Aaron on Dzogchen, Day 3
May 3, 2006, Emerald Isle, NC

(Sounds of surf in background)

Aaron: Yesterday we worked with Step 1 of a basic new practice related to pure awareness and work with light and energy. Last year we worked here with an element practice. One might watch anger come up in the body, for example, see what the imbalance of elements is, and balance it. We will review briefly.

Let us begin with a common energy like anger. Invite a memory that will bring anger into the body, something that was unpleasant for you. Can you feel the predominance of fire energy in the anger?

The elements are normally balanced. This doesn't mean there's an equal amount of each one all the time. They're constantly in flux, but they're constantly balancing each to each. When there's too much fire energy, there are 2 choices: to release some of the fire energy or to bring in more of whatever would be seen to balance it.

Feeling that fire burning in the belly from the angry memory, I want you to look out at the ocean or listen to the ocean if your back is to it, and literally bring the water energy to the fire. See what happens to the experience of anger as you bring in more water. I'll be quiet for a moment.


The breeze that's blowing fans the fire. Earth helps to diminish fire so it can also help to ground yourself here into the sand.


We're doing this from a place of love, not of fear of the anger energy, but from a place that wishes to be responsible, caring of the anger energy and careful with it that it does not do harm. If you took some firewood and built a fire here on the beach, perhaps where there was grass growing, and sparks escaped and started to burn across the dunes, you'd want to extinguish them. It's not a matter of fear, it's a matter of caring, of kindness. You bring balance to the fire energy in the same way. You don't want to put out the fire, that fire energy is necessary for life. When it comes out of balance, kindness brings it back in balance.

Reflect now and bring to memory a time when you were feeling a very low energy, tired, sluggish, exhausted. Now just for experiment's sake, root yourself here into the sand and see if that helps the exhaustion, or does it make it heavier?

Consciously now, I don't want you to look right at the sun but look at the expressions of the sun, the light that's everywhere, so much light. Open your arms and feel the wind. Let the wind fan the fire, and notice that the sun has come out at the perfect time. Can you feel some release of that heaviness?

You are balancing the elements in your own body in a skillful way. We spoke yesterday of the intermingling of the elements, that there's no separation between them, and yet also fire is fire, air is air, ground is ground. Each has its own means of expression.

The first part of our work today is learning how you can balance the elements within your body. The second part is to bring that practice together with the practice we did yesterday. First balance the elements, then mingle the elements together and with space. When they mingle they can't move out of balance.

The experience of its being out of balance is an illusion at one level. One must attend to the illusion on the mundane plane by bringing attention to it and inviting what's necessary for balance. But then one must transcend the mundane level by moving into the body, just as yesterday you moved out into the landscape, and finding the place where all the elements mingle and are inherently in balance. Very straightforward and yet rather confusing. Are there questions?

Q: I get lost at the space. I tend to go directly to the space and dissolve there. Nothing is unbalanced though awareness is sharp and present. To see or feel unbalanced elements, I feel the need to contract or solidify. The space feels more real than the elements.

Aaron: My brother, do not worry about it! You are two days ahead of us! Simply relax and rejoice in the space! When we catch up to you, you can participate in the instructions again.

Eventually I'm going to invite you all to dissolve into space. Meanwhile, for you, if it dissolves into space, let it be. However, if sometimes something comes up that brings forth a real contraction in the mind and body, so something already feels solid, then work with it as I've just described with the elements. If space comes immediately and it's genuine, not shutting out the heaviness of any unbalanced elements, but a genuine realization of the innate space that's there and resting in it, there's no place else to go. Then you don't need to do the practice. Okay?

Q: I am two days behind!

Aaron: I explained yesterday that we were compacting these instructions into a few days, that some might find this teaching resonant for you now, some might need to file it away for the future. It doesn't mean you're behind the others, only, I like the image of houses being built. If I gave you each a pile of identical lumber and sites here along the beach and said, "Build a house," one of you might quickly frame out a structure and say, "Wow, look how fast it went!" But it's not livable. You forgot to build a foundation, you were in such a hurry to build it up. Another is struggling over making every stone of the foundation perfect, or every timber, but there is no upper structure. Another is busy putting in all the heating and plumbing and wiring, but there's only the vaguest sketch of a house. You can't say one is ahead or behind the other, only that one has a structure, one has wiring and plumbing, one has a foundation.

Each of you is working at your own pace where you need to work, but no teaching will be appropriate for everybody at any one time. If I start teaching people how to put the roof on their house, only those who have framed up their house will be ready to do that. The others will listen. Some will get the roof on and then they need to turn back and reinforce the foundation. Don't disparage yourselves.

I would like you to practice with phase one of the second step even if you have not gotten yesterday's practice completely. That is, do some practice of bringing to mind one or another emotional experience. Feel how you get stuck in that experience, ask what element is out of balance? And intuitively feel whether you need to release something that's too heavy or add something that's lacking. This is not something I'm going to invite you to do here on the beach right now so much as to take it back and work with it in the vipassana practice and within your daily life. You brush your teeth and find you've used the shaving cream on your toothbrush. Contracted! Okay—what's out of balance in that moment of contraction? Just feel it. What do you want to invite in for balance?

Today we will work on three parts of the practice when I'm finished talking. First is mingling the 4 elements and space. Begin to bring ether into this also; ether is energy that permeates everything. It's different than space.

So I'm going to ask you to do that for a few minutes and then for those of you who feel that mingling, if a strong emotion comes up, first ask, "What is out of balance here?" Invite whatever is needed; release whatever needs release. And then, look deeper, find the mingling of the elements within the self and within that emotion, and come to the place where it all dissolves in light and space. Does that conceptually make sense to you?

The Seven Branch Prayer from one of my books is a wonderful way of working with habit energy. I said in the text of that book that for years I had been teaching you just to be present with what arose and not to contract around it, just to say, "Oh, here is anger, here is greed, here is fear," and simply to note it.

And yet it does keep coming. The habit energies are there and certain patterns keep repeating themselves. At a certain point you work toward the release of those patterns. You release them at 2 different levels. You release the habit energy through such work as the Seven Branch Prayer, but some of the karmic knots are still there energetically, bound into the mind/body karma. The practice that I'm teaching here is a way of literally releasing the knots.

In dzogchen practice, you rest in rigpa, and something arises, maybe the planes flying through roar! Tension arises. You're pulled out of awareness. You ask that "Anything other-than?" You see all the space that arises. You release back into that space. And when the next plane comes through, you go through it again and again and again.

Here we take that fundamental energy knot and literally release it into light and space. Do you see why I said you're ahead? You're releasing it already into light and space because there's the commitment not to hold it. You don't have to see the past lives that formed it, you just have to recognize there's a knot, a karmic knot, and the karmic knot can dissolve in light and space. The karmic knot contains all the elements. The whole thing dissolves into light and space.

As you become more adept at the practice, you begin to see moments of subtle contracted energy. Walking the sand, you might step on a little bit of a sharp shell and the body just contracts gently. You breathe in that contraction, find all of the elements and light and space present in that contraction. Eventually the elements cease to be the primary focus. We start with the elements because they're something you can connect to and work with. But eventually you just feel the contraction, see the intermingling of contraction and the non-contracted, and mingle it all with light and space. You bring in the realization of the ever-presence of light and space within the contraction. Because you recognize that ever-presence of light and space within the contraction, karmically you literally release the contraction. Nothing sticks. So you're not resting in awareness in that minute when you step on the sharp shell. Everyday consciousness comes back but it doesn't root itself as karma, and if you follow the practice further the past karma releases too. There's nothing there, there's no body there. The whole thing releases.

This is especially true of the strongest karmic knots that you carry. It's a very powerful way of releasing those knots. The reason this is usually only taught to advanced yogis and with a one-to-one teaching with the teacher, once resting in awareness is stable, is that it is possible to misuse this practice, to disassociate with the karmic knots. It could create a stronger sense of self. Somebody who's going to overcome these karmic knots.

But as I said, I trust you all and that you are capable of working with this in a responsible way and as is appropriate for each. There is nobody here for whom this teaching is inappropriate, only each of you will find different levels of it resonate most for you right now.

We'll talk more tomorrow about the next phase of working within the karmic knots themselves. If a few of you find yourselves doing that intuitively, it's okay. But otherwise, what I want you to do today is first, just watching it all mingle, and know all the light and space in it. We'll do a longer sitting today, as I stop talking now, 30 minutes. When something comes up that creates a contraction, see what elements might be out of balance within that contraction and then, if it feels appropriate, looking into the contraction. As you bring balance of the elements in, feel the whole intermingling of light and space and elements so that the whole thing just releases. As it releases, come back into awareness.

Q: Yesterday when the instructions were for us to watch the intermingling, I understood it to mean that the elements blended together to create a single object. I was looking for it and in truth, all I could see was the sky, the air, the water, the earth, and the heat from the sun present together but not as a single object.

Aaron: It's both.

Q: Okay. I see how when I bring in space or when I do this exercise while resting in awareness, for me the strongest sign is the presence of nada. So when I do this exercise in that space, then I see how they collapse together…

Aaron: That's a good term for it, collapses together. Look at the clouds, look at the ocean. Is the ocean in the clouds?

Q: Per se, no.

Aaron: If a heavy storm came in, with pouring rain, heavy thick clouds, could you feel the ocean in the clouds? (Q: Yes.) Could you feel the clouds in the ocean? (Q: Yes.) Just because the clouds are a bit lighter, does it mean that they have changed their characteristics?

Q: No. I understand that part. At the same time, the ocean is the ocean and the sky is the sky.

Aaron: Yes. You are perhaps familiar with that beautiful old Zen teaching. When you first begin to practice, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. Then the mountains become rivers and the rivers become mountains. And then finally the mountains are mountains again and the rivers are rivers again.

We fully acknowledge that the sky is the sky, the ocean is the ocean and the sand is the sand. And yet, there is that place/space beyond distinctions where everything inter-is. Resting in that place where everything inter-is, you're resting in awareness because you can't fully perceive that inter-is unless you're resting in awareness.

Q: Outside of that space, what you said becomes purely conceptual.

Aaron: Let it shift from separate to one, back and forth. No concept, Let it be both. We distinguish between consciousness and awareness. You're resting in awareness and the planes roar through and consciousness snaps back into a contraction. Awareness cannot contract. (Q: Right.) You're still creating a duality then with consciousness and awareness, but conscious awareness is always there. We let awareness infiltrate the consciousness so there is the contraction of that conscious mind, but there is also that omnipresence of awareness.

On one level, in a moment the sea is the sea and the sky is the sky, from consciousness' perspective. If you're flying a kite and it starts to fall to the water, you know the kite is falling toward the water. And on another level there's nothing there so there's nothing to contract about. You still act skillfully to pull up your kite. But action doesn't come from a place of contraction. You come to know that place of noncontraction.

This practice is geared toward the place where contraction HAS come up repeatedly, so that there's a karmic knot. We're bringing awareness into that field of consciousness, in a sense, finding the light and space right there within the karmic knot, but we do it step by step just by doing this practice of resting in the sea and the sky and the ground and the fire and the space, and letting them intermingle.

Slowly it will shift from not only resting in pure awareness, but brought down more into mundane consciousness. It will percolate down.

Q: Consciousness itself, is it actually the four elements? To me it seems it is the space.

Aaron: I don't fully understand your question. Can you rephrase it?

Other Q: I think that what he is asking is whether consciousness contains the 4 elements or is it the fifth element, space?

Aaron: Consciousness doesn't contain, but takes objects. It takes the elements as objects. Mundane consciousness takes mundane objects. Supramundane consciousness takes supramundane objects. But mundane and supramundane consciousness are not on ends of a spectrum but seem to co-exist, so consciousness can know the elements on the mundane level, and supramundane consciousness or Awareness can hold the place of interconnection of all the elements and space.

Consciousness becomes conscious of what awareness has already known. Awareness has no problem with any of this, but from the conscious level, we want to see separate things. Right there in that wanting, there's contraction. We feel the earth heaviness of that contraction, a grasping energy. Whatever it might be, we feel the imbalance in that contraction. Breathe in, bring balance to it and find the shift in consciousness where consciousness is able to follow awareness into spaciousness.

Q: Why are we doing this practice? Please tell me again.

Aaron: The issue here, resting in awareness there's no karma. There's no contraction, there's no karma. There is also truly no mundane consciousness. But unless you have developed to the point that you can rest in awareness 100% of the time, when you come out of that awareness, you move into the karmic field.

Therefore, we must release from within mundane consciousness, but it's not quite mundane consciousness as you know it. It's mundane consciousness infiltrated by space, mundane consciousness so aware of the space and light that interplays within the four elements of the mundane experience that you don't get hooked in any more. There's an almost "Ah ha!" experience, but it happens not in a very deep, no body, no thought, kind of insight that's hard to integrate into the human mind and body, it happens right here because you're working with everyday consciousness. You're transforming everyday consciousness. You're not quite taking it in to the level of pure awareness that's still everyday consciousness but it's the highest, let me rephrase, the most uncontracted level that everyday consciousness can be in. You discover the true uncontracted of everyday consciousness and this is what has the power to transform those karmic knots, which awareness cannot do because there's no way to bring that Ever-Perfect, there's a barricade, a subtle barricade, the Ever-Perfect and the mundane. You can't reach out and bring the Ever-Perfect back into the physical and mental consciousness.

Return to the concept of the pure underground spring. If you dip a bucket into the spring, dig a hole, lift the earth away, you can reach into the spring, reach in with a bucket or a cup, but you bring in the whole mundane world into the spring. It's no longer pure. How do you reach into the pure spring without impinging on the purity? So there's a subtle film across the top.

We talk often of the Ever-Perfect, and in teaching people to do body healing work and energy work, we envision the Ever-Perfect level of an injury, the place where there is no injury. We hold that as a template, but we cannot connect the distortion directly to the template because we cannot get to the template which is on a different level of being, on the Ever-Perfect level of being. You can't get to it from the mundane.

So we develop the skill of opening to the Ever-Perfect, holding that bridge-space of connection, and bringing it back down into the mundane realm. You can't work on the Ever-Perfect realm, there's no distortion there. You open to the Ever-Perfect and bring it down. Basically that's what we're doing, but we're doing it in a specific series of steps, a specific practice, that I think will make it more accessible to you, not so conceptual. Much of it has to do with energy vibration and contraction.

You are vibrating fields of energy. Further on in this practice you will learn to find the distortions in those vibratory fields, find the balance of elements, light and space, in those distortions, and release, bringing the distortion into harmony with the Ever-Perfect. This is further down the road, I'm tossing it out as the carrot on the stick.

I do want you to have time to practice. Work the integration of the elements out there and as in dzogchen, when something comes along and it pulls you out of pure awareness, work with it inwardly with the element practice. Okay? Enjoy!

Before you disperse-- one more exercise I'd like you to consider doing today, tomorrow, through the week. D, we taught you this, will you demonstrate it for the others? Lie yourself down on your towel and I'll explain what you're doing.

The base chakra down above the pubic bone generally carries the note "C". The spleen or sacral chakra just below the naval, the note "D". The solar plexus, "E", and the heart, "F". You do not have to have perfect pitch. If you will sing to these chakras and you get it right, they'll vibrate. If they're not vibrating, you're not quite in tune, don't be afraid to (sounds different pitches), go up and down with it until it feels right. Bringing attention first just above the pubic bone. Lie down on the sand and the sun, hearing the ocean, a loud (rises as it goes) "OOOOOHHHMMMM, AHHHHHHHHHHHH, HUUUNG" repeat that with the lower 3 chakras. Feel the energy begin to move there, and then come up to the heart center. Do the lower three and then "OOOOHHHMMMM" with the heart, singing lower chakra energy up into the heart. Lie on the beach and let it out! Feel the energy move. If you feel so moved, ascend to the throat chakra and "Ahh", then HUUUNG at the third eye, OOOHHMMM again at the crown, but go at least as far as the heart. … Enjoy your meditation.

This follows the meditation period on the beach.

Barbara: This is Barbara, not Aaron. He's not going to come back into the body now. I've been channeling a lot today and he's going to give the dharma talk tonight. I invite any questions. I'm not sure I can answer them. I'll do my best.

Q: Will we "see" karmic knots in our mind's eye?

Barbara: I experience it energetically, as opposed to seeing it, but I would assume that different people will have a different experience of it. For me it's like swimming in clear water and suddenly coming to a place where the water gets thick.

Q: When we're doing the element practice, is it okay to have the eyes open? Or closed?

Barbara: Either, after the beginning stages. It doesn't matter. In the beginning, we want the eyes open, just at that first stage of mingling the elements. But after that, however is best for you. You can do this practice within vipassana too. As you're meditating, if there's a strong object that arises and you feel the contraction around the object, note the elements as part of that object. For example, I may note anger, or that the body is uncomfortably hot in the sun. In either case, heat may be predominant and is noted, "heat, heat." As I worked more with element practice on its own and the practice became stable, in vipassana when feeling heat like that, in anger or body temperature, there would be an awareness of the imbalance of the fire element, just noting it!

In vipassana we don't try to change anything, just be with what's there, so at that point I would leave the vipassana practice and work with the imbalance. When it felt balanced again, I'd return to vipassana. Through all this the eyes would be closed. In vipassana practice, when deeply present with the object, there's intuitively a sense that there's some kind of knot there, something that's stuck, and the intention to release it…

Aaron is interrupting me, saying, "Not 'to release it' but the intention to be present with it and see through to the place where it is non-existent." I understand his point. "To release" involves more contraction, more doing. One is just resting here, seeing both contraction and non-contraction and allowing the release of the belief in contraction.

We do that by working with the balancing and light and space. Basically we're going to shift away from the mundane element-balancing practice. That was just to help us get into it and to bring in space and light. We're going to work more specifically with the space and light as we go along, let's call it the supramundane aspect of the element practice, finding the place where contraction dissolves in space and light and resting in the non-contraction, even while aware of contraction on the mundane level. There's no denial of the contraction, just awareness of both and choosing to stay with the spaciousness until the contraction bursts like the bubbles, which it does!

The element balancing practice is still useful to you. It's something that I use when I feel a strong kind of contracted energy, just, "Ah, let's balance this," with anger, fear, tiredness, grasping.… So when I feel something that comes up that brings up a lot of tension, first I see what elements are out of balance, and invite balance back on the mundane level. Then I come back into what's left of the tension, which is the karmic knot, and work with it, finding the space and light within it and seeing through it to the place where it's non-existent, where it's never been existent, and just watch the release of it. It goes. I'm not releasing it, it just goes. There's no conscious, "I will release this."

Q: So it's a two part practice?

Barbara: Yes, first the element work on the mundane level, then seeing the knot and mingling that contraction or imbalance with space and light. But after a while, the element part happens so naturally that it's like balancing on our feet as we walk; there's no longer a conscious plan to balance, just the mind does it. For me this happens when resting in rigpa. Without rigpa, the mind still needs to see imbalance and do balancing.

Q: How can you tell you're in pure space?

Barbara: In pure awareness? How can you tell you're in pure awareness? (Q: No, pure space.) Barbara: Pure space? I'm not sure what pure space is. Pure space is intermingled with the elements.

Q: When Aaron answered a question for J, he referred to pure space.

(Brief inaudible dialogue among participants, sounds like J saying he did not refer to pure space)

Barbara: Look at the ocean. Is it solid or is it spacious? We can see there's space but there's also ocean there. When we think of pure space, we have to think of nothing but space. Each water molecule is space. This is the shift through the kayas. Nirmanakaya sees ocean. Sambhogakaya sees ocean and space. Dharmakaya knows the ocean as space and light and no longer sees ocean, just light and space. It's the space that's everywhere. It's pure because it can't be distorted or polluted, in the same way that pure awareness is pure, pure non-dual awareness. It's a non-dual space; it's simply that which is.

I can only speak here of my experience. I repeat, I have not taught this before although Aaron's been working with me with it for 3 years. When I rest in awareness, the space is everywhere, but when I come back into the everyday mind, the everyday mind increasingly can feel and experience and know the space. That doesn't necessarily take me back into pure awareness, but I work with it more with the conscious mind, seeing the ripples of energy and distortion and the space between them. At first, I see it in the mundane ripples themselves, like each wave of the ocean, or the contractions in the body or mind. Then the space becomes predominant and nothing is solid any more. With that shift, contraction dissolves. The karmic know dissolves. But I'm not in a 'spaced out' place, rather, am able to still be in the moment and respond appropriately.

Q: How does the space relate to contraction?

Barbara: The flat part of the ocean and the waves are not different, yet the waves have a contraction to them that the flat part doesn't have. I start to feel the movements in my body and mind in the same way, flat and still, then in motion, contracting. Let me try to give you an example here.

Two years ago I came very close to getting killed just about right there (pointing 50 yards down the beach). My body is still bearing the effects of that incident. Last year my husband was here at the retreat and he went into the ocean with me on very calm days, holding my hand, got me out past the breakers, where the water was very calm. I was only swimming on very calm days. I'm a good swimmer. I swim a mile or two daily across my lake in the summer with no problem. So I would go out there where it was just gentle swells and swim. That was easy.

But I wasn't soloing in waves. He was holding me through the waves. Yesterday D walked through the biggest surf with me and then let go of my hand when I asked. I saw a small wave coming toward me and I froze up but as it came to me, I jumped. First solo!

Today I could see the biggest fear was diving under a wave, and sometimes when a wave is coming at you you've got to dive under it or it's not safe. I've been diving into and under waves for almost 60 years. Until 2 years ago I was very comfortable with that, but now I could see the terror because of the karmic memory of being caught underwater under the turbulence, coming so close to drowning, fading out of consciousness, badly injured and with enormous pain. And the memory of that is a distorted memory of the power of the waves, the power of the ocean, of helplessness, ocean tossing me, can't get air, losing consciousness, pain.

So I saw this wave coming toward me and I knew I had to dive under this. And I did! I was definitely not in pure awareness! There was fear, there was tension. I dove under a second wave. Then I came out and I sat in very shallow water with the water coming up and going out, coming up and going out. At the highest, it came to my chest. I could feel this karmic knot. I was not resting in awareness, but there was a very clear level of consciousness, very much in the present moment, with how things are in this moment. There was the experience of tension, the experience of fear. Insofar as the knot had a location it was right here in the belly, but it didn't really have any location so much was in motion. Fear and old conditioning arose from being so badly injured, mind and body both caught in the idea that it could happen again. While I sat there, D was out playing in the waves and each time one came to him, the knot of fear tightened in my belly.

I took this contraction into practice. First I worked with the Seven Branch Prayer, with compassionate regret that there's fear in me, and willingness to release it. With each small wave, I could see the arising of the fear contraction. The mix of elements in that contracted energy and the space and the light were all clear. There was a clear decision to release what was stuck there, what had attached itself during that incident 2 years ago and was still holding on, and to come back to a place of lightness and space, to my love and joy of the ocean. A place of non-fear, knowing the ocean wasn't punishing me or trying to hurt me. The ocean was just being an ocean. Coming back to that mental awareness, this is just how the ocean is and I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Then I shifted into the mundane element practice, bringing more mundane water and air element into the fear contraction until the energy felt more balanced. I was not resting in rigpa but close to it. There was a very deep experience of consciously inviting the already-existent light more fully into consciousness and releasing the heaviness and contraction. Simply not useful any more, let it go. I don't need to protect in this way. Let it go. And there was an enormous feeling of release. The ocean and waves shifted. There was a relaxation of the self/ other boundary, then an awareness of the enormity of light and space, within and without making no difference as there was no longer self or other.

Then I directed attention back to the karmic knot from this space of awareness. It was like feeling great heat on the body, realizing you're sitting in bright hot sunshine, and moving away into a cooler space of shade. Another image is of holding a belief that someone will be angry with me, feeling contracted as I approach them, then realizing the whole idea of their anger was just a story in my head. It goes. It never was! It's just like a burst bubble. And one cannot really reconstruct it.

Then the waves grew bigger and D was playing in the big waves. I was just sitting in shallow water and watching and feeling a lot of joy instead of fear. There was a very deep vicarious enjoyment watching him play in the waves. There was also awareness that I didn't have the balance to go and join him. That knowing was wisdom and kindness, not fear. There was no contraction to it.

Q: The first day you swam, I felt my own karmic knot. I came down to the beach behind you and D and watched carefully. I think this is a very real example of one karmic situation that ties many us together.

Barbara: And my vulnerability is everybody's vulnerability. All of you watching me swim three years ago, swimming happily. Then watching me swim two years ago and knowing, "She's a good swimmer. If it can happen to her…," so there's that fear for oneself.

You weren't at the retreat last year—when Hal took me in the ocean everybody was sitting there on the beach, fearful I think, ready to run in! (laughter) I thought everybody was going to come in, in a circle around me!

It's past time for dinner. We'll pick this up tomorrow, 4 o'clock, same place.

(taping ends)

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