Emerald Isle Retreat, Dzogchen
April 23, 2007, (afternoon on the beach)

(There is a very loud sound of wind on microphone. Many words are unclear or inaudible; Both the transcriber and Barbara, with Aaron's direction, have filled in numerous gaps in the transcript.)

Aaron: It is Monday and we're gathered here in a circle, sitting on a lovely beach on a beautiful but very windy afternoon.

You're all familiar with the phrasing, 'resting in awareness.' Awareness is your natural state. Awareness does not arise nor cease, awareness simply is. Let me put it this way. The nature of the sky is clarity, but if there were heavy clouds you could not see the clarity of the sky. The clarity does not cease; at times, it is not visible. Just as clarity is the sky's natural state, so awareness is the mind's natural state. The mind becomes covered with the clouds of everyday thought. You lose contact with the natural state of Awareness.

There are two levels of consciousness, mundane and supramundane. Every consciousness has an object. The objects of mundane consciousness are the thoughts and sensations of every day life. The object of supramundane consciousness is the Unconditioned. Awareness is an expression of supramundane consciousness. When you are resting in awareness, supramundane consciousness is open. We could say the sky is clear of clouds. The object of the Unconditioned, which you may or may not perceive directly, is open to awareness.

The sky's clarity is there but when you look up, you may barely notice it. You're busy watching the ocean, the sand, the birds and the people around you. There's not much happening up there so you don't spend a lot of time just looking up and saying, 'Look at the clear sky!' That's just how it is.

So awareness rests in the Unconditioned but you may not go deeply in that direction unless somebody directs your attention there. 'The Unconditioned; look, look; it's there! Can you see it?'

(Aaron pauses to note there is also sand noise on top of the wind and water noise. Sand is blowing in our faces.)

I want to give you exercises to help you recognize some of the attributes of awareness and of the Unconditioned, to help bring it into better focus for you. We will use the ocean as metaphor. Clearly the ocean is a conditioned object, but it serves as a good metaphor because it's vast, although not infinite as is the Unconditioned. It also is an apt metaphor because objects that you call waves arise out of it and drop back into it. The waves seem to have a reality, and yet when you look at them, there's nothing really solid there. There is just ocean, coming and going. In its wholeness, I give you the ocean as substitute. Practice with that and get to know its essence and how it expresses as waves, movement and so forth. Feel the energy and movement of the sea and that this movement is not dual with the vast stillness of the depths.

I want you also to find that movement of energy in yourselves. You also have tides, rising impulses and flat, still paces. If you're sitting, just looking, eyes open, out at the ocean, become aware of Awareness, of that which sees and knows. Within Awareness, feel the stillness and also feel that there's energy, movement. Awareness is not flat, it has movement.

So the first exercise, we're going to separate here a little bit so you all can face the waves. (we move from a circle into a line facing the sea)

I want you simply to sit, eyes soft, open, not fixating on anything, just relaxed. Jaw soft. Ahhhh, Gaze soft, resting with the ocean. Don't try to make it into something that it's not; it's just an ocean. Don't sit there thinking, 'But Aaron, I can't see the Unconditioned!' No, it's just the ocean. But experience the vastness of it. Look up sometimes at the sky as well, the vastness of the sky. Space. See the forms you call waves arise, take form, and dissolve, and ask yourself, is that something separate or is there nothing there but water?

As you sit there, eyes soft, gazing, most of you are going to find yourselves resting in awareness. The ocean may shift from being ocean to being a metaphor for the Unconditioned, just one expression of the Unconditioned that we call ocean. Just let it be as it is, and sit and watch the waves rising, breaking, falling, just the process. Any questions?

We'll do this for perhaps 20 minutes now and then we'll come back together and talk.

Practice period; then we return to the circle.

Barbara: Aaron wants to know, what did you experience? He says there be assured there is no wrong answer.

Some replies inaudible

Q: I found it much easier to focus on the sky. The sea was very powerful and filled with energy. The sky was peaceful.

Barbara: Thank you. Others?

(Mic is passed around now; sound is excellent)

Q: If I looked too high, meaning, if my gaze was too high, if I was looking at the ocean directly, the energy was too strong. I had to lower my gaze and take in the sand and the ocean at the same time. One of the things that I found was that my awareness of the jitsu and kyo energy in the waves became, let me say this differently. My awareness of my own jitsu and kyo energy was somewhat synchronized with the waves, so I was noticing that the build-up of the wave was creating a build-up of a tension in me and then when the wave broke, that energy broke as well. It was just an interesting observation. (Aaron notes that the jitsu and kyo were balanced)

Q: I had bits and pieces of the experiences others have mentioned, specifically… I felt as A-L did, the strong and frightening pull toward the ocean and toward merging with the ocean in some way. I also found that I had more of a sense of vastness when I looked at the sky. The expansiveness was much more palpable to me, and looking at the ocean sometimes I could see, if I looked at the sand and the ocean I could see the curvature of the earth, which gave me a great sense of vastness. The only other experience I had was that of little points of light like diamonds all over the surface of the water. Diamonds in motion.

Q: For me, it's harder in this situation than up on the porch. I just go into it, or walking along, but at last it becomes like a fluid painting. The layers merge together.

Q: I had a similar kind of experience in a sense, like L had, more of a vastness-within-vastness experience. The thought came as I was gazing at and experiencing the vastness of the ocean, I realized that it's really very small, in a sense. We are this small dot in the sky, this planet that this ocean is a part of. And it kind of blew my mind a little bit how vast the vastness really is.

Barbara: Aaron is smiling and says that on an earth scale, the ocean is vast, but on a cosmic scale it's just a tiny blue dot.

Q: At one point I felt like I was the ocean. At another point, something very different happened. It seemed as though there was a marching band doing all sorts of formations, and it was formations that were produced by the white foam, but it just looked like all these figures in formation. It was quite alive.

Q: I needed to focus on the sky in order to rest in awareness, and when something drew me out, which it did, I needed to refocus on the sky. I had the experience when looking at the ocean of feeling the oneness of sky and ocean, so in that way I was aware of the ocean, also. It occurs to me now that if I try to find the space element in the ocean, that vastness might become easier.

Q: I was simply observing the pattern of energy, layers and patterns of energy and how that <inaudible>.

Q: I'd like to say hello to my sangha brothers back in Ann Arbor! I worked with seeing the selfless nature that I see in vipassana. I worked with <inaudible>

Aaron: Many different experiences. As I said, there is no right or wrong experience. It is interesting to see the variety of experiences. I'd like you all now to look down at the beach. Just where the sand is wet, where a wave has just come up. Look at the beach a bit closer to you, and then the wet area. You've all seen the beach at low tide. Can you envision how this platform of sand extends out into the water? The ocean looks vast, but here it's really only a foot or two deep. Slowly it gets deeper. You are sitting on the floor of the ocean, or if you were sitting 20 yards that way, you'd be sitting on the floor of the ocean. You are sitting just where the beach emerges, beyond the high tide line. Obviously this has been the floor of the ocean some times; there are shells here. In a storm, the water comes up this high.

Can you feel the earth element and the water element mingle? Take a handful of sand, feel the heat of it. Can you feel the sun element, the fire element, (in) the sand? Now look at the ocean. Can you see the fire element right there in the ocean, the way the ocean catches the sun? The glimmers of light are one expression of the fire element in the ocean. Fire is also energy and power, the power of the waves is an expression of the fire element. Just as when you have fire in your belly, there's an energy that arises, so the fire element in the ocean is very powerful energy.

Can you see the water element in the sand all the way up here to where the dark, wet sand ends? The tide has just been up that high.

Feel the air element. Close your eyes for a minute and feel it flowing against the body. Lift that handful of sand again and see the air element as the sand blows as you drop it. It doesn't fall straight down, the air is lifting it. See the air element also in the waves.

So we can see that here within the sand, the ocean, and the sky, we have all the four elements and space mingled. Last year we talked about mingling those elements and space, seeing, for example, that the sky extends far beyond where your eyes can see. It goes on and on. If you were to go off  beyond the earth's atmosphere, it just keeps going out, air giving way to space, empty space. And yet you can also feel that empty space as you come into the earth's atmosphere. There's no line that says empty space/ atmosphere. That space is mingled with the atmosphere. Can you at least conceptually envision that?

Now think of the ocean on a much rougher day, big waves breaking, froth flying in the air. Each bit of ocean is a water molecule. What's between the molecules? Space. In this way, allow yourself to invite that mingling of the elements and space just gazing at the beach, the ocean, the sky.
(pause while we do this for a few minutes)
It's easy to see in vipassana terms that there's no self to it, there's nothing you could point to and say, 'Just this is sand,' or 'Just this is ocean.' So it works together.

We need to draw to a close for today… Practice with this, sitting on the beach, just gazing out. No right way to see, just resting in awareness. Let the earth, water, fire, air, and space all mingle together. Seeing how empty it all is of any separate self. Then be aware of the relationships between mundane consciousness, supramundane consciousness and awareness. Note those flickering moments when there's no thought, no self, no sense of self, just pure Being resting in spaciousness. That is the assignment for today. Relax please and enjoy the practice, with effortless effort.

Tomorrow we're going to build on that resting in awareness and look more at the nature of that awareness, not just at the nature but at the expressions of that awareness.

For today, just sit and take it in, relax. If you feel so inclined, take a towel and go lie close down there by the water's edge. Lie on your belly, head resting on your hands, so that you're almost eye level to the waves. See them rushing in at you and sinking into the sand. You don't have to get yourself wet, just go part way down. But I think if you lie there on your belly and look in this way, so that the waves are breaking just above eye level, sinking into the sand, you will have a very powerful experience of what I am talking about.

Nothing is separate. You can feel the sand and the water under you. You can feel the sky and sun on you. It's all mixed together. That's not separate. And how about you, the body, the mind? Is there anything separate? Feel the ocean in you, all the salty fluids running through your body. Feel the earth element. Feel the fire element in you. Feel the wind, air element in you as you breath. Feel these in both the body and the mind. Lose the separateness. I don't want to say, be the ocean. Rather, be the whole scene, the beach, the sea, the sky, the sun, just dissolve into it and let it dissolve into you. Enjoy.

My blessings and love. I wish you a beautiful afternoon. Thank you.

(recording ends)

Copyright © 2007