work with it gently and gradually, without force, one small step at a time, finding increasing compassion for yourself and then for others.

For most of you, there is a difficult person in your life; maybe more than one, but at least one. This is a frequent visitor in your life who is always pushing your buttons. You just think about that person coming through the door and you tense up. This person is your teacher. Ask, “In what ways can I learn more deeply from this person? What does this person mirror in me that I despise in myself?”

Maybe you don't enact those qualities. Maybe this person is always self-centered, and you see how easily you could be so self-centered if let yourself go. The person scares you because you see mirrored in them a quality that you really don't want to allow to express in yourself. So you push the person away. Here is the place to practice compassion for yourself and that person.

Sometimes we find a situation with angry neighbors, friends, family members, coworkers. What do we do when there is perhaps an adult child or a parent who is constantly angry? First, you've got to create a little bit of separation. Perhaps to spend a few weeks or months not spending so much time with that person, giving yourself more space. You can put a picture of that person on the altar where you meditate or on a table. We're going to do some compassion meditation in a few minutes. Do this kind of compassion meditation with them, seeing deeply into their suffering and wishing them well; and seeing deeply into your own suffering.

Then we come back to a readiness to be with that person. Keep it short, at first. Spend brief times with that person. As soon as you feel them pushing at you, it's okay to say, “I'm feeling a lot of anger and discomfort. I need to go outside.” or to leave. And it's okay to do that. If the person doesn't like it, that's tough. It's okay to do that.

Somebody emailed me recently with a situation in which an adult child was very angry with her and with his own young child, and the more she protected the young child, the more anger from the adult child. Now this is a challenging situation, because you have to protect the young child. There's no easy answer to that. It's probably a long-term choice, to step back from consciously trying to protect the child until you have a bigger ground for compassion with which to address the anger. Your own anger firing back at the adult child is just going to catalyze more anger from him, and more anger at the child.

If you step back, you're not keeping the cycle going. It's very hard to step back because the young child is so vulnerable. But in this way, the young child no longer becomes the - I think of the basketball backboard, and the ball is bouncing against the backboard and comes back, again and again - the young child no longer becomes the pivot on whom all of this emotion is bounced. It's not that the young child will cease to be verbally abused, but at least it's not pushed so strongly.

You pull yourself temporarily out of the picture, maybe just for a matter of days or a week or two, until you come to this more centered place where you're able, when the child isn't there, to say to the adult child, “I really worry about the young child, because the young child is so vulnerable. We have this pattern of anger in our family, and I don't want to see my grandchild, your child, taking up this pattern of anger. How can we work together to spare the child from being part of this whole pattern of family anger? What ideas do you have?” So that you're turning to that which is strong and beautiful in the adult child and inviting the possibility that they, from their own heart, will find a way; and that you can support it because you're not longer so deeply drawn into his anger.

This is just one example of how we can use compassion in a strong clear way to say no to negativity only after we have done our own inner work so we are not so pulled in, but are more compassionate with ourselves.

I'll take questions for a few minutes, and then we're going to end with a compassion guided meditation. I want to remind the people on Skype that you are also free to ask questions.

Q: Is suppressing alarm in order to find some calm a compassionate thing to do?

Aaron: No. Suppression is never useful. Attention to the alarm, to the negative or contracted energy coming from the alarm, and strong resolve not to express that negative energy is useful. You are not suppressing it. You are recognizing it and holding space for it. That's very different.

This is also not suppression of reaction, but clear comprehension. This energy has arisen; it is not suitable to react with negativity of body or mind. Remembering one's highest intention to non-harm to any being. No matter how pushed I am I will not strike back in a way that will harm another. This is my highest intention. I'm not suppressing the reaction. I'm going deep into it, noting it and holding space for it. As long as you suppress anything, you give it power. The only way to disempower it is to acknowledge it and hold space for it and for the human in whom this energy is moving with so much pain.

Q: I find my anger in response to others' anger comes from a habitual feeling of low self worth, which I can identify in meditation, but have trouble identifying when the anger is aimed at me.

Aaron: It takes practice. I don't know the degree that you have worked with vipassana practice; keep going and trust it is helping. This is the most helpful practice, wherein you watch the emotions, the thoughts, the body sensations arising and passing away again and again from within the quietness of practice, until there's the clarity, “This is not self. These are simply objects arising from conditions. I don't have to get caught in this net.” It does come gradually.

I would invite you and all of you who might be interested to come to our June retreat, either for just the first weekend or the entire 6 nights. It starts on a Saturday and ends on a Friday. We will spend time at the retreat with just this kind of practice; watching what comes up in the mind and body and the habitual patterns that come up, and the way that there is the possibility to have a different relationship with what has arisen. The retreat is held in silence, with many periods of sitting and walking meditation. But there is also instructional time, small group meetings to talk about your practice, and every afternoon a period just to sit under the flowering catalpa tree with me and share dharma.

I give some instructions, we talk-- what are the challenges? How do I work with this? It's a mixture of meditation and spiritual inquiry where people have a chance to explore, “Why am I experiencing this? What did I come to learn, that I'm experiencing this unworthiness? What do I do about this feeling of unworthiness?” So the retreat is a mix of silence and a time for shared reflection.

I love these afternoons under the catalpa tree. And evening dharma talks, like the talk I've given tonight. Does that answer your question for now? (Q: Thank you for your invitation.)

Beyond coming to the retreat, I would simply suggest that you move deeper into this kind of practice, and come to know that whatever arises in the self has arisen out of various deeply habituated conditions and is not who you are; and that there is a path to releasing the self-identity with it.

Barbara talks of the memory of deep feelings of unworthiness, and of many years ago attending a month-long meditation retreat where the instructions were given not to meet people's eyes; to allow silence in that way. She would walk down a hallway or outside on the lawn, and when somebody walked past her, she would look up into their eyes, and they would immediately look away. It brought up intense feelings of unworthiness. She did it to keep bringing up that catalyst, because clearly all that was happening was the person was following the retreat instructions. There was nobody unworthy. She said, “If there's nobody unworthy, then maybe I'm worthy.” No. No unworthiness or worthiness. They're both illusions. Can you break through both and find that radiant core of being that understands how these feelings of unworthiness are deeply conditioned and that doesn't buy into those stories anymore?

It was a month-long retreat, and by the end of the month it really had stopped, and it never picked up again. So, from her perspective she knows that one can move past these feelings. The practice is very powerful.

Are there any other questions before we move into the guided meditation?

You will find this meditation in several of my books. Karuna, the Pali language word for compassion. It's not too different than a loving kindness meditation, but we give it conscious remembrance of the other person's suffering.

(guided karuna meditation)

We extend these wishes throughout the world, to all sentient beings. Whatever beings there may be, be they large or small, all sentient beings, may they be happy and find peace.


May all beings everywhere love and be loved.


May all beings come to know their true self and come home.


I thank you for being with me tonight. To each of you, for opening your hearts to the possibility of growing compassion, to moving out of the old habitual patterns that have caused you pain.

There's another poem that I would offer you but I don't know if we could find it easily. I'm looking to see if I have the words in my mind, and I don't. I'll ask Barbara to paste it into the transcript.


Cast all your Votes for Dancing    Hafiz

I know the voice of depression

Still calls to you.

I know those habits that can ruin your life

Still send their invitations.

But you are with the Friend now

And look so much stronger.

You can stay that way

And even bloom!

Keep squeezing drops of the Sun

From your prayers and work and music

And from your companions' beautiful laughter.

Keep squeezing drops of the Sun

From the sacred hands and glance of your Beloved

And, my dear,

From the most insignificant movements

of your own holy body.

Learn to recognize the counterfeit coins

That may buy you a moment of pleasure,

But then drag you for days

Like a broken man

Behind a farting camel.

You are with the Friend now.

Learn what actions of yours delight Him,

And what actions of yours bring freedom

and Love.

Whenever you say God's name, dear pilgrim,

My ears wish my head was missing

So they could finally kiss each other

And applaud all your nourishing wisdom.

O, Keep squeezing drops of the Sun

From your prayers and work and music

And from your companions' beautiful laughter.

And from the most insignificant movements

of your own holy body.

Now, sweet one,

Be wise.

cast all your votes for Dancing!

Thank you. This is the last Wednesday group until fall. Do consider coming to the retreat with us. It's a wonderful experience, whether you come just for the weekend or the full week. The site is lovely and conducive to peacefulness, with woods, fields, meadows, a lake to swim in. People can camp or sleep in buildings. Good food. And a chance not just to hear a talk like this, but to really practice with it, which is what's needed.

For those who I do not see in these coming few months, I look forward to seeing you again in September. My deepest blessings and love to you all.

(recording ends)