April 29, 2012 Sunday Evening, Emerald Isle Retreat

Awareness exercise; mindfulness and awareness; not getting caught in contraction; resting in spaciousness; karma formation and release; akashic field

Aaron: Good evening. My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. It's such a delight to be with you. You're expecting me to entertain you a bit after a long day of practice; instead I'm going to start off by making you work.

I would like you to form into groups of three people, any three, to do an exercise. Most of you feel that you are to some degree intuitive but not really clear about trusting your inner knowing. You are not really clear, if you come to a fork in a road, that you know which way to go; not really clear when anger comes up that you know the best way not to enact that anger in the world, but to release it skillfully; not really clear what your predominant karmic patterns are, although you do have a good sense of them.

Within each group of three, you'll take turns. One person will be in the middle, one holding an arm on each side. They will simply steer you (here, upstairs, outside). The two guides are going to guide the person in the middle. The guides may not talk to each other, so you must be in touch with each other, also. The person in the middle feeling, am I getting the same information from both of my guides? Is one of them saying “Move faster” and one of them saying “Move slower”? Is one saying, “Sharp turn” while the other says “Gradual turn”? Am I getting basically the same information?

What habitual tendencies come up in me as I experience this guidance? The one in the middle, your eyes are going to be closed. Is there fear? How do I relate to that fear? I promise you - I hope I can safely promise - that your guides are not going to drop you into the swimming pool! But if so, I doubt if there's anybody who cannot swim safely out.

Watch yourself as you do this. We'll probably spend 15 minutes on it, so each person has about 4 minutes to be guided, then a minute to switch. Watch yourself as you follow this process with your guide leading you around furniture, around the pool, up and down the stairs, even to the beach, wherever. Does it become easier? Do you slowly relax into trusting, and being present.

What you're doing here is accessing the akashic field. Put in another way, Ajahn Chah speaks of this as “the one who knows”, and being in touch with the one who knows, this essence of being that is beyond the intellect and the ego. This is the core of your being. You're exploring how you function from that core, and the guides will also have to function from that core to some degree to communicate non-verbally to each other and to you.

We'll ring a bell after about 4 minutes, give you time to gently change places. Then another 4 minutes for the second person, and again for the third person. If this feels like it is too ambitious for anybody, it's okay to opt out. But you will have a hand holding you on each side. Safety is important.

Are there any questions?

(clarifying group formation)

We want to be sure this is safe for anyone. Go at as slow a pace as is needed for people to feel secure. It's simply an exercise in mindfulness and watching how you shift from control by the ego self to leadership from this essence of your being, moving from the essence of your being. And what happens when you bring mindfulness to any tension.

As I spoke this morning, tension may arise. That's not a problem. How will you relate to the tension? Do you react to the tension with added tension and thereby further it? You can always say, “pause” just by putting your hand up. This one's eyes are closed but he or she can still just put hands up, or even say the word “pause” if needed. Ask your guides just to stop walking for as long as it takes, until you're ready to move on. Come back to a place of center again. What I especially want here is for you to see the different habitual tendencies in play. Here is the one who wants to be in control, or even the one who delights in being led around and free of making choices, whatever it may be. The one who has fear arise and judges the fear. The one who has fear arising and stops and breathes with the fear.

I want you to see how all of these come together into this one final simple event of being led by your two guides. Okay?

(exercise, not recorded)

Aaron: We continue.

I assume you learned some things from that exercise. How many of you were not surprised by the habitual tendencies that came up? Was anybody surprised by the tendencies that came up? (no) (group sharing of experiences, led up and down stairs, into the ocean, walking backwards on beach...)

As you observed what was coming up and brought an openhearted awareness to it, did any tension fade? (Yes.) So most of you, it seemed to me, were able to relax into the situation after the initial fear. First the ego mind driving it, intellect, fear, control, and then really relaxing.

There are other exercises that we've done with groups that are very helpful in the same way, and perhaps on another day we'll try another one. One is to form a group of about 7 people and have the person in the middle simply fall backwards, forwards, back and forth, people catching them, then people on the other side catching them, rocking them back and forth. At first one is very stiff, but eventually one just falls.

I have three points with this exercise. One is the power of mindfulness and presence. These are not the same, necessarily. Let's call them mindfulness and awareness; to be present with a spacious awareness rather than present with a controlling stance. Each of you has learned this to some degree, often to a good degree, with your practice. When something comes up and startles you, there will be a startle reflex. If something pains you, there will be a reaction to it. If there's a loud sound, there will be a reaction to it.

The question is not whether you still react to these mind and body stimulants, but how quickly you relax into, “hearing,” or whatever is noted and how quickly you see the shift in the predominant object from, let's say the loud noise, into contracting, contracting. The loud noise is gone but the contraction is still there. How are you relating to that contraction?

Many of you have done this exercise with me before... (leads into shouting exercise, transcribed elsewhere)


Watch it. Feel the energy field reverberating, feel the tension. And what next? What is the attitude with contraction, with tension? Startled, startled. What habitual pattern is there? And if there is an habitual pattern toward judgment or aversion to the contraction, or whatever else may come, can you see that is just another object and come home? What brings you home?

I'd like to hear a little feedback on this before we go on. What happened when I shouted? Anybody not startle? Okay. Not too much.

Q: That scream gets me every time!

Aaron: For those who contracted, what came next? Could you feel the reverberations of that startle energy in the body? (Yes.) How did you relate to it? For some of you, I'm sure there was aversion to it. If there was aversion, how did you relate to the aversion? Let's hear from some of you. Just share your process with us.

Q: When you did this in the retreat two weeks ago, it was a huge “Aha!” for me, huge, that I'm a very good actress, and that all of my life I've been pretending that I wasn't startled. And so the reverberations of that lesson have been continuing. Today I was amused. Startled and amused.

Aaron: Others?

Q: (can't hear clearly)  I think I had made up my mind beforehand that I was not going to be startled.. I would just zero in on Barbara's face when he started talking. I kind of caught it real early. It still startled me but not as much. For me it was, I guess maybe it was fear or, I just didn't want to be startled.

Q: I guess I felt anger. I don't know what else to say about it, I just felt... and every time you do it, the same thing comes up.

Aaron: It's okay. The question is not whether there's startling and whether there's then anger, but how are you relate to the anger. Can you hold that human that's feeling startled and then feeling anger because it doesn't want to be startled, with compassion? When you do hold it with compassion, what happens to the anger?  ((thank you) Others?

Q: I just thought it was much easier because you prepared us. I certainly didn't react the way I did outside when the door slammed.

Q: My hands went up like this. But to me, and maybe it's because I've practiced feeling it so much when I'm meditating and there's a startling sound, it's like a flood of sensation. And it's not unpleasant. It makes me feel alive. I can just sort of feel it come in all the cells on my skin, it comes through the cells in my skin and permeates me, permeates my body.

Aaron: How many of you here enjoy, or at least at one time in your life used to enjoy, roller coasters? It's not really any different. Returning to what Q said, there's a certain joy in being scared.

Q: I've done this exercise before. And when Aaron said he was going to do it, my wife often accuses me of inappropriate laughter, but I saw it as a huge joke. So I got red in the face and I got to laugh really loud. Finally I was able to calm down. I was hoping he wasn't going to yell while I was laughing. He waited until I calmed down a little, then he yelled. The startle reflex wasn't prominent at all, but I do have a habitual tendency to find jokes where other people don't.

Aaron: People will have different responses. Some will laugh, some will shrivel up, some will grit their teeth. They are simply different habituated patterns. None of them are better or worse than others. The question is simply, when that pattern comes up, how do I relate to it? Can I relate with more kindness so as not to perpetuate the pattern, especially if it's an unwholesome one? Our work here is not to stop arisings but to be present with them and less reactive.

(New) Q: I was looking at Barbara and saw this side of the room jump... And I started laughing. And the laughing was the predominant object and there was clinging to the laughter <> image over and over in my head. I realized what I was doing and then just let it fade. But there was grasping.

Aaron: There are a few of you whose energy fields are still shaking a little from that exercise. Can you feel it?.

Q: I saw Q laughing, and I thought he was laughing because you said we were mammals. I was thinking about leaving him a note on the board tomorrow saying, “Remember, you're still a mammal.” Which wouldn't have made any sense to him, since that wasn't why he was laughing! I had my eye over that way and saw Q's arms go up like this. So I was distracted.

Aaron: How about the three-person exercise?

Q: What surprised me in that exercise was my habitual pattern of wanting to take care of the middle person, and to offset my partner. (chit chat, can't hear)

Aaron: I think many of you found that. Many of you found it much more challenging to be on the outside with your eyes open than to be in the middle.

(comments between two partners)

Any other comments before we go on?

Q: When I was in the middle, they led me up the front stairs. I could feel myself getting so tense. And then they turned around and took me down the stairs and I thought, this is even worse! But as soon as that was over, I just felt completely relaxed, as soon as that condition ended. But while I was in the middle of it, I was really paying attention, shuffling my feet on the steps to make sure I didn't have another step to go, for example.

Q: Q, look at the faces we're wearing right now! (laughter)

Q: They were pretty devious.

Q: I was surprised at how frightened I was when I was being led. Because I had these two angels leading me, and I trust them completely, but it was very scary and weird, especially when we went into the dark. And I could tell and I didn't know where I was. And I was able to say, “Oh wait, there are those two angels. I can just trust them.” And I did.

Aaron: Let me say something here. Barbara was given a book many years ago by a friend who is a Theravada Buddhist monk. I can't remember the name of the book, maybe she will know it, but it's a true story of a man who became blind in an accident as a boy, about age 7 or 8, and developed a deep intuitive sense of his surroundings. He became able to walk very comfortably without a cane or other aid, just feeling energetically when there was a post or a tree or some other object in his way. This was in France during WWII. He became part of the French resistance. He became the one who, when they brought new people in, who wanted to join the resistance, he was the one who interviewed them. He could tell immediately from their energy field whether they were authentic in wanting to join the resistance or whether they were there as spies or to break it up. So he developed the capacity for deep seeing by letting go of the part of him that had to see literally with the eyes and moving into this much deeper inner seeing.

It's really the same thing that we're inviting you to, to find that place of knowing, of trust, of centeredness, and to acknowledge the old habitual patterns, the mammal fight and flight reflex, the mammal's contraction. Not to condemn those, to know this is part of being human. It's okay this comes up. But even though it comes up does not mean I need to be reactive to it. How do I handle it?

There was someone else who wanted to speak.

Q: I was led out onto the balcony. It was very cold and windy. It felt like the wind was blowing right through me, like there was nothing there. I startled, parts of me shivering. And then they took me over right to the edge of the <>, and fear came up. It felt just like I was on the edge of a cliff with the sea down below. So I had to go back and say, wait, there's no cliff here. I must be on the balcony, the deck. But then I went back and explored this cliff feeling because it was so interesting. And the fear of being in a place like that was curious too.

Aaron: Much opportunity for practice there.

Q: This is my favorite exercise because when <><> you did this in 1993? When you were conducting classes in your living room. <><> (something about a bite the hook exercise) jolted by it, her scream. And my reaction at that time was, I was so grounded that when you screamed, I was way down in a tube/tomb somewhere seeing my ego jerk around. And that's when I first got introduced to the knower, or the one who knows. I think the fact that we're here today, and there's so much trust and love, that when for a brief time when my partners were leading me through, I felt I was really in competent hands. But they were mischievous and they started taking me places where I had no idea where I was going. And a little anxiety came up, and I just thought, “What can they do? Throw me <out of> the house?” And sure enough, we went out the fourth floor and right up to the edge, almost, and I said, “Is this it?” But it was fun. Just for a slight moment I got anxious and then it passed. Actually it flowed right into trust.

Aaron: Who are the ones who went out on the beach? Did you go all the way to the water? Feet wet? Who was in the middle? (two of the three) How was that for you, Q? Did you know that was coming?

Q: The water did not do anything. They were really taking me lots of different places.

Q: We went upstairs backwards!

Q: I thought I knew where we were. And there was kind of a tightness in the mind, like the control factor. The need to know where I am...

Aaron: These are all wonderful things to watch. I'm going to end the discussion now so I can talk to you for 15 minutes before...(stops, drowned out by laughter, Q wants to finish?)

Q: I think the thing that was amazing was that when they led me up the stairs backwards, it was like, oh forget it. You don't know what they're doing, it's okay to just relax. It was nice. I felt very well taken care of.

Aaron: We did this once many years ago in Barbara's spacious back yard with a pre-arranged obstacle course. I don't know if any of you were part of that. We had certain things like a slanted board and then a perhaps 15” jump at the end. A tunnel that people had to crawl through, one of those children's play tunnels. We did it for about half an hour and a lot of people eventually had that “I don't know where I am, just relax.” You can feel the ego letting go.

So, beyond the obvious, what is this all about? Let's take a look at karma. Picture a big, flat, perfectly smooth sheet of sand, sloping slightly down to the ocean. Somebody goes out and pours a bucket of water out of a pail; it will run down the slope, create a rivulet, a little indentation. Then a light rain starts to fall; where the indentation is  extra water flows down into it, and it deepens, and it deepens. Finally the next morning you've got a 3 foot deep indentation in the beach. One grain of sand at a time; everything follows the flow of least resistance, in a sense.

You set up a certain patterning in your being when something that comes up is unpleasant. “I won't be bothered by it.” Or, “I don't want this.” Contracting. Or, “Oh, let's try to enjoy this.” which is just another pattern, a way of being in control by being determined to enjoy it.

Through hundreds of lifetimes, certain patterns have become very deep in you. Part of those are the mammalian reflexes. It's not just a mammal. If you make a loud noise around a plant or touch it with a pointed instrument, it contracts. Any living sentient life form will contract around pain or a loud noise or something that, I don't want to use the word “frightens” it; a plant isn't really frightened. The cells and energy just contract.

Throughout lifetimes, you have learned to condemn yourself for these reflexes. I shouldn't be afraid. I shouldn't be angry. I shouldn't be confused. I should know better. I should be able to take care of this well. Etc.  What if these reflexes just happened and you simply noted, “contracting”? Or “anger” or “confusion” or “unpleasant body sensation”? And even if there is a secondary reaction, unpleasant body sensation, then contracting around it, what if there was just noting, “unpleasant body sensation, contracting”. It dissolves the whole pattern, not instantly perhaps, but quickly. It doesn't perpetuate the patterns.

Let's try something again. Most of you relaxed eventually around that shout. You watched the different mind states that came up and didn't really get caught in self-identity with them, and you allowed the body reverberation to continue until it stopped. You didn't try to fix the body if it was shaky a bit after the shout. So if I shout again, let's see what's going to happen.

You're watching my face (laughter), we're going to try this again. How will you know (shout!) (laughter)

Now quiet for a minute, just watching. Permission for whatever arose to have arisen. There's no problem with any of it. Breathing in, I am aware of being startled. Breathing out, I smile at being startled. Breathing in, I am aware of the judging mind, perhaps, or even the mischievous mind that takes delight in being startled. Breathing out, I smile to it.

I want you to see how easy it is to slip back into this spacious awareness. Almost all of you are there now, that quickly. And in fact, instead of the startle and any aversion to the startle being something that takes you away from being spacious awareness, it actually takes you closer to spacious awareness. That startled reflex becomes a reminder, “Come home, come home,” (shout!)

Come home, come home. Can you feel how much easier it's getting? And if the energetic reverberations continue, just let them be. They'll stop. They're not a problem. When we practice in this way, every catalyst that comes your way becomes a reminder to come home. Nothing is a problem.

When you practice in that way, returning to awareness, with the clear insight that nothing is a problem, that knowing is what dissolves the karma.

If I were to shout another dozen times, I'm not going to do that right now, but if I were to keep shouting tonight, after a while you'd probably just shrug and come back to your meditation. The conscious self is still caught in doing, fixing the karma, fixing the reaction, but coming back to pure awareness, and you all do understand pure awareness, coming back to pure awareness, from the perspective of pure awareness there's no karma. Resting in rigpa there's no karma. You're outside the karmic field. As soon as the self comes back with the notion, “Did I do it right?” ah, there's a certain karmic pattern, the one who wants to know if he or she did it right. Tensing, contracting.

Some specific things resolve karma. Resting in awareness takes you out of the karmic field, but it does not dissolve karma. It simply removes the self temporarily. Unless you can stay in awareness, there's still the karma when you come back. Opening the heart and re-entering into a space of non-contraction; knowing the true self as this non-contraction; working with forgiveness, where it feels appropriate, to the self and to others, or to the situation itself; these help to open the heart and resolve contraction.

When there is held contraction, there is going to be karma. When you're in a space free of held contraction, either because you're resting in awareness or because the heart is so opened and attuned to the whole flow of arising and dissolving conditions, at that point there is no perpetuation of the karma. I say “held contraction” to distinguish between this and the momentary contraction that is essential to the living organism, such as with the heartbeat.

I'm talking about this tonight because it relates to my morning instructions. Watch the habitual tendencies that arise; the one who has to get it perfect; the one who feels unworthy; the one who needs to be in control; the one who feels helpless. It may not be the case all the time, but if it comes up occasionally, there's still an habitual tendency there.

In liberation there is no longer perpetuation of these tendencies. We're on a path toward liberation. Thus, with effortless effort, that is, no grasping, no clinging, no tension, just bring the mind back again and again to spaciousness, remembering, “I am this radiant, shining stone, and I am this broken shell. And I am both and it's fine to be both. I bring compassion to the human who experiences his or her brokenness at times, and I remember the essence of what I am and never lose track of that essence.”

This has been a bit different of a dharma talk. A few verbal reminders and I hope some experiences that will help you to go deeper during the week, to remember that your practice is not to stop the physical or mental experiences. The mental body, thoughts will arise, that's the nature of the mind. Physical sensations will arise. That's the nature of the body. They will be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. At times aversion may arise. At times, if you're very deep in access concentration, and things may be pleasant or unpleasant without aversion or grasping. That's fine, but you can't hold on to it.

See that aversion and grasping do come back; can you release the self-identification with them? Just look at it. Don't act it out. Hold space around it and know it arose from conditions and it will pass. In this way you rest ever deeper in that field of spaciousness and emptiness, free of stories, free of contraction.

Tomorrow rest in the hot tub. Ahhh. Feel how that heat eases the body and feel the release of tension through the body. Then climb out of the hot tub and let the cold breeze blow on you, or jump in the pool. Feel the body contract. Unpleasant, cold. Get back out into the hot tub. Go back and forth for 15 or 20 minutes, 2 minutes here, 2 minutes there. Watch the sensations of pleasant/unpleasant. Can there be pleasant without grasping? Can there be unpleasant without aversion? But if aversion and grasping come, can there not be any self-identification with them? They're just normal response.

Let's stop it there. I wish you a pleasant night.