October 8, 2011 Saturday AM, Seattle Retreat

(This talk not yet corrected by Barbara and Aaron)

(Aaron has made some remarks about this being Yom Kippur. Because some are fasting, he said (something like) a little hunger is a good reminder of gratitude for food and all that is given to us.)

Aaron: We are here gathered in D & J's living room, a small group of us here for the weekend and a few for beyond the weekend. Barbara has just mentioned that today is Yom Kippur. In my lives 2000 and more years ago this was considered a very holy, sacred day, but it had a subtle negative slant to it, to fix oneself, and it's important that we have moved beyond that self-fixing.

Those of you who were part of Venture Fourth worked with Barbara and me and mussar practice. Let's call it a mindfulness practice of Jewish tradition. One is asked to choose a habitual pattern that comes up often and which is not quite a wholesome pattern, like impatience, self-judgment or judgment of others, blame, greed. Not to try to fix it but just to watch it. What is this pattern? What brings it forth into full manifestation? What wholesome tools are there to move beyond the pattern, or at least to recognize that the pattern does arise?

We have two parts, recognition and intention to release. We cannot release from a place of “No, I won't have that!” but only from the open heart and seeing, “Ah, here is impatience again. This triggers it, that triggers it.” And seeing my intention to live my life with kindness, and that the impatience that arises is not suitable to that highest intention, and that strong aversion to the impatience is also not suitable to my highest intention. If my intention is uncontracted kindness then how am I going to take care of impatience? So we attended to it. We remember out intention and then we bring forth whatever balances it.

This seems like an especially suitable practice for today, especially due to its Jewish roots and Yom Kippur. This is pronounced in English, “yahm KIP-er” and in Hebrew, “yohm kee-POOR”. Take your choice of the English or Hebrew pronunciation.

I'd like you to focus on several areas today. We're going to spend today mostly settling into the vipassana practice because most of you have Saturday, Sunday, Monday, three full days here to do a deep practice. We'll keep mostly silent. There will be some group instruction and also individual.

The focus for today, then: deepening mindfulness, the overall container, and for the second focus, we're also going to do some pure awareness practice, eyes open, looking out. This lake and view are a wonderful place to do it. If the weather permits, going up to the roof, sitting up there where you have a spectacular view, wrapped in a warm jacket.

Starting with vipassana and mindfulness, I'd like to spend a few minutes now asking each of you to think of something for which you are deeply grateful: those who love you and whom you love, good health, living a life where you do not have to suffer with poverty and deprivation. Go wherever your heart leads you and bring this gratitude into your being. Make it alive... Can you feel the increase in spaciousness as the heart opens in gratitude, joy, ease?

Now reflect for a moment on your highest intentions. It might be very simple: to love. To hold my heart open. To be of service. To do more good than harm in the world. Please phrase your intention in this way and not in such a way as, “to stop being angry,” or “to stop being impatient.” I want you to focus on that which is wholesome and beautiful and see the seed for that intention as it already resides within you.

In other words, on the mundane level, there's the illusion you are moving somewhere, from Point A to Point B. On the supramundane level, there's no place to go, you're already there. The intention to being more loving: in the divine radiant self, how could you possibly be more loving? Sometimes the human stumbles into aversion. Don't get caught in a dualistic trap. You are not denying the human experience of aversion but simply holding deeply to the power of love within you, the power of presence, of generosity, of patience, of joy, of compassion. Knowing it. Right there with gratitude, let it fill the heart center. The intention to love well and fully seems to fit as an overall basket for most of your intentions.

Now ask yourself, what habitual pattern is there, what sidetrack do I constantly fall into that seems to block this highest intention, that ensnares me? When I see that side path luring me into doubt, anger, greed, fear, can I become aware of the contraction that arises immediately in that moment when that sidetrack appears? Can I pause then and simply note, “contracting”? You don't even have to name the sidetrack, just “contracting”.

Bring your hands up to your heart. Feel the capacity of the heart, the infinite spaciousness of the heart. The heart remains soft and tender, and the outer shell contracts. For those of you who have worked with the mussar practice, here's where it comes in. Seeing the contraction, holding space for this human, who on one level is pulled into the contraction as habit, and seeing what would balance that particular habit.

For example, with impatience, contemplating compassion for the situation in which the impatience has arisen. People being late, for example, or a long slow traffic light. Others also caught at this light, unhappy, stressed.

We did the mussar practice at the very start of Venture Fourth when we were still working with a more dualistic framework, but at this point I want you to begin to deeply experience the simultaneity of impatience and the ever-patient, compassionate open heart. Don't be afraid of impatience or irritation or aversion to some unpleasant body sensation. Don't be afraid of planning mind, doubting mind, judging mind. Just say, “Ah, here it is, triggered by conditions. Nothing to fix, nowhere to go.”

In the coming days, we're going to talk in depth about the akashic field, but I don't want to go there in discussion this morning, only to remind you of the simultaneity of contraction and spaciousness, the seemingly closed heart and mind and the ever-open heart and mind.

If it is helpful, and it will be to some and not to others, hold a vision of a great shining lake, sun reflecting so strongly on it that the intensity is almost blinding. Radiance, a soft mist over the lake, and that radiance shining forth. When the mind or body become too contracted to feel workable, simply bring this image, a lake, a sea, bring it into your mind and remind yourself of the true radiance that you are. See whatever contracting thought or sensation has arisen as simply a small dark cloud floating through this radiance. It is illusory. It has no solidity, just molecules holding together and a play of light giving an illusion of dark cloud, but there's nothing there but mist, and through the mist, light.

So, if it's helpful, I'd like you to use this visualization as a way of coming back to spaciousness, and then responding in an openhearted way to a certain habitual pattern. Again, using impatience or anger or grasping, judging mind, planning mind, it's just that small illusory cloud. The more solidity you give it by trying to fix it, the more you keep inviting it back because there's some awareness, “I need to practice with this cloud.” Let it go. It is not solid. Be as the pilot in a plane, seeing a small cloud ahead and simply flying through it. There's no fear, “Oh, I'm going to crash, it's solid!” The pilot knows it as a cloud. Even a big cloud is not solid.

These are my instructions for you this morning, then. As it feels suitable, alternate your practice between closed-eyed vipassana, for a sitting period; walking; open-eyed-- use these flowers for now as a wonderful place to focus the gaze, or feel free to sit on the deck here looking out at lake and hills.

We will sit now, a silent morning of practice, sitting, ... (schedule) ...half hour walking period or stretching or tea, or whatever suits you. But stay with the practice. This is not a break in practice. Keep mindfulness strong. When sipping tea, just sipping tea. Know if it's pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Know how it is.  (schedule, instructions for visiting the lake)

Are there any questions about what I want you to do this morning?

(schedule repeated on request)

Q: I recently learned that the nucleus of an atom is 200,000 times smaller than its diameter. In other words, there are millions of times more space in every atom than “stuff”.

Aaron: So the nucleus is like that (motions) and the space is like beyond this house, far beyond.

Q2: If you would blow up an atom to where the nucleus was about the size of a golf ball, the diameter of the atom would be about the size of a stadium.

Aaron: That's a wonderful image, very powerful. And yet you get so lost in the golf balls!

Q: This (body) is permeated by space.

Aaron: Thank you. That's a helpful image. When you find yourself caught up in the body discomfort, the worrying thought, the anger, the wandering mind, know, “I drop here in the middle of the stadium and I look out and float in all this space.”

This summer Barbara and I spent a lot of time together with Barbara floating in what turned out to be a quite warm lake because it was a hot summer. Just floating. She would swim out a hundred yards from shore and float on her back, blue sky with occasional fleecy clouds floating by. Nothing under and nothing over her. The air temperature and the water temperature didn't seem too much different. There was a slightly cooling breeze touching the wet body, slightly cooling water, warm sun. Just floating. After some weeks of this she had such an enormous feeling of ease and spaciousness, and yet it amazed her to see how when there was some worry, it kept (hitting her, sound effect, contraction). And at that point we began the strong work with Circle of the Sun and the akashic field, which we will be talking about this afternoon and tomorrow.

For this morning, what I want you to do is just get your practice back into a place of stability. Mindfulness, open heart, and bring in these Yom Kippur reflections. No fixing. Yom Kippur is not about self-improvement, it's about forgiveness and compassion, for oneself and for others.

Yom Kippur in the Jewish tradition is also about asking the Divine in whatever way you experience that Divine to have compassion for you, this small karmic stream struggling through its human experience. But you are also part of that Divinity. You cannot ask the Divine to have compassion for you if you cannot have compassion for yourself and for all beings. You do not have to go out with a fishing rod and try to catch that compassion, it's there. It's always been there. Just opening to it.

Enough talking. Let us sit.  I'm going to release the body to Barbara so she can meditate also. Let me just add what a joy it is to be with all of you. Thank you for coming, some of you quite a long way.