Day 2 - May 18, 2003

Barbara: We're going to start with a short period of meditation, some instruction, and a longer time of meditation. Then we'll discuss the exercises that you did, sharing with the group. After that, Aaron will give a talk. A period of silence.

I want you to tighten your fists into tight knots, tighten your jaw, tighten your shoulders, tighten your belly. Feel it: "Tension, tension". Now let it go. Conscious letting go. Open the fists. Feel the face grow soft, jaw hanging soft, not closed tight and not forced open. Rotate your shoulders in small circles; relax.

Take a deep breath, let it fill your chest. 
Belly soft. 
Let the back be straight, but relaxed straight...

Scan through the body for places of tension, and offer the willingness to relax those parts. No force. Inviting relaxation. This tensionless state is always there. It's not something we have to create. It's something to which we can open. The interesting thing is even when there's tension, we can find this tensionless space. That's why I say it's not something to create. It's our natural state.

If we remember, we can invite ourselves back to it again, and again, and again. Letting go a bit of the habit of tension. That's all tension is, it's a habit, our way of protecting the tender heart, building armor around the heart. The tensionless state is recovered by remembering the tender heart and coming home to it.

Breathing in, breathing out. Bring your attention to the touch of the breath around the nostrils. Know when you're breathing in, know when you're breathing out.

There's a sense of peacefulness there. Just rest in the flow of the breath. Everything we want is right here in this moment. In the open belly, the open heart, the gentle flow of the breath. No place to go, nothing to do. Breathe in and allow yourself the experience of joy and peace. It's right there with the tensionlessness. Breathing out, feel the tranquility and peace.


If tension comes, just note it. It's not an enemy, just a visitor, a brief guest. If an angry, grasping, or frightened thought comes, just note it. It's also not an enemy, just a brief visitor. Don't try to chase it away and don't get lost in the stories it brings. Let it be.

Here is a poem from the Sufi poet, Rumi:

"The Guest House" by Rumi

This human being is a guest house. 
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, 
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all! 
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows, 
who violently sweep your house 
empty of its furniture, 
still treat each guest honorably. 
He may be clearing you out 
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice, 
meet them at the door laughing, 
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes, 
because each has been sent 
as a guide from beyond.

translated by Coleman Barks, from The Essential Rumi, (San Francisco, Harper SanFrancisco) 1995, p. 109

Let's sit with this instruction for a few minutes.


Yes, it can be hard to work with these difficult states. I want to tell you a story about the Tibetan saint, Milarepa. The story goes that he was meditating at the mouth of his cave when the demons of greed, fear, and anger appeared. They were hideous. Tattered flesh was hanging from rotting bones. Gore poured out everywhere. They exuded a foul smell. They dangled bloody knives and swords.

Milarepa looked at them and said, "Ah! I've been expecting you. Come sit by my fire and have tea." 
"Aren't you afraid of us?" they asked. 
"No," he said, "your hideous appearance just reminds me to have compassion, to open my heart, to have mercy.. So, sit by my fire, have tea."

Often what we're doing in meditation is making space by the fire for these seemingly hideous visitors, and finding out that there's nothing so terrible about them. They're the old nightmares of our childhood, of our past lives. We do have the capacity to invite them in for tea. In other words, to befriend them and get to know what they are about. In that knowing, we lose our fear of them. They still may not be pleasant. Milarepa's guests have an awful stench! We can stand the smell of a skunk, just how it is.

Notice when he invited them to sit by his fire and have tea he also said, "Shh! No talking! I'm not going to get caught up in dialogue. Just sit here."

Whatever comes as you meditate, this is what I invite you to do with it. If it's pleasant, know it as pleasant. If it's unpleasant, know it's unpleasant. Find within yourselves that enormous capacity of heart, that strength and love, that says, even this can be borne. Speak to it: "sit by my fire, have tea". Feel how you can allow these demons in without contracting in fear. A new possibility, not to enact the old patterns of taking up a stick to try to beat them away, or running from them, closing down with barricades to separate yourself. Feel the wonder of that possibility, to be with what has arisen with an open heart. "Sit by my fire; have tea".

We don't hold the demons by our fire. When they get up to go, we just bow politely and let them go. They come; they go. We sit in a spaciousness and find a sense of peace with what occurs.

Breathing in; breathing out. When a strong object arises in your experience and pulls your attention from your breath, note it in a very simple way. Like right now with my voice, "hearing, hearing". Don't keep the noting going, just 2 or 3 notes, "hearing, hearing, hearing", and then just be with the experience of hearing... Feeling joy, "joy, joy, joy," or "sadness, sadness, sadness"... tension, sleepiness, whatever comes. .

Whatever comes, be with it. As it changes or dissolves, come back to the breath. We'll sit now in silence for 15 minutes and end with a bell. If you need to change your position, that's fine. Be aware that before you change your position, there's an impulse to change, there's some discomfort. And then a thought to move. It's okay to move; please do it mindfully. Be aware of this whole flow of experience out of which the moving comes. Sometimes you'll find you don't need to move. You'll notice the impulse to move and realize, "I don't need to do that." That's fine too. I'll be quiet now.


Barbara: Let's go to yesterday's exercise and the homework.

Aaron asked you to watch 3 things. First, to see what pushed, such as feeling rushed in the morning, afraid you'll be late-that's a kind of push. Or, somebody in your family or in your home saying something in an angry way, that's a kind of push. Looking at your desk, seeing the pile of work to do, that's a kind of push. Pain in the body, another push. We asked you to look at how it is right now. It changes from day to day and week to week, but right now what is the biggest push you're experiencing?

The second part was to see what is the habitual way that you relate to it? Maybe a thought, "oh no, I don't want that." Or fear, pushing it away, acting as if it isn't there.

Third, what possibilities open up if you relax and just dance with this push instead of tensing or following habit energy, as in question two?

So we asked you to look at these questions in real experience and come prepared to talk about it. You don't have to share, of course, it's optional. But to share what you'd like to share about your experience.

Q: I can start but I hesitate. I don't always want to be the one that speaks!

Barbara: Somebody needs to be first!

Q: I don't want to be a hog! ...

Barbara: I said you are not hogging the time; we appreciate your willingness to be the first.

Q: I also realize I don't want others to be angry with me, if I think I'm hogging.

Barbara: Aaron says, can you see that that's just a kind of push? Your feelings here are the perfect example, even before you speak further. Let Aaron speak.

Aaron: Good morning. My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. It is a push, but let us be more specific. The fear is a push, and it brings with it what we call a story. For you, the story, "People might be angry." Or, "I am greedy."

What I want you to see is these are just stories, fables, grown out of old conditioning. The important thing is, when a story arises, to know it as a story.

Sometimes there could be truth to it. You certainly are not hogging the time, as you put it, but there could be somebody in a group of people who is insecure and talks a lot. Does "hog the time". And the thought might arise for that person, "What if I'm hogging the time?"

The difference between a story and the direct experience is this. If the person sees "I am taking more than my share of the time," that's an insight. There may also be a direct experience such as shame or fear, If the voice goes on, "Oh, I always do that. I'm so bad. Why do I do that. Shame on me." That's a story. Can you feel the difference? I pause.

Barbara: The important thing here, when a story comes up, is to know it's a story. It's not a problem that it comes up. You invite it to sit by the fire and have tea. But you don't get caught in a dialogue with it. Here is this old story that I'm not good enough, that I may not be worthy or loved, that I may do something that will harm others. It's a story I've carried with me forever. Just for now, I'm going to put it down. That means I'm not going to maintain the story line and get caught up in a dialogue with it. I'm not going to go to the place that asks, "How do I fix this in myself?"

The insight is that there is this reaction of talking a lot and it comes from fear. That's enough. You don't have to carry it further with self-blame, which is the story.

I'll pause here and invite you to continue.

Q: Last night, all I could do was sleep. I didn't do my homework. I remembered it this morning, and it just popped out. So, here is what pushes me. I rush. I'm impatient with myself. I didn't do the right things. I procrastinated the important ones. I left what will give me stress, I left it above me waiting to crash on me. And I vacuumed the floor and I made the beds. I bring that impatience out and project it towards others. I'm pushed. Doesn't matter the specific; "I need to do that, they need their letter, this is due…", or my husband will ask me, "Did you do it, P?" Big push! I hide. I rush. And I'm angry with myself. It's old and very deep.

So, I beat myself up. I try to squeeze another activity in. So I'm late. I'm rushing. People might be mad at me! I do this to myself. I bring this on myself. That's it, in a nutshell.

Barbara: Thank you for sharing. So the push is feeling rushed, and the need to meet others expectations. The habitual tendency is to blame yourself when you're not perfect. How about part three. What might open this up? Let's let Aaron talk.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Let me simply raise a conjecture here, leaving it to you to decide if it has any truth in it for you, whether it's a useful thought. It sounds to me like you are perpetuating a situation where people will be angry by expecting of yourself "I should be able to do everything for everybody." If you are able to say to people, "I'm already filled up today; I can't do that. Later in the week, maybe. Ask me 3 days from now.", they may feel irritated to get a no from you, but at least you've been able to be honest. You're not disappointing them by promising them and then unable to do it. The nature of their anger will be different, and it is now their issue, not yours any longer. They can do it themselves or find another helper. Can you allow them to experience that irritation? I know it doesn't feel safe.

The things that you do commit to doing, you can do well. I suspect you already do most of them well, but at great pain to yourself. What would it mean to live with more ease?

What would it mean to not have people angry at you? Is there a part of you that needs that anger? Is there a part of you that is afraid to allow love in? Afraid of how much you want that love?

I think you need to be very gentle and patient here. What I would ask you to consider is, each day, to set aside, it may only be 10 or 15 minutes, but if possible, half an hour just for yourself. Nothing else intrudes on that time. You may enjoy a book, or soak in a hot bath. Do some gardening or take a walk. Have tea with a friend or a period of solitude. I want to suggest you do this very mindfully. Ask, "How does it feel to give to myself? What fear might there be that I'm too greedy?" I think what is predominant is the fear, "My needs will not be met." There is a feeling a conflict. You do deeply aspire to serve others because you find real joy in serving others. But there is also a fear that says, "I should serve others." You can't deeply access the joy in serving others because of the fear. "I'm not good enough if I don't serve others." So you don't serve others with joy and you don't serve yourself with joy.

What if you begin to offer yourself this special time and watch what comes up? My guess is the first thing that will come up is judgment: "I shouldn't give this to myself." Why not? This is what I would like you to get at, the fear that you are greedy. It's the same fear you mentioned, "I don't want to hog the time."

This is a complex question and I don't want to oversimplify it, only to guide you to a starting place, to investigate it and begin more fully to be able to receive the love that does surround you. And also to offer yourself that love. When you can serve yourself with joy, you can serve others with joy.

Of course, this suggestion is not just for you. I know there are at least a half a dozen in this circle who could have said the same words you said. I talk to all of you.

Barbara: He asks, does that feel workable?

Q: The idea that I could be doing something I really enjoy without "I should meditate", "I should finish that book", is very helpful. Very. To give myself permission….

Barbara: Aaron says it may be kind doing absolutely nothing. That may be what you most want to do. He says, and that's fine, just watching clouds float by. No problem. He says, what does it mean to give this gift to yourself and allow yourself to receive it?

New Q: One push that I have in my life is based in fear, "I should", and I think it might have its roots in a past life experience. Within the last year, 2 friends visiting on different occasions pointed out to me that when I go grocery shopping, I buy everything in two's. A long time ago, I had a visitor ask me why my pantry is so full. I wonder if in a past life I starved and I feel this need in this life to hoard?

Barbara: I'm paraphrasing Aaron, he says, Undoubtedly, probably all of us have had that experience of starving some time in a past life. He said, more important than recognizing the reason why this happens, is, let me give you Aaron directly.

Aaron: I am Aaron. So there is a push here. You go into a store and unconsciously there is some level of fear. People visit psychologists for years trying to unearth the nature of fear, the causes of fear, so they can fix themselves. Sometimes this is valuable; people can also visit a psychic or in some other way look into their past lives and try to find the causes of fear. Sometimes it's valuable.

But people can also get trapped with that seeking of knowledge. It just adds to the whole sense of a somebody who is going to finally control and fix something that's broken. Much more useful, I think, just to note the push, the impulse to buy two. Here is fear, even if you don't consciously feel the fear. Intellectually, you can figure out when the need to buy 2 things comes from a place of fear. You have figured that out.

Then the question is, how am I going to relate to that fear? Am I going to quite literally keep feeding it, hoping it will go away, hoping it will recede? Or can I just make the decision, right here, this one small purchase, a box of tea, only 1. How does it feel to buy just 1? Can there be a soft container for the fear that comes up, the compulsive voice that says, "Buy! Buy! Buy! We need two!"

Ah yes, it's like a little child, a two-year-old, tired and angry in late afternoon, and screaming, "I want a cookie!" You don't shut the child off in a back room and say, "You are naughty." And you don't have to stuff the child with cookies. You hold the child and you tell the child, "I hear that you're hungry and tired. Dinner is coming soon. Here's a carrot!"

You offer a response to the child by hearing what the child really needs. So what you need is not 2 boxes of tea or detergent, what you need is attention to a level of fear which may or may not reveal its origins when you bring attention to it. It may simply go. You may not ever know where it came from. If you need to know, it will reveal itself. Do you understand? I pause.

Barbara: He says, so this is how we take the push, that tension, here I am in the store, "tension, tension." See the old pattern with it, to try to get rid of that discomfort, that tension, with, "buy, buy, buy". Then you say "no, this is not wholesome". When you do say "no" the tension may increase. What does it mean, what does it feel like, to be present with that tension without needing to fix it? This impulse voice is based on fear. How can you be more present with kindness, not scolding. Make a bigger container and invite anything you need to know to reveal itself, but also know, "I don't have to control this by figuring out where the impulse comes from." All you need to do is note, "here is fear".

Here's a simple and helpful practice from Thich Nhat Hanh: "Breathing in, I am aware of my fear; breathing out, I smile to my fear". And buy just one and see how that feels. If the fear is huge as you buy just one, go home and meditate with that. You can always go back to the store and buy another.

Q: Or buy the jumbo box!

Barbara: Aaron says, try only buying one, just for experiment's sake, and if the impulse arises, "Oh, I've got to go back, the store closes in an hour and I only have one."-what is this fear, just present with it, willing to have it reveal itself. Try to be with the direct experience of the fear, not the contents of its stories. There may be a past life that comes up that's very valuable to see. If so, that's fine. But be willing not to have it reveal itself, just to know this experience as fear.

Aaron is saying, remember his statement, "that which is aware of fear is not afraid". Can awareness sit back in a quiet space watching fear? What is the experience of fear? It's very unpleasant. We all want to get away from it. We all have a million different techniques that we've perfected through centuries to try not to have to experience fear. We pretend it doesn't exist or we get into the stories and try to solve them, thinking that will drive fear away. What if we experience it, and then we find out it's not so terrible. It's like seeing shadow puppets; right now it looks small, (making a shadow puppet on the wall) but if the lighting was different I could blow up so it was the size of the entire wall. But this monster is nothing but my hand and light. We start to see into the nature of fear itself. Just fear. It's just an emotional and physiological response.

When we move past getting caught up in the stories of our fear and start to see fear just as arisen out of conditions, an emotion, there's such a sense of freedom. We no longer have to run and jump at everything. Things are as they are. Sometimes a sense of hot or cold will arise, sometimes joy or sorrow will arise, sometimes fear will arise. It all is no big deal.

New Q: I feel there's a well of sadness that's always with me. I have a lot of grief and remorse over the lives that my children had. In the early lives that they had, there was a lot of chaos and trauma. And it interferes with my clarity around issues with them. As far as the grief is concerned, I no longer expect it to go away. It's just something that is there as me. But I'd like to know what to do with it so that I can clear my interactions with my children?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear you and I know that your question resonates with a number of people in this room. I think there are 2 different options here, and you may have to try to see which one works best.

As you speak - and of course I know you better than some of the people in this room, and we've talked about this before - it feels to me that the grief is holding on because there is something that the grief hides. In other words, the grief serves as a smokescreen for something deeper.

It may be enough to simply acknowledge that, not to try to dig out what it is, but just to sit with the question, "If this compulsive grief, this repetitive grief, were not here, what might I feel? Is there something grief protects me from?" I raise this possibility because after so many years, it seems very interesting, curious really, that the grief is still so profound. Perhaps there is strong shame or guilt. Perhaps also anger. Feelings of helplessness. I don't know what's there; you will have to look. But I would just be with the question, "What does the grief protect me from?"

There is a push, and we don't yet know the nature of the push. We do know the habitually tendency to escape from that push is to move into the experience of grief. I do not mean that the grief is not real, but the grief is a response and result. Push, and grief is the answer. So I ask, what if there were not grief? This is the path I think would be most fruitful for you because of the stability of your vipassana practice.

For others who might have the same kind of feeling, but have not yet developed a stable meditation practice, it could be more helpful to try to be with the direct experience of grief as much as possible, free of any stories. When we say grief, what do you feel? Tightening in the heart, pressure, perhaps heat or an icy sensation. Choked up feeling in the throat. What is the predominant experience in that moment? The mind may want to race off to stories, "How do I fix this? What did I do wrong? Who is to blame? What should I do now?" Each time those types of thoughts come up, just note, "thinking", or "stories", and come back to the direct experience of the grief. Watch what happens to it. Does it change? Does it begin to dissolve?

Of course, it will change. In that moment as it does change, if you have been able to be present with the direct physical experience, I think some insight will develop, in the same directions as I have just suggested K work with the question, "What does this grief protect me from?" You may be surprised to find strong old anger emerging, or sadness, which is different than grief.

Sadness and joy are two very clear emotions, both of which can come from a deep place of love. Sadness does not have fear in it. It isn't trying to hold on to anything. Grief has fear in it. There's grasping in grief, wanting things to be different. Grief becomes compulsive, repeating its stories over and over. With sadness, there's a low energy, perhaps a similar constriction around the heart. But sadness has a peacefulness to it that grief doesn't have. Sadness has few stories.

K, I want to address you personally just a bit further, speaking to your stable meditation practice. I suggest that some in this group who have an equally stable meditation practice are ready to work in this direction..

As meditation practice deepens, one begins to see how everything in this what we call conditioned realm, this world that has arisen out of conditions, is impermanent, and how little control we have over what arises in our lives. Everybody wants to be safe. I do not mean it in a deeply negative way, to say that all of you are going to die. Everything, the trees out there, everything, is impermanent. This is the experience of incarnation, birth and death.. But humans don't want to know about their mortality. They don't want to know about the lack of control they have. You can't control the weather. You also can't control what other people think.

There was an earthquake last night. You can't control when the earth will shake. Sometimes it shakes hard; walls could fall down. You can't control that. People don't really want to know about that level of helplessness. At another level, of course, you are not helpless. You live through the various things that occur, like somebody wading into the ocean, into the waves. Sometimes it's a little wave lapping at your belly. Sometimes it's a big wave pouring over your head. You just stand there. Waves come. If they're too uncomfortable, you can back up onto the shore, but you can't change the way the waves move.

In that ability to simply stand there and let the waves be as they are, lies your strength. When you come to that place of deep center, there's an enormous peace that knows things will be as they will be. You cannot come to that place of peace about the past, about your children, your past actions, and so on, until you acknowledge that which is so afraid, which wants to control and fix, as simply another wave!. You've got to make the conscious decision: "I have done this enough. I don't need to take responsibility for the size and shape of the waves."

I am not saying here that you have no responsibility; you set certain waves in motion. They bounced against a cliff and poured back to you. In their movement they have roiled things up. There is responsibility. But you cannot undo the past, you can only be where you are and live from here.

Look at the part of you that is not willing to let go, not just about this issue, but because to let go of the past, to let go of the idea that you can control everything or anything, is one of the last vestiges of holding on, of being the separate self that's going to be in control. And we're not in control. We co-create. We do not control!

In some of Barbara's meditation classes in Ann Arbor, she gives people the assignment to juggle raw eggs. She asks them to do it on a kitchen or bathroom floor where the mess is easily wiped up, and to watch how much fear there is throwing an egg in the air. "What if I don't catch it?" Then she asks them to throw it up and purposely not catch it, to see that part of themselves that can let the egg go splat.

How does it feel to let go in that way? It is frightening, but there is enormous peace when you discover, "I can do this. I don't have to continue to be this somebody that's always in control." There's so much stress, so much pain in that holding. This does not mean you become irresponsible, only you stop trying to keep in the air that which is not your responsibility. You let go and let life be as it is, and release yourself from the guilt of so many lifetimes that you could not save the beings around you or yourself. I pause.

New Q: My husband is my push. I try unconsciously to control his life. If I go out alone with him to a movie or to a restaurant, I feel all right. But if invited to a function or to a family gathering, or wedding, I am scared to take him out because he has alcoholism, and he has short memory loss. I'm ashamed to tell other people what his condition is.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear you, Q. Please do not take my response as criticism. There is no judgment here. You are suffering as is your husband. My heart goes out to you. But when you tell me that you feel ashamed to let people know his condition, I deeply sense the possibility that that shame is your smokescreen for anger. And that you are using the shame as a way not to deeply touch the anger.

I would ask you to consider this possibility and how much healthier it would be for both of you if you could acknowledge the deep anger, not only for the present but for the past. It's not going to overwhelm you. You're not going to act it out against him and others. I think the deep acknowledgment of it will free you.

So for you the push is his condition: his drinking, his memory loss, his physical condition. And the habitual pattern, probably not only now with his memory loss but years ago with his drinking, was a feeling of shame. Maybe I'm wrong. I would request that you look there and at least consider the same question I raised before: if I were not experiencing the shame, what might be there? Can I allow myself to open to that experience and know that it's safe? Probably along with anger is sadness, feeling the deep loss of what could have been, "if only". The feelings of helplessness that you could not change him.

So I think that once you begin to acknowledge that it's okay to have these feelings, that you are not bad to have these feelings, and, it's safe to have these feelings, that you will not act them out in the world, I think you're going to find there's a lot more compassion for him and for yourself. You may develop more ability to take him with you and know, he created where he is now. And you cannot protect him from that. Do you understand what I'm saying? I pause.

Barbara: He asks, do you feel you could try that? (Q: Yes.) He says it's a gradual process, it's not like a switch-"Oh, here is the anger; now the shame will be gone." It's a gradual opening process, seeing deeper and deeper into what the shame hides? What experiences are there that led me to build up this pattern of feeling ashamed, feeling I have to protect him, or to protect others? What might I be feeling if I wasn't feeling this? Slowly those feelings will be allowed to emerge and they'll stop being so powerful. Q: Thank you.

Q: In our business, I feel pushed to advertise. I am pushed to use my name and face... newspapers, but I don't like it! I get very tense, angry, and I fight it. But one way we found to work around that reaction is, I let A make the advertisement and show me after it's finished and in the newspaper! But I still feel fear and shame, "No!" I don't want to use my face and my name". It feels like a violation of privacy. And in part I don't want to take responsibility for the company. If it's my name and my face, then it's my company. That way, all the good things and the bad things about the company are my responsibility. That's one major push right now.

Barbara: Logically I can understand why your name and picture would go in the ad because you're teaching English to people, and what you want to present in the ad is a face that looks like an native English -speaking person. Aaron asks, when you say it's an invasion of your privacy, is there a fear that somebody would abuse knowing where to find you in some way? (Q: No.) So it's more about responsibility?

Q: And worrying about what people think. And associating that with me...

Aaron: I am Aaron. What I'm hearing here is the fear, "Can I deliver? Am I adequate? Can I do what I say I could do?" M, we have looked at pieces of similar fear before. I'm speaking here not just based on what you said but based on some of our past conversations about the need to please people, the compelling need to be good for others. Not so much for fear that they won't love you, but for discomfort with any movement of "selfishness". The old story arises, "I shouldn't hold anything aside for myself. I should give it all away joyfully." I think this situation is an outplay of that old emotion.

The push seems to be not so much your putting your name and face in the ad, but that doing so is inviting expectation from others. And when you invite expectation from others, then there is that fear, "I won't be able to meet their expectation." I can't suggest that you should or should not continue such advertising. I don't think it matters so much. If the catalyst doesn't come up in the advertising, it will come up somewhere else, as with people coming into your office and signing up for a class. The same issue: can I meet their expectations?

What I would suggest you look at is the question, what if I don't meet their expectations? On the surface, I think the first answer that will come is, that you won't be loved. But, I'm repeating myself a bit here, I do not think that that's the primary issue. The primary issue is, if I don't meet their expectations, is it because I hold back, because I was greedy in some way. This is about how one relates to difficult emotions like fear that leads to selfish feelings. The whole question, what do I take for myself, as opposed to what do I offer out - not seeing that it must be a circular thing. You can only give when you allow yourself to receive. And this, I think, is at the heart of it. What does it mean to you to allow yourself to receive?

This brings us back to the question of selfishness and selflessness that was raised yesterday. So I toss this question out to many of you-why is it easier for you to give than to receive? M, is this enough to go on or do I need to speak further on it? I pause.

Q: It's enough to go on.

New Q: My biggest push, other than all the ones we've already named, is clutter. I hate clutter. But I've been surrounding myself with clutter for years… (difficult to hear recording) ... I'm bad... <> Intellectually I know. I feel good when things are cleaned up.

Aaron: I am Aaron. This is a wonderful question. I think it touches many of you. It's the whole issue of holding on to things, and a fear, whether they're possessions or relationships, or even the busy mind, wanting and not wanting this clutter.

You've got yourself into a non-ending circle. What I would invite you to see is that you are directing your attention to the result, which is the clutter, rather than the conditions out of which the clutter arises.

You say you hate the clutter. And yet, it continues because it's hard to let go of things. It would be easy to look at this question and oversimplify and say you are simply perpetuating self-anger, being somebody bashing your head against the wall; wanting to hold onto a negative self image and using the "I can't resolve the clutter" issue as a way of doing that.

But I think this is too simplistic. It's like saying to somebody who is very heavy and who can't stop eating enormous quantities of food, "Why do you want to hold onto this negative self-image? All you need to do is stop eating." But they can't stop eating. It's not that they are eating to maintain a negative self-image. That's only one small part of it. It's not that you collect clutter to maintain a negative self image because it's too frightening to consider a positive self image. That's only one part of it.

I would ask the same question: what does the clutter protect you from? Or, a different but related question, what does the negative self image that comes from collecting clutter protect you from?

I don't want to sound like I'm on a single track here. I don't not believe everything runs back to anger. But in this case, it feels to me that's a real possibility, so please consider it. But the clutter and negative self image have been a way of avoiding deeper feelings, perhaps of anger, of fear, of helplessness; I don't know exactly what, but I suspect anger is at least a part of it.

One needs to work here very tenderly, patiently. First, I would ask you to consider the possibility - just for experiment's sake, to make the statement - "I am not bad because I collect clutter. I am uncomfortable with the clutter because it's unpleasant, but I'm not bad because I collect clutter. The clutter is a result." I'd like you just to reflect on that for a day or two.

Then I'd like you to take one small area of your home, it might be a desk or the corner where you sleep, just one small part of your kitchen, a very small area, and clear it. Get everything in order in that small corner. You're not doing this to become a good person, you're doing it as a gift to yourself because you don't like clutter. How does it feel to be in that small area of the home?. How are you when you're there in that clean spaciousness? Is it different than when you're in cluttered parts of the home?

Make a commitment for a month to keep that very small area clean. I suspect that there will be one of two results. Either you will find great joy in that clean area and start to realize without needing to go any deeper, "I don't need to hold on to clutter," and find yourself cleaning other small areas, letting go, simply because the habit has shifted and you don't need to hold on to the clutter, and you're giving yourself permission not to hold on. That may happen.

It may also happen that it becomes very uncomfortable to be in the clutter-free area, and then you need to ask the question, what does the clutter protect me from? What would it mean to let go of the clutter? But you need to do this with great kindness and patience, not force.

I want to bring out the idea here that habitual tendencies continue for 2 reasons. Sometimes they are just habit, nothing more. Someone pushes and you tense and clench your fist. That's habit energy. Or maybe you bite your nails. You get a drink. Whatever the habit energy is. There's nothing holding it in place any more but habit. When you ask, "What would I be experiencing if I didn't do this?" there's the realization, nothing. It's just old habit.

Sometimes we find that there is still karma there. There are still conditions that have not yet been resolved. What is most important is not to go into this work as a self-fix-it program. In other words, one does not say, "I'm an angry person and I have to fix that. I have clutter in my home and I have to fix that. I am too fat or too thin and I have to fix that. I speak too much and I have to fix that."

Rather, one looks at this tendency and says, "This brings discomfort to me. As a gift to myself, I offer the intention to understand what may still be driving this energy. I offer the intention to uncover that aspect of myself which is not driven by this energy." In other words, to find the part of one's self who is not angry, who doesn't cling. It's there. It may be a small seed that needs to be nurtured.

So often for many of you, you spend all of your energy trying to fix the part that does this or that rather than just observing, "These are habitual tendencies, and I come back to the space that's free of those tendencies." I would ask you, can you feel that there is a space in you that doesn't need to hold on to things? It's a very small and fragile seedling, perhaps afraid, that without those things it will vulnerable, exposed. And yet it's a beautiful seed. Instead of giving your attention to, "How do I fix the clutter?", ask yourself, "How can I nourish this seed?"

My conjecture is that if you clean this small area of your house and in that way begin to nourish the seed, it's possible that you may find that this is all it takes. But if not, then you can begin to explore deeply. Can you feel the difference in approach? I pause. Q: Yes.

Barbara: He says for all of you, where there is anger, find the small seed of kindness; know that in that moment, along with the anger, kindness is there. Along with the fear, fearlessness is there. Often we don't look at those beautiful aspects of ourselves; we just attack the negativity in ourselves. "I've got to get rid of my anger, I've got to destroy my anger. I've got to get rid of my fear, I've got to kill my greed." We don't pay attention to the generosity and the kindness.

This is coming from me. Once we did a workshop in which we asked people to take a piece of paper and write a list of things they admire about themselves. Second, things they dislike about themselves. We asked people to try to keep the list relatively even. Nobody could do it. Somebody would write down, "generous," and think, "I'm generous. I can see I'm generous with my time. But sometimes I feel selfish. I'm selfish. If I'm selfish, I can't be generous. Cross out generous."

So it's got to be 100% or we can't see that there is that generosity and kindness in ourselves. We go after the little bit of selfishness, the little bit of meanness, and say "Get that out of here!" We give all our energy to the meanness or the suffering. In that way we keep it going. We get involved in anger with it, like the one who clutters saying "I'm the clutterer," instead of saying something like, "I'm the one who's learning to be neat" or "I'm a neat person and there's some clutter". How about greedy or generous? If you intend to give and a little fear comes up, "I'm greedy" comes with it rather than, "I'm generous and there's some fear". We can see this pattern and start to work with that which is positive instead of constantly trying to fix that which is negative. We begin to nurture the strengths and allow them to emerge.

There is something that Aaron wants to talk about here. He feels it's very relevant to where we are now. So we're going to pause in our discussion and go off in another direction for just a few minutes.

(tape pause)

Aaron: I am Aaron. I want to speak briefly about the relationship between the relative and the ultimate. You've heard me use the words conditioned and unconditioned. The conditioned is simply that which depends on conditions for its existence. The growing plant needs a seed, good soil, water, sunlight, and it will thrive. If any of those conditions are removed, it will not thrive.

An emotion like joy, - it's the result of many different conditions. If you change those conditions, the result will change. The joy may dim. Sunlight is the result of conditions. The earth has to be in the right place in its day and night cycle or you won't get sunlight. The sky has to be clear of clouds. Then you get brilliant sunlight. If there are clouds, while the sun still shines, you don't see the sun shining. This is the conditioned realm.

Then there is that which is free of conditions, that which is. Call it God, call it the Unconditioned, Goddess, Divinity. It doesn't matter what you label it, it is a richness, a fullness. The ground of all being. That which is. And it is in everything. It's not something out there, it's everywhere. In fact it's not a thing, it simply Is.

We call the conditioned world the world of relative reality. We call the Unconditioned world the world of ultimate reality. They are not at opposite ends of the scale. The relative and the ultimate are always part of each other. There is a Buddhist teaching that uses the word kaya which means body. Dharmakaya; dharma means truth so this is the truth body, the essence. At the other end of the spectrum is nirmanakaya. Nirmana is form so this is the form body.

Picture a deep underground spring, with absolutely pure water. There is the dharmakaya, the truth body, the deepest purity. It bubbles up out of the earth and forms a small stream, runs downhill and, given enough time and water, becomes a river. Ten miles downstream, animals have walked into the river, bringing in soil. Various pollutants have drained into the river. You come to the river and you're thirsty. The water is brown and muddy looking. Where is the clear water?

You might think you need to go up to the spring. It's only there that you can find the pure water. But the pure water is right here. Where else would it be? Of course, the pollutants are also here, but the dharmakaya and the nirmanakaya are not separate. The form body, such as this form body of physicality, thoughts and emotions that each of you wear, and the divine essence, are not separate. If you want the pure water 10 miles downstream, you've got to get a filter and filter out the pollutants. If you look within yourself at all the levels of shadow, fear, negativity, right there with all of that shadow is the ground of being, this divine essence. You don't have to go anyplace else for it, it's right there.

The trick is to learn how to be with both at once, not to abandon the form body with its distortions and its beauty, in order to get to the essence. Not to abandon the essence and attend only to the form body. But to find both at once. In the teaching from which these two terms derive, dharmakaya and nirmanakaya, there is a transition space, sambhogakaya, where they come together. This is the bridge that connects them.

I'd like Barbara to demonstrate. It is easier for her with her eyes open. She can explain this without my channeling through her. So I shift this to her.

Barbara: what I'd like you to do is this. I want you to hold your hand out in front of your face. 6 inches in front of your face. Wiggle the fingers. Only focus on the fingers. You can't see much else. Move the hand around. Now, keeping the fingers wiggling, shift your gaze and look right through them. Look at the person across the room. The fingers are still wiggling. You can still see the image of them, but you're looking through them to the vast spaciousness. Come back to the fingers. Now back to the spaciousness.

Your gaze can't be in both places at one time, you can only look at the fingers or through the fingers. But when you look through the fingers, the fingers don't go away. You still know that they're there. While not the center of focus, you can still see them move. You're making a choice not only to hold the fingers in your vision, but everything. Can you feel that? When you focus on the space you can still see the fingers. When you focus on the fingers, you can still know the space is there if you have learned to notice it. But it's so much in the background for most people that it gets lost when the focus is on the solid objects.

Let's consider the fingers as the conditioned objects of our life. This sick family member (wiggling one finger), this work that I've got to get done (wiggling another finger), this financial issue, my health issue. The angry person who lives down the street…. Without abandoning them, there's still a spaciousness. This is where we come home to this place of clarity, this place of kindness.

From that place of kindness, we can attend. Conditioned objects arise, and pass away, and there's this vast field into which they arise and out of which they pass. The field is not a nothing. We've learned only to look at the objects and not that vast space. So what Aaron's suggesting here is the ability to come back to that vast field of Unconditioned. This is what it literally is, that vast spaciousness where the heart is open, where we know our deepest interconnection, where there's joy.

Right there with fear is fearlessness. Right there with anger is kindness. We don't have to get rid of the anger or the fear or the greed, we attend to them skillfully and get to know that which is not mean but kind, that which is not selfish but generous, that which is not afraid but fearless. We come to know these in ourselves, and to find we have a choice. Instead of focusing attention thinking, "I have to fix the anger. I have to fix the greed. It's bad, here it is again. Get a stick. Chase it away." Instead of that, we note, "Here is greed. Interesting. There is space too. And fear here too. Interesting."

Centering in that which is aware of the fear and greed, right there is generosity and fearlessness. Here it is. We can choose to open to this space of deepest clarity and love, can stop fighting with the things that come up that are uncomfortable, and attend to them in a skillful way.

Are there questions?

Q: My biggest push in my life is family. I was asked to be a very good kid, not only in my family but in the community. To my house many people come. Always community people said to me or to my family, "Look at the boy. He's good. Behaves well. Model of children." I myself wanted to be a good person, but that is really big burden or pressure to me. And as for my habit, ultimately my habit is that I feel lonely because I do not want to disclose to myself to the people around me. So I don't have very intimate friends, only a few good friends. Because I do not open up myself. I do not want to be judged or felt as that expected person. I don't like it. I'm tired of being good!

Aaron: I am Aaron. What you're asking is a very common human experience. For me the telling words are, "afraid to disclose myself." That says to me that you have not yet befriended the very human negative thoughts that come and go, that you've bought into a very common myth, "I should not think negative thoughts." These are just the results of conditions. If I pour blue dye into a glass of clear water, it will turn the water blue. You can't say the water shouldn't be blue. It changes color because of conditions. The whole human experience is to have emotions. The emotions are not bad. It's unskillful to act out those emotions in ways that harm others. You are not incarnate to bypass emotions, but to learn to have equanimity with emotions. As long as there is self-judgment, "I shouldn't have this emotion", there's going to be judgment of others too. You are here to learn about that, how to see judgments arise and not believe all the stories they foster.

Yesterday I talked about that shift to 4th density. Until there is equanimity with emotions, you cannot allow yourself fully to communicate with others because of the shame. I repeat, you are not incarnate to get rid of any of the bodies, not to stop thought, not to stop emotion, not to destroy and dissolve the physical body. You are incarnate to learn compassion, to learn unconditional love, to deepen in wisdom, using the tools of these heavy bodies, mental, emotional and physical, as the catalyst for your learning. So you have a choice, to continue to wage war with the shadow side of the self, or to bring more attention to your true innate goodness, trust that goodness, and offer compassion when negative thought arises. Only then will there cease to be shame with what arises, and only then will you cease to fear to disclose yourself to others.

The way to this learning is not easy, but it is the heart of your human incarnate experience. I find vipassana meditation practice to be one of the most direct paths to this learning. This is why I teach it. Because in meditation everything comes up, and we can see our relationship with it, and see the possibility of forming a softer and kinder relationship with it, ending the war, finding true compassion for ourselves and the world. I pause.


Barbara: I'm going to teach you a very simple meditation drawn from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It's called tonglen. The translation of the word tonglen would be "giving/receiving meditation". Our natural response is to want to hold on to that which is pleasant to us. Not to want to take into ourselves anything that's unpleasant.

Tonglen challenges that inclination. It reminds us that we can give away that which we tend to want to hold for ourselves. We can safely receive that which is difficult, and we don't hold on to it. We let it come into ourselves and we release it.

There are two parts, first the breathing in light and sending it to suffering part, then the second half, taking in that suffering and releasing it.

1. Sitting erect, note the breath moving in and out. Feel yourself in a circle of light, of energetic light, love or specifically, of God's (or Jesus' or the Buddha's) presence, The divine Heart to your heart. (The energy of the Unconditioned/ the Universe)

2. Breath in, feeling that Light and infinite love move into you.

3. Breath out. Let it fill your heart.

4. Breath in, note the immense suffering of the world, then narrow focus to one place/person and note the intention to send this light/ love to that suffering..

5. Breath out, sending that Love with the exhaled breath, to this suffering being. Here we are allowing ourselves to give freely, not to hold that Light which is so precious for ourselves but offering it freely in service to others.

Do it this far a few times. Then you're ready to learn part 2.

6. Inhale. See the suffering as a black, thick , tar-like mass. Allow yourself to draw it into your heart. Note any resistance, any fear of allowing in that suffering, any desire to stay separate; soften around it. This is not a matter of forcing oneself, but gently opening one's heart to fear, to the fear that creates illusion of our separation from the suffering of the world. We MUST do it gently. If there is resistance, allow in as much as you can. No "shoulds," no judgment, just the heart that gently opens when its fear is met with mercy.

7. Exhale, allowing yourself to feel the heaviness of the suffering.

8. Inhale, remembering the Unconditioned/ God/ the Eternal; the entire positive energy of the universe. We as human need not hold the suffering and bear it ourselves.

9. Exhale, release it to wherever it goes, just out into that universal love and compassion or more specifically, to Jesus or the Buddha, or ...

Now we'll put the whole practice together. Let us do this for about 10 minutes.

1. Sitting erect, note the breath moving in and out. Feel yourself in a circle of light, of God's (or Jesus') presence, His Heart to your heart.

2. Breath in, feeling that Light and infinite love move into you.

3. Breath out. Let it fill your heart.

4. Breath in, note the immense suffering of the world, then direct focus to one place/person. Intention to send out the light.

5. Breath out, sending that Love with the exhaled breath, to this suffering being. Here we are allowing ourselves to give freely, not to hold that Light which is so precious for ourselves but offering it freely in service to others.

6. Inhale. See the suffering as a black, thick, tarry mass. Allow yourself to draw it into your heart. Note any resistance, any fear of allowing in that suffering, any desire to stay separate; soften around it. 7. Exhale, allowing yourself to feel the heaviness of the suffering.

8. Inhale, remembering that we as human need not hold the suffering and bear it ourselves.

9. Exhale, release it.

Repeat these steps for as long as seems helpful. Please be gentle with any resistance you find within yourselves.

(Bell; Bell; Bell.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. I want to thank you each for sharing yourselves so deeply this weekend. I want to remind you that you are surrounded by spirit and that you are loved, and how much we applaud with joy each of your efforts toward growing compassion and wisdom. Each of you is a dear and holy light, a radiant light. My prayer for you is that you may come to know that aspect of yourself and bring that light to the darkness in the universe. Let every corner in which darkness hides be lit by your blessed radiance. Cherish yourselves.

Whatever benefit may come from this work this weekend, we offer it out to all sentient beings on every plane, that all beings everywhere may be free from suffering and find peace. My love goes with you. That is all.

Copyright © 2003 by Barbara Brodsky