April 24, 2011 Sunday evening, Emerald Isle

Aaron: It has been a beautiful day with sunshine and sand and surf and, I hope, quite a lot of meditation.

This morning I spoke to you for awhile about the deeper meaning of the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. I want to relate that a bit more directly to your meditation and dharma path.

When I spoke of the crucifixion, I said there were 2 stages: the carrying of the cross, so to speak, and the experience of being nailed to the cross. Somebody pointed out to me that Barbara, I believe in her book Cosmic Healing, offers a direct discussion with Jeshua channeled through Judith Coates in which Barbara asked him, "How did you work with the immense suffering on the cross?" He said, "I wasn't suffering." Well, there was pain, he was nailed to the cross. That's got to be painful. He was in a human body. But he said, "I wasn't suffering."

Whatever pains come your way, this pain is part of the human experience. How you relate to that pain is up to you and is one heart of your practice. In a human body, there is going to be pain. With the human emotional body, there is going to be pain. Eventually much of that emotional pain is resolved but the physical body continues to hurt. If you stub your toe, it hurts.

The common habitual pattern is to barricade yourself against pain; when you do that, you create even more contraction and enhance the pain. I think most of you have done this exercise with me or Barbara before but we're going to try it here.

I want you to hold your arm out, just holding it out straight. I'm going to keep talking. Eventually you're going to feel pain in the arm. Note the pain. There is contact; here, touching the limb itself, the sensations in the limb. Mind touches that sensation; consciousness of maybe just a dull ache at first, and eventually sharper and sharper pain. As I keep talking, your arm is going to feel heavier and heavier. I think if you turn palm up, it probably will ache faster, so that we can demonstrate more quickly. Sometimes I've had you put a book in your hand, something heavy.

When there is discomfort in the arm, I'd ask you to simply note the unpleasantness, "aching, unpleasant," and feel the shift from unpleasant sensation to aversion. Are you feeling the ache in your arm yet, even a subtle discomfort? Is there anyone not feeling a subtle discomfort? Okay.

Now close your eyes and focus on it, really watching it. Unpleasant. Discomfort. Maybe it's just dull ache, heaviness. Maybe it goes further up the scale into actual pain. Watch this with sharp awareness. I want you to catch the shift from unpleasant to aversion.

If you can feel your body beginning to tense with aversion, mind wanting to separate from this arm and the discomfort there, just raise your other hand. You're not going to have to hold the other hand up. Just let me see when you're starting to feel that movement from discomfort to aversion.... Not all of you yet. We'll keep going for a minute...

All of you will not experience aversion; some of you are already very deep in your practice today and are very open to things as they are. But for most of you there will be a shift from discomfort to a subtle armoring that we would call aversion.

You may put your hand down.

When aversion comes, it may carry a story with it. The two most common stories are, "I shouldn't be feeling aversion." and, "How am I going to fix this aversion?"

You're usually habituated to go one way or the other way. There can certainly be other stories as well but those are 2 common ones. So we have a movement from discomfort, knowing unpleasant sensation. The experience of aversion is a new object, the pain in the arm is no longer the predominant object. The experience, unpleasant, is no longer the predominant object. Aversion becomes the predominant object and then immediately, almost on the heels of the experience of aversion comes the mental formation, the thought: aversion to the aversion, fix the aversion, whatever your habitual patterning is, judgment, anything to move directly away from the experience of aversion.

Now we're going to try this again, and I know your arm is not fully rested so it will happen faster this time. Put the arm out. I'm going to give some instruction and then stay quiet for a bit.

Feeling discomfort. Unpleasant experience, discomfort. When aversion arises, watch any contraction through the body. It doesn't matter which story is predominant, "I shouldn't," the judgment, or "Fix it," or some other story. What I want you to watch is the body armoring itself, closing in and separating from the armor. Now I would ask you to try to allow yourselves to stay open to this unpleasant experience.

Breathing in, I am aware of aversion. (many pauses, not written in) Breathing out, I smile to the aversion. Breathing in, I am aware of armoring. Putting my hand on my heart, the other hand. Breathe into the heart, softening the armoring, until all that you are left with is a heavy arm and a bit of discomfort. Can you feel how much more space there is with that discomfort when you address the aversion and address the contraction that comes with the aversion? Make space for it and then come back to the unpleasant sensation.

It's still unpleasant but the armor with it goes. Again, this is one common response and it will not be identical for all of you. But I wonder if some of you were feeling that relaxation with the war with the aversion, and that you really could hold your arm out there for quite awhile, it's just a bit of throbbing in the shoulder or in the arm. Not a big deal.

You may put your arm down.

Could some of you feel that shift, more space? Some of you are saying yes, some shaking your heads no, others not responding. I'd like you to explore this tomorrow. It is a base of your practice. When you are deeply present in the body and mind, unpleasant objects are going to arise. When they arise, it's very possible there will be aversion, and then your habitual process with aversion. When you note all of this, seeing how each object is simply arising out of conditions, impermanent, not self, you find within you a vast spaciousness because the body is not contracting, the heart is not contracting. You begin to know your infiniteness.

At first, you are very much in relative reality, this mundane body, this discomfort. When you access the deep awareness and the open heart, you shift yourself into a more ultimate reality. The relative reality doesn't go away. If there's discomfort, there's still going to be discomfort, but there are no longer any stories about it.

This morning I mentioned Jeshua's response to Barbara, saying that he simply removed himself from the body. This is one way of doing it, especially when you are such an ancient master. During the meditation retreat we don't suggest that you remove your consciousness from your body; we want you to stay conscious in your body. But the other part of Jeshua's answer was about this immense spaciousness that was able to watch the body hanging there in pain and not suffer because of the pain, because he was able to watch, not disassociated from the body, but also not so self-identified with the body that he could not access this divine consciousness.

How does it feel to allow the heart to be fully open with whatever body pain, whatever emotion, is present, without judgment? But if aversion arises, "I don't want this," or judgment, "I shouldn't feel this," that is the next predominant object. Here is judging. Can one be open to that without judging? In this way, you hold yourself into an ultimate space.

(Demonstration with red canisters and small teddy bear.) For her book tour with Cosmic Healing, Barbara created these canisters as a visual aid. This can is called "Relative Reality" and most of you hang out in relative reality. There you are, mostly with the lid on. So that's what you're aware of, just the relative reality.

You have a deep meditation experience and end up in ultimate reality. It's blissful. There's infinite space. The body and ego seem to dissolve. Everything is light, glorious. And then the meditation ends and back you are in relative reality again, saying, "Where did that ultimate experience go?" (moving the bear)

Another meditation. Back you are. "Wow!" and it ends. Eventually you make the discovery, after hopping back and forth a bit, that relative reality is within ultimate reality, but you're still within one or the other. It takes you some time to discover that you can be in relative reality and keep a hand in ultimate reality, stay connected. Or, that you can be in ultimate reality and keep a hand in relative reality. The point is not to lose one by becoming so deeply involved in the other. Whatever is in there, it doesn't matter.

Touching the ultimate all the time, you're deeply in the ultimate, but not letting go of the relative. When there is extreme body or emotional pain, one can either simply abandon the relative, move into the ultimate and deny the relative; one can stay in the relative, moaning and suffering; or one can straddle both, staying balanced between the two. Stay in connection with the ultimate without abandoning the relative. This is what I'm asking you to do with the arm.

The presence that's able to acknowledge the aversion and the stories that come with the aversion is also able to touch into the ultimate experience, and open one's heart to this human who is living in relative reality without so much self-identification with that relative reality and therefore without suffering.

This brings us to the Four Noble Truths. Suffering exists, yes. The causes of suffering; mostly grasping, wanting things to be different than they are, which includes the aversion and buying into the story of the aversion. Third, that there is indeed freedom from suffering. And fourth; the path out of suffering, which is what you are here this week to explore.

The Eightfold Path has 3 major parts, sila, panna, and samadhi. Sila is the deepening of intention to do no harm, which grounds itself in the wisdom side, in panna, of knowing your interrelationship with all that is. So it's not simply a moralistic, "I will not do harm"; that's a starting place. But knowing, "How can I hurt this person when this person is simply an expression of me and an expression of all that is?" How can I throw dirt on the ground, litter, when the earth is me? How can I pollute, and so forth.

And samadhi, the deepening mindfulness and concentration practices that enable you to ever more deeply know your interconnection with all that is until there is a profound experience of dissolution of the self and knowing the self as totally interrelated with everything, which is life-changing.

And yes, at that point you're probably still going to suffer, but you've taken a big step toward the eradication of suffering because you recognize your true being, at least have had a glimpse of it, and can say more clearly, "This is what I am. I am not the body but the body exists, and will take care of the body. I am not the ego but the ego exists and I will tend to the ego." If you're not the body and you're not the ego, what remains?

There are many ways to practice. All of you have frequent guests that come in-- self-judgment, fear, feelings of abandonment, confusion, helplessness, or such as the pride that says, "I'm the best," and has to be the best. "I'll get everything done right. I can do that." But that's also a certain view of the self, which creates suffering because then you always have to get everything right. So you're either always having to be the failure or always having to be right. Always having to be angry or always having to be kind. Always having to be brilliant or always having to be confused. They're all boxes that you're placing yourself into, and when you're caught in that box with the lid on it's hard to see that anything else exists.

In a very distant past lifetime, the man who I was lived in a village where there was a giant mudslide of the mountain. There was one village well fed from a clear underground spring. The whole valley filled up with mud. Most people survived because we could see and feel the slide coming and people escaped to higher ground, but the spring and well were down near the bottom of the valley, closer to the water table, the underground water, and all was buried in mud.

People were a bit frantic. This was the water source. Without it, they would certainly die. People said, "We should go quickly while we still can." It was perhaps 2 days' travel to the nearest river where there would be water. Others more wisely said, "Where would the spring go? It's still there, it's just under the mud." The mud had pretty much settled and was not oozy mud, it was more a landslide.

So some people said, "Let's dig." It was clear where the spring had been. We began to dig out the area where the spring was. People said in dismay, "But the well is filled with dirt!" Well yes, there was a landslide. The spring is there, just dig.

It was a large enough village that there were many people to take turns digging, and within a few hours the well was dug out, and of course there at the bottom of the well, the fresh spring was still bubbling forth. Where would it go?

But it's easy to be dismayed and afraid when what you see as your true nature, your radiance, appears to have disappeared. And then you're frantic and say, "Where is it?" and start to look elsewhere for it instead of where it obviously has always been and always will be.

This innate radiance of your being is always there. If you keep yourself stuffed in this relative experience (small red canister) without ever peering out, you'll never find it. If you move yourself into an ultimate experience and try to stay there, you'll find it but you won't be able to bring it back to your everyday life. Your work is to combine the two, sometimes 95%, sometimes 95% here, sometimes 50/50.

I'd like you to begin to work tomorrow with some old habitual tendency that keeps coming to the surface, this voice that says, "The well is gone. I must run 100 miles to find water." This is the voice almost of panic. Here is anger. I must destroy the anger if I'm to find kindness again. Here is my belief in my limitations. Here is my memories of being abused and the feeling that I can never be worthy of love. Here is simply my story, "I'll never be enlightened. I don't have enough stability in my practice. My mind won't stay put."--whatever the story is.

I don't want you to try to look at every belief but choose one that's recurrent and begin to watch it. Be willing to stay with it, knowing that it has become the predominant experience. Whatever you're using as the primary object, breath, nada-- let me ask you, how many of you for the most part use breath as the primary object? How many often use nada as a primary object? How about luminosity? Other objects? Spaciousness, energy, various objects that are possible.

All right, this guest, this unwelcome guest has popped in yet again and become the predominant object. Contact, consciousness of contact. Feeling of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. If unpleasant shifts to aversion, or if pleasant shifts to grasping, or if unpleasant shifts to grasping to be rid of, which is another form of aversion, go with it. Be present with it. It has arisen out of conditions, it is impermanent and not self. Ask yourself, "How am I relating to this object? Can there be a bigger container?"

Anybody here who has not heard Barbara's tarantula story? All but one have heard this... Simply, you are in a very small box, if Barbara came in and put a tarantula in the box where you were sitting, you'd leap out. In a space the size of this room, you might stay there for 20 seconds but as soon as he started to crawl toward you, you'd leap out. But how about in a vast space of a football field with nothing to interfere with your vision, very easy to see where this creature was? Can you see how you could sit there for quite awhile and just let him crawl around? As he came toward you, you'd get up and walk to the other end.

Creating a bigger container. You are not inviting a bigger container specifically for the object, such as physical pain or an emotion, but for the aversion or grasping that came with the objects. When there is no longer aversion, can the object remain simply as object? Pleasant or unpleasant or neutral? Can you be deeply present with it, seeing its true nature, that it has arisen from conditions, is impermanent and not self? It is only through this kind of investigation that you will find liberation. It is through this kind of investigation that finally mind is completely satisfied, that everything is simply arising and passing away, not self.

For those of you who have not done this particular exercise, please spend some time sitting close to the ocean tomorrow, watching the waves arise, seemingly solid, the aggregate of form, and then it breaks and it's just water. Certainly there was a wave there, it was real, and yet it's just water. Apply that insight into your thoughts and feelings, to the experience of aversion. Aversion is just a form of wave that dissolves back into the mental body. So this is how I would ask you to practice tomorrow.

There's more I could say but I think at this point I would stop and see if there are questions. We'll pick it up in the morning in terms of meditation instructions. Any questions?

Q: A simple question, I think. Do you want us to wait until one of our habitual, frequent tendencies, arise, or do you want us to arbitrarily select one and invite it to arise?

Aaron: Wait until it arises. I don't think any of you will have to wait long! But then as the day progresses, begin to note which ones are predominant. When it comes, say, "Ah, here it is again." Invite it in, give it tea.

Q: I thought it might be helpful, just a reminder for me. For instance, if the habitual pattern is judgment and I'm coming in contact with that, I'm suddenly trying to figure out how I find space, a bigger container.

Aaron: You're done this with me before. Wiggle the fingers, absorbed into the fingers, can't see anything but the fingers. Then look through. The space is there, keep wiggling the fingers. Don't deny the fingers. See the simultaneity of space and object, the simultaneity of relative and ultimate, and watch the habitual tendency to get so sucked in to the object that you lose the space. But that getting sucked in is not simply being fully present with, for presence with involves the object and the space. The absorption into the object is a way of trying to control the object, usually; it's just habit. "If I go deep enough into it I'll finally be able to control it and fix it." So just watch that.

You can ask, "Where is the space?" In your practice it's helpful to practice, if you're working with the breath, "Breathing in, breathing out," and then, aware of the aperture between the inhale and the exhale, between the inhale and the exhale, to begin to see that space.

When an object dissolves, it may be a loud sound that came in from outside, a car backfiring on the street, "startle, hearing, hearing," and then it's gone, don't force your attention back to your primary object, rest in the spaciousness. Strong awareness in that moment, pure awareness. In formal dzogchen practice, as people are sitting and they become a little sleepy, they yell, "PHAT!" (pronounced fat). I don't know what the term means in Tibetan, it's just a statement. Does anybody know what it means? When you are at a formal dzogchen retreat and people are sitting in the room, sometimes out of nowhere you hear this yell, "PHAT!" It wakes you up! When you sneeze, and this is a traditional example, at the end of the sneeze there's a moment of pure spacious awareness before you come back into the body again.

When the object dissolves, be aware of the spaciousness. If the spaciousness is firm, rest there. If you feel yourself foundering, looking for some object, come back to your primary object. When something pulls your attention away again and becomes predominant, be with it. As it changes or dissolves, don't hurry back again to the primary object, rest in spaciousness.

So these are all ways of helping you to remember the ever-presence of spaciousness and of big mind. You can practice forever simply watching a primary object, then a new predominant object, then come back to the primary object, and it can become a practice of control, and that's not what we're after. That's just a relative plane practice, and of course it's helpful in some ways-- it develops concentration, it develops presence, but you won't find liberation that way.


Q: May I go back to when you were talking about pain and suffering? When we had our arm out and our hand on our heart, and we created the spaciousness to hold that, that's clear. What I have a hard time with is exposure to torture or cruelty or people who are really suffering, other people's suffering. I can create the spaciousness around my own.

Aaron: It's the same thing, whether the object is the pain in your arm and your aversion to that pain, or whether the object that creates suffering for you is observing other people's suffering and the aversion to the presence of other people's suffering. Can there be spaciousness within your own consciousness, aware of how much suffering there is in the world and aware of aversion to that suffering, and spaciousness around your own aversion?

Q: As long as I'm not in the middle of the suffering. My work used to be working in disasters.

Aaron: It's much harder when you're in the middle of it. You have to be much more clear. It's better to practice when you're not in the middle of it until that becomes stable, and then you find that you can take what you've learned to go back into the middle of it with more ease. Otherwise it simply can be overwhelming.

So start right here at the retreat where there will be people around you suffering, perhaps, but you're not in the middle of it. You're not expected to fix it for them. If you're sitting here in the meditation hall and somebody is crying, watch the impulse in you, wanting to fix, not wanting to have to witness, perhaps it's not suffering but pain, but not wanting to have to witness that pain, feeling helpless. Can there be space around all of that? Can the heart open and find your infinite capacity to hold space for that suffering?

There's a beautiful Sufi quote, I cannot quote it exactly. Something about the world being filled with pain and suffering, and like the mother of the world, we're all called upon to witness and hold space for that suffering, and thereby to transform it. It is that kind, openhearted spaciousness that literally can transform both pain and suffering for yourself and others.

Added during review:

Sufi quote: Over came any bitterness that may have come because you were not up to the magnitude of the pain that was entrusted to you. Like the Mother of the world who carries the pain of the world in her heart, each of us is part of her heart and is therefore endowed with a certain measure of cosmic pain. You are sharing in the totality of that pain. You are called upon to meet it in joy instead of self -pity. The secret: offer your heart as a vehicle to transform cosmic suffering into joy.

Q: Are there any hints on how to keep your heart open when you're in the middle of devastation?

Aaron: Have you done any mudita, karuna, or metta meditation? These are very powerful practices. When you feel your heart closing and you're witnessing some kind of very painful situation, first sending loving wishes to the one who is experiencing that pain or suffering, and then coming back to yourself. It has to be honest and authentic, not theoretical, not just a rote practice of words. How does it feel when the heart is truly open? One feels naked. There's no more protection, no more armor. And yet it's very clean and strong.


Q: This may be obvious to others. When you describe the transformation, when conditions arise, I manifest certain reactions. And sometimes I can see that, I have awareness of it. So there's some space. And when the conditions cease, the reaction ceases. But then when the conditions arise again, I have the same reaction. Where's the transformation?

Aaron: (smiling) The transformation comes with patience. Let's think of somebody with a very simple trait like biting the fingernails. The fingers become infected, they bite so deep down into the quick of the nail. And they say, "I'm not going to do it anymore." How many times have they bitten them before? How many times are they going to have to pay attention, feeling the impulse, "wanting to bite," breathing with that impulse, holding space? Finally it releases, and then almost unconsciously, the fingers are in the mouth.

But eventually the conditions become purified because of kindness. The conditions can never become purified by harshness or negativity-- tying the hands to the side, "I will not bite my nails." That won't purify the conditions, that will only mean you'll have to spend the rest of your life with your hands tied to your side.

But when you continue to bring kind, deep awareness to the whole process, really the process of dependent arising-- contact, consciousness, feeling, pleasant, unpleasant, neutral, arising of aversion, grasping, the various mental formations-- seeing how each one is conditioning the next, and combine that with the deep intention to non-harm, eventually this will purify the conditions.

I know you have experienced that in your own life, and I know everybody here-- there's only one here I do not know and I would assume she also has--all of you have experienced the purification of some form of strongly held conditioning. So it works. Patience. Patience, and persistence.

Let's stop here. We'll have more time tomorrow. I want to get you back into silence... Thank you all for this opportunity to speak to you. May your practices be deep and fruitful and bring you much joy and freedom. Thank you.