March 15, 2011 Tuesday Evening, Sunnyside Retreat

I'd like you to close your eyes and accompany me on a journey. We're going down a river, all of us together, down to the sea. The only thing I can tell you is that it's passable. That does not mean there will not be obstacles, but it's passable. Notice how as I say "obstacle" you contract a bit. "Will it be safe? How will I get past the obstacles?"

Think of a skier skiing down a slalom course. He's skied the course before, he knows the course. His mind does not jump 3 flags ahead; he needs to be right where he is, fully present. As he comes around that flag, he moves attention to the next flag and the next. The skier skiing down the hill with big moguls, he's never skied it before, he doesn't know what lies ahead so he has to ski with each mogul, each hump, being fully present with it. This is the kind of attention you have as we go down this life-journey river.

We're standing atop a 20 foot cliff. The river is winding its way below us. Are you all ready to grab hands and jump? That's the first step, we're all going to jump in together. I have a bunch of those noodles (editor laughing here for Aaron actually said "macaronis;" Changed to "noodles" throughout), one for each of you, so you will have flotation.

(from here on, there are pauses between segments while we meditate with the described situation)

Jump. Touching the water. Not too cold, pleasant, and the current is not so fast here. As we land, I distribute your flotation and together we begin to float downstream. We're in a deep canyon, walls rising high on either side. There is strong current but not overwhelming.

Almost immediately we come to a bend. Can you feel any tension? "What's around the bend? Will it be safe?" Breathe in and note, "tension, tension." As we sweep around the bend and you see that it's just more of the same river, feel the tension relax and return to the primary experience of simply floating in the water.

The tension is not bad; it just arises out of conditions. Bring attention to it. When it releases, that's not specifically good, just more comfortable. Tension is no longer predominant so come back to the spaciousness, floating down the river.

The sun reaches us here around this bend. There's a long, straight, more open stretch. Feel yourself relaxing and enjoying, perhaps playfully splashing at each other, kicking your feet a bit, looking around and enjoying the scenery. Note what is present: seeing, seeing, pleasant, beautiful, play, splashing, laughing. Whatever is predominant, just noting it.

And then the walls close in a bit and the current picks up speed. We come around another bend. Again, tension, can't see what's ahead. Relaxing. Trust me. I told you the river is passable. I'm not taking you here to die but to travel down to the sea.

Around the next bend we see some trees have fallen, closing the gap from one shore to another so there's no open water to pass through. We all come up against this big tree, each holding on, and I give each of you a leg-up onto a tree branch. Assisting one another, climbing over. Watch how the mind thought, "Oh, this is going to be a problem," but it's not a problem, it's just an obstacle, a challenge. Those ahead taking the hands of those behind, each helping the other until all are safely back in the water on the other side. Can you feel yourself letting go of fear and tension?

Again the water opens out, the current slows down. The sun is warm. There's a wide open space. The water actually becomes shallow, only waist deep with a sandy bottom. Very pleasant. Relaxing into that pleasant spaciousness we ride our noodles and walk a bit, moving together further down the river.

It becomes deeper again. There's another bend. Just gliding around that bend, no problems, no challenges or obstacles.

And then, who knows? Around another bend, there could be an obstacle. Can you view that obstacle simply as an obstacle or challenge and not a problem? There are no problems, only objects that need your loving attention.

So we come around another bend and in the distance you hear rushing water hitting rocks. Before the current gets too fast, we all move to shore. We find a path to portage beyond those rapids, just getting out and walking for a few hundred yards.

With each object you are fully with that object. When you're portaging that waterfall you're not climbing over the tree. You're not walking through the shallow, you're just portaging the waterfall. Can you leave off all of the old fears, beliefs, and conditioning and simply be present in this moment just as it is?

Back into the river below the falls. Sometimes the water is swift, sometimes it's slow. As we glide down now, here and there are some big rocks that must have tumbled from one of the hillsides. When you see the rock approaching, what are you going to do? Are you going to scream with fear? You're simply going to point your feet at it, to be ready to push off. You've got shoes on, water shoes. The current is not so swift, it will not bash you against the rock. If you come in contact with the rock, simply push yourself away. Glide past it. A minute later, another rock. There's a jumble of them, perhaps a hundred of them all spaced out.

Feel this process. Seeing the rock, using your arms and feet to glide around it, or if you are headed right at it, to prepare yourself to push off of it and move around it. Are you involved with looking downstream to see how many more rocks there are or are you present with this rock? Just be here, one rock at a time.

Can you feel after the first dozen of them or so how anxiety dissolves? This is safe, no problem. It becomes fun, interesting. What will be next? Look, that rock is shaped like an elephant. This one is shaped like a pyramid. Look how beautiful the blue sky is above you. Feel the softness of the water. This rock has what seems like an eyehole in it. Would you like to go through it? Go right ahead.

Play, relax. There is no need to greet the objects that appear one at a time in your life as adversaries. You have called them into your experience for a reason, to learn that you can navigate your way through and around them from a place of emptiness and love, and that there does not need to be fear and an ego that's controlling everything.

We spend an hour in this wide channel filled with rocks. Can you feel yourself relaxing into the process? Now the rocks are spaced further apart and are eventually gone. The channel narrows and picks up speed. Again we hear the noise of a waterfall ahead. But here there does not seem to be an easy portage. Ah, but I have a big rope and long before we approach the waterfall I give you each a hold on that rope. I pull you all close to shore.

We're all holding on by one shore. I tell you I've been through here before. It's not a huge falls, perhaps 15 feet high, and below it is a big open pool completely free of rocks. So one at a time I'm going to let you, holding on to the rope, come to a rock on which you may stand and jump off, literally jumping into that basin below. Hold on to your flotation device, let the current carry you. I promise you that within a minute you will be in shallow water. Can you see the tension coming up? Will this be safe?

Life is not safe. You're going to die. You're never going to survive this lifetime. You have your choice to live it in fear or with love and ease and an open heart. But you're not going to die jumping off this rock, I promise you that.

Who wants to go first? Good. Are you ready? I'm going to let the rope loose enough that you can get to the rock. Climb up on the rock and when you're ready, release the rope and jump. And floating out, there she goes. And now, so quickly, just 20 seconds or so, she's standing up and waving to us in the shallow water. Who's next? No volunteers? P is out there already. L, good. Climbing up on the rock. Let go of the rope and jump...

There's L standing on the sandbar with P. Next? L and K and H, you're all going to jump together. Climb up on the rock. Make sure you don't jump on top of each other. Ready? One, two, three, leap! You can feel a bit of fear because it's an unknown, and yet you also see your comrades doing it safely and you trust me. Can there be a spacious heart that holds room for the fear? That which is aware of the fear is not afraid, resting in awareness. Not identified with the fear and not condemning the fear. You jump. You drift a bit and there you are, on your feet.

And the last of you, are you ready to jump together, too? Climbing up on the rock. You can hold hands if you want to, if that makes you feel more secure. Ready, get set, jump! There's a moment of flying through the air and then the contact of the water, turning a bit, head over heels for a moment in the current, holding on to your float. And then the feet touch the ground. I'm coming behind you with the rope; I'm going to do a swan dive.

Step by step we make our way down this river. We greet each new object with love and a spacious heart. From mundane reality we are aware that some objects could be dangerous if we're heedless with them; there needs to be care. We did not crash head first into the rocks, we pushed ourselves off with our feet. We did not go over the steep rapids, we portaged around it. We pay attention, but it is not an attention from a place of fear but an attention from a place of love that knows its unlimitedness and has made a choice.

If you think, "This is going to be dangerous, I'm going to get hurt," then probably you will get hurt because you're calling that to you. If you know, "I'm assured this is safe, that I have the skills to navigate it. I have good guidance with me. I can go ahead knowing that the results will be wholesome and good even if challenging," then that's what you call to you. Why would you choose to kill yourself going over a waterfall? That's not in any of your plan.

The sun is getting lower in the sky now. The river has become broad. There's a slight tang of salt in the water, and gradually as the river broadens we see ourselves coming down to the sea, small waves lapping at the place where sea and river meet. Come back and sit on the beach with me.

Are you ready to do this again tomorrow? Because this is what your life is, a series of rivers that you navigate day after day after day, each with their challenges. In each one you learn what you need to learn, to be present with each challenge with an open heart. You learn to watch the contraction of fear and not become self-identified with that fear nor dismissive of it nor judgmental of it; simply, "Fear has arisen in this mind and body. Breathing in, I am aware of the fear. Breathing out, I smile to the fear. That which is aware of fear is not afraid." From that place of awareness, I leap off the rock, or the body releases itself off into the basin.

If there is self-identity with the fear there is contraction. As you navigate this life river, deepen in awareness of when there is self-identity with fear, with the ego or personality self, with the 'someone' who must control things. Be patient with yourselves. Be willing to pause and rest there until you open into that spacious awareness that's ready to proceed, not without fear or anger or any other strong emotion, but without self-identity with it. Gradually you'll know the divine self and begin to live from that divine self.

This is the whole intention behind your vipassana practice: to see deeply into arising objects and the relationship with those objects, and to see how the everyday self may contract around an object and yet the divine self, that pure awareness, is there if the ego will surrender itself to the divine self. You will do this 10 times, 100, 1000, 10,000 times until it becomes second nature.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this journey with you. I would be happy to hear your questions.

(Talking about spending the night on the beach, not transcribed.)

Aaron: I'm reminded of an exercise we have done many times at Emerald Isle where I've sat people close to the water, feet out, eyes open, meditating, feeling the water sometimes not reaching them, sometimes just coming up and tickling their toes, going down. Just sitting with full presence. But then occasionally a big wave comes in, whoompf! There of course everybody's in a bathing suit and it's a warm day. But we have some photographs of people literally being bowled over by a wave, sometimes eyes open, sometimes eyes closed, not knowing what's coming. Of course it's safe, we're not going to get a tsunami there, we're only going to get a wave that comes a little bit higher.

Q: I enjoyed this meditation and found that I had less fear and more excitement during most of it, but first of all, Aaron said it was passable. Aaron was there. And second of all there was a group of people. And often in my life I don't feel like I'm with a group of people when I am in a fearful situation, nor do I have guidance that has said ahead of time, "This is safe." So I guess that's my question, kind of.

Aaron: So the question is, how to learn to trust your guidance. To watch the arising of fear and the ego that says, "No, it's not going to be safe," and the guidance that says, "Yes, it is safe." And also to reconnect with the spiritual sangha, even if you are literally alone in the body in that situation, to reach out and touch all the people all over the world who may be in a similar situation. Feel their connection with you.

But I think the most important thing here in terms of safety is to trust yourself. Are you choosing something that will damage you? Why would you want to do that? If you are not choosing something that will damage you, envision yourself moving safely through it. Don't envision crashing against the rocks, envision gliding between the rocks. See it, know it.

But of course, choose skillfully. We may think of the story from the scriptures where negativity enticed Jesus to throw himself from the high rocks to prove that he could not be killed. But of course he was in a human body and he could be killed, he couldn't fly. We don't tempt, we don't say, "I'm invulnerable," and do things that we know are deeply dangerous, emotionally or physically. We make choices that are based on the highest good for us and all beings and then know that this is a passable passage. That it's safe.

So for example, when there's an emotional conflict and a discussion you must have with another person that feels very uncomfortable, stop ahead of time and picture this discussion literally resolving for the highest good of both of you. Feel the possibility of deep love and caring, deep compassion, within the discussion, then approach the discussion. If the other person is angry and cannot respond to that openheartedness, that's his or her choice. But you're not in any danger. He's stuck on the rock, you're gliding through. He could have glided through with you if he'd so chosen.


Q: In the last 3 days I have been walking around the lake and it's about four miles. G drew a map for me, very simply and very clear. But I don't know the road. It's not a river, it's just a road. And I feel there is unrest in me. And I wonder, am I on the right road? This is the right turn-- is it? Maybe not? I notice all of this stuff. It's almost ridiculous because everything is so clear, but still I have like a low version of anxiety constantly. And the second day, even though I know the road, other things come, like, my feet hurt, will I make it?

Aaron: Daughter, what's the worst thing that could have happened?

Q: I will get totally lost ...

Aaron: Do you have G's phone number or do you know the Center's address? Might you have had to knock on a door and said, "I'm sorry, I'm lost. I was walking around the lake. Can you help me? Can you call this number for me?"

Q: Yeah, absolutely. And I had it on my mind, also. I had the phone number...

Aaron: It's just a habit energy of the ego always wanting to know exactly what lies ahead and be safe, but none of you can know what lies ahead. Everything changes.

Q: (unable to understand the question/statement)

Aaron: This is part of the laws of manifestation. You draw toward you, what you envision. I'm not saying that hurtful things never happen to people who only envision the good, but when those hurtful things happen they are seen with some degree of trust. Okay, here is this unexpected obstacle; here is a teacher. What did it come to teach me? How do I deal with this with love? Alternatively, people draw painful things to them because in envisioning the good, there is a level of denial, so they are truly holding the vision of the painful even as they envision the pleasant.

We never know what's going to happen to us around the next bend. I think of the people of Japan, some of who may have lived in their towns for many generations. Homes that have been family homes for generations and suddenly it's all swept away. Lives are lost, homes are lost. One cannot say why it happened there and to those people. Many conditions come together. But some people who survived will be traumatized for the rest of their lives and some who survived will find it the most life-changing experience that ever came to them in positive ways, opening their hearts with immense compassion.

Barbara's son Davy was drawn to go to Sri Lanka just after the tsunami there to do whatever work he could do to help. He traveled along with a doctor, and with other people, just doing what he could. In one place he came to a village that had had an outstanding basketball team for a small town. This school basketball team had been the winning team going to the big city and winning the tournament. Many of these young men had literally lost their parents, their families, their homes. They lost their basketball shoes, they were playing barefoot. The school was still there; the school was a refugee center where people were living in tent camps. But the basketball coach was there and he called the young men together and said, "Okay, let's play basketball." And they all came forth and played basketball. Every day they met for practice. Life goes on.

This coach with his open heart taught them: don't dwell on the past. Grieve as is appropriate, but also be in the present moment. Let's play basketball. Davy stayed there with them for awhile playing basketball with them, teaching them basketball skills, just getting to know the young men, and doing what he could in the camp to help other people. He was very inspired by the way these people met this terrible situation and loss of homes, of life, with an attitude of, I don't want to say acceptance, more equanimity, spaciousness, presence. They were grieving but they were present. And as an aside, this team went on. They were given shoes again. They went on the following year to win the basketball tournament again.

Life is uncertain. We never know what's around the next corner. When the imagination dredges up horrible things, stop and know, "Imagining, fear. Why am I creating this image in this moment? How do I benefit by this?" It's almost as if you were preparing yourself for the worst so you won't be surprised by it. (Something about control) and many of you do that. What if in this moment you instead release that negative image, and ask yourself, "What is my highest intention here?" Just floating down this river safely, this river of life. Safely is not the right word because there's no safety in life. Ultimately you're going to get bruised. You're going to die. But floating down the river with the heart intact. How do you keep the heart intact through all the bruises?

(taping ends)