Stone House Retreat (NC)
February 21 and 22, 2009 (Saturday)

Keywords: Equanimity, happiness, peace, freedom/ liberation, aggregates/skandas, attachment Aaron's teaching stories: Hole in the ground/ dying monk with equanimity/ wrinkled paper

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. Tonight I am taking your lead from last night as you spoke about what inspires your spiritual practice, and the search for happiness, for peace, for freedom.

What does it mean to be happy? You all have a deep enough spiritual practice that you're beyond any belief that a new car is going to provide more than momentary happiness, and yet there is momentary happiness in it, especially if you've been driving a very unreliable, beat-up old jalopy. So there's joy.

But you know that true happiness cannot come from anything in the conditioned world, because anything that comes into your experience can also leave your experience. If your happiness is dependent upon that object or circumstance, then not only will you be unhappy if you lose it but you'll be unhappy just dreaming of the possibility that you'll lose it. How do we find a balance, to invite in that which is wholesome and joyful–material comfort, loving relationships, good health–but without attachment to them, without belief, "I must have this or I will be unhappy"?

It's good to reflect on a weekend like this about what is the deepest source of happiness; what is most meaningful in your lives. You start to see the different layers, the accumulated things that come and go, even comfort and ease, but are not requirements; and that which you truly need for happiness. It will differ for each of you, but happiness never about material possessions or even about health or relationships. Those are all beautiful but not this true source of happiness.

I want to tell you a story from one of my past lives. The being that I was, was a respected man in his community, a man with spiritual leanings and a deep devotional and meditation practice. He was a man to whom others came for help–in that place and time, somewhat of a shaman, priest or medicine man.

I had a comfortable material life. Not a great deal of abundance but not less than what was required–a dry, warm home, enough to eat, solitude, a beautiful view out my door, a place to walk. I had friends. And people looked up to me so I felt a little bit important, and I liked that. Respect was something I had sought in that life, respect earned by a deep caring for others, and respect through wisdom for which I had had to work. So I was quite content in my life.

Then there was a crime in my village and several witnesses, not to the crime itself but people who had seen somebody creep into the house, said it looked like me. People who knew me should have known, I thought, that I was not capable of such crime so it hurt me to be thusly accused. First I was held in high esteem, and then (crashing sound effect), "He's bad, he must be the one who did it. People saw someone who looked like him," and with that, I was thrown into what passed for a prison on that place, which was really a deep hole in the ground. Each prisoner was thrown in a separate hole so each was alone. The earth went up a little bit on one side of the hole so that when it rained, the low part became very sodden, but there was a drier area. I had some big leaves that formed a canopy over my head to keep off the sun and rain. I had a mat to lie upon or sit on. I had a robe that I could use for a blanket.

There was no judge and jury; rather, one powerful man in the town decided on penalties for crimes. He said, if people think it was him, then throw him in the pit. So I was lowered into this pit by a rope. I was so filled with anger, "How could they do this to me? Don't they know who I am? After all I've given to others, how could they do this?"

I was given food once a day and water. There was a container in which body waste was placed and then drawn up. Other than that I was simply left alone I don't blame them in retrospect for leaving me alone because I was surly, angry, and very unpleasant to be around. When they gave me food, I felt they were giving me the worst possible food. There were several other holes like this. There was one warden, if I could call him that. He did not patrol these pits because there was no possible way to climb out; his job was simply once a day to bring fresh food and water. I doubt if he enjoyed this job but by feeding us, he won food for his rather large family. So I felt, "He's giving his family the best and he's giving me the slops, which he'd feed the pigs." Once a week they drew me out, or sometimes only once every 2 weeks. Two men lowered a rope. I held on, they drew me up, they threw some water on me and lowered me back. That was my weekly, or alternate week, bath.

It took quite awhile before I caught on to my anger and how much suffering I was creating for myself. This was my situation. I could not escape. Even if I could, I would not attack those 2 men who lifted me out to bathe me; my moral code would not let me attack them.

As long as I was condemned to live in this pit, I was going to live in this pit. And I reflected to myself with some wry humor that my dream had been, as I matured into a position of more of an elder, to cease working in the world so much and become more of a hermit and a religious monastic, to live alone in solitude so that I could meditate and pray. Here I was! I was being given shelter, solitude, food and water and I was angry about it.

And I began to reflect on the situation of this warden. I began just for experiment's sake to try thanking him instead of snapping at him. So one day as he lowered the food I said, "Thank you. You've been feeding me every day for several years and I've never thanked you." And he smiled at me and said, "You're welcome."

The next day he brought me nicer food. I didn't say thank-you to get nicer food, I said thank-you because my heart prompted it. He began to stop at the top of the hole and talk to me. I had barely talked to anyone for several years. Now he would pause and talk to me. When they pulled me out to bathe, they had extra water. They invited me to sit in the shade of a tree. One of them went down into my hole with some flooring material, something to help me stay drier on the little high place that I had.

As time went on, they pulled me out not once a week but almost daily, and several people would come and we would sit and talk. It was almost like the way I had talked to the villagers, to my friends and those for whom I cared when they would come to me with their spiritual dilemmas, and their health problems and so forth.

So now they began to pull me up every day and I would spend several hours sitting under the shade of a lovely tree speaking to many of the people I had spoken to years before. Eventually I would say, "I'm ready to go back now." They would respect that and lower me down. By now I had a much sturdier canopy, more shade and drier. I asked, "Are you giving me food that should go to others?" because I was concerned that the quality had improved so much. "No, no. People who have come to talk are giving food for you. This is not the jail food; others are giving food."

So my life eased into a pattern whereby most days, sometime in the morning I was lifted out of my hole, had the chance to bathe, sit under the tree, and speak to the deep questions people brought, and then after another meal would descend down into my hole where I would do my spiritual practice for the rest of the day. I was happy.

My happiness did not depend on being free in the physical sense. It didn't depend on being right. It didn't depend on apologies from anyone. I simply made peace with the way things were.

Many years passed. A man was caught in some kind of illegal act, taken into confinement, and there he confessed to the crime for which I had been convicted. The one who had convicted me, the one who had sent me into this pit, was still alive. He didn't come to me to apologize, he just said, "Let him out." So my friends came and said, "You are now free."

Where would I go? I was an older man by then, not yet old but approaching it. They said, "Don't worry, we have a place for you." In the woods next to the grove of trees, next to the holes, they built me a lovely cabin. They continued to feed me as they had done for so many years. People continued to come. I was simply free to go in and out of my cabin at will. No more hole. But it really didn't matter very much. We live in one place; we live in another. We have the freedom to come and go; we don't have the freedom to come and go. It's all the same. Actually my hole protected my solitude, as I was not available at any hour.

What is happiness? As long as I was filled with rage and blame there could be no equanimity about my situation. There was always the belief, "If only I got out of this hole I could be happy again." In my earlier life I had not been truly happy, I had been content but still striving, wanting recognition, wanting more material goods and so forth. Now I was truly happy.

And yet to find that happiness does not mean to let go of caring for your self or for others. In that house that they moved me to, with the first big rain the roof leaked. You might think that I would have just said, "Well, that's the way it is." But why would I do that when all that was needed was to repair the roof? We live in both realities, the reality in which there is deep equanimity and the reality that can reach out and attend to conditions that are causing pain for oneself and for others.

If one is living in a hole in the ground and there is nothing one can do about it, one might as well find equanimity with it. If one is living in a house and the roof leaks, one might as well fix the roof. Can you feel the difference? There's no grasping to fix the roof. If I was in a situation in which the roof could not be repaired, so be it. But resignation is very different than equanimity. The equanimity that developed living in that pit was true equanimity based in love, able to respond with kindness to the world and to myself. But if I continued to live in that small cabin with the leaky roof, saying, "I shouldn't mind this, there should be equanimity," that's resignation. Can you feel the difference between resignation and equanimity?

When there is resignation, it's contracted negative energy, and one must always bring mindfulness to it, noting the contraction, feeling the possibility to open up and reach out for that which is wholesome and for the highest good. How could it be for the highest good for me as an older man to live constantly soaked under a leaky roof? The people who loved me would be disappointed if I got sick and died. It was much more wholesome to say, "Please, can you fix the roof? Or bring me material to fix the roof." And of course, as soon as I asked, people were happy to do it.

What I want to focus on here is that equanimity does not mean that you stop attending to distortion. When something feels out of balance, equanimity says, "This is okay," and love says, "But we also can attend to it." This is a heart of what Barbara has been learning these 6 years going to, it's call the Casa de Dom Inacio, John of God's healing center in Brazil. Before she first went, she had some very real equanimity with her deafness but she had the mistaken idea, "If I have equanimity, then I should just let it be. If there's some possibility of hearing, I shouldn't reach out for it because that makes the equanimity into a lie."

She began to see that there could be true equanimity that reaches out to accept what may be offered, that reaches out to invite healing, without grasping at the healing. When you can do that, then there's true happiness. So there was true happiness when she was deaf without any hope of hearing. There was still sadness, but no fear or grasping. There was a brief period of grasping when she first went to Brazil and thought, "Maybe I'll hear! Maybe I'll hear!" Mind settled down quickly into simply holding the space, inviting wholesome possibility, which was coming forth.

She has shared with some of you some of the small bits of hearing that have happened through the years. This year, for her, it was very deeply moving for her to hear, clearly and loudly, the song Amazing Grace and other music. So she's not hearing words yet but she's hearing certain kinds of sounds. And they keep telling her, "You will hear. You will hear. Be patient."

That "Be patient," that's hard. "You will hear." When? Grasping. Where did happiness go? Equanimity. Faith. She will hear, but if she doesn't hear, she is no worse off than she was 5 years ago. She couldn't hear then and there was equanimity. "Just let it be as it will be and be joyous with every bit of hearing."

Several years ago she heard thunder for the first time in these 36 years of deafness. She was out there singing in the rain, "Boom! Boom!" - so much joy just hearing thunder. So now it's music, this year. And she trusts it probably will get better. But if it doesn't, she's happy. There's no grasping, no fear. Peace with things the way they are and the willingness to invite in that which is wholesome, to stay open to possibilities.

Peace. What does peace mean? I've just brought the words "happiness" and "peace" together. Do they always come together? Do they come together for you? When you're happy are you feeling peace? When you're peaceful are you happy? Or do they sometimes come separately?

For how many of you do they come together? Many. And for some of you, do you sometimes experience just happiness or just peace? A few of you do. Sometimes both: sometimes they come together, sometimes separately, that's been my experience. Often together, but not always. So what is peace unrelated to happiness?

In the conditioned realm, everything has the nature to arise out of conditions and pass away. This is how things are. The sun will come up in the morning, the air will warm up; we say, "Ah, it's pleasant, it's warm." And then the sun sets and it gets cold again. That's how things are.

When there is attachment to controlling things as they are, there's both unhappiness and no peace. As long as you regard only this world of conditions arising and passing away, there may be glimmers of peace but not really any true deep peace. In my experience, the deepest peace comes when I transcend the world of conditions and rest in the spaciousness beyond conditions. Many of you have touched the Unconditioned in your meditation practice and then there's no peace because you begin to grasp after it, wanting it back again.

What happens when the mind stops holding thoughts? What when the body seems to dissolve, or meld with everything else, not really any sense of a separate body? There's just awareness. You see the world of conditions arising and passing away, and yet nothing is really arising or passing away.

I used the sun rising and setting as an example. Let me use what may seem like a frivolous example. Many, many lifetimes ago, in ancient times, the one I was, was a shaman of a tribe in a South American culture. My job was to sing the sun up every morning and people truly believed that if I did not do my job right, the sun wouldn't rise. On days that were very dark and overcast, people would come knocking at my door. "What are you doing in here? Get out here! The sun isn't coming up!" When there was an eclipse, unless it was a short eclipse I could be put to death! I was not doing my job.

From your perspective the sun seems to rise and to set. But what if we put you in a spaceship and sent you off far enough into outer space that you could see the true relationship of the Earth and the sun, and how the Earth was spinning on its axis. "Ah, the sun is not really rising and setting at all, I only believed it was." The Earth is just spinning, and orbiting. The sun is moving, everything is moving. Can you see the deep peacefulness that would come, letting go?

If you have a belief that you must control things in that way, not the rising of the sun but anything within you and this conditioned world, there cannot be any peace. When you begin to rest in that outer-space spaciousness, seeing the big picture, knowing that everything is dependent on conditions, and that you are part of the play of conditions, that you have free will, and you're part of the conditioning that affects everything but you're not the whole thing, then there is peace. You alone cannot stop a battle. You alone cannot heal a dysfunctional family. You alone cannot heal all the people with cancer in the local hospital.

And yet your work is significant. As you do your inner work, you do bring more peace to the world. You do heal your families. You do indirectly or directly help others who are sick to heal. As you bring love rather than fear into the situation. But you're just one piece of all this conditioning.

To me, peace is the place where one can step back, seeing a whole world of conditions exploding out and dying away, and just stand there and say, "Ahhhh, so that's how it is." And not have to contract or try to fix anything, and yet hold the heart open and attend to whatever one can attend to. It's a little different result than happiness. Related, but it may not be felt as happiness as felt more as joy and ease, non-contracted.

And what is freedom? When somebody is rude to you and you react with anger, you are not experiencing freedom. When somebody is rude to you and you hold in your reaction and walk away, you're still not experiencing freedom; you're still caught in this inner storm. True freedom relates to all I've spoken, about equanimity, happiness, and peace, but beyond that, freedom comes when you see through this whole phenomenon that we call self.

Are you familiar with the term skandhas or aggregates? (a few are unfamiliar) They're synonymous terms in English or Pali. These are aspects that we consider to be self. What do I mean by "consider to be self?" Your body is of the form aggregate. Bodies are constantly changing. Is there anything there we can call a self? You might go to the ocean and watch the waves coming in. The ocean looks fairly flat, just rolling a bit in the distance, but as the water approaches the shore, you see a big wave cresting. It certainly seems to be a wave; it seems solid. And then it washes up on the shore and drops into the sand. Where did it go? Does the wave still exist?

In relative reality, there was a wave. This is the aggregate of form. In terms of ultimate reality, there was just water. Your body has a lot of water content. The water in your body is constantly changing. Is it the same body today as it was yesterday? If you drink a lot of very impure water, that will rest in the cells. If you drink a lot of pure and high vibration water, that will rest in the cells. The body is also of the earth element. When the body dies and is buried or burned, it simply returns to the earth. Is it your body anymore? What do you think? After you're dead and the body dissolves into the earth, is it still your body or can you gracefully return it to the earth?

Think of your vegetable garden and that which you consider garbage. If you call it compost instead, and turn it over into the soil, the new fruits and vegetables grow out of that enriched soil. Is this a separate tomato or is it part of last year's tomato? Is there anything really separate? We look at all the different skandas or aggregates, of form, of feeling, of thoughts, consciousness itself, perception. None of them are really you.

It sometimes helps people to think of it in terms of the elements because your body does contain all of the elements. If you go outside in the rain and pick up the muddy soil, you can feel the earth and the water there. Feel the earth and the water in your body. Go out on a hot day and dig your hands into the earth and feel the earth element and the fire element there. Let it run through your hands and feel the fire element in your body. You are earth, water, fire. You're connected to the earth. We does "earth" begin and where do you end?

There is an exercise that I gave Barbara many, many years ago, that she described to someone today. I asked her to go outdoors and with some pebbles and mark out a box about a foot square or slightly larger, just pebbles at the corners and a couple on the border to help her stay focused on the box. I asked her to choose land where there was some vegetation and some bare soil, and simply to seat herself and watch. If mind began to wander, note, "thinking, planning," whatever, and come back.

This was her primary object, just seeing, just presence. Watch the little bugs crawling around, watch the butterfly land, watch the leaf come down from the tree and land in that square. If an insect began to walk out, she was not to follow it, just stay within the box. I asked her to begin to release the separation of observer and observed, to be that box, to feel the soil, to be the soil. How did the sun feel on the soil? How did it feel when the butterfly landed? How did it feel to watch the earthworm burrowing in to oneself and to depart? Literally be the soil, the worm, the leaf. All one!

It took her several hours to move past observer into pure being. At that point there was peace and there was freedom. Thoughts stopped. She simply was the soil. As she watched, and it was a warm afternoon, first there was hot sun. She could feel it baking her, baking the soil, self and soil coming together. And then a bit of rain came, not heavy rain, but just a few drops, and she could feel the beauty of this moisture soaking into her earth skin, touching deep into the earth, and the sense of joy. She could feel herself as the grass growing there, taking nourishment from the rain. And then within 10 or 15 minutes, the rain passed, and the sun came out again. Warmth.

Letting go of being Barbara, then letting go of being that box, because of course that box is infinite. She let go of separation, no self. No self does not mean you cease to exist, but that you are everything. You are infinite. The compassionate heart connects to that infiniteness and offers loving service. And there is happiness.

I learned something important about freedom as a young man in my final human lifetime, the lifetime in which I was a meditation teacher in Thailand 500 or 600 years ago. As a boy growing up in a Thai village, it was important to my mother, as it was to the other adults, to give offerings to the monks as they came through. So every morning my mother would prepare special food, the best we had, and we would bring it out to the road. As the monks came through with their alms bowls, she would offer the food. This was part of her devotional practice.

One did not give alms to the monks so much, if I can phrase it in this way, as to the robe. One didn't meet the monks' eyes, for example. One didn't talk to the monks, but the dana was offered as a sign of respect, as in the refuges you took, Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. You're giving in generosity and support to support the Triple Gem. Of course these monks lived nearby; we did go to the temple and we did know them but I would not lift my eyes to see to whom I was giving the food.

There was a monk who developed an illness. I suppose today you would call it something akin to Parkinson's disease, so I noticed that he walked, he began to tremble. And as time went by that he could no longer hold his bowl. He could still walk at least a few days a week, but others helped him. I said to my mother with great concern, "Look how much he is suffering." And she said to me, "Tomorrow when you offer him alms, look into his eyes." I said, "Am I allowed to do that?" She said, "You may do it. Look into his eyes."

I was afraid. I thought his pain would totally overwhelm me because I could only feel how it would be for me if I had this kind of illness. But I was respectful so I did as my mother asked, and I looked into his eyes. There was such peace in his eyes and such deep love. Certainly the body was uncomfortable, but there was no fear of the conditions of the body. There was happiness; there was peace; there was freedom. He was not caught in any self-identity with his disease. He was not caught in wishes, "I want it to be otherwise." He was deeply at peace.

Time went by, years, and his disease progressed. I had the good fortune to live at the monastery, though I was too young to ordain. It was well-known that I wished to become a monk. And I was offered the opportunity to serve this elder monk. By this point he could no longer go on alms rounds at all. People would bring him food. He could not feed himself. So it was my gift to be allowed to feed him, to bathe him.

He could no longer speak. His eyes spoke his peace. For over a year I had the great grace to live close to him and see the deep peace and love in his eyes. This is liberation. It influenced me enormously. I think it is a greater part of what inspired me in that lifetime to find final liberation.

That kind of peace and freedom is seen so rarely. Aspire to it but do not grasp at it. Rather, simply know that it is possible and that you are on the path that leads to it, a path of millions of steps, and no step is irrelevant. No step is unnecessary. So trust your path. Practice with love. Practice with commitment, holding before you this image of what is possible, genuine happiness, peace, and freedom. And when you experience even a glimmer of any of these, allow yourself to feel gratitude for it. Allow it to re-inspire you to commit even further to this path.

Thank you for hearing me, for this opportunity to speak with you.

Are there questions?

Q: Is there a difference between sorrow and suffering?

Aaron: A great difference. Suffering is a contracted energy, it's based in fear and grasping. Sorrow is rooted in loving-kindness, I'm not talking of grief here, which is also quite contracted, but sorrow, sadness. I experience enormous sorrow when I see the suffering of the world, but I don't suffer when I see the suffering of the world. I have equanimity with it, but I'm sad to see people struggling so.

When someone that you love dies, it's natural to feel sorrow. That sorrow can be based in love rather than fear so it's not a "What will I do without him? Is he safe? What will happen? I can't bear it," kind of experience. It's not that kind of fear and grasping, it's just sadness. Beyond the experience of full realization there is still joy and sadness.

Let me add one more thought. There is no self, no stories of me involved in that sadness, it's just pure sadness. There's also no self involved in the joy. It makes the joy even more delightful because there are no stories.

Q: You say that freedom happens when you see through the self. How does that work with the conditioning that is imprinted in our bodies over a long period of time?

Aaron: You are mammals. You have a mammalian reflex. If I throw a snowball at you, you're going to flinch. If something touches you that's sharp, the body will pull back. When there is awareness that notes it and just notes, "withdrawing, pain, impulse," and brings awareness to it, there's no longer a self-story, as I call it. One is not criticizing the self that one pulled back from the sharp thorn. Mind doesn't judge the thorn, doesn't judge the reaction that pulls back; it's just reaction.

When sila is deep enough, the reaction will never be used to harm another. One reaches a point where when somebody is about to punch you, the mammalian reflex to fight or flee is simply noted. One simply dances with that energy, seeing the fist coming and steps aside from it. There it goes. Disengaged.

So there's no longer any self-judging story, "I should do this better, I shouldn't have this reaction," and so forth, and there's no longer any reaction except literally in an uncontracted way to dance with whatever catalyst has arisen. Does that answer it?

Q: It seems that sometimes I can see the conditioning but that doesn't mean that my behavior is thereby changed.

Aaron: Then you need to do work with some specific practices that will help, I don't want to say change the behavior so much as bring deeper attention to the behavioral patterns, to the habits, to the karma. Work more with practices like the Seven Branch Prayer, for example, and practices that support the move into spaciousness and letting go. Bringing attention to the habit energy and to the strong intention to release this habit energy for the highest good, but without any judgment of the self in whom this habit energy is embedded and still arises. This kind of practice will eventually lead to its release.

It all comes together. This is why there's no one path that fits everybody. But the practice needs constantly to be in balance. So if the effort is too harsh, one needs to step back. If there's too much laxity, one needs to come forth. If the mind is judging, bring in more metta. If the mind is not really in a place of metta but let's call it moral laziness, then one needs not judgment but more mindfulness, more commitment to release the unwholesome, and deepening wisdom as to the suffering you are creating for yourself. One keeps working toward balance.

Let us stop here now so that you'll have a chance to stretch a bit before your final sitting. Again, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you.

(recording ends)

February 22, 2009 Stone House Retreat
Q&A continued the next morning. Keywords: Presence, kindness, freedom, equanimity

Aaron: Good morning. My blessings and love to you all. The question relates to an arahant who said that his experience was of kindness. The title of one of my books is Presence, Kindness, and Freedom. I've been asked how I feel this title relates to the man's statement.

Q: Kindness and peace.

Aaron: The title of my book relates directly to my talk last night. We need presence, mindfulness, if you want to call it that–to be present in this moment. If you're not here, you don't learn anything. So you need to learn to pay attention, to be present. The texture of that presence must be kindness. If you are present as a warrior is present with his sword, ready to strike out at anything that moves, always seeking to defend, there's a lot of contraction and fear. There's not a basic attitude of kindness.

We develop presence that is grounded in kindness. We do that not by trying to fix unkindness but rather by observing when we move into that belly-tightening, throat-tightening, teeth-clenching contraction of fear, just noting it as contraction. I like the note, "contracting," because it doesn't have any value judgment to it. A contraction is just a contraction. Each time you breathe, the body contracts and releases. It's part of the life process, so contraction is not bad, but unbalanced contraction held in the body creates suffering.

With presence and an intention toward kindness, one begins to note these kinds of unbalanced contractions and to ask the question that has been pointed out to you, "Right here with the fear or anger or pain that's heightening this contraction, can I find spaciousness?" That spaciousness is right here in this moment when you pay attention. The contracted and the uncontracted, where would it go?

Could somebody give me a plain white piece of paper, please? Thank you. Perfect white piece of paper, unwrinkled, yes? (crumples it) Can you see that the perfect piece of paper is still there, and there are wrinkles. Can anybody see the perfect white piece of paper? (yes) I don't have to iron out the wrinkles, the wrinkles are there, not a problem. Where would the perfect piece of paper go? It's still there.

Imagine a deep underground spring of pure water. It emerges up through cracks in the rocks and tumbles down the hillside. Right there where it emerges you can drink from it; it's pure and free of any pollution. It runs down the hill and a few hundred yards away, it widens into a place where cattle come and drink, and the bottom is muddy. The water is churned up. Instead of looking fresh and clear, it has a brown hue.

You walk down the mountain, you come to this wider stream. You're thirsty. Do you need to go back up to the spring? Let's say you have a very good filter. The perfect water is still there and the mud is there. You're not going to lean down and drink there next to the cattle; you'll get sick. But you also don't have to climb back up to the perfect spring. The water you seek is right there; just filter out the impurities.

When we are present and view the world from a perspective of kindness, the heart is more open. Contractions will still arise. You don't have to fix anything. If distortions in thinking arise that lead to anger and fear and blame, just note them with presence and kindness. It's the way of filtering that particular stream. When you filter it, you come back to lovingkindness.

When you do this–the third word in my book title–there's freedom. As J said, there's freedom of choice. The anger is still there, just as the mud is still there from the cattle's feet. You have a choice to filter the water or not to filter the water. You can always make the decision to climb back up the mountain but you're thirsty and that's a long climb. Why climb all the way up the mountain? What you seek is right here in this moment.

When this arahant said kindness is always present, there's something very important to be aware of here. Kindness is always present for all of you, only you lost it underneath the mud. Where does it go? There's always choice to go rushing off in a frantic way, "Where did I put my kindness?" or to stop and remember, to do the different kinds of practices you've all suggested, whatever brings you back into contact with that kindness.

You are all enlightened at some level. You haven't fully realized this true nature of yours that's grounded in kindness; you're still seeking to understand it. But you are all already there. You're not so different from that arahant, only he has realized what you are yet striving to realize.

Further questions?

Q: Last night we spoke about equanimity. I wonder if you would talk about equanimity related to big decisions like where to live or work or who to be in relationship with.

Aaron: Tension may arise around those questions, "which job, where to live, what about this relationship." Ah, tension, tension, wanting to get it right. When one watches the tension arise around the question, notes the nature of this arising as grasping and fear, and makes space for the grasping and fear in such a way that even if the tension still exists there's equanimity about it, the tension then has nothing left to feed it. It's not perpetuated, and slowly it dies away. Then the question answers itself. The answer doesn't come from the rational mind, it comes from the heart and from a deeper place, not in the mind but from the heart. But as long as you're feeling, "I have to fix this tension," and there's not equanimity about the tension, then the heart can't be heard.

It's an interesting process. First there is the thought and the tension around that thought. For example, "which job?" There is the thought, "There must be a right decision here. What if I get it wrong, I'll be condemned in a wrong job. I'll be unhappy. I've got to get it right." Just note, "Ah, tension, tension."

Don't stay with the question, "which job?" which is a story, but move attention to the direct experience of tension. The tension points you into whatever else is there, perhaps sadness, really wanting peace and happiness and well-being, and how hard the human experience is.

Being present with the tension might lead you to early memories of lack of control and fear. Gradually you come back into your heart so you're able to say, "Tension, come have tea." The tension still has not disappeared but you're not feeding it anymore. It will drink its tea and, seeing there's no dialogue to be found, that it can't rile you up, it will get up and walk off leaving you with a spaciousness that can again regard the question, "Which job? What does my heart say?" So it's important not to get lost in these stories that create contraction but to find equanimity with contraction.

I see that we're out of time. We'll have some small groups in which you may ask further questions. I will look forward to talking with you further this morning and today.

(recording ends)

Copyright © 2009 by Barbara Brodsky