Aaron - Morning Instructions, April 25, 2005

Aaron: Good morning. My blessings and love to you on this lovely day.

Regarding the element practice and using the elements as a tool to assist with balancing, I am asked, Is it recommended when needed during meditation as well as at other times? Yes of course, use it whenever it feels appropriate. If in sitting you feel a lot of lethargy during the formal sitting practice, first note it as lethargy. That noting in itself may be all that is needed to bring more energy and balance. If the lethargy persists, it is perfectly appropriate at that point to scan the body and see if there is element imbalance. Possibly the earth element is very heavy. There may be need for more fire element, or more release of the earth element. If there is a lot of anger or fear, feeling contracted, the sound of the ocean is a wonderful balance to feelings of contraction. When fear and other contractedness come up, just stop and listen to the ocean. Let it pour through you. Use care though that you use this element balancing for skillful attendance and not to fix, from a contracted self, or you will simply further imbalance.

The practice of Buddha-gazing that I mentioned last night, that and the element practice have something very important in common. This is the clear seeing of that quality that you wish to bring forth more powerfully in yourself, that you wish to nurture in yourself. Invite it in through seeing that it exists not only in the Buddha, not only in the sun or the ocean, but that it already exists in yourself. This is very important. You are not creating something that does not exist. You are using this reflection to remind you of what is already there, and of your capacity to bring it forth.

I will read another question: "You and Aaron both spoke beautifully about vastness, this endless ocean of love, compassion, light and space, which in essence is our true nature. I know this to be true from the bottom of my heart, yet when I start to let go and fall into this space, a kind of trembling and fear comes up. Why is this so?"

All of you know the truth of the Buddha nature that is reflected everywhere and is carried within the self. Most of you do not yet feel ready to be responsible to that nature. This is why you tremble when you sense that vastness. What if you really are that vast? What if this truly is the deepest essence of your being? There is the fear, "I cannot live that," and so you get lost in the small self, using that as an escape from knowing of the vastness. But you are both.

I do not ask you to go into the vastness in denial of the small self but to hold both together. This is the key: nothing is denied. When fear comes up, you don't try to use the concept of vastness to brush aside the fear nor do you back yourself into the fear to push away the vastness, but you know the vastness and you know the direct experience of fear in the human, and you take both as the primary objects of your practice.

For today's instructions, let us review the process of experiencing and then talk about how we can apply some of these other practices within that process. To begin I will talk about dependent origination, very precise and basic material.

We have contact. The sense organ or the mind touches the object. The eye touches the object. The ear touches the object. Out of this base of sense organ touching object arises sense consciousness: seeing, hearing, and so forth. The mind touches and object and thinking consciousness arises. Remembering, planning, fantasizing, are different forms of mind consciousness. Whatever arises, it will have a feeling of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. With the word "feeling," we're not implying emotions, just the base feelings of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Is the ocean a pleasant sound? What if you were sitting here in a hurricane and you heard it crashing and coming closer and closer; would it still be a pleasant sound? (No.) So the ocean is not inherently a pleasant sound. The ocean is a pleasant sound based on certain external conditions. If it were 90 degrees and you went into the water, would that touch be pleasant? If you went in now would it be pleasant? The pleasantness or unpleasantness is based on external conditions.

There are certain very painful sensations, such as if you touched the hot stove and experienced burning; there is probably no time in which that could be construed as pleasant. But to some beings it would be pleasant. I'm not speaking of humans, but there are beings that thrive in very high temperature who would die in this 60-degree weather. For the human, touching a hot stove is always unpleasant, but very few things are always unpleasant.

If we can hold unpleasant as unpleasant, and know pleasant just as pleasant, it doesn't go any further. But what usually happens is when something is pleasant, grasping comes up. You've been served delicious food this week. I've seen a lot of grasping. People take one taste and they say, "Oh, I want more of that!" Pleasant, then grasping.

With unpleasant feeling, aversion comes. If you know grasping as grasping, it can stop there. It doesn't build itself up with a lot of stories. If you know aversion as aversion, a lot of stories don't build. Barbara was sitting with her eyes open on the beach this morning and a seagull with a bad limp landed in front of her. He was clearly uncomfortable, struggling. She cannot hear but it looked and felt to her from his energy that he was calling out to other birds. Other birds came and some seemed to protect him, some seemed aggressive to him. It was very interesting to watch.

Her first response to seeing the bird was neutral, neither pleasant or unpleasant. There was a lot of compassion for the bird. Then a grasping energy came, wanting to help him. Mind started to spin up into a story. Maybe we can catch him in a net and see what's wrong with his leg. Maybe there's a vet we can take him to. So the stories started to proliferate. At that point I asked her to stop and just come back to seeing the bird. Eye consciousness, contact eye to bird, seeing consciousness. A feeling of neutrality, actually, but some unpleasantness, a feeling, "This is not the way it should be," that sort of contraction. Then moving into aversion to the bird's infirmity, and grasping to fix the bird. I asked her to ask herself, "Is this the bird we're talking about or you?" And she immediately saw it was her. Limp eye, no ears. That subtle grasping to fix these body distortions.

She settled down and began a practice of formal metta for the bird and herself. The tension released. She began to see the perfection in the bird just as it was. Let us call it the Buddha nature, the awakened nature of the bird expressing itself now in this limping seagull, and the Buddha nature in herself. And at that point the practice settled down. The eyes were still open, the bird was still there. But there was no more grasping, the mind ceased moving into stories. It was able to hold the object just as it is.

Most of you have heard the teaching of holding and penetrating. This relates to the Buddha's teaching with an urn. The Buddha said, if you want to polish the urn, you've got to hold it. If you try to polish and you're not holding it, it just wiggles away from you. You can't polish it if it's not held firmly. You can't apply pressure to go into it. If you want to polish it, you can't just hold it. No matter how long you hold it, you can not penetrate into the tarnish that surrounds it unless you use pressure.

This holding and penetrating is what Barbara came to today, seeing the need to hold the object in order to see deeply. The object changes. First she was holding the aversion itself, that feeling of wanting to fix. The primary object became contraction, tension, holding that tension with an unwavering mind and attention. Polishing her way into it, she could feel the sadness underneath. Sadness that a year ago sitting on this beach, everything was visually clear and now it's not clear. Sadness. And right there with the sadness, joy. Joy because she still can see the ocean. Because even if it's not as clear as it might be, it's still beautiful. Joy for this human experience.

Each object came in turn, and went. Peacefulness. Holding peacefulness. Fear. Holding fear. Penetrating each. As it dissolved, coming back to the breath. Before mind opened into that depth, though, there was an abundance of mental formation. By this I mean that as she looked at the limping bird, stories started to arise. The stories are not part of the moment. "How did the bird get hurt? Can we fix the bird? Can we save the bird? Will the bird live or die? Could we feed it? How will we keep the other gulls away so that it could get enough food so it could survive through this week and its leg heal?" So many stories!

When you know the story as story, you let go of it. The story is a story; the impulse to enter the story is a direct experience. That is what you hold and move into. This is part of the practice.. Often the stories are very enticing. You don't want to let go of them. There must be a conscious decision to let go. When there is resistance to letting go of the story, that feeling of resistance becomes the primary object.

If resistance is strong and there is a primary experience of hardness or tension, at that point one can shift into the element practice if it's helpful. One feels the tension, the resistance. For Barbara this morning, the nature of that resistance was very earthbound, heavy. She was cold. The sun was just coming up. She turned herself slightly to focus more on the sun, to bring in more warmth. She wasn't looking into the sun but looking more in the direction of the lit sea. Feeling the experience of the sun, literally breathing it in to the hara area, to the area behind the navel. Feeling the motion of the water. Bringing that sense of motion into herself. She could feel the resistance and tension beginning to loosen, more balance coming into the body.

During her sitting this morning I reviewed with her what I taught you last night. As a part of the illustration of those instructions, after attending to resistance, I asked her to do something equivalent to the Buddha-gazing we talked about. Here she was not staring with her eyes open at a Buddha statue, but using the bird, seeing the Buddha nature of the bird, opening to equanimity. She looked at all the shells on the beach, each of them the one-time home of a living creature that was no longer alive, and saw equanimity about the whole process of birth and death. Everything comes to be out of conditions, and when the conditions cease, it ceases. There is this moment of life, and it goes. For you it seems like 80 or 90 or 100 years, but for me, it's a moment. Life is like that. You slip from one life into another life into another life.

So for Barbara, the first step was to be aware of the stories that were coming up about the bird, of the nature of those stories, and willing to release the stories by focusing on the tension that wanted to hold the story. The story was a kind of protection. If she let go of the story of, "how can we save the poor infirm bird?" and so forth, she had to come into her own sense of sadness and vulnerability about her human situation, and to be present with it. It was very skillful to then turn to the Buddha gazing practice using the bird as a reminder of the Buddha nature, because she could easily see the Buddha nature in the bird and she could see equanimity. The bird was clearly unable to walk well, but he wasn't exhibiting a panicked behavior at all. There was real equanimity. Through him, she could perceive her own already existent equanimity. Looking at the shells, all of these creatures having taken birth and died, but not disappearing, now expressing as part of the sand, enhanced connection to equanimity. As you nurture equanimity, as you nurture insight into the whole process of birth and death, your practice will lead you to freedom.

Let us simplify the instructions for today. Please bring into awareness the knowing of contact, consciousness, feelings of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral, the shift into grasping or aversion if it happens, the arising mental formations that come with grasping and aversion. Please focus on this process through the entire day, not just the formal sittings. I've noticed that many of you are very happily relaxing at your meals, and of course the food is delicious, the view is lovely. But bring more mindfulness into it. Don't just eat your food. Really feel the energy of the food. Take the taste into your mouth and know tasting. If it's pleasant and undoubtedly it is, know pleasant. Be aware if craving comes up. What led you to take the next mouthful? Can you take one mouthful of something delicious, put your fork down, and just watch for a minute or two? Be aware of that craving energy. Watch if the craving energy subsides again when you pay attention to it. Wait for the next mouthful until you are led into that mouthful by an openhearted joy, not grasping. You can feel the difference in your energy field. When you pause and put the fork down, is there a contracted energy that comes? It's the body itself speaking. It often does not come from the mind, even, it's just the body speaking, habit energy speaking. Wanting more!

Put the fork down and breathe. Be there with the taste. Acknowledge the process. Take the grasping as the primary object and watch if it will subside when you look into it. Maybe some sense of fear or sadness will come, a fear about a whole lifetime of being uncertain that your needs would be met. Just be with the sadness. Then as it subsides, open your eyes and look at this delicious meal, and let your open heart in joy. Take another mouthful. After awhile you'll find you're able to take food in and pause without any grasping energy because you have acknowledged a…, let us call it simply deep-grained habit of many lifetimes, a neediness in the self, and found that which is not needy right there with then neediness. You've done this without denying the feeling of neediness, but you've ascertained that right there with the neediness is that which is not needy. Let that which is not needy do the eating, not that which is needy, but without denying the experience of that which is needy. Don't push it away, don't try to bury it. Just hold it tenderly, and wait until non-neediness is ready to eat some more.

For some of you, there is grasping energy of different sorts. Some can't wait to get outside. Some can't wait to get in; it's cold outside. It's the same thing. Watch the grasping energy. Try to make each move one that comes from the open heart, accessed by being present with whatever fear, contraction, sadness, fear, anger, or greed is seen, present with those, acknowledging of those, understanding that they are arisen out of conditions, that they are part of your habit energy, and that that which is not needy, not fearful, not angry, and so forth, is right there. Touch that. Then go outside with joy. Come into the warmth with joy. You'll see how it works.

So, have deep awareness of this whole process of dependent arising. We call it dependent arising because each object arises dependent on the conditions that preceded it. Be aware of this throughout the day. Slow down today. Walk slowly, eat slowly. There's no rush to do anything.

Let us then stretch for a moment and then we'll sit.

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