December 3, 2016 Saturday Evening, Seattle Retreat

(This talk not yet reviewed by Barbara and Aaron)

The Power of Intention; Taking Non-Violent Action; Loneliness

Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. Hearing all of your varied requests on topics, I'm not chasing any of them, if you will forgive me. I want to talk about the power of intention. Why do you come to your practice? Why do you come to a weekend like this?

Our intentions of course are varied. In the beginning, people come because they're suffering and they're looking for an end to that suffering. Later on you may still be suffering and come looking for an end to suffering. The evolution is that in the beginning you are more centered in your personal suffering, and as you grow you become deeply committed to alleviating suffering throughout the earth, for all sentient beings. You may wonder, who me? How can I alleviate anybody else's suffering when I cannot lessen my own? But you do lessen your own suffering.

Remember there is a difference between pain and suffering. We're not talking about pain, here, even deep anguish. But these can arise without suffering. So what is suffering? In the simplest terms, suffering comes from wanting things to be different than they are, and grasping at that. Well, we want things to be different. When we see enormous pain in the world, we want it to be different. There's a difference when that aspiration is openhearted or when it comes from a place of fear.

So looking at this, again one look closer. I think as you grow, your intention grows increasingly from the loving heart rather than from a place of fear. There's less suffering because your heart is so open. I'm not saying that fear will cease, but there's not so much contraction around the fear, not so many stories around it. Fear is seen simply as one more experience arisen out of conditions. Unpleasant yet impermanent, and not separate, not of the nature of a separate self. It simply is the expression of conditions. So you don't get caught up in the stories of fear so much. There's more ease, more spaciousness.

When you come to your spiritual practice with this intention, to live my life more deeply grounded in love and the deepest interconnection between everything, knowing my non-duality with all that is, with a deep aspiration to offer service from this place of love, it's a very different experience than when you say, “Oh! Fix this!”

Knowing your intention, really resting in that intention 24/7, changes everything. The deep intention to offer service and commitment to the awakening of all beings. The raising of consciousness on the earth. The bringing of of awareness of love to the earth. I can only surmise with this group, because I have not spoken to you, but many friends with whom I have spoken in the past few weeks have been very upset by the presidential election because the president-elect had, during his campaign, voiced so much negativity, anger, disdain for others. You prefer to have a president who you feel you can trust and who represents you. Lacking that, you prefer to have a president for whom you can at least feel some degree of respect.

I spoke this morning of opening into the heart of darkness, and that this presidential election leads us right into the heart of the confrontation between darkness and light. But the standing up for light, (confrontationally) “I am a servant of the light! Nothing less!”, that doesn't do it. It's just more confrontation. Seeing the darkness in oneself, the places of bigotry, prejudice, fear, lack of complete heart-opening, and attending to that, this gives you a different kind of power.

It is only openhearted presence with everything that invites change, because it invites the darkness to begin to expose itself into the light rather than to avoid the light, and the more the darkness can begin to connect with the light, can feel heard by the light rather than terrified by it, the more the darkness has the opportunity to emerge into the light that it already is. It's not like it's changing in an essential way, only it's the sun coming out from behind the clouds, revealing itself, its heart of light.

When you hold as your highest intention the highest healing for all beings, then you cease to be stuck in your opinions and to try to fix this and that which are “wrong,” but rather to listen and hold space for that which was previously deemed as “wrong,” to shift itself and emerge of its own accord into the light. Now, it may need nudges from you, of course. You can't just sit back and say, “You're already light, so come on, be it already!” Rather, holding space and inviting.

I challenge each of you in the coming months not just to listen to your friends who have the same opinions that you do, but to listen deeply to those who have different opinions without trying to fix them, but to deeply hear their pain. To begin to understand the ground of pain out of which those, from your perspective, negative opinions have arisen, and hold space in your heart for them. This is the true healing, to allow darkness and the fear in which darkness is grounded to begin to express itself as often as it needs to, until it finally feels heard and can begin to look at the other side of itself, which is the light in itself, that it has not been able to look at because it so deeply needed to defend the darkness in itself. It's very hard to listen to some of this, but it's essential.

The other part of this is that when— forgive my hesitancy here a bit. The body is tired. I've been talking a lot through her body all day. You listen and you listen, you hold space and you hold more space. But in a situation where you see that somebody who is holding that very negative and hurtful viewpoint is saying or doing something that will do harm unto another, you must say no. Fear doesn't say no; compassion says no. But still you must say no.

I saw a beautiful example on YouTube on the internet. A man beginning to harangue a woman dressed in the Muslim garb sitting on a bus or train, and the question, what do you do? Are you going to go up there and start to get into a fight with the man who is hassling her? Is that going to help? The suggestion, and I found this very beautiful, it's really a form of non-violent intervention, was simply to walk over and sit down next to her, ignoring this man completely. Just start up a conversation on anything. “It's a beautiful day. Oh, I love the color of this. What do you think of yesterday's weather?” It doesn't matter what you're talking about. You engage her in a conversation, making two statements. One, I open my heart to you. You are my sister. And two, no, you may not abuse her. We're not going to get caught up in this situation of abuse by saying, “No, get out of here!” Just, “I hope it's another nice day like it was yesterday. I'd love to go for a walk in the park.” Putting her at ease and making a clear statement: she is my sister, you may not abuse her.

Now what if he keeps abusing her? What if he stands over both of you with strong abusive language? In our brother Jeshua's words, turn the other cheek. Just keep talking to her in a quiet way. Watch the tension come up in you. “He's saying terrible things, I must do something.” What does turn the other cheek really mean? “I do not honor this abuse with a response.” But for those of you who are deeply grounded in, let's call it righteous speech and action, with non-harm, it's very hard not to respond when somebody's pushing at you or another. This is the heart of your practice, and it takes you back to your vipassana practice.

Sometimes you are sitting. There's a fly, bzzzz, buzzing around your head, or there's pain in the back. Pushing, pushing, pushing! “I'm not going to respond! No, I won't respond!” That's a response. Ahhh… feeling discomfort, feeling pain. The sensation arises and then aversion to the sensation, each in turn becoming predominant. Right there, where is the space? Where is the already awakened heart, right there in that moment? Bzzzz, bzzzz, hearing. “I meditate. This blasted creature is disturbing my meditation. It's ruining my whole day. Where's the fly-swatter?” The power of intention. My deepest intention to be loving and kind to all beings. Just hearing, and the deep anger at feeling such helplessness. This one fly just disturbing everything that you wanted.

When you practice with these disturbing situations, severely or even mildly disturbing, it's a wonderful opportunity to come back into your own radiance, your own essence. The more you begin to trust that essence, bodhicitta, the awakened heart, the more you can trust it, the more you can live from it. The more you can live from it, the more you can sit and talk to your sister on the subway, on the bus, wherever, and basically simply not respond to the abuse. Not give it energy. It really does come to that. When you get tense and angry, you keep looking over at him, “Go away!” — shhh. “What about the weather?” (back to him) “You're still here??” Back and forth. That tension, you know that tension. You're giving it energy. He may become increasingly angry because you refuse to give him energy. Can you hold that space? It's possible. Just holding that loving space.

This is really why you practice. It's basically what I speak of in the book Human, to be present with all of the human catalyst of physical, emotional, and mental body, fully present, with an open heart, not giving energy to the negative arising that comes. Unpleasant— aversion, aversion. Can you hold aversion in your arms, in your heart, without feeling shame that aversion arose? Just present with aversion.

I ask you, my dear ones, to trust yourselves, to trust your capacity to do this. Some of you don't believe you can do it. Why should you not be able to do it? You say, “Well, I've never been able to, Aaron.” Well, fine. Maybe tomorrow you can. It has to start somewhere.

It doesn't have to be the abusive man on the bus, this severe pain in the body or the buzzing fly. It can come from just the small arisings. When Barbara pulled her clothes out this morning she realized that the clean socks she packed were a pair that had a hole in them. All day she's been looking at this hole, and it's raised a little bit of mild irritation. That pair of socks! Of all the socks I could have chosen, why that pair! Let it be. <That's judging your socks. She is.> Let it be.

So anything can become the catalyst. The tea that's too hot, the tea that's too cold. The itch. Somebody breathing a bit “too loud”. Anything can become a catalyst. Aversion will arise. If you're a human, aversion will arise. Grasping will arise. Opening the heart so deeply to this human in whom these things arise, and loving the human. In this way returning to the ever-open heart.

In class last Tuesday I gave a talk that many of you may be interested to hear. It was about the direction of practice, what I call the horizontal or linear practice, and the vertical, right-now practice. The place where they intersect. You're always on this linear path, moment by moment by moment. The human in a mundane experience and at the place where that linear path is cut by this present moment, you're always there. You can get lost in the linear, or you can lose yourself clinging to the present moment as a way of avoiding the mundane experience which may be painful. But when you rest in that intersection, moment by moment by moment on the linear, here, bearing witness to this moment with love, you begin to remember your heart's capacity to hold spaciousness for whatever arises, pleasant, unpleasant, no matter what it is, and simply to be with it.

I believe that more than anything else this ability is what has the potential to change your world, really to save your world. I'm not suggesting the world will destroy itself, I don't think so, or that you will destroy your world. But the more you get caught in the negativity and the pain, the more prolonged that pain is going to be. So if your intention is to help herald this birth of higher consciousness, to bring this forth on the earth, then you need to do your own practice with it. Full circle to intention. The highest intention, simply to be present with love and an open heart in the highest service to all beings and harm to none. In this moment, is what I am choosing to do supportive of that highest purpose? If not, do I want to rethink it a bit?

You don't practice so much with the abusive man on the bus. You practice with the abusive self telling you, “You're not sitting still enough. Your mind shouldn't have thoughts. Why aren't you a better meditator after all these years?” Just you abusing yourself. When you practice with love, <with little or loud abusive voice>, and begin to truly open your heart to yourself, then you can do the same to others. Turn the other cheek to yourself, to the abusive voice, and to those who would negate and bring hatred into the world. It's in your hands.

With the Mother we practice what we call remembering wholeness. The Mother does not come in to fix you. There's nothing broken. She simply comes in to be present with you and serve as a mirror, so that as you look into her eyes you may remember who you truly are. The radiant spirit, the light, the love, that is the essence of what you are. Your spiritual practice is not to fix yourselves, for nothing is broken. It's to remember so that you may more firmly stand in that space of light and be that, feel stable in that.

Here I would be happy to speak to a few questions, maybe for 15 minutes, and then we'll have the darshan with the Mother. And many of you are falling asleep, so we will end early. Are there any questions on what I've just said?

Q: What happens when the person on the bus becomes physically abusive?

Aaron: You have several choices, and there is no right choice. Satyagraha, Gandhi's term, “soul force”. The power of one soul to hold space for others, with a deep determination never to do harm. Much of the non-violent action in the world in this past century has been based on this: I may be willing to simply let myself be harmed by another without acting against the other. That doesn't mean it's a right choice, only it's one choice. How many times can they kick me and beat me up before finally they stop? Now obviously people can be seriously hurt or killed. At a certain point it becomes more important to stop and say no, you may not do that anymore. But how do you do that? If the other is using their fists, you can't hit back. How do you stop them? In some situations you can walk away.

We've explored together, here and there through the years, what do you do if you quietly walk into the back of a schoolroom where a man is holding a machine gun? There's a whole classroom of kindergartners, and he says, “I'm going to kill you all,” and he's already shot the teacher. You know it's likely he will kill them all, and you have a gun.

If you shoot him, you are responsible for killing him. If you don't shoot him and he kills all the kindergartners, you're also responsible in some way. You can't say, “Well, I couldn't do anything.” Each of you must work with this dilemma in your own way, coming to know: what does non-harm truly mean? For what am I responsible? You are not responsible for another person's karma, but you are responsible for another person's action if they do something that's harmful and you don't intervene. You're responsible through non-action. That's your karma.

There's no easy answer. For me, if I were in that situation and the man became physically violent to the woman sitting there in the burkha or to both of us, without hitting him I would just say no. Drawing on that power of soul force, of satyagraha, “No.” In some of my Christmas stories, I've told stories of watching Jeshua do this and how powerful it was. It doesn't come from, let me say this carefully, it does come in part from anger, but it's not anger that chooses to harm another. It's anger that is the energy behind the no, said with so much compassion and so much love that it's very hard to stand up to it. “No!” “No.” Now if he punches you and knocks you out, or pulls out a knife and stabs you, that could happen. Being human is not safe!

Q: This happened to me last year. A man driving by on a motorcycle saw our fire puja. He came storming down the hill and attacked the fire and the fire keeper. Threw the fire on the ground, yelling it wasn't safe to have a fire.

Aaron: Was he attacking it on the grounds of bigotry and hatred of something different, or because he was alarmed at the fire?

Q: Maybe both.He said the fire, but it was safe.

Aaron: I understand the issue. But if he does that and he's not harming any people…

Q: He was.

Aaron: He was physically attacking people?

Q: The fire tender.

Aaron: With beating him or just pushing him? (Q: Shoving.) All right. So he's fallen on the ground. The observer, or the fire tender, whoever, might then turn to this man and say, “I understand that you're alarmed by the fire. We're tending it so that it can't do any harm.”

Q: We told him but he kept yelling and throwing the fire. So I got up in between the attacker and the fire keeper, who was a very small man. He was a big attacker. I told him, “No. Go call the fire department. They will tell you we have a permit. Go.” He advanced on me, toe to toe, nose to nose, and kept yelling. I stood my ground and told him to go call. After a few minutes, to my surprise, he turned away three steps. I said, “Good, but go all the way off the property.” And he did. It was very surprising that he took my orders, but I was non-violent, just firm.

Aaron: It wasn't your words, it was your energy. If you had said, “Get out of here!” with anger, he would not have budged. When you're able to look something that's so negative and afraid in the eyes and just be present with it with kindness, with compassion that clearly says no but without fear, fear knows fear, fear knows non-fear. When you approach it, I want to say this carefully, you may still be afraid at one level, but that which is saying no is not afraid. The fear is in the mundane human underneath, but the awakened consciousness that's saying no is not afraid, even as it recognizes it could get hurt or killed.

Q: My fear came later. I developed PTSD, but mostly because no one else stood up with me. And if it were to happen again, I felt very vulnerable. But only afterwards.

Aaron: But this is an opportunity to deepen your own insights and practice. In some way, understand that you invited this situation because you had something to learn. It came as a teacher. And that nobody else stood up to him also came as a teacher.

Q: Including three men! And the owner of the temple.

Aaron: I enjoy the image of this whole thing from a step backwards, that greater perspective. The two of you, the director saying, “Cut! What worked and what didn't work? Okay, come back on stage and let's try this again.”, until you've got the whole scenario worked out, each of you finding the place where you don't develop PTSD. You just keep practicing until that doesn't happen. You keep practicing until you feel it <rise softened>.

(another) Q: I suspect you showed an example and were able to teach them. And if something similar were to occur again, they could draw upon it.

Q: They didn't like me for doing that.

Aaron: Because you showed them up. They were afraid and they could not act. They were paralyzed.

Q: They thought Buddhism means being passive.

Aaron: Sometime recently I told a story that I'll share with all of you. This was many years ago. Barbara and her brother and their children were visiting their parents. In the condo community there was an area with picnic tables and barbecues, and they were preparing dinner for the group, cooking hamburgers or whatever. The next picnic table, the next barbecue, another man was preparing dinner for his family. A man rode up on his bike, leaned his bike against this second picnic table between the table and the barbecue where the man had all his assorted food out, and was moving it.

So the man said, “Your bike is in my way. Would you please move it?” In a kind way, not angry. But the man who rode up on his bike said, “I have a right to put my bike where I want it.” This man was taken aback. He said, “But I'm cooking here. I'll move it for you.” “Don't you dare!” And he picked up the big carving knife from the table and approached the man.

Barbara's brother was at the next barbecue and Barbara was sitting on the bench, Barbara of course not hearing the dialogue until later but able to perceive it. And six children gathered around. What are we going to do? Well it helped that her brother was 6' 6”. That makes one feel a little less vulnerable. But the man was standing there with a knife in his hand, and Buddy simply walked up from behind him, took hold of his wrist like that, and said, “You don't want to do this. Give me the knife.” Held him in one hand, and with the other hand, simply inviting the knife. Now the man could have turned around, regardless of how big Buddy was, and attacked him. It was the clarity and kindness with which Buddy spoke. But the deep, really sense of command, “You don't want to do this. Give me the knife.” The man gave him the knife. Buddy said, “Come sit down. I'm cooking hamburgers. Would you like one?” The man said no. The man clearly had been drinking. Bud said, “I'll move your bike. Sit down, have a hamburger with us.” The man just picked up his bike and pedaled off.

Barbara asked him later, were you afraid? And Bud said, “Yes, but I could not demonstrate violence in response to violence to any of us, to our children or to us.” Barbara asked him, how did you not let your fear come out? Buddy had no formal spiritual practice. He didn't meditate. He was just there. He said, I believe his words were something like, “I just went into my heart, and said no.”

We can all learn how to do this. Some people have come with that capacity so they don't have to practice it as much. Some of you have more of the inclination to attack negativity. You need to work with yourself. Scolding words, “I should be able to meditate better. My mind should be quieter.” Ah, is that so? Just compassion. Attacking yourself, someone attacking you, it's all the same thing. How do we say no to it? And there's so much power when you can say no from that place of love, whether it's the other attacking or you attacking yourself.

Let's have just one more question.

Q: How to deal with the pain of loneliness when you are isolated, like illness, for example.

Aaron: The pain of loneliness is severe, but it does not necessarily mean suffering. How do you deal with very severe body pain, for example? There can be suffering, or there may not be suffering. One has to recognize this pain is genuine. I have compassion for this human who is feeling pain without getting caught up in the stories of, “Oh, poor me,” or why am I isolated? Why don't people love me? What's wrong with me? Et cetera. These are just stories.

Go directly to the experience: isolated, lonely, feeling unloved. These are authentic experiences of this human at this moment. Bring compassion to this human without any stories of why or how or how to fix it. If there's intense suffering around it, then begin to explore the suffering. Of course there will be aversion to loneliness, but in what way are you holding onto stories that relate to that aversion?

And the second part of it, if one is lonely in an ongoing way, is to explore the roots of that sense of separation. Abandonment, unworthiness, ways that one is not feeling capable of being worthy, worthy of being embraced by others. To really begin to look into that within your practice. Who is feeling unworthy? Who is feeling unlovable?

We work with the balances. For example, seeing the whole idea of unworthy, nobody loves me, we make an effort to go out and be kind and offer in a freely given way to others. For example, to walk into a park and, seeing a person who looks old and lonely, to sit down next to them for a few minutes with, maybe you've got two cups of coffee, and say, “I see you sitting here. I thought you might like a cup of coffee.” You don't have to engage them in dialogue. Just one minute. You're simply opening your heart to another. You're letting another's loneliness or isolation or sadness enter your experience and offering just that one moment of kindness. As it feels appropriate, to expand it, you can do that.

One friend to whom I offered this practice lived in a city near a park where she walked often. I asked her to walk in the park and see if there were people there at the same time every day who seemed to be alone. First to just nod and say hello. Then after a few days to sit down and say to them, “I see you sitting here often. I don't want to violate your privacy, but my name is So-and-so. I happen to have a deck of cards with me. Do you enjoy cards? Would you like to play a game of cards?” Or, “Would you like to get a cup of coffee with me? There's a coffee vendor over there and I'd be happy to buy us a cup.” Not imposing herself on the person. Simply offering, and if the person says, “No, feeling too weird. Why is this person coming after me?”, fine. But offering.

She had some very interesting experiences. She found mostly homeless people were very open to her. People who were well-dressed in their suit and tie or dress pulled back with fear. But more those who were homeless, “Sure, I'd love to play a game of cards.” “Thank you, I'd love a cup of coffee.” She didn't invite them back to her home. She didn't extend it beyond 15 or 20 minutes. Simply finding that within herself that could open to another lonely person's pain and connect heart to heart. And she said that as she did this over the course of a whole summer, she began to be able to engage with her own heart more, to really feel and hear the roots of her own loneliness and why she maintained separation from others. So you can explore in these ways.

(session ends)