November 14, 2010 Sunday Stone House Retreat AM Instructions

Keywords: dependent origination, heavy emotions

Aaron: Good morning. My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron.

It is another beautiful day. It feels to me like many of you are settling into the silence. Two days is a very short time. I know for some of you who are newer here it feels like forever. But it is a short time and I would wish for all of you the minimum of one week retreat to move so deeply into the silence that the brain stops its habitual chattering for long periods of time, and you can enjoy the deep comfort of resting in the true self without the brain's constant chatter.

I'm not speaking of the brain in a derogatory manner. The mind's work is to give rise to thoughts; that's what the mind does. When conditions are present, thoughts arise. The body's work is to give rise to sensation, that's what the body does. When you walk out and the air is cold on your face, you don't say, "I shouldn't feel this;" this is what the body does. When you step in the sun's heat you don't say, "I shouldn't feel this on my face, on my skin;" this is how the body is.

The sensations and thoughts in themselves are just sensations and thoughts. It is the stories they bring forth and the way you get lost in the stories that create challenge for you.

So we might have an experience walking down the path here at night in the dark, perhaps after a rain storm. You don't have a flashlight. There's a wee bit of moonlight. You're walking and you don't realize there's a 6-inch puddle there. You step into it, icy water. Contact. Icy water touches the foot. Consciousness of contact. Noting cold; noting wet. Perception. This is a puddle, my feet are wet.

And unpleasant feeling comes up. "I only have this one pair of shoes with me and the rest of my socks are all damp, too. I'm on my way down to the meditation hall. I'm going to have to sit all evening with wet feet."

So first there's just an unpleasant feeling: cold, wet. And then immediately stories. "Oh me, wet feet all night. I'm going to get a cold. I'll have pneumonia. I'll be in the hospital next week. Why don't they have this road better lit? Why didn't they throw some gravel into the puddles to fill them up?"

Stories. I like that simple term. This is what I mean by stories. It's the place the mind often goes when there's something very unpleasant and it wants to get away from the unpleasant feeling. The story is not a natural continuation of the unpleasant feeling, it's an habitual way of evading the experience "unpleasant". It's an habitual way of evading aversion. Aversion can arise without stories. Aversion is just hardening and contraction, "don't want, don't want". Aversion is a kind of story but it's not an embellished story.

You are walking down the same road in the afternoon, the first time during the retreat, and suddenly you see some magnificent flowers that have the sweetest smell. You don't recognize them immediately, just "smelling, smelling, pleasant". They're exquisite. And the next thought is, "Oh, I want to pick a bunch of these and take them back to where I'm sleeping. I want that smell with me all the time. This is wonderful." I want, *I* want. Grasping.

Pleasant as pleasant, liking, and then grasping. As with aversion, grasping is a kind of story but it doesn't need embellishments. There can be awareness watching grasping without getting caught up in the idea, "I have to get some more of it."

You've had some delicious food of it this weekend. I'm sure many of you have returned to the serving table to take a second portion of something. It was just too good not to take a little bit more. "I want." And then perhaps some thoughts, "If I don't get this I'll be hungry later. I should take a second portion. After all I've worked hard today, I deserve a second portion."

We can watch these kinds of stories coming with aversion and grasping. They come with neutral experience too, and boredom, and the mind seeking out some kind of entertainment because it doesn't want to be bored.

When I look deeply at this, what I see is the deep conditioning not to experience aversion, boredom, or grasping. One doesn't want those things. There's a certain contracted energy in all of them. The human conditioning is for the self, the ego, to seek out comfort. Even when the arisen object is pleasant, if there's grasping, the grasping energy brings tension to the belly. It's not a pleasant energy. The object may be pleasant. Liking it may even be pleasant. But as soon as it moves into grasping there's a sense, "I am without that and I need to have that or in some way I'm incomplete. I need it." Tension that comes with that thought.

With aversion it's even more clear. "I don't want that anywhere near me." Here comes a 6-inch spider crawling across the floor from over there in the corner. See it creeping across the floor? Seeing, contact. Maybe on the other side of the room we've got a big snake slithering across the floor. Take your choice. The back of the room, a rat! One of them will surely give rise to aversion.

Seeing, seeing, contact, consciousness, perception: it's a snake, it's a spider, it's a rat. Don't let that near me. Fear. The experience of aversion. What is the experience of aversion without any stories? Can aversion just be aversion? We don't want aversion and that's why we give rise to stories. Grasping is a kind of aversion, grasping because there's aversion to not having it.

Try right now to reflect upon the tension that you feel with strong grasping or aversion. Your whole energy field becomes contracted. It's an unpleasant experience. The grasping or the aversion becomes the predominant object. Seeing this huge spider crawling across the floor, this big snake slithering towards you, as the aversion becomes strong even the snake or the spider are no longer the predominant objects. The experience of aversion is predominant. "Keep that away from me." The object itself has lost all distinction. You're not focused on the snake or the spider. "Keep that away from me." Can you feel that energy, how that feels?

Then you bring attention to the experience of aversion or contraction, if that's more predominant. Feel the whole body contracting. Feel the strong "I', me, self, ego, "I don't want." You may be feeling fear. Part of aversion is fear. "I will be harmed by this. I don't want it."

The mind needs to move very smoothly from one object to another and be with the object that's predominant. After you've sat for maybe only 10 or 15 seconds with aversion and it starts to open up again, eye focuses again on the spider which by now is only a few feet from you, and there's the snake coming in from the other side-- maybe you love snakes, but spiders, no, or vice versa--then the object again becomes predominant. Can there be seeing the object, the unpleasant feeling that comes with seeing the object, and not get into any stories? And at that point you can just smoothly get up and walk across the room. You can find a container and scoop up the spider and carry it outside. You can find something to carry the snake in, unroll one of those yoga mats, invite the snake onto the yoga mat and carry it out the door.

These are just living creatures. The aversion is conditioned. Just because the conditioning comes doesn't mean you have to listen to the stories it's telling of, "Oh, this is dangerous, this will hurt me!" But you do have to be openhearted with fear, with aversion.

One of the predominant unskillful paths that people take is to think that they have to stay focused on the object. So you push the aversion aside and just watch the spider. "Well, I'm seeing the spider-- seeing, seeing, seeing, seeing...go away aversion, I'm paying attention to the spider." Seeing, seeing, seeing, seeing. You're trembling, you're terrified but you keep your attention fixed on the object. That's a way of avoiding the true predominant experience of fear or strong aversion.

The opposite can also happen. You move into the aversion because the spider is so unpleasant, or the snake. (tight controlling voice) "Here is aversion. I'm going to control this aversion. Even though the spider and snake come, they're not what's there, what's predominant is aversion. It's crawling over... aversion, aversion." (accompanied by actions)You've got to be present with it all. You've got to be present with it with an open heart.

I've been talking about snakes and spiders. What happens when feelings of grief, feelings of unworthiness, feelings of despair, feelings of shame, what happens when these arise? And they will arise. If you are meditating in a skillful way, these guests are going to come because you're opening yourself and asking, "What's beneath?" Letting yourself fall through that ice. What's down there? What have I been running from? When I see deeply into the nature of what I have been running from, in a sense I pull its fangs. It's no longer so terrifying. I begin to know that grief, despair, shame, feelings of unworthiness, that these are all human experiences and I am not exempt. And it's okay that I experience these things. They will not destroy me but the more deeply I can enter into the experience with love, the more I can break through a self-identity in being the one who did something shameful, the one who is unworthy, the one who is filled with despair. This experience arose and it will pass away. It arose out of conditions. We meet it with kindness and with love.

You can hold your hands out, literally. When there's an experience like strong fear or shame or anger, instead of, "Don't want that," what happens if you hold your hands out to receive it? If you remember, "Okay, this is safe. Aaron promises me this is safe. I can experience this without stories. I can literally take it into my hands and bring it up to my heart." Breathing it in. What is this experience without the stories? Each time the stories want to come, just note them, let them go and come back to the direct experience.

I'm going to ask you each to hold out your hands in that way and to close your eyes, and I'm going to place an object into your hands. I promise you it is not a spider or a baby snake. I want you to feel the object without knowing; don't immediately name it, like "acorn" or "feather" or "flower." Just feel it. Smooth or rough, warm or cold? Is the direct feeling of it pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral?

Give yourself a few moments with it, and when you're ready, bring it up to your heart. Continue to keep the eyes closed. Become intimate with this object without having a specific label for it like, "Oh, this is this," which is a way of controlling the object. If I say, "This is a shell or a rock or an acorn," if I say, "This is grief or shame," that's in a sense a way of controlling it. Maybe you don't need to name it so specifically, just to know this is a fiery-feeling object. It feels sharp to me, it feels like it will burn me, or it feels like it will freeze me. I'm willing to merge with it, to really get to know it and see what's there.

So I'd like you to take this object in that way, eyes closed, hold it, and when you're ready, bring it up to your heart.

(distributing objects)

Taking a bit of care, these have different energies, some of them. So I want to give each one of you one that feels suitable to you.

(distributing objects for several minutes, group does exercise)

Feeling the texture, the coolness. It's basically a pleasant object, or it might feel neutral. Holding it to your heart. You can touch it against your face, feeling the smoothness. You see how easy it is to blend your heart with this object because it's not a threatening object. There was a certain receptivity although when I first dropped it into your hands, you didn't know what to expect.

Being willing to receive. Reflect for a moment how that felt. A certain basic trust, in this case of me but you can have that same basic trust of life, willing to receive. Trusting that what comes into the outstretched hands, pleasant or unpleasant, is exactly what is needed at that moment whether it's or sorrow, love or fear, grief, pain, happiness and ease. Each moment will bring exactly what is needed.

Keep the heart open to it. The old conditioning is the close the heart and be defended. What you're doing here is putting down the armor. Opening a little trap door in the armor so the heart is accessible.

In your meditation today, as difficult objects come up, especially objects like body pain and challenging emotions, I want you to reflect, work with knowing feeling pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral, watching for like and dislike, for grasping and aversion. But don't get too technical and mechanical. Ask yourself, beyond all of that, the basic question, "Is this door in the armor of the heart open? Can I be present with whatever visitor has come and not try to control or fix it but simply see deeply into it? Seeing what it has to tell me?"

If what comes feels very difficult to be with, keep this small object that I've just given you by your side, this rock. Pick it up. Right there in the strong pain in the knees or the strong memory of grief and the feeling of grief, holding the rock. Feel the possibility to let even this into the heart, to be with it in a different way, an undefended way that's fully present. It's only in that full presence that the small ego begins to dissolve, the self with all its stories begins to dissolve, and there is just awareness, present with whatever has arisen.

Are there any specific questions about the morning instruction?

We'll sit then for 45 minutes.

(session ends)