November 19, 2014 on Gratitude. "A Year of Gratitude"

November 19, 2014 Wednesday, Open Night with Aaron

A Year of Gratitude: Saying Thank You To What Comes

Opening talk, questions &answers, and two gratitude-stories from Aaron from his lifetimes.

Aaron: Good evening. My love to you all. I am Aaron. It is a snowy evening. Thank you for joining me. You are approaching your holiday of Thanksgiving, one day a year set aside as a time to give thanks. I would like to invite not a day of Thanksgiving but a year of Thanksgiving, because if you become accustomed to giving thanks over the time of a year, by the end of the year it will be a well-established habit.

Right now, it's not. It's easy to say thank you when something is pleasant. How do we say thank you when something is unpleasant and truly mean it?Why would we say thank you when something is unpleasant? Somebody hands you a rattlesnake. You don't really want to say thank you. Your roof leaks–thank you? Somebody rear-ends your car–thank you? And yet these are the times when gratitude can be the most powerful force in supporting your open heart.

When something negative arises, the normal reaction for the human is to close down. The heart closes, anger comes up, the whole body energy field contracts, and there's a strong sense of, "I don't want that!"

Everything that comes into your life, pleasant and unpleasant, is a teacher. Some teachers are pleasant, some are unpleasant. Yes, with practice you can learn to invite more wholesome teachers and not get into the habitual pattern of inviting unpleasant and negative teachers. But many of you have not mastered that yet, so what comes is sometimes unpleasant. You are also part of what I would call group conditions. You may not have invited that severe rain shower but maybe others did. You're part of the group. Don't expect that there's going to be a big ray of sunshine right on top of your head while it's pouring everywhere else.

We want to invite loving response to ourselves–to invite people who are kind to us, generous, patient with us, appreciative, but this is not always what we get. So there are two parts to this. When we don't get what we want, we close up and we suffer. When we do get what we want, we hold on to it, attach to it with fear that it may be lost, and then when we do lose it we're very unhappy.

At the recent meditation retreat on Lake Michigan, several people had their meditation shawls go missing from the room, and they were saddened by the losses. We asked the staff, people looked everywhere. I think 7 shawls disappeared in the course of the week. Barbara had a white wool shawl that she's had for over 20 years, which was a gift, and she had a brand new, very beautiful shawl given to her by a man from another country whose mother brought it back from that country. A Sufi prayer shawl. She loved it. It was beautiful. And she loved the gift of it, that somebody had loved her enough to bring this back from a far-away land for her.

She was not fully paying attention to the fact that shawls were disappearing. It would have been wise to take her shawls to her room every night, but it's hard for her to carry a lot of things. She had to climb two flights of stairs and with her walking sticks. So she just left them folded neatly on her chair. And on the next to last morning, they weren't there. Anger came up. She was not paying that much attention to other people saying, "My shawl! My shawl! It's gone!" But suddenly hers was gone. "MY shawls! They are gone! Not fair! Who took my shawls? I want my shawls." Feeling sadness, feeling loss, betrayal, vulnerability.

Now, Barbara's at a stage of her life where she doesn't hold on for that long. She let it go. She felt some sadness. The next to last day went on. She thought maybe they would turn up the last morning, but they didn't. Finally it was time to pack up and go home.

She arrived to her home, and the first morning when she was sitting without her meditation shawl, she said, "I want it." She could feel the anger in her. So she softened a bit. She said, a very conscious, "These two shawls have left me for a reason. There's some gift in this loss. Thank you." Putting her hand over her heart. "Thank you. I don't know what the gift is. It doesn't mean I don't feel sad about the loss. But as long as I'm so engrossed in the loss that I can't see beyond it, I can't receive the gift. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you." Opening the heart. "Thank you, thank you."

For about a week she simply wrapped herself in an old blanket. It was sufficient. It was warm. It wasn't pretty. Then she thought to herself, "Okay, I am going to invite something lovely into my life." So she began to look at websites for meditation shawls. "Where is the shawl that wants to come to me?" She also began to envision both of these beautiful shawls that were lost, somebody wrapped in them, really appreciating them; somebody who perhaps had never been able to afford to have a beautiful prayer shawl. Mudita, joy for others. Really envisioning that person enjoying this gift, even if it's the person who stole it. Envisioning them enjoying it. Envisioning herself enjoying these people having the shawls.

She thought of the people who had given her these two different shawls, one twenty years ago and one just a few months ago. She envisioned a beautiful shawl, these two faces, seeing their faces with her eyes closed, and handing her a beautiful shawl. Energetically, it would come from these two friends.

She browsed the internet and found something that looked beautiful. She ordered it from India, I believe. She is eager to see it and to feel it as the continuation of the gifts of the missing two shawls.

So what was she learning? What was she allowing herself to learn? First, you can see that if she stayed grumpy and closed, even if she ordered a new shawl there would just be clinging to it. "I'm not gonna lose this one," and would feel resentment about the person who took her shawls and the other ones. So she is gaining the ability to give lovingly to others, to let go. The gift of non-attachment.

She hasn't seen the new one yet, but I asked her, if it's beautiful, are you going to be able to be non-attached to it? Could you give it away? She said, "Easier than I could have given the other two away." Here is the skill of letting go and inviting something new into her life. Inviting loveliness into her life, not just a lovely new shawl but the loveliness of the open heart, the loveliness of generosity, the loveliness of not clinging, of the spacious heart.

Some things are harder than others to say thank you for. Loss of material object, it's just a material object. How do you say thank you, and mean it, if you break your leg? From where can thank you come when somebody you love dies? How do you say thank you if your house burns down? We practice on the smaller things. It's a skill that you can learn. If you have not repetitively said thank you for the smaller things, you can't do it for the big ones.

Someone told me the story recently. She was driving her car. She had dropped her child off at pre-school, so the child's car seat was empty. She had a green light through an intersection when a car going very fast ran its red light and smashed into her. She was seat-belted and her airbag went off. The child's car seat in the back seat, which had been unstrapped to let the child out, literally flew through the windshield. She was very shaken at first. Then she said, "Out of the depth of my practice, Aaron, it was beautiful. I looked at myself and that I was not dead. I was not even seriously injured. My baby was not in the car. And I just said, thank you."

It wasn't even a yellow light, it was a full red light, and it was a young driver, it turned out, and not insured. She said there would have been so much rage at this driver. What has she gotten? She's alive. Her baby is uninjured. Nothing is seriously wrong. Yes, her car was totally destroyed. Cars can be replaced. Thank you, I am alive. Thank you that I have learned not to hate somebody who does something hurtful to me. That's a big one, not to store that hatred and anger.

Here's another one. A friend who was at the workshop, who lives in another state, wrote to Barbara that just after the workshop she was getting something from her attic and fell down the attic stairs, and landed on the ground. Bruising, but she lay there realizing: nothing is broken. Thank you. Not, "Those"–excuse my language–"damn stairs. Why did this happen to me?! Not fair!" – "I'm okay. Nothing is broken." Landing on I think the concrete basement floor–"I am bruised but not broken. Thank you."

I'd like you each to think of something in the past week, and the conference call people, please do this with us. Close your eyes and think of a painful circumstance in the past week, something that was unpleasant. It doesn't have to be huge, like somebody destroying your car. Whatever comes is fine.

We'll take two or three minutes for you to go deeply into it. Remember the experience and any negative emotion you had from the experience. (pause) Sadness, anger, confusion, clinging, aversion. I want you to try to feel your whole body and energy field closing with this experience. (pause) Feel the contraction of it in the body and in the energy. If there's a very clear emotion like anger, note it. It may just be tension, contracted. "Not what I wanted." Go deep into the immediate reaction to this experience.

Now, when I asked you to do this, I did not ask you to choose something that brought contraction, only a negative experience.With our friend falling down her stairs. It was a negative experience and there was no contraction. But for this exercise, I'd like you to think of something for which there was contraction. "Not what I wanted." Contracting, contracting.

Let your mind play with it a bit. Think of all the terrible repercussions it could have. "I can't afford to buy a new car, and he totaled it." "I didn't get the work finished, and my boss will fire me." "I lost something valuable. My spouse will be furious." "I burned dinner, and I'm frustrated and furious." Feel the contraction.

Now without knowing why you would thusly choose to say thank you, just for experiment's sake, put your hand over your heart. Take a deep breath and literally say, "Thank you." Say it aloud. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I don't know why you have come to me but I greet you as a gift, and I thank you. Why ever you have come to me, that will open in time. I don't have to understand it right now. Only, as long as my energy field is locked in tight, I can never understand. So with my hand on my heart and a deep breath, thank you." Visualize the person involved in the situation, or the situation itself if no other person was involved. Maybe just yourself, something careless that you did.

Visualize the tree that fell down on your roof. Visualize the work package that you left on the bus. Whether it came to you from another or yourself: thank you, thank you. It may be a very painful life situation, such as the loss of a loved one. "Thank you." Maybe a message from your doctor about something challenging happening in your body. "Thank you. Thank you." Can you feel how the heart opens with "Thank you"? Even if it just considers the possibility to open...,even if it's mechanical at first, eventually you can touch into a place that means it, when saying thank you.

Sometimes when people do this exercise there's some resistance. The heart stays hard for a while and you have to keep repeating thank you, and then it just breaks open and there are tears. Touching a very vulnerable place, very tender place, the part of you that knows you cannot stay safe. You cannot keep yourself and your loved ones alive forever. You cannot hold onto the things that you cherish. "Thank you." Because only when you let go of these various conditioned items including your own life and health, your loved ones, your material possessions, only then can you find out what you truly have, the riches you truly have.

So now after this thank you – we'll go back and say it again for a minute or two – then I want you to hold your hands out, one hand or two. "I am ready to receive whatever gift will come from this." That gift can take many forms. Insights; material gifts; the deep feeling of love from friends.

I have a very clear memory of a member of our sangha from Year One back in Barbara's living room, who was in an accident and lost a finger of his hand. He was in the ER and then Critical Care. They did surgery right away. He felt great pain and distress because his hands were part of his livelihood. What will happen to me? I remember his talking to me about it. "Aaron, how can I live with this?" And I invited him just to say thank you and open his hands and his heart and see what gift would come. This was over 20 years ago, 25 years ago, probably. At that time in his life he was young and felt somewhat unlovable and unworthy and unsure of himself. Friends began to come to his hospital room day after day. They sat and talked to him. They brought him flowers. They didn't just come the obligatory once; they came again and again. His heart broke open. "I never thought I was loved. This is the price of my finger, this gift. I have come to know that I am loved." Now, that's a high price to pay. I'm not saying that one has to pay that high a price. But for him that was the path to this knowing beyond all doubt that he was loved.

One of this circle had a similar experience with an illness, and feeling the love around her. "Thank you. Thank you." So hold out and feel the energy field opening and some of the pain moving away, releasing. For the sense of vulnerability, loss, anger, or fear, "Thank you. What is the gift you bring?" You have to be ready to receive the gift. If our friend had gone on saying, at the hospital, "They don't really care about me. They're just coming because somebody said they should," he never would have found this healing. He had to acknowledge, "Maybe they do love me. Maybe I am lovable," and allow that possibility to sink deeply into his heart.

Thank you, and then opening the hands as a gesture to help you realize, "I am willing to receive the gift." Why have we pushed love away? Why have we pushed financial stability away? Why have we pushed health away? I'm not saying that you caused your ill health, or your loneliness, whatever it may be, but at some level you have moved into a habitual pattern with these experiences. And as the heart opens, there's a shift and a willingness to say, "I invite." I invite good health. I invite love, friendship, material stability, the various things you want in your life. Not a grasping, but, "I am open to it." So that the loss can be a way of supporting the shift in your energy and really allow you to be ready to receive something you had not been ready to receive before.

Thank you... (pause) Can you feel the possibilities, for your open hands? It may not be there full-blown yet, just the possibility to receive this. (pause)

From my position here I can feel the difference in your energy fields, the openness. I don't know if that's apparent to those of you sitting in the circle, for yourself and for others, but there's a real difference in your energy fields. Connecting, open, inviting...

You here in this culture, you really have been born into a heaven realm. Throughout the world there are people who do not know if they will have food the next day or a roof over their head, or who are afraid to go to the market for fear of being blown apart by a bomb or somebody with a gun. Afraid to let their children out of their sight, who may be killed or enslaved and stolen, who live in places that are filled with disease. You have the good karma to be born into this heaven realm. You have, for the most part, appropriate medical care, food and housing. As long as you are aware of your surroundings and don't go into dark alleys in dangerous neighborhoods, it's fairly safe to walk around your cities.

How many of you have had a thought in the past week, "It's not fair. Why can't I get a better job?" "My car is too old. I want a better car." "I don't have many loving friends." Whatever. My guess is that each of you some time in the past week has had this kind of negative thought. Go to that thought and say, "Thank you. Thank you for this fear that my needs won't be met. And thank you also for all the blessings that I have." It's so easy to ignore the blessings and focus on the lack. But the more you focus on the lack, the more energy you give to the lack. When you focus on the blessings, you invite blessings.

Thank you, thank you... Let it become a habit. When you stub your toe or lock yourself out of your car, when dinner burns, when your back hurts–big breath. No denial of the pain. You must open to the pain. But then, "Thank you. You come as a teacher, thank you. And I am ready to receive your benediction. What do you come to offer me?"

So many people live with so much tightness and fear because they are constantly focused on what they lack rather than the blessings that they have. I have people who come to me and say, "Aaron, I don't have any friends. Why doesn't anybody like me?"

So I mention to them one or two people that I know I've seen them with, and that they seem to enjoy, and ask, "Is this person not your friend?"

"Well yes, but I'm not talking about her."

"Or that person?"

"I'm not talking about her, either. I'm talking about all the people who don't like me."

Bring your attention back and focus on these two people and say, "Thank you! It's wonderful-- I have not one but two friends! What a joy!"

Somebody complaining about how old their car is and that it's not reliable. Ah, but you still have a car. Somebody who I know, who now no longer has a car, and remarkably I have not heard her complain about it, but open to the new blessings of friends who come and pick her up. A gift. Thank you.

The Buddha says very clearly, you are what you think. With your thoughts you make the world. Think an unpleasant or impure thought and that energy will follow you, as the cart follows the horse. Think a loving thought and that energy will follow you. I'm not quoting him exactly.

So it's really about learning to have a habitual response to the myriad discomforts that will come along. Not of, "Why? Not fair!" and of anger and frustration, but, "Oh, that's painful." Feeling the sadness of it. And then, "Thank you. What do you bring with you?" Because when you open your heart in that way, such beautiful gifts will come. Thank you.

So you set aside this one day as a day of thanksgiving. And I invite the circle here and those hearing me on the conference call, and all of those who read this transcript–I'm going to ask Barbara to make sure it's posted on the Deep Spring website-- the invitation to a year of Thanksgiving. Let's try it as an experiment for a year and see what happens. What does it do to your life to give thanks repeatedly for the challenges that come? Thank you, thank you. Next year at this time I will hope to hear from you about your experiences.

All right, I'm going to pause here and open the floor to questions, and it can be about gratitude or anything.

Q: How many times a day can you ask for a gift? Is there a limit?

Aaron: Why should there be any limit? How many times a day does something unpleasant come to you? Once, three times? Each time it does, say thank you. How many times a day does something pleasant come to you? Say thank you. The thank you is not limited to the unpleasant. The thank you is for everything, pleasant or unpleasant. Whatever it is, thank you.

(Someone says the (conference?) machine is making noises; Aaron says: "Thank you!")

Q: I very much appreciated the way you broke it down into small pieces, step by step, how to go through this process.

Aaron: It's vital, Q, that we go through the whole process step by step, which includes acknowledging the anger, the pain, the frustration, allowing ourselves to feel that. It's not bad to feel that. The problem comes when we get so mired in that that we can't see beyond it.

Q: Habit energy is strong.

Aaron: The habitual pattern to get mired in it. And the feeling of getting buried in the despair, the feeling of a trap, a closed door, not being able to see beyond, what may be there.

Q: Habit energy is strong.

Aaron: So what do we do with the habit energy?

Q: Give it space, but slowing down can be very difficult. Habit energy is strong.

Aaron: The Four Empowerments practice can be very helpful with strong habit energy. To note, "Here's this again." What we call compassionate regret, that is, there's sincere regret this habit energy is so strong, it keeps catching me. I sometimes use the image of a fish who has bit at the worm on the hook a hundred times, and each time, "I did it again." It's painful. He spits it out somehow, gets it out of his mouth.. "Never again." – "Oh, look at that!" (chomps on the bait) and then he's gone again. Compassionate regret.

The deep intention to move past this particular pattern, seeing that it does harm to yourself and to others. Inviting help. I'm not talking necessarily about some godmother who's going to sprinkle you with fairy dust. Yes, there could be help from a spirit guide or other kinds of beings, or the help could come from your friends or family, or from anywhere. Inviting help. That's a way of saying, "I cannot do this alone. I invite support." And inviting in whatever kinds of support, human and divine, are available to you.

When Barbara reviews the transcript, we will put in a clear statement of the Four Empowerments. Or anybody reading this transcript may simply go to Deep Spring Archives, Four Empowerments, and see the classical statement of it that is in several of my books. So I'm giving a rough definition.

Step one is finding something in which you take refuge. This can be the Buddhist triple-gem of Buddha, dharma and sangha. It can be Jesus or Virgin Mary. It can be God itself. It can be goodness or kindness. This we call"finding the support." In this step, when you look to this support, it's not something out there, but you find that same lovingkindness and goodness within yourself. It's a reminder that yes, this bodhicitta is within me and I can access it. It's good to practice this before the heavy emotion arises so that when the heavy emotion comes up and you feel yourself being swept away by it, you can enter into that loving heart, that heart of the Buddha, heart of Jesus. So, step one is support.

Step two ... we could call thisa mixture of regret and reflection. Compassionate regret!

Whether the emotion was or was not enacted, we simply reflect upon how it arose and come deeply to understand the ignorance or delusion which led to this strong arising. This is not to be used as a cause to criticize yourself. You've not done anything bad. But there has been something unskillful that happened, and here you have the time to reflect with kindness on the various chains of fear and misunderstanding which led to the strong experience of this emotion. Recognition of the way negativity has arisen leads both to a regret and to reflection on how it happened. Within "regret" is not self-castigation and guilt, but an allowing to rise from the heart the strong aspiration not to allow the self to be so possessed by such energies in the future. There is true sorrow for what has arisen. Within "reflection" is the ability to see how the self's delusion was condition for the investiture into the emotion. Thus, one cultivates wisdom.

step three, a resolve not to repeat these unskillful words or actions,or even the resolve not to be ensnared by your anger in the same way, not to be caught by misunderstanding, even if the misunderstanding was not enacted. Here there is clarity that because you experienced the self as separate, because fear arose, and other conditions were present, certain emotions followed. So there is a deep resolve to work in more depth with penetrating the delusion of separation, to really bring non-dual awareness into your daily life and begin to see everything as made up of non-self elements, so as to be less likely to move into such fear and delusion which give birth to anger. Again I emphasize this is not a statement that what has happened before is to be met with condemnation. It's simply clear-seeing that what has happened has been painful and there are more skillful ways to do it, and that within this great heart is the ability to do it, the readiness for such responsibility.

The fourth step involves antidotesto what has arisen, used skillfully, and various purification practices. Most religions teach certain purification practices, some of them more effective than others. In the Christian church, one goes to confession and then might say a number of prayers at the request of the priest. This is a kind of purification practice. In Buddhism one might do a number of prostrations. These do eventually create a certain kind of purification when they are done skillfully, but often they are not done skillfully but as punishment or recompense. Performed in this way, they do not really get to the heart of the issue.

This four-step process, then, is very profound and deeply empowering. In fact, the traditional name given to this practice is the practice of the Four Empowerments.

Compassionate regret. The intention to release the pattern. Asking support. And then looking at the antidote: what do I need in balance?

Q: If every time I feel myself pushed or uncomfortable in some way I tighten up, and because I'm walking around like this all the time I have a neck ache and a back ache and a shoulder ache and a heartache, then what is the antidote to that kind of contraction?

Aaron:Awareness of space. Each time there's that kind of contraction-- pausing, instead of thank you, saying, "Breathing in I am aware of the pain. Breathing out, I smile to the pain. I hold space around the pain. I do not choose to have this body tie itself in knots." Thank you can help. If the pain comes from over-attachment, giving something away can help. If the pain comes from fear, allowing yourself to be more vulnerable consciously can help. What is the antidote? It doesn't take a lot of figuring it out. Your heart knows the answer.

Q: Mostly I want to say thank you. This lesson is profound and really great. I'm really feeling my heart opening and it feels really good. I have had a question. I recently started another job. The title is "Mindfulness Meditation Coach." My question is, I've been meditating for 20 years and I'm not sure I feel qualified. So is there some way for me to find out if it's okay?

Aaron: It is not up tome to give you permission. Ask yourself. Ask your heart. What we teach here with the Deep Spring Teacher Training is, we ask people to teach from their experience. Not to teach from the intellect, not to think, "What do I know?" in an intellectual way, but to teach from their heart and experience. If somebody asks a question that you really don't know the answer to, admit it. "I don't know. I don't know how to answer that. But I'll reflect on it this week and see if something comes." It's not an embarrassment to say, "I don't know." As long as you teach from what you know in your own experience, you will not do any harm. You will do only good. You will do fine.

At the retreat in North Carolina that Barbara led last weekend, there were 6 students from the University of North Carolina. Young people, maybe 17 to 21. They were part of a class or club, I'm not sure which, that was focused on stress reduction for college students, how to live with less stress. One of the students had organized the group. She was leading it. They were clearly teaching each other. It was wonderful to see these 6 young women come into a silent retreat setting for three days, Friday to Sunday, no idea what they were getting into, really. It was hard for them, but they flourished, and their hearts opened, and they learned so much.

So they asked, "What do we do with this?" I said, "Teach each other. Talk to each other. Communicate." In this tradition we do not have teachers up on pedestals. We have what we call spiritual friends. This is the model that we use, the spiritual friend. One who walks by your side and can speak from their experience while you speak from your experience. And you share your experience and learn together.

Now, I know this is a job. And yet if you consider yourself not THE teacher on the pedestal, but simply a spiritual friend, you cannot go wrong. Simply teach from your experience. And say thank you! Because teaching is a profound gift. Through teaching you find out all that you don't know. It's very humbling. If you came to me tonight and said, "Aaron, I have this new job, and I'm so proud of myself. I feel like I know everything!", I'd say, "Whoa. Let's take a look at that." But when you come with some doubt, "There's so much I don't know," well, there's a deep humility there, and that in itself is a gift that will convey itself to others. Thank you for asking. Others?

Q: Would Aaron please talk about the process of being in intimate relationship, feeling negative emotion, and the balance of tending to it by oneself and sharing it with the other person.

Aaron: First, emotions, positive and negative, will arise. They are the result of conditions. It is not bad that negative thoughts arise, but one must choose to be responsible not to do harm to others because of the negative emotion. So one takes responsibility to make space for it, to work with it, to make sure the outflow does not do injury.

You cannot speak to others about your pain or anger or confusion until you have some space around it and are sure you will not dump it on them in a negative way. Once you feel, not certain, but some sense of possibility that you're ready, then you share from an "I experience" standpoint. Not, "Look what you did. You made me angry." But, "Anger came up for me when I experienced this, and I'm trying to understand it. It was very painful. This is not just about you, it's about us both. With this catalyst, anger came up for me." Perhaps it's very reasonable. If somebody is screaming in your face and saying, "I hate you!", probably anger is going to come up. If the other person does that frequently, they certainly will want to look at their speech and action. You'll want to look at why you're in that relationship.

But if you have the more usual two people with different needs, one moving this way, one moving that way, one wants to go to London on a holiday and the other wants to go hiking in the mountains, one wants to go to theater and one wants to watch sunsets, there's no right or wrong to it. But tension comes up with the fear, "My needs may not be met."

We learn to express, "In this situation, I'm feeling tension because I'm afraid my needs won't be met. And you're probably feeling the same tension and afraid that your needs won't be met." We start with our mutual desire to meet each other's needs. When we trust each other, that we both wish to meet each other's needs, that I love you and want you to be happy, and you love me and want me to be happy, then we have a common ground to find the answer to our dilemma. But as long as there's some confrontation, "I want this," "No, I want that," and there's not acknowledgment, "We want both of us to be happy," then you're going to be on edge and tense.

Sometimes the other person in the relationship seems more self-centered, needy. "I want it my way." If that comes to you often, eventually you have to say to the other person, "I often hear you saying how much you want it your way, and that frightens me a bit because I'm afraid my needs won't be met. I know you love me, but I think you're speaking out of a place of deep fear when you keep saying, 'I want it my way.' What can we do with this? Do you feel from me that I do not give to you in ways so that you feel safe and that your needs are met?"

Try to find out where the fear is coming from. The other person may realize, "It's not about you at all, it's about my mother when I was 5 years old. I'm sorry I'm dumping this on you." Or they may say to you, "Yes, I see you as very self-centered and I feel like I have to be constantly on guard or I don't get what I need." And then you will want to ask for examples, not just going back in history, but, "As we move on, each time this comes up, let me know that you feel I'm not hearing you."

It takes a lot of courage, a lot of honesty, but this is the only ground for a truly intimate relationship, in which both partners feel the other cherishes me and is attempting to meet my needs. We all want to stay safe and not acknowledge the pain, and that just shuts the door.

Q: Can you speak to the difference in finding gratitude for profound hurts versus small things that happen to you on a daily basis.

Aaron: It's only a distinction in degree, and you cannot start with the profound hurt. You need to start with the easy things so it becomes a more flowing and natural response. You start to look at the places of guardedness of tension, of armoring, and keep reminding yourself it's possible to move past this armoring. It's possible to live from an open heart. And you do it from trial and error, discovering it's safe to live from an open heart. Painful sometimes, yes, but safe.

As you work in that way, then you start to be able to greet the profound hurts. You may need to go back into profound hurts of the past, or a new and powerful hurt will come along. All of you are going to experience the profound hurt of an eventual terminal illness--maybe not for 50 years, but eventually. What are you going to do at that point where the doctor says, "There's nothing more we can do."? Whether it's because you were in an automobile accident or have cancer, or simply are 117 years old, what are you going to do at that point? Can you say thank you to life and go out gracefully, or are you going to go out kicking and screaming, caught in fear and anger?

I remind you that the consciousness with which you transition truly affects what comes next. When you pass away in a spacious and openhearted way, you find yourself in much more of a place of light. But if you die with anger and fear, contraction, the light is still there but you can't see it. You've pulled a shell over yourself and all you see is darkness. So in the small practice, for the small hurts, you're really learning how to die well and also how to live well, with love.

For some of you there have been some truly profound hurts in your lives. They're those things that you feel, "I can never forgive this." I do not suggest that people begin with forgiveness but with compassion. Work with the traditional compassion meditation. I offer one in several of my books, similar versions of the same meditation, and it's also on the Deep Spring website.

Essentially we start with a loved person, that we open our hearts to, and note how that person has suffered. "You have known loneliness, pain, and confusion. You have known pain in the body and the mind." And then, "I wish you well. May you be free of suffering." Offering the wishes from your heart. It's easy; you love the person.

Then move to a more neutral person, and see that person has suffered. Eventually move to a difficult person, somebody who truly has hurt you. But it does not have to be the most terrible hurt in your life. It can simply be the person at the next desk at work who's constantly irritating you–chewing his chewing gum, slamming down his telephone, or maybe it's just flickering his cellphone. Interrupting you every five minutes. He has a grasping personality. He wasn't born with it; it grew out of conditions. We don't have to know the conditions to feel this person is truly suffering, and to let the heart open with compassion for this person. "I wish you well."

We do the same practice with ourselves, finding that for which we have condemned ourselves. Finding our own suffering. Wishing ourselves well.

As we practice in this way, we're not so quick to judgment of the new hurts or the old hurts. A different pattern emerges in us in which we begin to see the true possibility for compassion in this moment, not judging and hating the other person, not holding them out of our heart. It's at that point that forgiveness can begin, true opening.

And I remind all of you: compassion is strong. And if somebody has hurt you in the past and is repeatedly still hurting you, compassion is able to say no. This is not about forgiving, it's simply about seeing this person's need and pain, but not being willing to be involved in it anymore.

I'm thinking here of a friend many years ago who had been sexually abused as a child. Now the father was quite old. He wanted his daughter's attention. He wanted her to visit. He was still drinking, and when she came to visit him, if he'd had a few drinks, he would start to make sexual innuendos. And it was completely unbearable for her. She didn't know what to do.

I suggested to her that she work with compassion for him at home, apart from him. Then tell him on the phone, "When I come to visit you, it's fine until you drink. When you drink and start making sexual innuendos, it is too painful for me. If I see you start to take a drink, I will leave before the sexual innuendos come up."

She said, "But he lives two hours away!" I replied, "You're going to have to drive sometimes 2 hours, get there, find that he's had a drink, turn around and leave. It's the compassionate thing to do for you and for him." She said, "But I've driven all that way. I want to stay there with him." Well then you're going to have to put up with the drinking and sexual innuendos. Is that what you really want? No.

So she did this. She told him ahead of time what the boundaries were. And she had to literally get in her car and drive away three, maybe four times, and that was it. He saw she meant it and he stopped drinking in her presence. When he wasn't drinking, he was pleasant to be with.

This is how compassion can say a firm and clear no. It had to come out of a place of love for both of them, so there had to be some compassion for him, and all the pain, all the suffering in his life that had turned him into an alcoholic and an abusive person, what had happened to him. She didn't know what had happened to him as a child, but clearly certain conditions had created this in him. But for both of their sakes, it had to stop. "No."

So in saying no to the big hurts, we find this true well of compassion, and we start to be able to say no from that well of compassion in a wholesome way. Eventually we come to a point of forgiveness, but it doesn't start with forgiveness, it starts with compassion.

Thank you. When I say thank you, I am thanking you for your question because it helps others as well.

Others, other questions in the circle? Other questions from our conference callers?

Q: My question deals with just what you were talking about, compassion versus forgiveness: which comes first?

Aaron: Usually compassion comes first, but not always. I'd say 90% of the time compassion comes first. With compassion there's nothing left to forgive. But sometimes we see how strongly we are negating others, how strongly we feel negated by them. We find forgiveness for ourselves and for the other. And this allows the compassion then to deepen. So they work together.

Q: Some people are raised to forgive as children and they do that out of habit but not from the heart.

Aaron: It's not real forgiveness. It's just a superficial way of getting rid of the catalyst. People are taught, "It's a sin to hold a grudge. You should forgive." And that's not forgiveness or compassion. Compassion comes from the heart.

But you'll find that you have the capability of that compassion. It's more a matter of trusting yourself and finding right there with the fear, the armoring, and the anger that loving heart that's always been there, and is so tender it doesn't want to let itself be exposed; to begin to trust both the presence of that heart and the capacity of that heart to hold pain.

We're each given a share of the enormous pain of the world. It's entrusted to us and the hearts that have the capacity to hold that pain. To hold the pain of the mother and father in a far away country whose child has just been massacred, or died of a disease because fresh water was not available. To hold the pain of the parents who must watch their children starve. And this cannot be held with righteous anger but only with a deep sense of seeing how all of this, the starving children, the disease, etc., is all the outflow of conditions, and that when I rage against the world, I'm adding to the contracted, negative conditions. And when I hold my heart open to be tender, even with this excruciating pain of all beings, I'm helping to create the conditions for the welfare of all beings. I'm supporting love rather than fear, openness rather than contraction. And each of us has the responsibility, as we mature as humans, to do this, and has the capability to do it.

I think it's mostly that you don't trust yourself, and think, "This one's too big for me." Or revert to the old habit energies. And one of the hardest old habit energies is, "I'm not good enough to do this. I'm not smart enough, loving enough, wise enough, mature enough. I can't do that." If you believe you can't do it, then you can't do it. If you think, "Maybe, let's give it a try," you'll be amazed at what you can do.

Once more, any questions from anyone...

Q: What is the role of forgetting? Do we need to forget, as part of forgiveness?

Aaron: I think forgetting more often is a form of denial. It grows from the part of you that wants to get away. There can't be full forgiveness if you forget. And yet, mercifully, some things are just so painful that you have to push them away and forget.

But forgiveness cannot come until you begin to remember. And you can't force yourself into a readiness to remember. You can only hold the intention to live your life with as much love as possible, not shutting any being out of your heart. And then, gently and gradually, invite in the things that you have chosen to forget because they were so painful.

You can start with a simple, "Whoever I have harmed, I ask forgiveness. Whoever has harmed me, I offer forgiveness." And invite memory to come up. Places where you have inadvertently done or said something that hurt another. "I ask your forgiveness." Places where others have not really intentionally done or said something that hurt you. "I offer forgiveness."

As you practice in this way, gradually the heart open/close mechanism begins to soften and open. You gradually begin to let in some of the very frightening, painful, and terrible memories from this and past lives. And because you've started a new tendency not to condemn, you become more open to the memories and sure of your capacity to hold these memories. They stop being so much personal memories and become the memories of humanity, of all the humans all over the earth through so many generations who have maimed and killed each other. Who have ignored each other and enslaved each other. It's very hard work.

Q: It's not what I was taught.

Aaron: Were you taught to hold onto the negativity?

Q: To forget.

Aaron: "Forget it" is denial and also a way to hold the negativity, as "forget it" usually involves contraction and forcing the self.  You do not truly move on into compassion and forgiveness; you simply have suppressed it, pushed it down. "I won't be touched by this." But the armor gets thicker and thicker and thicker. And yet there must be mercy tempered with it. If something is so excruciatingly painful that you just had to push it away and forget it, you need to allow yourself to open to that pain very gradually and gently and not say, "Now I must remember," because that's no different than "Forget it." It just comes from a place of force and "You should..."-- you should forget, you should remember. Allowing the heart to open gradually, as it is ready, and learning the immense capacity you have to love. Beginning to trust that capacity.

Other questions? (none)

If no other questions, I'm going to tell a story to close the evening. I'm going to pause here and decide which of several stories I would choose to tell. The problem is, the best stories about gratitude from some of my past lives,  I've told many times so you've heard them. I can dredge up some others that are meaningful but they're not quite as powerful. Do I tell a new story, or do I re-tell the more powerful old one?

Q: Tell the old one. There are new people here, right?

Aaron: There are new people here, but we'll never get the new ones out that are not as strong if we don't tell them. But I think I'm going to tell the old one. Let's start with a golden oldie.

The being that I was, I wanted to be a monk but that was not the way my life went. I had to work for my living. One day the police, soldiers, came to me and said, "This wealthy man says you've stolen something from him." There were not trials such as you have in this country. There was just the accusation that I stole.  He's the esteemed landowner, and I am a poor man. Thus,  I must have stolen it. I'll be punished.

The imprisonment in those days was, they simply had holes dug in what was like sand. So I was in a pit about half the size of this room, half again as deep, 15, 18 feet deep, just a sand pit. It wasn't such soft sand that it would collapse, or that I could dig it down and climb out. It was just a dirt pit.

For shelter there were a couple of branches they gave me to place at an angle in one corner, to create a little shade; some straw to put on the ground. They brought me food once every day. Once a week, a ladder of sorts was lowered. I was allowed to climb up and they doused me with water, my bath, and then lowered me back down. Every 2 or 3 days they hoisted up the bucket with my night-soil. That was it. I had no entertainment, nothing to do.

I was furious. "This man is so powerful. He thinks he knows everything. He can control and destroy my life. He can come along and on his whim, say, 'He's the one who did it. Punish him'", and that was it. How many years would I be in this hole? I was filled with rage. I was surly when they lowered my food. I never said thank you or looked up at them. These were the jailers. If only my life had been different, I could have become a monk. I could have spent my time meditating and being cared for by the people who gave me alms in honor of my spiritual practice. I could have lived a life of peace. And here I was in a hole in the ground.

It seemed like the quality of food they gave me got worse and worse. The time that I spent on the surface, for them to douse me with water, for me to cleanse myself, became shorter and shorter the angrier I became. I had plenty of time to meditate about all this. The days were barren.

Finally I began to see that my suffering was not coming from being in a hole in the ground but from my hatred of what had happened to me, my hatred of the jailers; my immediate idea that these must be terrible, cruel people.

Gradually the hate energy began to soften. One day I heard crying, and looking up I saw the jailer up there was sobbing. "What's wrong?" I said. It was a jailer that I did not know as well as the others, a younger man, and he said, "My child is very sick. I don't know if he'll live." So we began to talk, he up there and me down here. For the first time I saw him not as a jailer but as another man who was suffering and my heart began to open.

He was one of the ones who pulled me up for my next bath. He brought me water, I bathed, and then he said, "Why don't you sit under the tree for a while and we can talk before you go back down." Some of the other jailers began the same habit. Years had gone by and I had deepened into a place of more peacefulness and compassion. It dawned on me that I was getting exactly what I had asked for in my life. I had shelter, although very simple shelter. I had adequate food, which not surprisingly got better and better as the months went on. They got together and gave me new clothing of some sort, more and broader leaves for shelter. It got so they pulled me up not once a week but every day, and I sat under a tree. The jailers and then other villagers would come and talk to me. They started to ask me questions, how to deal with the dilemmas of their lives, how not to be filled with hatred or anger, and gradually the kindness in me began to come out.

It wasn't an instant transformation but one of many years, but I softened into "Thank you for this life. Thank you for the gift that's been given to me," which was exactly what I was seeking, to be a spiritual seeker, to have my basic daily needs taken care of so that I could meditate and pray, not have worldly concerns but have an opportunity to be of service to others, too.

Then one day something astonishing happened. A man was badly hurt, and he confessed before he died to having stolen what it was said I had stolen. He had enough details of it that it was believed. The man who had said, "He must have done it," about me, he said, "Oh, okay, I guess this person did it instead. Let the other go." No apology. But I wasn't expecting one at that point. Ten years earlier I would have wanted him to apologize to me. "Look how you've hurt me!" But now it didn't matter. I had compassion for him as well as for myself.

They pulled me out. I said, "I have no livelihood. What will I do?" The jailers all said, "Don't worry about it. We'll take care of you." There on the grounds where the prison area was, but in a lovely spot shaded by trees, the whole village built me a small hut. Food was brought to me every day. Every day I came out and sat by a spring there and people came to talk to me as they had before. Suddenly I was the priest–not formally in terms of training, but in terms of the internal training, yes, I was living the life that I had chosen to live.

The greatest hurt is what brought me to the greatest peace and love. What if I had never been able to say thank you? It horrifies me to think what I would have become.

I'm considering whether to try and squeeze in one more story, here, another one I've told before.

Our village was in a valley. The well was in the deepest hollow of the valley, so it would be nearest the water line. Fields with crops were up on the hillsides. The ground had been stable; we never had a problem before, but we had a period of terrible rain. I and some of the other men were up on the hills working the crops, caring for animals in the pouring rain, when there was a terrible roaring sound, and the entire hillside gave way, pouring down on the village; covering the village homes and the well in the center of the village.

We who were out of the village came back and found many of our loved ones were dead, our homes destroyed. And of course the well was a necessary part of the village. Without water, we could not live there.

There were some people that survived, some of the women, some of the children who had been out doing other things. But there was not a person there who had not lost at least part of his or her family. There was agony. How could we go on? There were many interrelationships, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, longtime friends. But the immediate movement from people was, let us just pack up and leave. I'm going this way, I'm going that way; to leave everything that we had held dear. The logic to it was, we have no water so we must leave. But I said, "We belong together. The well is still there. It's fed by a spring. Even though it's covered now 20 feet deep in earth, it's still there. I know where it is." I asked a few other men, and we began to dig. Some people did leave. Others thought we were crazy, but we dug.

We dug and carted dirt away and dug and carted dirt away. We came to many corpses as we dug. They were moved aside so others could bury them. People were making a long distance walk to a river, bringing us back some drinking water, but we knew we could not live there without access to our spring. Eventually we came to a place where the soil was wetter. We dug and we dug, and we found the well itself, and dug into the well. Pulled the soil out until we accessed that deep spring.

This is really where the name Deep Spring Center comes from. When Barbara and I were talking 25 years ago about what to call this center, and I told her this story, we mutually agreed, let's call it Deep Spring Center because we're all looking for that spring, that pure source, that sustains us. And we trust and know it is here. And if we dig deep enough, we find it.

Many people were bitter. They could not forgive the land for betraying them. But the land didn't do it purposely; this is the nature of the land. If it gets wet enough, it will collapse in that way.

We were more careful as we rebuilt, building barricade walls so it could not collapse on the spring in the same way. There was not an option to find another spring; this was the spring. We built plateaus  for the the crops so it could not happen again.

How do we forgive that kind of pain where half or more of our population is killed? Nobody did it to us. If anything, we did it to ourselves through our carelessness and forgetfulness that something serious could happen if we weren't careful with layering our fields and so forth. How do we find gratitude in the midst of death and loss? Of desolation and pain. But we did. We were together and we went on!

Couples married, children were born. Extended families formed, no longer the same nuclear families, but much more aunts and uncles and children and many different people, orphans taken in, all living together, loving each other, supporting each other.

After ten years had passed, we again had a flourishing and beautiful community. It could not have happened without forgiveness, and to some degree it could not have happened without thank you. I'm not saying we sat there looking at this devastation and said, "Oh, thank you!" Not at all. We were incapable of that. We had to forget our pain at first, push it away. But there was a strong determination not to hold malice and hatred. Not to feel that either fate or somebody had done this to us but rather to accept: this is the outflow of conditions. We will take more care with the conditions of our lives, and we will choose the positive, that even despite this terrible incident, life can and will go on and flowers will bloom again in the spring, even though it appears right now that a flower could never bloom again. The flowers will dig their roots down into the earth and water and will bloom. Life goes on. The loss taught me to cherish what had been taken for granted.

It is 8:59. I see I have one last minute. I think that's to say thank you. Thank you for spending this evening with me. To those on the conference call, my love to you. And it delights me to know I'm speaking out there to people, not just across the country but continent. Thank you for being with us. Please continue to give us feedback: are we doing better now that we have two microphones and understand the system better?

That's all. I'm going to end here.

(session ends)