March 7, 2004, Sunday Morning Q&A Period

Barbara: The question has been asked, simply, "I'm not getting it. It feels unnecessarily complex. It seems to me that the central practice to the Seven Branch Prayer is the Four Empowerments and finding the antidote. I'm asking for clarification. Please talk more about all of this.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question and appreciate it. I know that others in the group share that question. I hope I can offer a reply that is helpful to you.

First, yes, the central practice is the Four Empowerments, and central to that are the resolve and resolution steps. All the rest of it can be put aside. That doesn't mean it's not helpful, but it can be put aside. The reason we surround it with the added facets, such as reaching for support and offering gratitude, are because those support practices help to release the constriction of fear that so often blocks practice.

Perhaps something comes up in your practice and it's uncomfortable. The next day it comes again, and again and again and again. The pattern of judging the self is there. Perhaps the pattern of finding spaciousness for the judgment is also there. But the effort involved in the practice has become imbalanced. So there is a fix-it kind of energy. Observation becomes tight, guarded.

One of the best ways I know to balance that fix-it constriction of energy is through resting in the support. This is the space of non-rejection, the space where we can be open to whatever comes. There will be recognition that the support is available, and the experience of gratitude not only for the support, but also for the situation itself. The bringing forth of gratitude serves as a vital counterbalance to some of these constrictive habitual tendencies.

It goes further than counterbalance. The habitual energies arise either because there are literal roots in place, or because of habit energy. When there are roots in place, you need some kind of balance to, I can only say it as, to soften those roots. When there is the root of the grasping mind, with its greed and fear, the generosity of offering thanks helps to soften that fear.

What when it's just habit energy? For example, there are those of you who, when somebody says, "Can you wait just a minute?" tension comes up with the thought, "Is it really going to be just a minute? Is this going to be OK?" You smile and say, "Of course." It's not just words. You know at a deep level that it is okay. But this tension comes up. I'm using this as a very simple example. It's habit energy. We can address that tension of "will it be safe" from the level of applying the balance, the antidote, offering metta to the self. But that's acting as if there was still a root in place. Sometimes there is; sometimes there isn't.

When we see the tension come up when somebody says, "Wait a minute, I'll be there," if we see the possibility that it's habit energy, we can literally shift ourselves into that which is not tense. This wisdom is the balance.

Stepping back.... The supports around the resolve/resolution practice help to provide balances. They enhance accessibility to the place where the tension is already resolved. You cannot come deeply to rest in the awareness that knows fearlessness and infinite compassion from a place of constricted energy, from a place of judgment, fear or control. If the practice is done in a mechanical way, eliminating all of the preliminary and final closing steps and just saying, "Here is fear. I will practice with the antidotes to fear," that statement often itself comes from fear. The balancing can be a way to further control. You're separating from the constricted texture of mind and body, almost ordering yourself about. It's very different from "Here is fear," then opening the heart, being more present with the fear just to be present and know it as it is, not to fix. Then compassion attends. .

The Four empowerments are one series of steps that are possible; you can find your own. The question is what allows you to come to full presence with fear? What supports the arising intention to bring balance to it, free of the fix-it control energy? If there's something you can substitute for the finding support, offering gratitude and so forth, that's fine. Those steps are not specifically necessary; only something in needed that brings you to that open heartedness.

The heart of the practice is the intention on the relative level to bring balance. Seeing this has arisen, that forever and ever it arises out of these conditions, we know it's old habit energy. We recognize the possibility this negative thought pattern can cease to arise. Intentionality invites that cessation, invites the balance. But it's all done with spaciousness, not fear and control.

One comes to see how one can do even that balancing practice, applying the balance over and over and over, as another of ego's games, a way of perpetuating a somebody who's going to attend in a skillful way, to find balance. At a certain point, we have to cut it off. There was never anything to balance. There's nobody to be the balancer. Here is where wisdom enters. Can we rest in that nobody?

What allows us to come into that space of infinite compassion, infinite presence, fearlessness. This is the space of pure awareness. And I don't believe you, my friend, if you tell me you don't know that space, because I've observed your practice and I've observed you resting in that space.

We can articulate the practice in many ways, but basically what we are bringing forth is the inviting of that shift from the self into the expanded self, or no-self, no personal self. Let me give you a specific example, all of you.

What if as a child you had been bitten by a dog, severely bitten, so as a child you grew up with a fear of dogs. As you became older, you had the opportunity to make friends with individual dogs. And yet the old habit energy, "dogs are dangerous, they may bite," is still present. "This dog is okay; that dog is okay, and that one over there. But dogs on a whole, they may bite, they're dangerous."

Your best friend is suddenly sick and needs to go to the hospital, says, "Please, will you take my dog?" You know this dog. He's one of the okay dogs. And yet when you open your eyes in the morning feeling that cold nose touching your cheek, terror rises, "Dog! Dog!"

Clearly it's old mind. With the next breath, you may recognize this isn't dog, this is Spotty., and the fear subsides. But there's that moment of "Dog! Dog!" old mind.

Looking at this with resolve, each time Spotty greets you in the morning with that cold nose touching your cheek, and you awake with fear, you bring metta to it. That helps it shift into Spotty faster. But your friend is very sick; Spotty is with you for months. After awhile you're tired of waking up with that moment of terror in the morning. You have realized deeply that moment of shift from dog-terror to Spotty-safe. You understand that it's old mind conditioning. The resolve level, practicing with the antidotes, is not budging this. Terror still is coming up.

Here one needs to go into the next level, so that simultaneous with that wet nose on your cheek comes the awareness, not of dog-terror to Spotty-safe but the whole experience of terror mingled directly with the experience of openhearted compassion. It's no longer linear. We allow it to come up together. This is what transforms it. The dog-terror aspect of it has nothing left to support it. But if it does still come, the power of the compassion that comes with it is strong enough that it outshines the terror. The terror is simply a reminder to compassion. Eventually it no longer matters if there's terror. Sometimes terror or another unpleasant emotion may come. We recognize it as the outflow of conditions and there is o longer any self-identification with it. As we stop giving it energy, the emotion goes.

That process can only happen with deep openhearted presence. All of the preliminaries are simply aides, which you may take or leave, to bring you to that openhearted presence, to support it. Do you have further question, or question about what I have said? I pause.

Barbara: (repeating question) The question is about raising children and the role of ego, and the role of non-self in raising children. Does that sum it up?

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear your question. Let us first distinguish between the ego simply as a tool, perhaps more clearly defined as the personality self, and the belief in that tool as having an ultimate reality.

Your body is useful; you need the body. How do you cook food for the children, drive them to one place or another, tuck them into bed, if you don't have a body? The personality is useful. It's a lovely way, or sometimes not so lovely way, that each being relates to the world. As a fully realized being, I still have a personality. You would find me very flat and boring if I had no personality. I don't think you'd really want to come and listen to me. But I don't invest in the personality with self-identification.

The difficulty is not the ego self, the difficulty is the ownership and belief in that ego self as me. In raising children, they need your ego offered in a clear way, to have a sense of who you are. Part of the ego that shines through for the loving mother is the deep caring for the child, holding that child precious, cherishing. But this is coming from a place of love, not of fear.

Just as children will mimic this, let us call it transcendent level of ego, they will also mimic the small level of ego. When the personality self becomes a self-identity, it creates a separate me and you, self and other, and then strives to control, maybe through firmness or anger, maybe even through kindness, but there's still "somebody" trying to push things its own way. Then the child pushes back.

When that fear-based self identity with the ego is dissolved, then one is able to use the personality self in playful, friendly, loving ways. The child will model that. I know this is a brief answer; is it sufficient? I pause.

Barbara: Let us end questions here and walk for awhile, then return to sit.

Copyright © 2004 by Barbara Brodsky