April 25, 2010 Sunday Evening, Emerald Isle Retreat

Keywords: raindrops guided meditation, heavy emotions, vipassana

Aaron: I am Aaron. Here is a lovely room, with a wild sea outside. I hope you have all had a good day. Some ocean days are filled with sunshine and some, as today, with wind and rain. Some days in your life are filled with sunshine, ease, peace, joy, and some of challenge, with dark clouds.

When there are dark clouds you may be certain the sun will eventually shine. When the sun is shining you can be certain there eventually will be a cloud. It's hard not to prefer the sunshine to the clouds. What's important is to the see the simultaneity. As soon as you see a raindrop, you see sunshine. As soon as you see sunshine, you see raindrops. How could it be otherwise?

I'm going to spend part of this hour with a guided meditation with you, one that feels very appropriate to a rainy day. Have all of you danced on the beach in the sunshine? (pause) Have some of you danced on the beach in the rain? (pause)Have any of you danced in the sunshine between the raindrops?

If you were to go outside now, you'd have raindrops hitting a shoulder, forehead, the other shoulder, the knee. Even if they were sparse, not coming down very thick, they would be hitting the body in many places.

I want you to imagine yourself shrinking to about 3 inches in size, so a raindrop here and a raindrop there leave considerable space in between. You look up, and because time is not linear, you can see the raindrops far up, as they're appearing in what seems to be linear time, can see their path as they descend. You have all the time you need to step aside from that drop, to dance. There's another drop-- ah, look at it coming down-- dance, move aside from it. Stay in the space between the raindrops.

Now close your eyes and let's do this.

We are all out on the beach. First we put on our shrinking aspect, drawing yourself in to 3 or 4 inches in size. We'll backtrack to mid-afternoon when the day was filled with light. There were times today when the sun was shining and it was raining at the same time. Let's go to one of those times.

Begin to dance. Let the body move. Sway a bit, move. Move the arms, dance. Do it literally where you sit here. Dancing... Lift one foot and then the other foot. Dancing...

Now looking up you see a raindrop coming toward you. You're only 3 inches in size so this raindrop is perhaps almost as big as your head. But if it lands on you it will simply feel like a bucket of water; it won't hurt you. Stand under one, let it splash on you, just so you know it won't hurt. Splash! The day is warm. A bucket of water poured on you feels pleasant. Dancing, dancing.

You see another raindrop. Gently step to the side and let it land. Splash! Just watching it, hit the ground and splatter. Dancing... See how brilliant the light is between the raindrops. Dancing, dancing... There's another one coming toward you. Gently step aside from it.

You do not step aside out of fear, there's nothing to lose by being hit by the raindrop, but the sunshine and space are delightful. It's a kindness to the self to just stay in the light. It's a choice you may make, to experience getting wet or to experience staying dry and dancing in the light.

Watching them coming, watching your friends, inter-moving with your friends, dance between the raindrops. There's so much space. Because of the reflection of the sun on the raindrops, the radiance is intense. The raindrops reflect the light like a million diamonds. Feel that intense luminosity all around you. It's a joy to move close to the raindrop without being hit by it. Sometimes you can experience the light more deeply there. Keep dancing, keep the arms moving. Pick up the feet now and sway the body...

Move between the raindrops. Sometimes you may hold out a hand to a comrade, dance arm and arm for a moment, swinging each other, then letting go and dancing around the raindrops again...

And gradually the rain stops. So this is how we dance in the sun, in the innate radiance and luminosity of being between the raindrops.

Now let us use this as a metaphor. Think of something unpleasant that you experienced today, a moment of sadness, of body pain, of anger, of confusion. Let's link that with the raindrop. You have learned many ways of practicing with such experience, to note it, to be present with it. Breathing in I am aware of anger, breathing out I smile to the anger, making space for the anger. Work with strong noting: here is the experience of anger in this body. Feel where in the body it settled. Feel any resistance to the anger, any aversion to it. Know it is impermanent, arisen from conditions, not self; it will pass.

All of these are skillful ways of working with anger. I'm using anger here but it could be any strong catalyst. Repeatedly I have told you that anger is simply energy; there's nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of; there's nothing bad in anger. You attend to the anger so it will not do any harm.

But still with certain conditions it arises again and again. When you see how it continues to arise, you know you want to attend to the anger. How do we do so? That which is aware of anger is not angry. That which is aware of fear is not afraid. You can shift into that place of awareness. That is the space between the raindrops, the place of light and spaciousness.

As you danced in the rain, there was no denial of the raindrops. Rather, there had to be deep awareness of the raindrops so you could move around them and step into the spaces between them. There was no fear motivating you, just kindness.

In the same way, when the raindrop of fear, shame, confusion, greed or anger comes, instead of sitting there letting it pound you on the head over and over with buckets of water until it washes you into the gutter and down into the sewer, you can step aside. You have that choice.

You step into the place that is not afraid, the place that is not angry, the place that is not confused, and watch this experience, choosing out of kindness not to be washed away by it. You just let it go past. The raindrop goes seemingly quickly, plop! and it's gone. Anger may seem to be a very slow-moving raindrop, spinning around, descending slowly. It seems like awhile before it passes. Just wait in that spaciousness and light and watch it.

There is the experience of it but there's no self experiencing it, there are just the aggregates experiencing it; awareness rests in the light watching this experience and holding space for it. Eventually the aggregates release the anger and the luminosity is all that remains. There can be no denial of the anger; you cannot choose to hide in the spaciousness and pretend there is no anger. The experience must be simultaneous, the emotion and the space.

Let's try this now as a guided meditation. (there are pauses, not noted) Again, close the eyes. Bring into your mind some incident today which gave rise to anger, fear, physical discomfort, confusion, grasping, doubt, or frustration. Consciously remember the conditions that led to its arising so that you can see how this specific mind and body experience arose.

Now there it is, spinning over your head, about to fall on you, not just like a bucket of water but a bathtub full. You've been there; you know if this bathtub full of water lands on you it's going to wash you into the river. And for at least a few minutes you're going to be swept away, leading to unwholesome karma.

First, note the object-- fear, frustration, whatever it might be, "I greet you as a teacher. I do not fear you." But, just as with Milarepa with his demons and cups of tea, also say, "I'm going to sit you here and serve you tea but I'm not going to listen to your talk; I'm not going to get caught in your stories. I'm not going to let you dump a huge load of water on my head and wash me off into the sewer. I choose to step aside."

Try to keep a firm memory of the emotion that arose and was difficult, I don't want this to be conceptual, and experience how you can literally step aside from this emotion with no denial of the emotion, holding it compassionately, patiently, spaciously.

Feel yourself flooded with light, how radiant that light is. There is such joy in that light. Watch the emotion. You are not going to run away from it or drown in it; you are just going to sit with it.

Breathing in and aware of this challenging teacher sipping tea beside you, breathing out and aware of the radiance that surrounds you. Breathing in, smile to the teacher, breathing out, expressing gratitude for the radiance. Breathing in, wish the teacher well. Breathing out, and go ever deeper into the radiance and space. Continue to do this until the teacher has no more pull on you; it just is what it is, an object arisen from conditions, impermanent and not self.

Wisdom knows this teacher has no inherent substance, it is simply the expression of conditions. There's nothing personal about it. Kindness knows that you must attend to it as you would attend to a window left open in the rain and that must be closed, and the wetness that it left, dried with a towel. You attend without fear, with spacious kindness and an open heart.

You may open your eyes. I want to hear from you about what you experienced, as we did this. First I want to tell a very short story.

A friend told the story of a dog taken in, a stray, that was I suppose condemned to death at the local animal shelter because it snarled, bared its fangs when anyone came near. She said, "Let me try working with it."

They put it in a kennel, a safely caged place where it could not harm them or their children. She fed it every day and talked to it. It ate the food but it still bared its teeth. She saw how she was reacting to its anger by trying to fix its anger and fear rather than just holding presence for it.

So she tells how she began to use what is called and Ah Breath Meditation. This is a meditation that two people can do together. One is lying down and breathing, the abdomen rising and falling. The other simply watches the abdomen and as the abdomen falls, says, "Ahhh..." (outbreath) "Ahhh..." and on, whatever pace the breathing is, literally breathing with the other person. The other feels your presence so fully that you are literally there with them with every breath with an audible "Ahh...".

She didn't know what to do for the dog. Over a week had passed. The dog had eaten its meal and laid down so she sat by the outside wall of the kennel and just started to breathe with the dog. For half an hour, every time the dog exhaled, she said, "Ahh..." The dogs ears went up with each breath. Then he seemed to fall asleep.

After about half an hour he roused himself. He got up, tail wagging slightly and walked over to where she sat, pressed his nose against the chain link of the kennel, pushing against it. She held out her hand; no snarl. She opened the gate carefully. He simply wagged, came up to her. That was it. She said he never snarled again.

So what happened there? In a sense she went to the place where the dog was not angry and helped him to go there and to recognize that place. Instead of trying to fix the anger and fear she brought forth and nurtured the place that was not angry and afraid. The dog was receptive. He might not have been receptive the first day but this was 2 weeks later, he had been fed and never treated harshly, so he was receptive. He never snarled again. They still treated him with some caution for a few weeks but then they brought him into their home and he became a beloved member of the family.

This is what you are doing with your anger and fear. The angry or fearful self is the dog, and awareness is the person sitting by the gate saying, "Ahhh... Ahhh..." dancing in the light, holding space.

Are there questions? And I would very much like to hear your experience as you did it.

Q: As I watched the teacher, the teacher dissolved into the light and then I slowly dissolved into the light and all was one.

Aaron: Thank you.

Q: I was working with the memory of body pain and as I worked with this, the pain became lighter, airier, so I could be with it.

Aaron: Thank you. Others?

Q: While I was looking at the space – the simultaneity of the space with the teacher as with the raindrops – I was able to see the simultaneity and in myself, being both there, being the teacher and being space.

Aaron: And then they may both dissolve. The teacher and the space may go out together and everything dissolves and there's nothing left.

Q: So I hear!

Aaron: I had a significant experience yesterday with a teacher and was having difficulty not identifying with the shame and pain. (Aaron says, "champagne?" laughter) And when I did this exercise, it allowed me to have a significant shift into the radiance that is next to the pain, that I had not been able to do until we did the exercise. So it was very powerful for me.

Aaron: I'm glad to hear that. We will drink champagne to it!

Some of you may not have had positive experiences and that's okay. If you wish to share that, please do; it may have been confusing for you, for example.

Q: I didn't really have any strong negative emotions today although my tent has been quite a teacher (strong wind has been blowing the tent loose from its mooring). The worrying and all that was what I worked with, which is habitual, the worrying. It wasn't a strong worry like it would be if I wasn't on a retreat and being mindful, but I did work with it and it was drinking tea and I was drinking tea...so I experienced kind of this light sunshine. And it just all seemed okay. But it didn't dissolve <inaudible>. I haven't gotten as far as dissolution.

Aaron: Keep working with it. Certainly somewhere in this retreat, something strong is going to come up. Use it.

In the Venture Fourth readings, we have worked with a 5-step exercise from Geshe Tenzin Wangyal. The first part is called "Vision is Mind." He talks about the "famous person", which is the teacher or catalyst, the object that triggers emotion or reactivity. It may actually be a person, a person in your life who always triggers tension. So he calls it the famous person. But it may also be a recurrent event, like a painful back.

Watch for these famous people in your life. They will come. Then look at them as if they are a raindrop, just stepping into the space, and look at them also as if they're the dog, just "Ahhh...." (breathing with dog's breath)

Q: I have done that breath with my kids when they were very upset. I did it with my daughter when she was very young. But now when I try to do with her she just says, "Mommy, don't breathe. Don't breathe for me."

Aaron: I wonder if – first of all, she is 2 now and she is becoming very independent – But maybe in some ways she feels you are invalidating her anger by giving her a way to move around her anger and perhaps right now what she needs to hear from you is, "I hear how angry you are," so that it is validated, and then ask her, "Would you like to work with me to help calm the anger or make more space for the anger, or do you want to just be angry for awhile?" Give her the choice.

Anything else to add about your experience with the exercise?

Q: An experience several years ago when I had insomnia very bad and I could feel myself being drawn down into insanity, like a pit. I experienced that for several nights and then I just realized I couldn't go into that pit. And suddenly there was this big space that I could be in and not go down. I explained that to John and he said, "Oh, well that was big mind." Okay! Since then I've had insomnia too but there's no pit anymore. It's just, well, here I am, okay.

John: You have been still experiencing some insomnia?

Aaron: You're still experiencing insomnia, are you?

Q: Yes. I was until last night. "Dr. N" (participant) cured me. She told me it was hypoglycemia so I put honey in my tea last night and I drank it and left some beside the bed. And when I woke up I drank the rest of the honey tea and I fell back asleep.

Aaron: Wonderful. Who suggested the hypoglycemia?

Q: Dr. N...also Dr. M.

M: The apple juice...

Aaron: Wonderful...

So how does this teaching apply to your vipassana practice? Let's take a look.

Here you are meditating and suddenly there's a loud sound, doors slamming, loud footsteps, and anger comes up. "Don't those people know we're meditating? It's a walking period but still, people should be quieter, it's a retreat. People are not being mindful. They're disturbing my meditation." Anger comes up.

We have a number of ways to work with that anger. First is simply to note it, here is anger. Is it pleasant or unpleasant? Probably unpleasant but there may be a bit of pleasantness to it, too. It feels empowering. "I am the angry one." You no longer feel so helpless when there's anger. So there could be some subtle attachment to the anger as well. It's important to know what's happening.

So it may be both pleasant and unpleasant-- unpleasant in that it feels disturbing, you don't want it. And then pleasant because with anger comes a feeling of empowerment. "I'm going to go and tell them off. I'll wait until after the sitting. I'm going to find out who was making all that noise." This kind of anger that wants to control and fix, wants to feel empowered.

There are several objects. One is the sound, ear touching the sound, "hearing, hearing." The hearing is rupa. Ear touching sound, a body experience. The sound is not wanted and anger arises, so the anger is nama, mental. Then either aversion to the anger may come, as "I shouldn't be angry," or judgment, or feeling more and more empowered and attachment to the anger, holding on to the anger and perpetuating it. Some of each may come, as confusion, "I shouldn't be angry, I shouldn't like the anger. I like the anger. I feel strong. Which way do I go?" Confusion; that's another mental object. Just note how each of these arises from conditions. Then it passes away.

Now a day later and there's still a lot of walking around during the walking periods, doors slamming, loud footsteps, and anger is still coming. And you've become more and more aware of the habitual patterns that are coming up. Each time you hear these footsteps, first there's an unpleasant feeling, feeling pushed at, imposed upon. Anger comes up, liking the power of the anger to some degree, feeling shame of the anger.

Shift yourself and remember this raindrop exercise. All of these are raindrops-- the sound, the anger, the shame, the power and liking power. Realize that if you've been standing under these drops and you're getting washed into the gutter and heading to the sewer, it's not where you want to go.

At this point, make the skillful decision to step out of the raindrop, literally. Step into spaciousness, step into light. Ask yourself, "In this moment, where is spaciousness? Where is light, without any denial of any of these experiences? I do not have to keep inundating myself with these experiences." In other words you are changing the conditions out of which these experiences have been arising. Instead of inviting the raindrop to land on your head, instead you say, "I step aside into the sunshine. The raindrop can fall harmlessly onto the ground. I don't need to get soaked by it and washed away by it. I will take care, I will watch it. I will attend to it until it soaks into the earth. But I don't have to be disturbed by it in any way; I rest in the light."

So this is a very powerful way of literally shifting the karma and the habits that keep inviting certain occurrences to arise again and again and again.

If you know that the raindrop always falls here, let's change it from a raindrop to a waterspout carrying water dripping from a roof; a gutter and a broken waterspout, You re sitting so, just at the opening, and all the water from the gutter is pouring out above you. Habitually that's where you stand. All around it's not raining; this is just water flooding off the roof. The sun is out but you're standing under the downspout, getting soaked and saying, "Why is it raining on me? I'm getting wet!" Step aside. You have a choice.

So this is how I would like you to practice. Many of you have worked with the Seven Branch Prayer. It's another practice for working with habitual patterns. For those who have worked with it, it's also helpful.

If you find yourself standing under that downspout and you think, "I really don't have to stand her but I feel compelled to," then you can do the Seven Branch Prayer. But if you can simply step out of it, do step out of it. Then you don't need to work with the Seven Branch Prayer. So each one has its place.

The most important thing to remember is that you always have a choice. If you're getting wet, step out of the rain. There is always light.

If you choose to stand under that downspout or simply to stand in the rain and get soaked, at some level you're drawing the water to you, you're inviting it. Imagine two people who walk out on the beach; one walks half a mile right and one walks half a mile left. The one who walks right says, "It's going to be a beautiful day even though it's a bit cloudy now, I'm going to have a lovely walk." The other one looks at the sky and says, "I'm going to get caught in the rain. I'm not sure this is a good idea." Well, the one who walked left is probably going to get caught in the rain. At some level she's inviting the rain to her. The one who walked right is going to enjoy sunshine. You do have that power. Don't forget that.

If you must speak to a person who you know is angry at you, and you approach that person with the feeling, "This is going to be hard, they're going to scream at me and belittle me and speak abusively," probably your energy is going to draw that abuse. If you speak to the same person and you reflect in yourself, "I know how this person is feeling; they're feeling a lot of pain and anger, but I do have to confront them on this issue. I feel so much compassion for them for the depth of their pain and anger and I'm going to work in every way possible to make this meeting be one of a more openhearted exchange and with kindness. I feel strongly that we can succeed here, that we really can communicate with each other with kindness," then probably you're going to have a very different result.

You draw the rain when you expect the rain and sunshine when you expect sunshine. You draw the anger when you expect the anger. You draw kindness when you expect and promote kindness. And since anger and kindness are simultaneous, and raindrops and sunshine are simultaneous, right there with the raindrop, step into the sunshine; right there with anger, know kindness. You have the choice. Don't say, "I'm just stuck in the rain and I'm being washed into the gutter, into the sewer. It's going to flood and go into the river. The river is in flood stage, I'm going to be washed out to sea-- Aaaaa!" Step out. This is your choice. But with no denial of the present experience; the anger and kindness are simultaneous.

Tomorrow on the beach we'll start to do some exercises related to this. For now, that's enough words, I don't want this to be conceptual. Are there any questions about what I've said?

Q: It just seems that sometimes it's so easy to fall into those old habit energies. I know there are choices but it seems like sometimes (with) the old habit energies something bigger is going on. So, how to work with that, all of that?

Aaron: When you say something bigger is going on, can you explain?

Q: Well maybe karma?

Aaron: But karma is not irreversible. Certainly there's karma but at any time you can step out of that stream of karma. This is what I mean by the rainspout. It's your choice. You see what's happening. You make the decision, "I've done this 10,000 times this way and every time I got washed out to sea. This time I'm going to do it different."

Q: It seems difficult.

John: Perhaps this is a time when it would be helpful to use the Seven Branch Prayer and the Four Empowerments, to use an antidote to help to balance... She is saying when we have heavy catalyst...

Aaron: That's when the Seven Branch Prayer would be helpful and the Four Empowerments, exactly.

John: Because it balances the karma enough that it's more workable.

Aaron: We use the Seven Branch Prayer or the segment of the Seven Branch Prayer that's called the Four Empowerments, either the whole thing or the Four Empowerments, when the karma seems to have some kind of root, when you feel stuck in it. We can use this simply stepping aside when it feels rootless, when you see, "It's just habit and I don't have to do it this way anymore."

I'm sure all of you have had the experience of being drawn into an argument with somebody where they were repeating the same old argument for the thousandth time, and you were about to respond in the same way, escalating the struggle between you, and suddenly something clicked and you said to yourself, "I don't have to get drawn into this." And a much clearer and more openhearted response came.

This is the feeling. But yes, if you are drawn into it then you can work with the Seven Branch Prayer or Four Empowerments. And mindfulness is a key. By the time you've gone through the gutter and sewer and into the river and are flowing out to sea, it's hard to reverse it. But when you're still in the gutter you can pick yourself up and step out much more easily. And when you're just under the downspout, that's much easier.

Ask yourself, "What am I getting by staying under this downspout? What am I getting out of this?" Maybe it's "poor me," wanting sympathy. Maybe it's feeling helplessness, a kind of pleasant feeling helplessness, "Not my fault, I can't help it." What are you getting out of it?

John: Sometimes it feels very familiar because we get so used to the habit energy that there is almost a sense of comfort with it because it's so familiar. And so, stepping aside, we're not sure what that experience is going to be so we remain underneath the spout.

Aaron: Exactly. So you have to try it, but try it with the easier things first. In other words, in your meditation, when there's some body pain and aversion to the pain and mind starts thinking, "Oh no, this is going to ruin my retreat," and it's just a habitual story that comes, "Ahh, well I can go on thinking that and get washed into that rut or I can step into the light and just watch the mind thinking this," here it's a strong catalyst but it's not an overwhelming catalyst. Catch it quickly as soon as mind jumps into "Oh, poor me"-- do I want to go that direction or not? It's a little rivulet, it hasn't carved a river or even a stream yet, it's just a little inch-deep rivulet, but if it keeps flowing eventually it's going to become a Grand Canyon. Once it's the Grand Canyon it's hard to climb out. When it's shallow you can climb out.

Q: I was doing an ocean crossing on a ship and I had a roommate whom I did not know. I was in a group and she was part of the group. She is a very needy person and kept losing things and wanting me to help her find them and so forth. And I usually respond by putting on my superwoman outfit and trying to help. But the first night lying in bed, I said to myself, "Q, are you going to let this person ruin your vacation?" And I said, "No, I'm not." And I got to the place where I could be very kind to her but I just kept out of her way, mostly. I would say, "Good morning Donna, how did you sleep?" "Oh, my shoulder hurts so bad, it's terrible. I couldn't sleep. Now you, you fall right asleep and <inaudible>." So I said, "Well, that's too bad." So I'd get up in the morning and I'd say, "Good morning, I'm going off to yoga now!"

John: So Q was able to relate to this woman in a way in which she wasn't drawn into the woman's neediness. And therefore you were not getting drawn into your habit energy...

Aaron: And of course what was getting drawn in was the part of you that wants to be perceived as the helper and the good one. So she was the famous person, the teacher.

Q: She was!

Aaron: It's time to stop. We'll have more discussion on following nights. Thank you...

(session ends, breaking before a sitting)