Emerald Isle, Morning Instructions
April 22, 2007

Aaron: Good morning. May the deepest blessings of this day be with you. What a joy to come together here to share the dhamma, and in this beautiful place. We give thanks to you, my sister, (Speaking to LP, the woman whose beach home we are gathered in) for your space and your work to create this gathering.

The instructions for today are rather simple:
Settle down.
Allow the mind to come into its natural quiet state.
Rest on the beach.
Walk slowly and see deeply.
Breathe deeply.
Let the heart open.
Enjoy the beauty that surrounds you.

The focus is twofold: to observe the objects that arise and dissolve, and to hold the intention to be present with whatever arises with an open heart, and to watch it dissolve again. You know it as impermanent and not self. That is the first part.

You have all done an exercise of watching the fingers. (He is holding a hand up, fingers open and moving) The fingers are moving; they pop up and fold back down. Watch each move, arise and slowly dissolve. These are metaphor for all objects that arise into awareness and dissolve. When you look past the fingers, the space is there. The fingers continue to move but there is also awareness of the space. We look through the fingers at the vast space beyond them, here a mundane space of the room, but metaphorically, this is the vastness of the Unconditioned. Do not get lost in the objects that arise but stay connected also with the ground out of which it arises and into which it dissolves. This is the second part of the focus.

Relative reality, the world of physical experience, mind experience, emotions and sensations, feelings, is present. Ultimate reality is always present too, with each object. It is not one or the other, but both. When you see a tree, you do not see the root structure. Think you of a giant redwood tree resting on the ground. And yet there is a deep underground part of the tree which supports it. It digs itself deeply into the ground. What you see is just the top part of the tree. Think of an iceberg. What you see is just the top.

The metaphor does not hold true here because of course the base of the iceberg and the roots of the tree are still a part of relative reality, but they feed into the ground, into the sea, into the earth. They connect intimately with the sea and the earth.

In the same way, your relative experience arises out of the ground of being, out of the Unconditioned, expresses itself up in the air, as the redwood tree may do for 100 years or a thousand years, and then, crash! It dissolves back into the earth. The iceberg melts eventually into the sea. Redwood and earth are non-dual. The tree is expression of the earth. Iceberg and sea are non-dual. The iceberg is expression of the water. (pause)

The redwood is an expression of the earth. The iceberg is an expression of the sea. And so it is with your thoughts and feelings and sensations, they arise out of the ultimate, out of infinite space and light. Certain conditions arise and here is a redwood tree. Other conditions arise and here is a sensation, a physical sensation. Of course, there has to be a physical body but given there is a body, there will be sensations. Given a mind, there will be thoughts. They arise out of the ground of being into mundane expression and pass away.

To help you to understand the ground of being, spend some time sitting close by the water and watching waves arising and falling back into the sea. These waves don not have a fixed form, but form is constantly changing. Neither do you have fixed forms; your forms are constantly changing, just not as fast as the wave.

The wave arises out of conditions, changing, moving, and falling back, becoming the sea again. There's nothing there but the sea. Look at each of you, there's nothing here but the Unconditioned. The physical sensations, the thoughts, the impulses, and the feelings are just waves arising and passing away.

So the twofold purpose that I want you to hold today is first, to be very present with objects that arise, as physical sensations, as thoughts, as impulses, as feelings. Know these objects and know if they are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Does the feeling change as conditions change? If you wade into the water and it's cold, there may be an unpleasant feeling, and then as you stand there for a minute and it doesn't feel so cold anymore, it may feel pleasant. It's the same body and the same ocean. The feeling changes. Nothing is fixed.

So watch what arises, and as it passes, come back not to the breath for most of you but to nada, to spaciousness. If mind is jumping around a lot today and you need to use a stronger primary object, a physical object like the breath or the body, that's fine, but as mind becomes more fluid and stable and present, allow that shift into spaciousness, luminosity, nada, or whatever is suitable for you as the primary object. I do not need to go into a lot of detail about this. I feel you all know exactly what I'm talking about from our previous instructions here and other retreats.

I would also ask you to encourage all of the beautiful qualities of heart today and through the week. Start with gratitude; this is a very easy place to feel gratitude. Know gratitude that your life has given you the time to be here for this retreat, gratitude for this beautiful home, this beautiful ocean-side location, gratitude for the sangha.

Lovingkindness. Practice metta with all the birds out there, and the fish, the dolphins, if they swim past. Patience, patience with your selves, when the mind is jumping around, the body is restless. Peacefulness. Joy. Be aware of all of the beautiful qualities of the heart. Remember that when I say, 'Practice them,' I don't want you to work here, I want you to relax into your innate lovingkindness, joy and openheartedness. It's like the rich soil that feeds the tree. The proof of its existence is your very being because just as the tree could not grow if the soil was not rich in nutrients, so you could not have grown to be as you are if your own soil was not that innate goodness, joy, and richness, beautify, and peacefulness. So don't work too hard, just relax and find what's already there.

I hope you will do a lot of walking meditation. Do slow walking down by the water. It's okay to miss a formal sitting period here in the meditation hall. Walk down the beach for half an hour, slow, but you don't have to just go back and forth on a short track; just walk. Stop and sit for whatever length of time. Forget time! It doesn't matter. When your own inner sense says stop, stop and sit. When your own inner sense says 'Time to move again', get up and walk again. Alternate sitting and walking in that manner, from an intuitive place that knows what's most useful right now.

It's fine also to do the very slow walking meditation back and forth, but I'm encouraging you to take a longer walk because I want you not just to be looking at the beach in front of you, but eyes open, present with your surroundings. If you were beginners I would want to encourage you to just focus right here in front of you because I think you'd be over-stimulated by so much richness, but there's no one in this room today who cannot work easily with all of that that your world is offering today. But if the senses become too over-stimulated then just stop and sit and close the eyes. Gather your energy back together, refocus. If mind is daydreaming, planning, jumping around, stop and do more formal, precise kind of practice for awhile to bring balance. You all know how to bring balance. Similarly, if you are feeling lethargic, walk more briskly on the beach. Walk at the edge of the surf with water lapping around your ankles. Wake up the energy.

All of you have worked with the elements. Spend some time sitting down by the beach or here on the deck doing element practice along with your vipassana practice. Obviously this is a different practice. Look out to sea and be aware of the power of the water element out there, and feel it in your body. Feel the hot sun on you, the fire element. Sitting especially down on the beach on the sand, feel the earth element beneath you. Feel the wind in your face. Feel that air element moving through the body.

If there is lethargy, what's missing? What elements are out of balance? If there's a lot of restless energy, mind jumping around, what is needed to bring the whole system back into balance? Invite balance in this way.

The elements in the body and mind are always balanced at some level. The practice is almost to move your self to the place where they are balanced and then slowly come out of there and see where the imbalance starts. Let me see if I can give you a metaphor to make that more clear.

This picture is balanced (pointing to a painting on the wall above him, a seascape with buildings, trees and sea). There's a strip of blue across it, and a strip with yellow and red, blue sky, the cool and the hot colors. The horizontal and vertical structural elements are also balanced. If somebody painted out the two horizontal lines, and lowered the trees and houses down to the bottom, can you see how it would become imbalanced? All the lines would be vertical and you would want to add something more horizontal. If the sky was yellow instead of blue and the waterway was taken out, this yellow and red grass extended, the palette of colors would become imbalanced.

Imagine this balanced painting and I come along with my paints and begin to cover this horizontal waterway with more grass. Don't let go of the horizontal waterway, continue to visualize it. I paint the grass over it, lots of vertical elements, more yellows and orange, some green, all vertical. But the horizontal waterway has not gone anywhere. I've just covered it up with paint. Can you imagine that? It's still there. Seeing the painting now, you would say, 'Oh, it's imbalanced.' With your mind, simply release the layers that I placed on until you come back to a horizontal waterway, bringing it back into balance.

So this is what you're doing with your own experience. If you find yourself agitated and restless, you don't need to fix anything, you don't need to get rid of anything, you need to go deep into that which is not restless. You might see that there's a lot of fire energy, a lot of wind energy, air energy, and that there's not so much groundedness. You're not adding groundedness, you're simply bringing attention to that earth energy that's there and which you have lost track of temporarily because the fire and air energy were covering it, as my vertical strokes covered the water. Invite it back into awareness.

Relaxing back into the Ever-Perfect, into awakenedness, presence, joy, openness, into your natural state. (Holding up a Sponge-Bob Squarepants figure that has been placed on the altar in remembrance of one of the retreatants who was unable to come, is sick in the hospital, and loves this character) Remember, if he has a Buddha nature, you have a Buddha nature!

So it sounds perhaps if I've given you a week's assignment, not a day's assignment, and so I have. Everything else this week will just be repetition, really, of what I've already said, deepening and looking at any areas of confusion.

Let me ask if there are questions about what I've said.

Q: I've been working on a memoir of my mother who was abusive, and thoughts are arising which are distressing. And yes, here I am in this beautiful place. So I am going back and forth.

Aaron: K, I suggest you bring your mother in her childlike form here. Invite her as a 7-year-old to be here with you. Take her to the beach. Bring her mother and father with her. Watch them yelling at her. Watch her suffering, because she wants to run and play and enjoy the beauty of the place, but she also probably had abusive parents. If she grew to be an abusive parent, then she was abused. Don't bring your mother as adult, bring your mother as 7-year-old and set her free on the beach. Do metta with her, and watch with compassion how she suffered as a child.

Q: Last year during the talks on the beach, … question unclear.

Signer, restating: When resting in awareness, is there a relationship between that and the mind and body?

Q: Between mind and awareness.

Aaron: I'm not clear on the question. I know the background. I understand the practice we did last year, and we will be continuing with that practice. But I'm not clear on the question.

Q: I find myself while in that space of awareness, wondering if this is the mind-body template that you spoke of last year…

Signer: J is wondering, when he is resting in awareness, what is the relationship between that awareness and the mind-body template you spoke about.

Aaron: This is a week's teaching, J, and it's what I plan to do in the afternoons this week. Not specifically the answer to the question, but I think the answer to the question will come out of the teachings in the afternoon this week. We'll be building from where we left off last year. Tomorrow afternoon we'll have a bit of review and then go on from there.

In basic answer, rigpa, pure awareness, rests in infinite space. There is only awareness resting in space. Awareness is first aware of the space, just space, then it turns around and becomes aware of itself. There's no separate self there; it's still awareness, not my awareness or your awareness, just awareness, but awareness itself becomes aware of this quality of awareness which is energized and in motion. It begins to see how the elements touch awareness and awaken the various expression of awareness. If we watch carefully, we can see movement… (searching for a word in the English language) impulse. We can see impulse, not as thought but simply as response.

The trees don't think when they bend, they simply bend when the wind blows them. There is movement of different sorts that comes into the mind and body. It is not yet rooted in karma because it's not yet intention. The elements are still in balance. Then we can see where it goes out of balance, where contraction comes, and we get off into a different level of thinking mind and into the whole concept of the separated self. This is all concept.

We'll be watching this in very precise exercises through the week. There is a Tibetan teaching of Six Lights. We'll be looking at these and the meanings of them. I know I have not answered your question, but I think this practice will answer your question. Then we can talk more about it.

Let me add one more element to your practice today. For those of you for whom it's relevant, please spend some time sitting on the beach and doing practice with eyes open. Don't only sit out there with your eyes closed but do some mix of eyes open, resting in awareness, and closing the eyes, working with choiceless awareness. You might start the sittings for 10 or 15 minutes eyes open, resting in awareness, and then as it feels appropriate, simply close the eyes and come into the vipassana practice keeping that spacious awareness, nada or luminosity as your primary object. So blend these practices as is appropriate.

Once more, are there any questions?

Q: This awareness becoming aware of itself… is it another object that rises and then ceases, because it seems to me that this awareness, if it's rooted more in the infinite, it would not have a temporal quality—I guess this is where I'm getting confused…

Aaron: There is no temporal quality. Awareness simply is. The temporal idea comes as we study awareness. Finally it goes. Awareness is first resting in spaciousness. It doesn't seem to focus on any object. Then the only reason for the temporal quality is that we bring up the, we introduce the idea to turn the awareness in on itself with the question, 'What is aware?'

It's not a linear progression, we structure that by simply raising the question, 'Who or what is aware?' There's still no who to it, there's just awareness, but awareness becomes aware of the quality of awareness. Then we watch what happened—again it's a structured process, it doesn't need to happen this way, it's only happening this way because we ask the questions.

As awareness becomes aware of awareness, it can just rest there, seeing how awareness is the innate quality of everything, of every sentient being. Awareness is everywhere. It's not my awareness, it's just awareness.

But what happens then when an individual, you, make the decision to focus that awareness on something? We use this only as a learning tool. We focus the awareness on something to watch what happens in the elements in the body, we literally can see the move into karma in this particular situation, how the cycle is starting in this moment by that shift into a self, and we can watch what happens, how the elements move out of balance, how the whole idea of me looking at that—the dualistic fixation—arises. We can watch what happens when we say, 'Ahh!' and the tension and 'self' collapse. We see then this was an old way of perceiving and not treat it as true in any ultimate sense. And the whole thing releases again.

Or, we can go with it and say, 'Oh! There's a self! There's an other!' and we can watch this concept become a seeming reality. What happens with the elements? What happens with the tensions, the mind? How does this whole flow get going and pick up steam? I'm not sure if that answers your question.

Q: It does. I want to go back for a second to, who asks the question about what is aware of awareness? From what level does that question arise? Who asks it?

Aaron: If nobody asks it, then it simply arises and passes away as the breeze stirs and we don't have to know who asks it, just as we don't need to know what caused the breeze to stir. Conditions pushed it up and it came up and went. We only need to get involved in it further when we get stuck in it, when we believe that there is a somebody who asked.

In terms of the practice, it's very simple. You're sitting there resting in awareness, ahh, spaciousness, no sense of a self. And I ask the question, 'Who is aware?' For some of you who are still karmically at that point, that's going to get stuck and you're going to get caught in it, just as you're getting caught in it right now… and others of you are just going to smile and say, 'Nobody.' The 'who' arises as a puff of wind and passes away.

I don't mean this as individual—one moment one of you may be able to say, 'Nobody' and the next moment will say, 'Me.' It's where you are karmically, at this point. Certain things get you stuck. That which is still caught up in the illusion of a separate self is not fully released.

What we want to investigate here is first, what are the experiences we can distinguish? 'Oops, getting stuck,' is contracting energy. Mind takes solidity, breath stopping, and different kinds of mind and body experiences arise. Then how does awareness come back out into spaciousness? It's no different than your vipassana practice where negative thought, perhaps, comes in. Somebody in the room may be coughing a lot and irritation comes up and you ask, 'Who is irritated?' And you either get caught up in that, 'Me, I'm irritated,' or you just smile and say, 'Nobody. Just arising out of conditions.' The irritation and the thought of self both dissolve. These are not 2 separate practices, we simply do one sitting on the cushion with the eyes closed and we do the other out in the world.

Let us set it aside for now and we'll talk about it more later…

(taping ends, sitting begins)

Copyright © 2007