April 4, 2010 Easter Sunday, Berkeley, Spirit Rock Dedicated Practitioners Program (DPP)

Keywords: crucifixion/resurrection, Jesus/Jeshua, healing, pain, dependent origination, heavy emotion, impulse energy, anger, forgiveness, Anapanasati, meditation

Aaron: My blessings and love to all of you. I am Aaron. Thank you for this opportunity to share some thoughts with you.

I cannot let it go past that today is Easter Sunday. While I'm speaking to a dharma group, the whole experience of the crucifixion and resurrection in its symbolic form is very much outside traditional Christianity.

Letting go of the Church's ideas about the crucifixion and resurrection, each of you experiences what we might call a crucifixion initiation, the cross that you bear, symbolically. For some of you it's the memories of childhood pain or abuse, or it's physical disability, body pain, emotional pain, mental confusion, areas of self-doubt, or feelings of unworthiness.

In another sense of a crucifixion, we must die to the old self before we can enter into the new self. We must in a sense die to the everyday mind and personality self and self-identification with it, and the self-identification with any of the skhandas. It's not that the skhandas die; it's that there's no longer self-identification with them so we die to that small ego self, and this leads you into the resurrection.

And what is this resurrection? It's literally the moving into a higher consciousness based on the non-self-identification with the skhandas. It's the higher consciousness, let's call it non-dual consciousness, opening into that pure awareness or non-dual mind. It honors the self, takes care of the body, takes care of the emotions, does not have any disdain for the physical experience but knows itself to be radiant, beautiful spirit. It knows that it is not separate from anything, and that when it acts in ways that do harm in the world, it is simply harming itself; even to throw the trash on the ground is harming the self.

You are all here in the incarnation, especially those in this group who are dedicated spiritual practitioners, to look at the crucifixion and embrace and nurture the move towards resurrection.

I want to honor the one who came known as Jeshua who modeled this path. He was not trying to teach people to be Christians. He was not a Christian. He was literally teaching the possibility of moving from everyday consciousness to higher consciousness and living in that higher consciousness.

Spirits of course speak to one another, so if I say "He said to me," do not be surprised by that. Talking with him once about the experience of being nailed to the cross, the nails penetrating flesh, he was asked, "How did you not get caught in that terrible agony?" He said, "I brought attention to the nails as an instrument of blessing. If I had hated the nails it would have pulled my whole consciousness down so that the resurrection would not be possible. In order to maintain that higher consciousness, I had to accept these nails entering the body as an instrument of light, literally as a blessing, to which I had agreed."

At some level he had agreed to the crucifixion, of course. He did not just stumble into that path; he was not a helpless victim who was crucified. So he said, "I blessed these nails, and because of that blessing consciousness, they brought light and energy into the body and helped raise the body into an ever higher vibration. It's that higher vibration that allowed for the resurrection."

This is no different than any of you. How do you bless your own experiences of nails, whatever they may be, instead of hating them? How can that blessing completely shift your experience so that instead of sinking into an increasingly contracted and negative consciousness you move into a higher consciousness?

If as you sit and mind goes to some degree to what I just said, and if there is some thought about it of, let's say, the arising of memory of deep pain and the question, "How do I bless this pain?" reach out and ask Him, He who experienced this crucifixion and resurrection that you remember in your lives today. He's available to you. Ask him, "How do I bless this pain? I don't know how to do it." And see if He comes to you and guides you.

I would like to add here that I love you all. Let us sit for 45 minutes...


Barbara: I think most of you were here when I was here last time with James almost 2 years ago, am I right? (yes)

My path has been interesting since then. I've been returning to Brazil every year. There continue to be physical changes but the biggest change has been inward.

Somewhere along the line, I think about the time that I last saw you, it occurred to me that I was trying to do something in a linear fashion, which is to go from deafness to hearing, and I was not paying attention to that which could already hear.

I had a very powerful experience, I think the summer after I saw you here. I had a bad fall and broke my big toe. The doctor said 6 to 8 weeks for it to heal. It hurt. I couldn't walk. So I was lying on my bed with my foot elevated and spirit said to me, "Right there with the broken toe is the ever-healed toe, that which was never broken."

"What do you mean? It's broken and in 6 to 8 weeks it will heal."

"Why should it take 6 to 8 weeks if it's already healed? There are simply molecules that are disrupted and have moved apart. Simply invite them to come back together. That "togetherness" is already present."

Spirit suggested that I chant using the sacred word OM and whatever tone the toe seemed to want to hear. For 3 days I spent hours everyday chanting OM to the toe. I woke up on the fourth morning and there was no pain left. I stood up. It had gone through a vast range of purples, blues and greens but now in this morning it looked faded blue, it was no longer brilliant and streaked. The swelling had gone down.

Spirit said, "Take the tape off, it's healed." The doctor's x-ray not only showed it healed but it showed no break to begin with. There was not any sign that it had been broken. This really got my attention in terms of my deafness. If the deafness is real, I have to relate to it as though it's real. But as long as I keep trying to fix it, I am recreating it.

I see this in people, for example in people who have been survivors of sexual abuse. First they do need to go through the knowing that they were a victim, that they did not cause the abuse. Then they have to get out of that victim mode and they start to see themselves as survivors. But then they can spend the rest of their lives being a survivor, which is just someone else to be. It's not freedom. And one has to then recreate certain kinds of, perhaps not sexual abuse but mildly abusive issues so that one can keep reminding oneself, "I am a survivor." In what ways was I recreating the whole image of someone who is deaf, keeping it going? What if I just stop being deaf?

I can't remember exactly where I was when I last saw you. I had heard thunder, I know that, and had shared that with you. And I think the next trip maybe after I saw you, I was sitting in the big meditation room there and at the close of the session they began to sing the song Amazing Grace, and I heard it. It was so powerful to hear the music. I did not hear the words, I heard the music, just pure tones, sound.

There was a man sitting almost beside me, a well-known opera singer, baritone, with beautiful baritone voice, and it was his voice I was hearing. Later he invited me to sing it with him, and he said to me, "You're singing it on tune." Now, I've never heard this song-- probably I had heard it somewhere but it never registered, almost 40 years ago. At the time I lost my hearing I had never paid attention to this song. So if I heard it in the background I didn't recognize it.

He said, "You're hearing it." I'm increasingly hearing tones, and hearing sounds like cars driving by. I don't hear words. The Casa Entities have told me words are the last thing I will hear because the brain has to interpret the sound. First I have to hear the pure sound. But this has shifted my practice.

Q: It's been my experience that you occasionally do hear words.

Barbara: Maybe. There's no reason why I would not be increasingly hearing words. The brain has to learn to interpret the sounds I am hearing and make sense of them. I think I hear certain tones better than others. I hear certain words better than others. What I hear when people speak is like a static-y "eh eh eh" kind of a sound. It doesn't make any sense as a word.

But what this has done for my practice is to take me much deeper into a place of knowing the simultaneity of relative and ultimate. On the relative plane, yes, one might say I'm still deaf. On the ultimate level, I need to fully acknowledge my wholeness, that I'm not deaf, and live from that place of wholeness. And this is what we all need to do in our lives, whatever our situation. We can't deny the relative experience. We can't get stuck in it, so we can't just go off in the ultimate realm and live there as a permanent vacation from the strain of relative. But we can't get stuck in the relative, either. How do we bring it together?

I've just finished a book about this called Cosmic Healing. It will come out next March. I delivered the manuscript to the publisher on Friday... The publisher is here in Berkeley.

It's basically a dharma book. It's a book about my own spiritual path – losing my hearing, meeting Aaron, and so forth – but it's really a dharma book about the simultaneity of relative and ultimate and how we live both together.

So that's what I've been passionate about the past 2 years since I last saw you.

Today Aaron would like to offer you a choice. He says he can give a formal dharma talk but that seems like a waste of your time, not that he has nothing to say but that he can give as much of a dharma talk in small segments, speaking to each of you, if each of you want to share your practice, your life, whatever questions you have, and let him just spend this time-- he says with 12 or so of you there's time to really go around and touch everybody's practice and experience in depth, if you'd like to do that.

Group: Yes!

Barbara: He says that there will be so many overlaps that he feels that you will gain from hearing from each other's experience. He reminds us that we did this the last time, we ran out of time and were still going at 6:30 at night. He says, why don't we just start now.

I'd like to invite anybody who needs to leave early to make sure you talk in this next hour of the morning. And then in the afternoon after lunch we'll have time to talk with more people. And Aaron says he's sure he will digress into mini-dharma talks as we go along. He says his idea is to get to each person once but not to be afraid to ask questions and people can talk 2 or 3 times as different issues to come up. But to direct attention to one person at a time, and then develop whatever dialogues between us that come up.

Anybody is welcome to start. In starting, simply share either. . . Aaron will incorporate into the body and speak directly but he's saying directly, please share what's happening in your practice and in your life and any specific question about this in a concise way.

Q: My dharma practice right now is taking care of my grandbabies-- they're 5 ½ months old-- and learning so much from their development. And how it's teaching me that somebody so new to this world is quickly acquiring self and likes and dislikes. I think the last few months have taught me more about self than many years of practice. At first I thought taking care of babies is time away from my practice. Now I realize it IS the practice.

And the other thing I like is doing some Buddhist chaplaincy, not in a formal sense but being available to whatever I see, sadness or need. And that seems to give me a lot of fulfillment.

Barbara: Do you have any questions you want to bring to Aaron?

Q: I just want to ask the direction that I need to take for my practice.

Barbara: Let's let Aaron come in. (Aaron incorporates)

Aaron: I am Aaron. My love to you all. It sounds like you already have a clear direction for your practice. Why are you asking me?

Q: Just sharing.

Aaron: You have shared, but there's nothing for you to ask me. The direction for your practice is to look at the doubts that you're experiencing-- am I doing it right? Is there something different I should be doing? As long as you keep listening to your heart you're doing fine. Then the mind comes in and thinks, "But babysitting isn't dharma." Of course it is.

When this little one begins to crawl-- is it a boy or girl?

Q: Two girls.

Aaron: And they are how old?

Q: 5 ½, 6 months.

Aaron: Twin girls about 6 months old. Twin girls! That's a wonderful challenge. When they begin to crawl, get down on the floor with them and see the world from their perspective. See how much you can come back to beginner's mind, seeing the world with bare perception, don't know what it is. See how quickly mind jumps into, "Oh, that's such and such," and just consigns it to being that. Watch their curiosity about things. When they start to put things in their mouth, put them in your mouth too; see how it feels. What's the direct experience of this thing? (demonstrates) How does it feel in my mouth? How does it smell? What's its texture? How do I relate to it? Don't just label it as "this" or "that" but really know it from the direct experience.

Watch the way they relate to it. As you said, you're learning so much about how they react to new things, how they learn what's safe and what isn't safe. This is the creation of the conditioned mind. And now you at the opposite end are, let us say, dissolving the conditioned mind. So while they're learning to create a conditioned mind and move into a sense of self, to be a human, you're taking it to the next step and transcending the human. It's a wonderful opportunity. Enjoy. You are blessed to have such teachers.

Do look at doubt. What we spoke of before, and this.

Q: I've been sitting with the question of how I can bless the pain and the idea of being a survivor of my childhood abandonment issues. I seem to be experiencing issues of separation from my husband, and my son is older and about to move on, and issues about friendship, and my body. So I'm on the one hand feeling frightened and uncertain and on the other hand I feel strong and centered.

Aaron: You said feeling separation anxiety with your husband and son. Are you separated from your husband?

Q: Not physically but it feels like emotionally we're separating. And I don't know if I should physically separate, or does it matter?

Aaron: Have the two of you tried to heal this, to reconnect and recreate intimacy? Emotional intimacy?

Q: Not really.

Aaron: Why not?

Q: He seems to be seeking heart connections with others.

Aaron: Perhaps he is looking for that connection because he doesn't know how to find it with you.

Q: Yes.

Aaron: And perhaps if the two of you begin to investigate that and remind each other that-- I assume you once had a heart connection (Q: Yes) and that you very much want to recreate that, and begin to explore together, what keeps us from that heart connection? You may find that this is exactly the path to healing that you need. Perhaps the issues that keep you from that connection with him are also the personal karmic issues that need to be healed. Perhaps he in some ways is and can be your teacher and you, his.

You say he's looking for a heart connection with other people; that says to me that he's as lonely as you are.

Q: Yes, I understand that. But, I'm having trouble letting go of my "trips"-- old stories.

Aaron: Now we have a place to direct practice! But this is not what you have to do before you initiate a connection with him, it's work you need to do while you initiate the connection. Because you'll see that which pulls back from connection and how it's based in the stories. But if you don't initiate the connection, you don't trigger the stories so much and then you don't have to deal with them. And dealing with them is painful. (Q: Yea!)

So if you're willing to trigger the connection, to invite the connection and trigger the painful stories, then you can look into what keeps these stories going; get to know these stories and see them as they are. And I think they're not just about your husband, they're old stories that you've carried for a long time. Stories about not being safe in the world, not being worthwhile, not being loved.

Q: Yes. So how do I bless the pain?

Aaron: Let's start with something else.

You're in the DPP program so you have a stable and ongoing practice, yes?

Q: Absolutely.

Aaron: When you're sitting and there's some body pain, how do you relate to it? Describe your practice to me, there.

Q: It's painful but it does not cause me to suffer.

Aaron: So you note pain as throbbing or heat or burning. You note that it has an unpleasant feeling, but there's not any strong self-identity with it; you just watch it and it dissolves?

Q: It can dissolve in a moment.

Aaron: And if it doesn't dissolve, and if it becomes more intense, and the feeling grows from unpleasant to aversion, then what?

Q: It brings up a lot of old stories.

Aaron: Are you aware of the stories as they arise?

Q: As much as I'm able to. There's a lot of denial.

Aaron: To bless the pain at this point is another way of perpetuating the denial. First you've got to be present with the pain, not to find ways to escape the pain by "blessing it" "Blessing" can also be a story! Does that make sense to you? I'm not saying to enhance the pain but to meet it right there and be with it, and watch the whole progression of pain, physical, emotional, unpleasant, aversion, stories, pulling back, withdrawing. You will see that this is just a habituated pattern.

It's just really the chain of dependent arising. Contact with the thought or emotion. Mind touching the thought. Unpleasant, unpleasant feeling. Aversion, and the body contracts, and immediately – but it's happening so fast it is hard to see – stories start coming. The practice is there but not strong enough at this point to see the story immediately as it arises and say, "story." So there's some getting caught in it, which is normal; it's painful but not bad. But at some point there's got to be the willingness to be present with the pain, not to try to fix the pain. What I said about blessing the pain is a way of working with the pain after you've learned how to hold it, fully present with it. But if you try to bless the pain before you're fully present with it, you're still trying to fix it in some way.

So I'm asking you to do it step by step, and the first step is to be present with the pain. How you are present with the pain is to bring more spaciousness in. You said that the physical pain breaks up, it dissolves very quickly as you pay attention to it. What do you use as a primary object? Is the breath your primary object?

Q: Yes.

Aaron: So as the pain sensation dissolves, do you then bring attention back to the breath?

Q: I have trouble with the breath.

Aaron: Then what do you use as a primary object?

Q: I just kind of expand, I don't know how else to describe it.

Aaron: Do you hear nada at all? The sound of silence, do you hear that sound at all?

Q: No.

Aaron: Do you watch the breath at the abdomen or the nostrils?

Q: The abdomen.

Aaron: You say you have trouble with the breath, can you explain that more?

Q: Well I'm used to holding my breath. It was recommended the last time I spoke with Aaron to develop a greater gratitude practice.

Aaron: Two different things here...I want to go somewhere more fundamental first. I understand why you have trouble with the breath as a primary object. I'd like you to try the experience of touch. The breath is really just a touching, it's the touch of the breath at the nostrils, touching, touching. Or movement. Right now, sitting. Can you feel the buttocks touching the sofa?

Q: I actually think I do use touch.

Aaron: So I'd like to suggest you shift the primary object to touch. That's number one. Number two. When there's an object such as mild body pain or sensation, bring attention to it; in the first moment, there's no strong aversion or story about it, there's just burning, itching or throbbing or whatever it might be, unpleasant feeling, and then sensation dissolves or changes.

When it dissolves I would like you to rest in the space into which it dissolved until something else starts to come up, and then re-center yourself; don't wander around but observe that there's a moment of space before there's any other impulse or thought or sensation. Simply become aware of the space.

Let's listen to the bell. My voice, "hearing, hearing." When I become quiet, bring attention to the touching sensation, buttocks on the cushion. When I sound the bell, attention moves from the touch; note, hearing, hearing. Stay with it until the hearing ends, sound ends. When object and consciousness are gone, rest in that space, even for a fraction of a second; feel the space. If something pulls you away from that space, immediately come back to touching.

Group practices with this, with sitting/ touching/ bell

Q: So practice with the being physically present. And the space is another physical place?

Aaron: The space is an object at this point. It's simply that which remains when the sound is gone. Consciousness touches it as an object. But I want you to establish the sense of space in the physical sensations that you're able to work with easily before you try to bring it in to the more challenging emotional objects. So let's try this again.

Touching, close the eyes, focus...


And when there's a little thought like "what's next?" just note "thinking" and come back to the touching. Or if there's a hearing of a sound of somebody moving in their chair, "hearing", come back to the touching, the buttocks touching the cushion.



The point here being that you become willing to not rush back to the primary object, to rest in the space into which an object dissolves. You learn how to do this. Then when there's a heavy emotion and you experience the emotion, unpleasant feeling, aversion to it, and then the stories come, we see the story as another object and are not so caught in it.

Only then, when one can stably note "story" as another object and know it as pleasant/ unpleasant or neutral, can one ask, "What is this story protecting me from? If I was not experiencing this story now, what might I be feeling?"

Q: Alone.

Aaron: Loneliness, fear. We begin to see each object. So there's a thought or emotion that begins the process. The thought, "My son is leaving." Tension, tension. Breathing in I am aware of the tension, breathing out I smile to the tension. There's a feeling, unpleasant, associated with the tension. If like the physical experience it begins to dissolve, rest in that space and then come back to the primary object.

If it doesn't dissolve, remember, you're not trying to make it dissolve. Rather, I would ask you to be with the contraction that's there. Feel the contraction in the body. You're skillful at working with physical experience. Don't get lost in the emotion but know the physicality of fear.

Bring your hand to the place where fear is held in the body, wherever that may be. Bring kindness to the fear. You don't have to go all the way into it at once, you're not trying to conquer anything, you're simply allowing it to break it open a bit and find space in it so the wisdom can open up, "This also is arisen from conditions, is impermanent and not self. Whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. Various conditions have given rise to this object." Ask, "How can I be with this object in a more wholesome way?"

As soon as stories come, as soon as you catch it, even if it's 10 minutes into it, instead of saying, "Oh, there I go again," just note, "story". If judgment comes, "I should have caught it sooner," note that. If there's a strong impulse energy wanting to perpetuate the story, ask the question, "What is this story protecting me from? If I were not experiencing this story, what might I be experiencing?"

You might find yourself a lovely object, a small stone or shell, something that you can hold when you sit, something within which you truly see the divine; something that holds that radiance and light of the Ever-perfect. When you're feeling a strong story and a lot of pain, pick it up and bring it into your heart, just hold it against your heart as a way of reminding yourself to bring love and kindness into your heart.

My sense is that you're spinning around in a circle because when the story comes, it comes with a judgment. "I'm an experienced practitioner. I should be beyond this. Why am I stuck?" Old stories, so it's just another story. Wanting to get away, no place to escape, how do I fix it? These are all stories.

You can't stop the story from coming; it's the result of conditions. We attend to the conditions and not the result. By that I mean you do consciously step back from the story but you're not trying to stop stories in general from arising, you're simply letting go of the self-identification with them; this one and this one. If I gave you a burning hot potato, would you hold onto it or would you drop it? I assume you would drop it.

Q: I hope so.

Aaron: I hope so too! So here's a hot potato and another one and another one-- just drop it!

But it's another story that keeps you holding on as the one who's trying to be the good one. There's a misconception that says, "I should stay with what's present," but it's not the story you stay with; , it's what's conditioning the story, which is fear, aloneness, as you said, old pain.

Only when you get to the point where you're ready to be present with that pain, and you can't do that until there's more spaciousness, only at that point can you begin the practice of finding the blessing in the pain. Then you begin to ask, what does this pain come to teach me? How can I transform this pain?

Loneliness is a way of teaching you to open your heart and find your own radiance and beauty. If you knew who you were, how could you be lonely? You are God. You are beautiful. You are whole. You are not separate from anything. How can you be lonely? Lonely for human intimacy, yes, I understand that, but the one that knows its wholeness knows its interconnection with everything. It may feel alone but not lonely. Loneliness comes from a place of fearing oneself to be flawed and unwhole. Feeling alone, one seeks intimacy because of the joy of connection. There's a huge difference.

Does that give you something to go on?

Q: Yes.

Q: First I want to say for myself and for my wife, who got sick this morning and couldn't come, that she in particular wanted to say thank you to you and Aaron, because last time Aaron suggested to her that Jesus might be her guide. And then she emailed with Barbara who helped her stay with that to connect. And now she is feeling connected to Jesus as her guide. She is feeling extremely grateful to you and to Barbara.

Aaron: Please give her our love. I regret that she is ill and unable to be with us today.

Q: So, for myself, before I came to meditation practice I was a minister in the Presbyterian church. I found the ministry meaningful except the way the church teaches about Jesus never made sense to me. So much so that I found I couldn't continue as a minister because I couldn't uphold things like, that I thought Jesus was the only way, etc.

And then Thursday night we bought the book, 47 Stories of Jesus. And in reading the introduction, your teaching about Jesus spoke what was in my heart and I felt a sense of healing. And that's just happened.

My wife and I have been attending church with our daughter-in-law and granddaughter, which has been meaningful as being part of our granddaughter's extended family at church.

Aaron: What kind of church is it?

Q: It's a Methodist church, a very diverse, open... it's a church that proclaims itself a reconciling church, meaning open to people of all races and ethnic background and sexual orientation. So it's an easy church to be part of, or comfortable, or meaningful.

So I feel like part of my journey has been to connect my Christian understandings, which I now have a name for, with my meditation practice. An issue that's part of all that is a strong sense of unworthiness I have and self-judgment. I've been working, I find myself sometimes so angry with myself over simple things like spilling something that I swear and talk to myself like I would never talk to anyone else. And when I do something more unskillful like disregard my wife or make a mistake at work that impacts a colleague, I can really get down on myself. This despite love and support from family, my wife, my work colleagues, the folks in this group, all of whom suggest to me that I am worthy.

I've tried to say lovingkindness for myself on an extended period. I've tried talking with my inner critic and challenging my self-judgment. I've tried a number of practices and I think I'm feeling more spacious toward myself, and then something happens and there I am, caught back up in my judgment in a way that alarms and floors me.

Aaron: I hear you. First, about the Christianity. I'm glad the book is meaningful to you. I'd like to suggest you read a book that we've been using with the 2-year Venture Fourth program called Putting on the Mind of Christ by Jim Marion. There may be Christian areas that you want to drop off from the book, but not too many. It's more about the deeper aspect of Jesus' presence and journey and what it means to put on that Christ consciousness, to move into that Buddha nature or Christ consciousness. How we are all moving into that higher consciousness, and how Jesus' journey modeled that. I think you'll find it a supportive book for your path.

In terms of the emotions, are you familiar with the Milarepa story? (Q:Yes) Okay. What I want you to do is very simple, then. What I hear from you is that you are doing battle with these emotions, and that's just more contraction and negativity. I'd like you to do two specific things in your practice.

One, I'd like you to practice a bit with something very simple. Sitting-- do you use the breath as a primary object? (Q: Yes)-- sitting with the object. Have a heavy book available. At a certain point, with conscious intention, pick up the book, pick it up and hold it out like that, arm straight so there is strain, feeling the arm becoming heavy. First just a little bit of throbbing or ache in the shoulder, unpleasant. Then watch how unpleasant moves to aversion. Try to watch and see the story come up, "I'm not doing this well enough," or see judging, and note "judging." And then put the book down. As everything settles, the feeling of judgment, the agitation, the ache in the shoulder settle and dissolve, come back to the breath. Then do it again. In a 45 minute sitting, do it 5 or 10 times. Just keeping doing it, coming back to a centered place, and then doing it again.

What I'm suggesting here is to give you a very simple chain of objects to watch. Just watching: physical sensation, consciousness of the sensation, feeling, here of unpleasantness, aversion, and how you react to aversion, how quickly aversion serves as a trigger for a story of unworthiness.

The story never had any reality in the first place. You're striving to be worthy but there is no worthy or unworthy. Striving to be worthy is just the flip side of trying not to be unworthy. It just gives the whole idea, "I am unworthy but if I work hard enough I'll become worthy," more power.

Yes, there are skillful choices, skillful acts, skillful words. There are unskillful acts and words. They do not denote worthiness or unworthiness. So I'd like you to practice in this very simple way until the chain of dependent arising becomes vividly clear, and seeing how the story arises.

Now there is a second part of this. For the first part, when the story arises, then put the book down. That probably will release the story, at least eventually, and bring you back just into the breath again. For the second part of it, watch the power of the story and just say, "Ah, you again. You, have tea." What is this story? I don't want you to do this first. Spend a month just working with the process of arising and dissolution, seeing how it's all conditioned. You know it already, but do it until it's completely beyond concept.

Then when you feel ready, instead of backing away from those conditions that are creating the stories, stay with the conditions. It's still a manipulated condition. Stay with the condition. Offer the story tea. Tell it, "Just sit there. I see you have arisen from conditions. You'll be there until the conditions resolve. The conditions are a result of the old habit energies of the mind, of negativity, fear, contraction, control. Right now I'm just going to sit holding space for this story until it goes. It will go." Is that clear?

So I want you to deepen the wisdom mind that's absolutely certain that the stories have no reality in themselves but are simply the result of conditions. You see a reality, "I spoke sharply to my granddaughter." That was unskillful. What does it mean to say that I'm unworthy? "That was unskillful" was a fact. People do unskillful things. We can forgive ourselves and try to do better. "Therefore I am unworthy" is a story.


You spoke of Jesus and his increased meaning in your life, and his earlier meaning when you were a minister. Turn to him for help. He is a master of forgiveness. Ask him to help you to find this kindness for yourself. Just speak to him with your heart and say, "These stories come up and I don't know what to do with them. They're so painful. Help me to release them."

I don't think you're necessarily going to see him walk into the room and sit down beside you and give you seventeen items of advice. But it may come in your dreams or in your meditation. He's available to you. Invite his presence in. He's no less available than I am.

Let's have one more before lunch.

Q: I have a painful situation in my life, which is that I have a brother who is lost to me. He's cut off all contact. And I so much want to heal this. He doesn't respond, even when our mother died.

Aaron: How long ago was the mother's death?

Q: The end of November.

Aaron: Do you have other siblings? (Q: Yes) Is he in touch with those siblings? (Q: No) How many are there, total? (Q: 3) You, your brother, and one more. (Q: One more brother) So he is not in touch with the other one either. How long has he been estranged from you? (Q: 2 ½ years) Was there a specific situation that triggered the estrangement?

Q: My mother's dementia. It's so hard to explain... It had to do with money. She tried to split us; she did split us, with money.

Aaron: So did she leave different amounts to different children? was that the problem?

Q: She was in assisted living and she believed that I and my other brother put her there to steal her money so she offered my other brother a lot of money to get her out. But it didn't work.

Aaron: When you say it did not work, are you saying he did not take the money or he did not take her out?

Q: Yes, he took money, he got her out, but it only lasted 3 days.

Aaron: And then she was back in.

Q: Yes, he couldn't take it; couldn't take her.

Aaron: And he kept the money. And then did you and your second brother challenge him on that? (yes) So his estrangement is based on his shame. Do you have an address for him? (Q: No) Do you know if he lives here in the city?

Q: He lives somewhere in...

Aaron: ... Is there any way of finding him? (Q: inaudible) Is he married? Does he have a family?

Q: He's divorced and has 3 children.

Aaron: Your nieces and nephews, are you in touch with them?

Q: Only one.

Aaron: ... And does that one know where the father is?

Q: She has a phone number, which I tried.

Aaron: There are 2 things I'd like to say. One is that you cannot change his decision. Your work is to learn to live with things as they are without so much suffering. On a practical level it sounds to me like his estrangement is based on his feelings of shame, that he knows that he acted wrongly and took money that didn't belong to him, and created harm for loved ones. How could he come to the mother's funeral when he had done that?

So if there is some way to write him a short note, some way to get him a note, that says, "Money is not the issue. Whatever is past is past. I love you; you are my brother. I want my brother back." Just that. "Please come back to us, we love you. There is nothing to forgive. Let it go." And then it's up to him. If you can get that kind of a message to him somehow, then it's up to him.

For you, once you've done that there's nothing left that you can do. Watch the mind that's trying to fix things, looking for a way out, how much suffering there is and saying, "I've got to fix this, I want my brother" – letting things be as they are. Everything is constantly changing. Everything is expressing out of conditions. You can change the conditions a bit by offering the sense, not even of forgiveness but of compassion, of love. And reminding him, "You are loved." You can change the conditions out of which his estrangement has come by healing your own heart and not grasping so much at trying to fix things but finding more peace and spaciousness. Maybe he will come; maybe he will not come.

These kinds of estrangements in families are so sad because the love and connection between you goes so deep. But each being is in charge of his own choices and his own karma, and you cannot make him act in a way that you wish he would have, you can only take care of yourself.

His estrangement will still be sad, but sadness and suffering, sadness and grasping and grief, are very different. We talk about this when somebody has died. Sadness is natural. One will miss the loved one who has died. Sadness comes out of a place of love because there was such joy in the presence of that person. There's sadness that that is no longer a part of your life.

Grief, especially ongoing grief, comes from a place of fear. It comes from the sense of self that needs to fix and control. It's a very contracted experience, whereas sadness can be a very open experience. So your work now is to transform grief into sadness. The sadness is not permanent. Sadness breaks up. There will be joy in the memories of good times with your brother as well as sadness at his estrangement.

But as you change your energy around your brother, you also are changing the conditions to some degree. Energetically you're sending something different out into the world, that at some level I believe he will feel. You're not doing it to make him come back, you're simply doing it to heal your own grief and for your own growth. Okay?

We're at 10 to 1PM. I don't know whether you want to go on to one more person or pause here... Is there anybody who will not be here after lunch? ...

Q: Thank you for bringing Easter to us today and Jesus. In my family I have a brother who is 10 years younger than me who is a fundamentalist Christian. We were raised Catholic in a very chaotic family situation. I am the oldest of 4. One sibling died of drug addiction, a brother. My sister is mentally ill with schizophrenia. My relationship with my sister has been healed through dharma practice. I no longer believe the story as much that I grew up with, that I needed to take charge and help and fix with her. I took care of my brother when he was a baby, when I was 10, 11, and 12. My mother was really in a lot of pain and couldn't meet our needs well.

Currently my brother seems very angry. He still believes the story that I am very controlling and... anyway. I really want to heal my relationship with him and become closer without pressuring, and I've been distant from him while trying to figure out how to do that. And my distance is as a result of...my brother has not wanted much contact, and I try to respect that. But there is an opening initiated by him and I would like to be as skillful and as loving as possible with my interactions.

And his Christianity, there's kind of a dichotomy, unfortunately, with my Catholic understanding and my dharma life. And I know that's an illusion. And I know my brother's clinging to fundamentalist belief is as a result of his pain, but it's serving him well. And I am able to respect that.

I don't think, I don't know what else to say at this point. Do you have enough information?

Aaron: You said he has recently created an opening. In what way?

Q: He asked me to please write down everything I remember of our childhood because he doesn't remember much about our parents and how it was.

Aaron: Does he live locally?

Q: He lives in Los Angeles.

Aaron: So you don't see him regularly.

Q: No I don't.

Aaron: Does he have children?

Q: He does not. He has recently married and has some teenage and grown step-daughters.

Aaron: Do you have children?

Q: That's complex. I have a daughter, yes.

Aaron: Does your daughter know him as her uncle?

Q: No. This is another story! My daughter was raised by someone else. I have known her for 18 years. I gave her up for adoption. We are becoming closer, in many ways more of a sisterly relationship, and she doesn't know my family very well.

Aaron: You understand, you said you understand, that your brother's choice of his fundamentalist belief is his way of managing his pain and trying to live a more sane and stable life. For many fundamentalist Christians there's a strong belief that if you don't agree with them, you're going to Hell. And that if they associate with you, you will pull them into Hell with you.

There's not really any way to defuse that belief. So if it's there, there's nothing you can do but ask that person, "Please pray for me. I cannot believe what you believe but I respect your right to believe, and please pray for me."

Q: I've done that.

Aaron: You're the same position wherein you want to reestablish a relationship, and you cannot do that single-handedly. As you said, he's created an opening. Within that opening it feels important that you be as respectful of him and his choices as possible, that you find places of common ground, especially any joyful places of common ground, some of the good childhood memories.

If he's asked you for childhood memories, try to pick up some of the things that were beautiful, which can be found in any childhood. Pick up the joy that you had in taking care of him. Pick up that which was wonderful about your mother. It is there at some level, at least; she gave birth to you. She loved you. Maybe she was incapable of expressing that love, but she loved you. Perhaps she baked good oatmeal cookies, or perhaps she had a very sweet way of smiling sometimes. Try to pick up on those things so that you can share joy with him along with the pain.

And then be as honest about the pain as you can without blaming anyone for the pain. This is where your practice comes in, the need to look at that which still wants to blame, which wants to go into the "if only" stories. If only I had done that, if only somebody else had done or said this, if only it had been different. Out of the pain one wants to blame, one wants to fix.

So it's so important to open your heart to that pain, and as we talked about earlier this morning, to just be present with the pain and watch the flow of objects, the thought or memory, mind touching a thought as a memory, remembering. Unpleasant. There may be a strong, almost compelling impulse to go into that thought and replay the pain again and again, and in that way see the mind that's still trying to fix. It's another kind of story. When you're replaying the same memory a dozen times it's because the mind is still trying to find some way to change things, some way to control.

When you note, "Ah, here is a story, have tea. I'm not going to go into that story again," be aware of the impulse to go back into the story, to try to twist it so it comes out right. Have you worked at all with impulse energy?

Q: Maybe in some way.

Aaron: Any impulse, the impulse to follow the thought or the story. The impulse to scratch an itch. I want to do an exercise with all of you but we'll wait until after lunch to do it.

What you're experiencing here is the impulse that comes with, "How can I fix?" Wanting to change it. If there's somebody to blame, then maybe we can change things, maybe things can shift. But there's nobody to blame, it's just the outflow of conditions. People doing unskillful things because of their own conditioning; people moving into different forms of illness or lifestyle based on their conditioning.

How can you hold all of that in love? And you cannot do that until you can be present with the pain and the anger. I doubt if you have fully addressed the anger that you were deprived of what you wanted as a child, which was the deeply loving and connected family. Who do you blame? Your mother? Your father? Their parents? Their parents' parents? There's nobody to blame. But the anger doesn't know where to go.

Can you be present and acknowledge that anger without building a self-identity around it? That which is aware of anger is not angry. You can't use that truth to deny the anger but you can use that fact to create more space around the anger, which allows you to just be present and feel it in the body, the body shaking with that anger. Just watching it, let it soften and open up over a period of weeks and months.

Q: Thank you.

Aaron: You're welcome. I will release the body to Barbara and we will continue this after your lunch.

(lunch break)

Barbara: We're starting Sunday afternoon. I asked everyone to take a cup of water, to take a mouthful of water and swallow it with mindfulness.

Don't do this until I finish the instruction, I'd like you to take a mouthful of water and hold it in your mouth. Watch the impulse, wanting to swallow. So what's happening really is contact, the mouth touching the water, the consciousness of touching. It will either be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. It may be pleasant at first. The water in itself may be pleasant at first, but if you don't swallow it, and hold it in your mouth, tension may develop, wanting to swallow.

Feel that tension. The tension is not the water; it's a separate object. Relating to the tension, do you fight against the tension or is there kindness with the tension? What's the habitual tendency?

What happens if there's tension and you hold it with spaciousness and kindness? What happens to the tension itself, and then what happens to the impulse? Does the impulse, which was very strong, perhaps, diminish so there's just sitting with water in the mouth? Does the impulse continue but less tension about it? If you finally have to swallow, just swallow, not a problem.

Are you clear on the instruction? Okay, so try this now. Take in a big mouthful of water, one large mouthful.

Q: Do you want us to hold the water until you tell us to swallow, if we can? Or not?

Barbara: Yes. If possible, but if you have to swallow, don't make a big deal out of it, just swallow and take another mouthful.

Note contact, consciousness, feeling, and the immediate feeling of the water. It may feel cool and pleasant, or the sense of fullness may be huge so it feels unpleasant. It's not the water that feels unpleasant but the experience of "can't swallow".

We're just trying to slow things down and see the whole flow of habitual patterns. With "not permitted to swallow," feel the impulse as tension. It may be in the belly, it may be in the jaw. See where it is in your body and then, see how you relate to that impulse and that tension. Is there a judging voice that says, "I should be able to do this" or a despairing voice that says, "I can't do this" or a voice that says, "I'll sweat it out"? Is there just ease and kindness with the whole experience? If there's not ease and kindness, is there judgment, "There should be ease and kindness."? Just watch the whole thing.


Wherever there is tension, bringing kindness. You can take the hand and touch the part of the body where there's tension, if that's helpful. Remember that you can breathe around the water...

Look and see if the tension is the result of the direct experience of water in the mouth, if it's the result of the impulse to swallow, which you're not permitting, or if it's the result of a story, "I should. . . ." Of if it's the result of the tension itself. In other words, tension coming up based on tension and judgment and so forth, the tension compounding itself. What's really happening?


You may swallow. Do it mindfully...

So let's talk about that a bit. What did you experience? Hang on to your cups because we're going to try this one more time after we talk.

Q: Initially the water was cool and there was some aversion or discomfort.

Barbara: With the coolness? And then what happened?

Q: The sensation was pleasant. There was a strong impulse to swallow. Being forbidden from swallowing aroused annoyance and tension in the jaw. When I became kind to my self, there was inner warmth and it became pleasure.

Barbara: Could you experience the difference between impulse to swallow with tension around it and impulse to swallow just with bare impulse to swallow?

Q: Yes.

Barbara: Just because there's an impulse doesn't mean we have to wage war with the impulse. Just watch it and holding spaciousness.

Q: Just impulse.

Barbara: Just impulse. It's helpful because it helps us really learn the experience of the bare impulse without all the things compounded on top of it.

Q: I appreciate this exercise and the one Aaron gave to P, holding the book.

Barbara: It's different than what we did the other day in that the book is heavy and there's a much faster reaction to the weight of it, feeling the pressure of it in the arm.

Q: I believe these exercises will be very beneficial for me.

Barbara: Thank you. Others?

Q: It was more difficult for me to not be able to breathe out of my mouth (she has congestion).

Barbara: You can still hold the water in your mouth and breathe past the water.

Q: So there was tension < about tolerating>

Barbara: And what happened when attention was brought to the tension?

Q: Relaxed, more space.

Barbara: Did you find then that you could breathe?

Q: Yes. I breathe better when I relax.

Q: I had a similar experience because my nose is still partially stopped up. So I had clear awareness of the water, and like J, tension for a moment, the coolness. The impulse to swallow, which got more intense when you mentioned it, and then the fear of not being able to breathe would come in and pass. And gradually I felt tension in my chest from the not permitting to swallow because I wanted to do it well.

I held this with a very loose, kind awareness, no judgment. But the tension did not dissolve.

Barbara: Were you able to take the tension as an object and just hold that with awareness? And then what happened to the tension?

Q: It stayed the same.

Barbara: So, just tension. Was it the same but without stories, or were there stories? (Q: No stories.) In tension, just tension. In discomfort, just discomfort. In impulse, just impulse. That's the point where we come to the place where everything is just where it is, without stories.


Q: I <> my throat muscle tightening and there was a little simple wanting to do it well, and there were periods where I felt a little more stressed about it. But then I relaxed and it was just the tension in the back of my throat or the muscle in the back of my throat. That stayed but I could relax with that.

Q: I've had, pretty early on you said, "Are you one of those type of people who will just sweat it out?" And I thought, "Oh yea, that's me." So I had a fairly big mouthful of water and I really didn't have an impulse to swallow because I had already decided I wasn't going to swallow.

And then I felt my jaw tightening. And again, I didn't want to swallow, just my jaw was really tight. And so I felt that and I relaxed. And then it did feel like the water was going to come out of my mouth so I tightened up. But I felt pretty spacious about it.

And a big part of it was that I trusted you that you would give us permission to swallow, some time!

Barbara: It's such an interesting exercise because it so clearly points out our habitual tendencies like, "I'm not going to swallow." Others?

Q: I was surprised because the impulse to swallow didn't come for a long time. I did notice there was tension in my jaw where it tightened at times. And I brought some awareness and was able to release it. And then about ¾ the way through I did feel some discomfort starting to arise. It wasn't necessarily an impulse to swallow but just uncomfortable having water in my mouth. And then I brought some awareness to it and it dissolved. I was surprised it wasn't that hard...

Q: I was very determined not to swallow and there was discomfort and tension. And when you mentioned the impulse to swallow, I noticed an impulse to swallow but otherwise I didn't notice that. And I kind of shrunk my throat and mouth to make room for the water. It was interesting. I thought I was being kind to myself, I found a way to kind of shrink (my mouth). But that felt good but then it came and went, the discomfort came and went.

Barbara: I've had people do this exercise who had that, "I will not swallow," and then a little rebellious voice came in and said, "Yes I will! Nobody will tell me what I can or can't do!" --swallowed and then took a second mouthful of water, "Now I will decide whether I will swallow it or not, and I won't swallow." Just needing to be in control.

Q: I think I remember that we did a version of this last time... and that time I had a strong impulse to swallow. And I thought it will be interesting to see what it's like this time. And I maybe didn't take a big enough swallow but the water rested comfortably in my mouth. I liked the coolness. Had a very brief impulse to swallow which passed quickly without discomfort.

And then I sat with the comfortable feeling of the water in my mouth. At one point I had to clear my throat and then, just very quickly I did the swallowing motion without swallowing the water and went back to enjoying the coolness of the water in my mouth.

Q: I really got into the quality of water. It seemed very kind of cool and dark. And it was very pleasant.

Barbara: Anyone else?

Q: I liked it!

Barbara: No strong impulse, no tension? We're all different. We can't predict there will be tension, only that there may be. We played a game, is the best way I can state it, in meditation class where we had everybody seated in a big circle. We had balls of all sizes, small balls, big balls, and everybody was sitting with their legs open in a big circle and rolling the balls across to the other persons. Sometimes 3 or 4 balls were coming at you at once. And the instructions were just to watch the impulse to reach out, to stop, to catch the ball. Then when the ball came to rest, to take the ball and roll them all out to one person or in different directions. We spent maybe half an hour just very mindfully watching balls come to us, slow or fast, and watching impulse energy. It was a very interesting exercise.

After we talked about it, some people said they that were getting all the same colored balls so they started thinking, "I want this ball or that color," and somehow people started picking up on their request and they started getting the ball they were requesting. Which I found very funny. But in this exercise, some people found real joy and some saw their impulses to control, or to get it "right."

Does anyone else want to comment on this?

Okay, then I'd like you to try it again. Same thing.


You may swallow. Was the experience at all different this time? (Group: yes) In what way?

Q: I really got into playing with the water, like how it felt on my teeth, tongue, inside of my cheek. I hadn't been aware of that the first time.

Q: This was actually a relaxing experience because it kept me from clenching my jaw. So maybe I should walk around with a mouthful of water!

Barbara: Others?

Q: Mine was quite different. The impulse to swallow came up right away this time. And then I just relaxed and I guess as a diversion, started playing with the water in my mouth, started swishing it around. I stopped after a bit and I really felt the heaviness, the weight of the water.

Q: The impulse to swallow was very strong because I took a bigger mouthful of water. And the body did swallow a little bit, like it was a reflex, it couldn't not. But not fully. So then I focused on that which is spacious, no impulse. I saw again a habit energy of tolerating things, putting up with. And I think that that's a common habit energy from me, that I've learned to do well.

Q: I am resonating with L. I took a big gulp and instantly swallowed a small part of it. But immediately my nose is more stuffed up, and immediately felt tension about not being able to breathe. So I worked with the impulse of wanting to breathe and felt it as tension in the <chest? background noise>, breathed into it and smiled into it. And it eased and opened, which is incredible because the impulse to breathe feels so fundamental, so basic. And then my awareness went to the water, so I took that as an object. And then it came back to the breath and once again I worked with the breath.

Barbara: It's interesting that when we do this with both breath and water as the object, and we see that they really come together, that changes it dramatically. Anyone else?

Q: I was able to explore the water and enjoy texture and flow. However, this time I took a smaller mouthful so it wasn't as uncomfortable as the fuller first.

Barbara: Anyone else?

Q: I took a bigger swallow this time and so much so that I feared that the water would run out of my lips and dribble. Then I relaxed and the water felt like it was settling in. And again I enjoyed the cool feeling and this time was aware of the sense of the weight of the water down under my tongue, I guess. It felt really interesting.

A couple of times I shifted my tongue and started to become, again, anxious that I was going to dribble water out, and I noticed my pulse started going faster, like I was determined not to let that happen. I still did not have an impulse to swallow but it was an interesting experience. I started telling stories about the water. I can't remember them now. And I called stories, "stories" and they quieted down a bit.

Q: For me it's a good thing to swallow. And pretty quickly it was very uncomfortable like I was trying to, my tongue, it was a little bit painful. But then I remembered back, "Oh, I've done this before when I was a kid," so I remembered a story, and "Oh, that's a story," in that little way. Then I was still pretty uncomfortable so I thought, "I can try and do this with my mouth," so I was trying to fix the discomfort. And then I realized that and I sort of stopped trying to fix it, and then it was over.

Barbara: Is there anybody else who wants to share?

Okay, it's 3 o'clock. We will put this exercise aside. I'm having a hard time lip-reading, my eyes are not focusing, so I'm going to ask you to take a break and give me a 5 minute break and I'm just going to sit with my eyes closed for 5 minutes. My eyes need a rest before I can listen anymore.

(5 minute break; then Aaron incorporates)

Aaron: Sunday afternoon... we return to our morning circle. Each person was sharing something of their practice questions, something they wanted to discuss. I open the floor to any of you who have not yet spoken.

(Aaron speaking to the signer)

No. When you look away, then it makes me think there is something behind, that you are looking at somebody back there, but I know there's nobody there. When you look away with Barbara in the body and she thinks there's somebody there, she diverts her eyes from your mouth to look. With me it doesn't make a difference, with Barbara it does.

(signer signs something)

No, her eyes are not, I am not focusing her eyes on your eyes but on your mouth. (smiling) And if you make your mouth go away I will not be able to lip read!

So who would like to bring up a question or talk about your practice?

Q: Would you say something about anger and forgiveness?

Aaron: Can you be a little more precise?

Q: Well, in my own case, I seem to want to hold on to anger and I'm not quite sure how to forgive.

Aaron: So you're not talking about forgiveness of the self but of others, and wanting to hold on (to it). (Q: Both) Both.

First we need to ask, what is anger? It's a form of energy. There's power in anger. If the anger were not there, what might you be experiencing?

Q: More being with what is.

Aaron: That's part of it. Let me ask the question in a different way. Is there something behind the anger that the anger masks in some way?

Q: Grief.

Aaron: Grief. What else, from others of you? What does anger sometimes mask?

Q: :Hurt.

Q: Lack of control.

Q: Fear.

Aaron: Feeling out of control. Others?

Q: Like J, hurt or pain.

Aaron: Is this real hurt or pain or also might it be fear of hurt or pain? Does anger sometimes come not because the hurt and pain have already come but because there's fear that they might come? Can you see that? (yes)

So often anger masks fear. Anger often is the way we respond when there's fear, to get away from the experience of fear. So it may be a reaction to a direct experience like grief or hurt or pain, but more often I find that it's a reaction to an expected possibility of grief or hurt or lack of control, helplessness, pain-- fear.

Q: Is there a difference?

Aaron: Yes, there's a big difference. One is the experience of the moment. When there's pain in the moment or a feeling of helplessness in the moment, you can bring attention to it. If it's not so strongly felt in the moment but what is predominant really is a fear of future pain or remembered pain, it's in the distance; it could get bigger. Then you feel more helpless and more vulnerable, and that kind of vulnerability is a condition for the increasing anger. So the anger comes.

Anger is just energy, but it's one of the human reactions when you feel vulnerable or unsafe in some way, when there is fear. It's one of the tools you use to feel stronger, to feel more powerful. So there's a tendency to hold on to the anger because the anger seems to be a way to protect yourself from some not yet fully present object.

Just seeing this can be helpful. How does one relate more openheartedly to the fear that's behind the anger? What happens when one notes, "This anger has arisen as a result of some kind of fear, perhaps feeling vulnerable, feeling afraid I will be hurt, feeling out of control, fearing that I will not get what I want or that I cannot hold on to what I have. This anger has arisen."? And then I'm attached to my anger, I want to hold on to it.

Barbara tells a wonderful story in the book. She was at home awaiting the delivery of her refrigerator. It had been promised at perhaps 10 or 11am. She's deaf. This was 20 years ago. She could not easily call the store in those days to ask "Where is it?". To call the store meant to go and find a neighbor at home, perhaps walking a half a mile up and down the street because in those days the neighbors were often out at work. Looking for a house where someone was at home and could make a phone call.

The refrigerator did not come. At lunch time she found a neighbor. The neighbor called. They said it's on that truck, expect delivery at any time. She had to pick up a child at school at 2 or 3 and take him to a music lesson. The refrigerator didn't come. She finally left to be on time to pick up the child. As she got to her corner of her street, she saw the Sears truck coming toward her so she turned around and went back home with it. That was her choice. She could have said to them, "It's too late, you must come back in 2 hours."

She had 3 children at home; she needed a refrigerator. The old refrigerator had broken. She could not just call the school and tell the child, or call the music teacher and tell her the child would be late. Anger. So she went back home. It took them quite awhile to move the old refrigerator out, get the new one in place, get it balanced correctly, and she was seething with impatience when she left.

By this time it was too late to get to the music lesson and she knew the child would be standing outside the school. She was driving fast. I finally said to her, "Are you enjoying your anger?" And it struck her how much she was holding on to the anger and using it as a tool, as a weapon, finding somebody to blame, because she did not want to be with the pain of the helplessness.

Now, it's not a big deal-- so a music lesson was missed. The child was not a tiny child, he was a junior high aged student and would not be alarmed if his mom didn't show up, just wonder what happened. She was just holding on to the anger.

And as soon as I said that, she saw what she was doing and it just went. Nothing to hold it anymore. Just recognizing helplessness. Using that as a weapon, wanting somebody to blame so that I can put the energy out there to get away from my own feelings of helplessness.

So we begin by working with anger by looking at the anger and asking, "What is this anger? Is it about helplessness? Is it about fear? Am I attached to it? Am I using it in some way as a weapon? Am I using it to blame somebody?"

There's another story in Barbara's book in which she talks about becoming increasingly aware of the interactions with her husband, where when he said something abruptly or in anger, she in a sense literally held it in her belly as if he had plunged a knife into her and now could not pull it out. She was holding it. It gave her control. He went like that (demonstrates), and she'd say, "Ah, look what you're doing to me." Knife in the belly. And he can't pull it out because she's holding it. Suddenly you have the power instead of the other person.

We can become aware of the subtleties in the ways that we use anger and how they're doing harm that is not in accordance with our values and precepts. There is a possibility to be present with anger just as it is and feel grief or helplessness or fear, whatever may be there, wanting to control, and to be present with that without any stories. It's not good or bad, it's just things as they are. Here is grief. Here is feeling helplessness. Here is wanting some sense of control.

Open the heart to the human who is feeling these emotions. At that point you begin to work with compassion for yourself, for this human that's experiencing this pain.

The next step is to look at what catalyzed the anger and to work with compassion for the catalyst, whether it's a person or a situation. Only with compassion can you begin to move into forgiveness. You can't start with forgiveness. To try to start with forgiveness is to try to push yourself from here to there without covering the middle ground. Forgiveness is a result of compassion.

Compassion must come naturally. You cannot say "I should have compassion" but you invite compassion in skillful ways with – my book Presence, Kindness and Freedom has a very clear compassion meditation that many have found helpful, or – with any kind of compassion meditation that you may have practiced.

And then as you feel the heart opening and a real sense of being able to see the other's predicament and wish them well, to see your own predicament and wish yourself well. Then the words, "I forgive you, I forgive myself," come easily and not forced.

Thich Nhat Hanh speaks very beautifully about this in a commentary on his poem Please Call Me By My True Names. Do you know that poem? (Q: Yes) Find it online. If you Google Thich Nhat Hanh. . . .

At any rate, Please Call Me By My True Names is a poem he wrote based on the story of a 12 year old girl on a boat who is raped by sea pirates and then threw herself into the ocean and drowned. So he says in the commentary, who do you blame? You're angry. How can a 12 year old girl be raped in that way and hurt so badly that she has to drown herself? Who do we blame?

It's easy to blame the sea pirate, but you understand that if you grew up where that pirate did, with the culture that he had, perhaps with the brutality that he experienced, you might be a sea pirate. Do you blame his parents, his community? Who do you blame? There's nobody to blame, it's just conditions arising and passing. We have to act to attend to those conditions and try to change them in the world, but we have to do that without blaming.

Blame is simply a result of frustrated anger. It's that in the ego that wants to fix, wants someplace to direct itself and say, "Fix it now!" rather than shifting energetically into an openhearted compassion, because compassion has the ability to say no with love. Anger only has the ability to say no with fear.

So he says, if I were that sea pirate, it's not so easy to condemn myself. Could I forgive myself? Can I forgive him? We work in that vein, cultivating compassion, and then and only then, wading gradually into the waters of forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process, not an event. You wade in ankle deep and then if it feels okay, wade in knee deep. And suddenly you say, "It's icy cold, I can't do this anymore," you're back out. The next day you come again. See if the water has warmed up a bit.


Q: I'm a little confused in my practice about reflecting on what you said earlier today about Christ blessing the nails, or blessing the difficulties. So, not wanting to be in denial and not wanting to be in fix-it mode, or try to fix it.

Aaron: What is between denial and fix-it mode?

Q: Well, I have both right now, I think.

Aaron: So what's in between?

Q: So what it is, is for a couple years I've had a lot of fatigue. And recently I got what I think is a diagnosis, so I'm taking it more seriously.

Aaron: May I ask, daughter, what kind of diagnosis?

Q: It's adrenal burnout, whatever that is.

Aaron: Adrenaline fatigue...

Q: And some kind of low minerals, bad mineral ratios or something. So I haven't had much energy for formal sitting.

Aaron: If you practice lying down do you simply fall asleep?

Q: Sometimes I do fall asleep.

Aaron: If you try to meditate just after awakening from sleep, can you stay focused?

Q: Not really. But if I do yoga sometimes I can, after I do yoga.

Aaron: The problem here is if you can't practice then it's hard to do work through your practice to understand, to find insight into the situation, and allow some kind of shift in it. And right there is in itself part of the problem that somehow you've created a situation for yourself where the situation cannot be attended.

In other words, you are in a place where you feel helpless, because "This would help but I can't do this." Maybe that's pointing you to the need to let go of doing. I rarely recommend to people that they don't practice and I'm not recommending that to you, but if sitting practice becomes impossible, maybe it's because you're bringing too much effort to the sitting practice to try to fix something, rather than just sitting with things as they are.

And if instead of trying to do a formal sitting practice, you make the intention-- are you still working, N? Do you have a job during the day? (Q: No) Okay, so you make an intention to try, when you are feeling a little bit energized, after a walk or yoga, or when you first get up, to try to sit in a comfortable seat. Close your eyes, lean back, and just bring attention to your body, how it feels.

If it feels low energy, what is the experience of low energy? If it's unpleasant, note the unpleasantness and any anxiety about the low energy. Note the portion of the self that comes forth and says, "How can we fix it?" and if that's creating any tension. Then just say, "Breathing in I am aware of any tension, breathing out I smile to the tension." Willing to be with this body as it is, which is not denying it, being present with it without fix-it energy, and then nurturing the experience of curiosity. It's not fix-it, it's just, "Let's see what's happening here."

I want to use a very non-threatening situation. If as you came out on your sidewalk you saw that there were some color chalk drawing on the sidewalk; that's not like a leak in your pipes, your floor isn't flooded, there's just something going on there and the first time you see it you say, "Hmm, interesting, somebody drew on the sidewalk."

You wash it off with a bucket of water. Every time you come out of your house there are drawings on the sidewalk. Some are pretty and some are ugly. In other words, angry-looking drawings, harsh-looking drawings. You're not that really concerned. It's not coming into your home; it's not threatening you. Really, you can just leave them alone. But there would be a curiosity; what's going on here?

So you begin to watch it without a lot of tension, just wondering, maybe watching out the window, is it a child or an adult? Who's doing it? What's happening? You're not trying to catch somebody and yell at them; you're just curious. That quality of investigation is what I want you to develop so that there's not denial. You can be in the full presence of the feeling of tiredness, frustration, or whatever is coming up, but not trying to fix it, simply knowing, "This is how the body is right now. Everything is impermanent in the body, always changing. This too will change. Meanwhile, let me just watch it." And see what supports that watching and what blocks that watching.

Most likely you will find that fear is what blocks it, helplessness, what we were just talking about. Not wanting to experience helplessness, one wants to look for something to blame. If I can find what's wrong, I can fix it. And then that whole fix-it mode develops. Then there's a lot of contraction. That which is just present and observing is uncontracted.

You might try something additional, and this may sound odd to you at first and you may ask, "How can I do this?" This adrenal fatigue is a teacher. Start practicing gratitude with it in a very conscious way. Each time you feel fatigued and just have to stop and sit down, stop and say, "Thank you, teacher. I'm not sure yet what you're teaching but I know you're a teacher and I thank you for your presence in my life. I open my heart to you and I'm willing to see what you're here to teach me."

So as you start to approach it in this way, you will learn, you will gain more ability to observe the patterns, to observe where there's holding that you haven't seen. The fear that's driving you, probably related to fear of control, got to get it right. Probably a lifelong habit of energy.

Q: Well one thing I've noticed is that it actually gets me out of doing a lot of things I don't want to do. And it gets me more quiet time and time alone that I really love.

Aaron: That's a very valuable insight. So keep asking, it's not that you want the adrenal fatigue, but now that you've got it, what does it protect you from? So for example, with Barbara she saw clearly how not hearing protected her from hearing the pain of the world, the things that she did not want to hear. When there are cries of the world coming toward her, she can turn her head away, she doesn't have to hear. She feels in control.

This is no longer prevalent for her but she saw how, it's not that she created the deafness so she would not have to the cries of the world, the deafness came for many reasons, but once it was there it was a way not to have to be fully present with the world's pain. What if one is fully present?

For you, the things that you don't want to do, what part of you has felt unable to say no, that had to be the good one and had to say yes to everything? What if you said no? What fear is there that you won't be loved or won't be good enough, that if you're truly a loving person you'll say yes? That you need to be dependable? What kind of fears are there?

Q: All of those, for sure.

Aaron: So as a chance to practice saying no, not because of the adrenal fatigue, but simply to say, "No, I can't do that." Practice not using fatigue as an excuse. When you need to say no to somebody, don't say, "Well no, I've been sick, I can't do it," just say, "No, I'm sorry I can't do that," and watch any feelings of guilt or shame.

Watch whether part of your self-identification as a good and loving person comes from what you do for others rather than from just being with a loving heart.

And watch the ways you can claim what you do want, without need to use the fatigue as an excuse to gain solitude or whatever.


Q: Yes, thank you.

Q: I have questions for you about my practice. Three questions. When I practice clear awareness practice the way Barbara taught us, looking out the window and saying Ahh, I experience many things, thoughts rising, passing away, sensations, mind wandering, mind coming back. "Ah, a bird!" Noticing things.

And often by the end, towards the end, I will experience a sense of spaciousness that permeates everything. Do you have any suggestions for how I should do the practice? I'm not sure I'm doing it right.

Aaron: First the spaciousness itself must be visible. Once the spaciousness is visible and you're resting in that spaciousness, if a sensation, thought or other object pulls you away, simply note, "sensation," or "thinking," and know it as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. And then my preferred approach is simply to ask after it, and this depends on your wisdom practice to be able to ask this question, "Is there anything here that is not an expression of the Unconditioned?"

It's not a question so much as a reminder of something you already know. That is why there must be some degree of dharma wisdom first. "This is simply arising from conditions. This itch, this thought, this hearing the dog bark, it's just the outplay of conditions. Therefore there's nothing that needs to be fixed or changed, it's just the natural world expressing itself."

It's as if you were sitting in your living room meditating and heard a sound – "Popopopopopop!" "What's that?" Alarm, "What's that? Ah Popcorn! Nothing that needs to be fixed or attended. I thought perhaps somebody was firing a machine gun. It's just popcorn. Ah!"

It's a similar kind of experience when we ask, "Anything that's other than the Unconditioned here?" The whole power of your vipassana practice comes back, noting everything is just arising out of conditions. The itch exists because certain conditions have come together and created an itch. I'm not going to have to go to the hospital with it; it's just an itch. That car backfire, it's just a car backfire. The mind wants to run and say, "Do I have a blow-out?" and envisions a terrible accident. Just letting it go, seeing the thoughts that come, the sensations that come.

The beauty of this practice is the more you practice with that recognition of the object as expression of the Unconditioned, and then moving back into pure awareness, the more certainty there is that everything is simply an expression of the Unconditioned. Then you're pulled out less and less. Awareness is strong. It notes hearing, "Popopopopop." You note "sound." It's not an unpleasant sound, just "popopopopop." Itch, itching, burning, tickling. Fading, it's gone.

You start to be present with everything that arises in the mind and body without contracting around anything. This presence is subtly different from access concentration, as we've talked about. With access concentration, mind is much more focused on each object arising and passing away. Spaciousness is seen as an object but the primary focus is on the movement of objects and relationship to them. Each arises, and passes away. There's no going out to the object; there's no pulling back from the object. Mindfulness is very strong, holding each object, and the spaciousness is not in the observing of spaciousness between the objects so much as the spaciousness of awareness.

With pure awareness, the space between the objects becomes predominant, and you're not focused on each separate item so much as the big space. It's like an outer space perspective. If you stand here in your back yard and watch the sun come up in the morning and move overhead and set at night, and you watch that a few hundred times, then you live with a premise, the sun arises in the morning and the sun sets. There's no fear about that, it's just there's movement and duality. The sun comes and it goes, and it comes again and it goes. If you get on my spaceship with me and we go out to outer space, and we get far enough out from the Earth, you see that nothing is arising and setting. Pure awareness has this big perspective – ah, it never did arise and set, there's just this globe turning and there's the sun. And you start to see how everything relates to everything else. Pure awareness takes in the big picture with ease, with spaciousness.

Q: When I rest in the spaciousness, it seems like the spaciousness is part of everything.

Aaron: Of course it is. That's all there is, is spaciousness. Think about this flower. If you looked at it under a microscope, would you find individual cells or molecules of flower?

Q: Yes.

Aaron: And what's between the molecules? (Space). It looks solid. It's not the least bit solid, not solid.

Q: Sometimes it takes me a long time to drop into that spaciousness. Do you have suggestions for how to access the spaciousness, or should I just be patient and wait?

Aaron: (smiling) What is your rush?

Q: Wanting to do it!

Aaron: That's exactly why it takes so long. That tension, wanting to make something happen. You can't move into spaciousness when you're contracted. As soon as you're contracted you lose the spaciousness. Once you settle more deeply into the spaciousness and non-contraction, get to know that experience of non-contraction and trust it, the spaciousness will come faster.

Don't fight against the contraction; just note "contracted, contracted, grasping, trying. Breathing in I'm aware of grasping, breathing out I smile to the grasping." Right there with the grasping can you see that which is not grasping? Can you touch on that part of the self that genuinely is not grasping without trying to get rid of grasping? You don't have to push it away, just step back and watch that which is not grasping, right there with grasping.

I can remember an experience Barbara often had, that I had in my lifetimes as a parent, and that many of you who are parents have had, where you watch a child trying to do something new and the contraction comes up, wanting to do it with them, to help them. The child is about to take a first step and your whole body tenses wanting to carry the child. You can't walk for the child; you can't learn to tie shoes for the child, or build a pile of blocks.

So the experience that I have had and that I know Barbara had was the importance to be able to watch that energy impulse. "It's okay. Just let him be. He's doing fine." In a sense you're your own child, you do that with yourself. Awareness of the adult watching the child saying, "How do I do this faster? How do I do it better?" That which is aware of grasping just steps back and says, "Ah, so, here's grasping. Ahhh," and let it be. It will go.

Q: I have noticed that child very predominantly or a great deal lately wanting to do spiritual practice to improve herself, she better do it right, etc. At times there is so much I present in my practice it's hard to keep stepping back into pure awareness and taking it all on the path, but that is how I'm working with it.

Aaron: Have you ever set out to wash a window that didn't look very dirty to you, washed it, dried it, looked at it, and suddenly seen all the dirty places, so that you come back and wash it again, and a third and a fourth time? The more you wash it, the more dirt it seems to have on it because you're more aware, you're bringing attention not so much to the clarity but to the dirt, because there is the intention to purify the window, if we could put it in that way.

Right now you are moving through a period of intense karmic purification, where because of the intentions, a lot of karma is coming forth to be purified and resolved, and so it seems like there's more and more of it. And to some degree there is more because you're inviting it up, like inviting the dirt on the window to really show itself so you can wash it off. It's okay.

Q: That's very helpful.

Aaron: Just relax and trust your practice. You are not going the wrong direction. And that this comes up, it's presenting itself to be attended to with love, with patience, with kindness.

Q: One more question. When I work with strong emotion, the best way for me to work with it is to relax into that which is aware of the strong emotion. Compassion arises and love arises, and I try to rest in that place and hold the painful emotion. Is that a skillful way to work with it?

Aaron: Almost perfect. Drop the I out of it.

Q: Yes! I see the I. Yes.

Aaron: If you are trying to rest in compassion and hold this and balance that, then there's tension. When you rest in awareness, simply hold the intention for the highest good of all beings including the self to rest in compassion. Not I trying to rest in compassion, just inviting the possibility of resting in compassion. Feel the difference in the spaciousness there.

Q: Thank you.

Aaron: You're welcome. Who has not had a chance to speak?

Q: I've been thinking for a long time about what question to ask, and nothing has really come to me to ask you. But what I'd like to do is to share a little bit about my practice and maybe get your reaction to it, or perhaps I'm thinking in the telling of it a question will arise for me.

Aaron: That's fine; go ahead.

Q: I've struggled for a long time with trying too hard. I've been very achievement oriented in practice. So I started meditating about 13 years ago and I did a lot of long retreats. About 5 years ago my meditation teacher said that I had plateaued. About 4 years ago I started a non-Buddhist practice of breath work that has really been helpful to me.

Aaron: What form of breath work?

Q: It's called <Middendorf>.

Aaron: I'm not familiar with that. Is it similar to heliotropic breathwork? No. Is it similar to Transformational breathwork ?

Q: It's about finding the natural breath, right?

Q: Yeah, I think the thing that identifies it most strongly is an emphasis on allowing the breath to come and go on its own, and deepening that process.

Aaron: Okay. Fine, go ahead.

Q: So one of the principle struggles I had was with my breathing. And now in the last probably year or two, I really feel like my meditation has developed a lot, and I feel like I'm in the middle of a process that's deepening. Every few days or so I feel like there's another significant shift in my awareness, for how much breath I sense. So I feel very happy about how practice is going.

Aaron: Is the breathwork your primary practice at this point? Are you doing any vipassana practice?

Q: Yes, I still feel as though my first love is vipassana practice. So I sit for an hour every day and I attend weekly breath classes. And then I just try to be as mindful as I can throughout the day.

Aaron: Do you practice the breath on a daily basis also, or just the classes once a week?

Q: For a few minutes every day.

Aaron: Have you worked at all in a formal way with the Anapanasati sutta?

Q: No.

Aaron: Are you familiar with the sutta? No This is the sutta on full awareness of breathing. That's where I would go if I were you. That would integrate the two. Now that there's a deep awareness and ease in the breath, this will join the breathing to ever-deepening mindfulness, and the Anapanasati sutta, the various levels of it will have you looking at all four foundations of mindfulness. It will take you right through.

Q: How would you recommend, is it in a book? It's not easy for me right now to do long retreats.

Aaron: I'd need to ask Barbara. I think Thich Naht Hanh has a very beautiful presentation of it. Also see the classic from the Pali canon, the classic presentation of it, but that can be a little hard to understand so use Thich Nhaht Hanh's presentation as a commentary to help you understand the traditional Pali canon version.

There are 16 parts to it. Try it over 16 or even 32 weeks, maybe 16 weeks doing one part a week and at the end of 16 weeks, go back to part 1. Just keep going around so that in your hour sitting, you spend a few minutes with your breathing, a few minutes just centering yourself, feeling how is the body, seeing any contraction. Work with the sutta. Let yourself move into a place of more spaciousness and ease. Then maybe spend half an hour with a vipassana sitting.

Or perhaps first read, just read that one section, it's short. Ask, "What does this mean to me?" Breathing in he is aware of the inhale, breathing out he is aware of the exhale. Breathing in he is aware of the long breath, breathing out he is aware of the long breath. Breathing in he is aware of the short breath, breathing out he is aware of the short breath.

Part 1, it goes with each, the breath in the body, the breath in the mind, the mental formations that arise with the breath, and so forth. All the way through to dharma, "Breathing and I experience liberation." What does that mean?

So read through it, spend 10 or 15 minutes on it without trying to figure out so much as just reading it aloud to yourself. And then go into your formal vipassana practice inviting the two to merge. Let the reading of the sutta be a bridge between breathing in the beginning and the vipassana at the end without any conscious trying to figure out, what does that mean, what am I supposed to do. If that comes up just note it as tension, grasping. Let it go and come back to the reading and then to the sitting. If the thought comes up right away in the sitting, "What do I do now?" just note it as thinking, planning, grasping, whatever is predominant.

I think this is a natural for you with your intention. The breath seems to be a good vehicle for you. Let's work with Anapanasati.

Barbara: Added while reviewing: here is TNH's Anapanasati translation, with some notes from me:

Anapanasati (mindfulness of the breath)

translation by Thich Nhat Hanh

There are 4 sections to this part of the sutra. Each section has four parts. The sections deal with the breath in relation to 1) contemplation of the body, 2) contemplation of feelings, 3) contemplation of the mind, 4) contemplation of mind-objects. Note that "feelings" in part two does not equate directly with the use of the word "feelings" in Satipatthana (the foundations of mindfulness) where "feeling" is used only as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.

The practitioner goes into the forest...or to any deserted place. and sits stably....Breathing in, he knows that he is breathing in. Breathing out, she knows that she is breathing out.

contemplation of the body

1. Breathing in a long breath, he knows, "I am breathing in a long breath." Breathing out a long breath he knows, "I am breathing out a long breath."

2. Breathing in a short breath, she knows, "I am breathing in a short breath." Breathing out a short breath she knows, "I am breathing out a short breath."

3. "I am breathing in and am aware of my whole body. I am breathing out and am aware of my whole body." This is how he practices.

4. "I am breathing in and making my whole body calm and at peace. I am breathing out and making my whole body calm and at peace." This is how she practices.

contemplation of feelings

5. "I am breathing in and feeling joyful (feeling rapture) . I am breathing out and feeling joyful." This is how he practices.

6. I am breathing in and feeling happy . I am breathing out and feeling happy" This is how she practices.

7. "I am breathing in and aware of the activities of the mind in me. I am breathing out and aware of the activities of the mind in me." He practices like this.

8. "I am breathing in and making the activities of the mind in me calm and at peace. I am breathing out and making the activities of the mind in me calm and at peace." She practices like this.

contemplation of the mind

9. "I am breathing in and I am aware of my mind. I am breathing out and I am aware of my mind." He practices like this.

10."I am breathing in and making my mind happy and at peace. I am breathing out and making my mind happy and at peace." She practices like this.

11. "I am breathing in and concentrating my mind. "I am breathing out and concentrating my mind." He practices like this.

12. "I am breathing in and liberating my mind. I am breathing out and liberating my mind." She practices like this.

contemplation of the objects of mind

13. "I am breathing in and observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas. I am breathing out and observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas." He practices like this.

14. "I am breathing in and observing the fading of all dharmas. I am breathing out and observing the fading of all dharmas." She practices like this.

15. "I am breathing in and contemplating liberation. I am breathing out and contemplating liberation." He practices like this.

16. "I am breathing in and contemplating letting go. I am breathing out and contemplating letting go." She practices like this.

Q: This morning in my sitting I was doing dzogchen and experiencing awareness, emptiness, and the phenomena of the moment. All 3 were experienced as non-dual and from our conversation earlier, I began to inquire into: all of this arises from the Unconditioned, what is the direct experience of the Unconditioned?

Is this a good direction for me to work with?

Aaron: Excellent! Excellent. But don't try to get an answer! (Q: I didn't) Just raise the question. The pebble dropping in the pond and the ripples spread. Just raise the question. Let the answer reveal itself. Know it well.

Q: The second question concerns firstly, is Aaron one of my guides?

Aaron: I would not say guide so much as teacher. There are levels of teachers; there are lifetime teachers and there are momentary teachers. The guide is the entity or entities with whom you planned before the incarnation that they would be with you through the entire incarnation. That they would not incarnate while you incarnate, that they would always be accessible to you. Personal guide.

A teacher does not have that relationship. There was a pre-birth planning perhaps that the teacher would be accessible to you during the lifetime but not necessarily your teacher through the whole lifetime. Possibly. But not necessarily.

Now in my case, since I am not going to reincarnate, I'm going to stay accessible to you. But sometimes there's a teacher who's not a fully realized being who will incarnate. Your guides are not necessarily fully realized beings either. Your guide may be a third density being like yourself who simply has a better view because he's left behind the veil at that point.

So sometimes the guide is not as highly realized a being as the teacher. The guide is simply there and helping you to connect with the teacher.

Q: You have indicated that you are available. When you come into Barbara's body, I can sense your presence as you arrive.

Aaron: You can feel my energy, my presence. J. As with some others here and many of the people for whom I am a teacher, we have had past lives together. I am not drawn here by karma to be your teacher, I am drawn here by compassion. But there is a strong past life experience between the two of us in which the one you were was a Theravada Buddhist monk, and that's one of the reasons why I push vipassana at you! You did not find realization in that lifetime so let's do it in this lifetime.

So I was your teacher in that lifetime and now we're back together. There was a pre-birth intention that you would find me and connect with me. Here we are. Now, I want to make it clear that if you had not found me, this was not the only possibility. You had, as it's said, a lot of cards up your sleeve, a lot of possibilities. But this one opened up. You drew it to yourself.

Q: I want to have much clearer communication with my guide.

Aaron: And you're working in that direction? (Q: Yes) Good. And are you connecting? Are you finding that guidance?

Q: I have generally very good intuition. I seem to know stuff. I don't hear stuff.

Aaron: Do you touch-type?

Q: Oh yes.

Aaron: I think you'd find it helpful to simply, after your meditation sit down at your computer and just ask your guide, what do you have to tell me about this or that situation? Ask a direct question. And then wait until you feel a sense of energy coming through and just begin to type without trying to think about what the fingers are doing.

When the flow of energy stops, pause and read it. If there's a question based on what you read, ask that as a follow-up question. If what you read doesn't make much sense, say, "I don't understand this. Please repeat it in a different way." If for some reason it doesn't resonate as truth, say that, and say, "I am asking for the highest vibrational guide that I can stably hold with positive polarity for the highest good. And I'm asking this question of that kind of guide." I don't think you're going to run into negative energy but if you do, just say no to it. "No, I'm not inviting you. I'm inviting somebody with a higher vibration and more positive polarity."

As you connect in this way and begin to feel a flow of asking questions, reading the information, then gradually you'll be able to let go of the typing and just listen to the information. So first it's coming through the fingers and then you'll find yourself trusting what you hear. Okay?

And remember that although I am not your guide, I still can speak to you in that way as your teacher. So if you ask for me, I can also come through in that way.

Q: I appreciate that.

Aaron: My vibration is very high so it would be helpful to work with a lower vibration guide first to become stabilized in this kind of communication, because it will be harder to hear me directly because there's such a high vibration.

Q: And I'm so low!

Aaron: It's not that you are so low but that I am very high. It took many years before Barbara was very stable with my energy. Actually your vibration is quite high and that's why I think you can hear me, whereas I would not suggest that to many people. But I think you can hear me, but it might not come in as clear as your own guide's information will. You may find your guide saying to you, "Aaron suggests this or that." So that I'm speaking to you through the guide who serves as an intermediary.

Q: Excellent.

Aaron: I wonder if there's anybody that you have met in Venture Fourth with whom you feel a particular strong resonance of having lived in a past lifetime, particularly the monastery with them, because there are a few there who were part of the lifetime I'm mentioning.

Q: Umm...(pause) There are a few with whom (Aaron: You don't need to mention names) I feel a stronger resonance.

Aaron: To some degree what I have done with Venture Fourth is to draw with me a circle of friends who were monks with me 500 years ago in my final lifetime and invite us back together. All of you, yes. And invite us back together to finish the work we were doing then. We work with it now from a different perspective because I'm not who I was 500 years ago. I have a much broader perspective so we're no longer Theravada Buddhists in Thailand. Just a different perspective.

Q: Thank you so much.

Q: So I do have experience with vipassana? ! (laughter)

Aaron: You have considerable experience with vipassana. And you were very resistant in that lifetime too! (laughter)

You were a younger monk in that lifetime, at the time of my eventual death, and deeply pulled toward spiritual practice and being a monk but also deeply pulled toward going out and exploring all the mysteries of the world. Not toward the material world, not toward gaining material goods or sexual relationship or dining with fine foods so much as seeing the world, exploring the world. There was always a feeling, "There's something else out there I might be missing."

Those of you who are not part of Venture Fourth, it doesn't mean that you have not worked with me before, and I find that many of those who are drawn to meet with me are people that I have met in a past life and that we've had some kind of a spiritual friend relationship in that lifetime.

So it doesn't really matter, you are here now and the now is what matters.

Who has not yet spoken?

Q: I would say I'm a very beginning meditator. I meditate pretty much 10 minutes a day. I made it up to 15 minutes, but at 15 minutes the pain in my back is so strong that I stop. My goal is to get so I can meditate longer.

Aaron: How do you sit, on a chair? On a cushion?

Q: On a pillow on my bed.

Aaron: Let me stop you right here. I want you to find some comfortable seating in which you can sit for at least 15 to 20 minutes without physical pain. Experiment with different chairs. Experiment with sitting up straight but perhaps sitting back more, ideally without back support, so you are supporting yourself with your back but if you need something firm against your back, that's okay, especially in the beginning. But it will be much more supportive of your practice to have a seating position that's comfortable and does not pain the back, than to spend your meditation period working with back pain. Start there.

Have you tried, not kneeling with a zafu but with what they call a kneeling chair? Some people find that very helpful.

(there is one in the room; comments)

Some people find that very helpful. Not everybody but some people do.

Q: I've had some people say, well that pain is a good thing to focus on.

Aaron: Later on, once the practice is stable, but not in the beginning. It's too strong, it's too much of a distraction. There's no place you can go but the pain and the aversion to the pain, and you don't yet have the ability to work with that. So find a comfortable situation, ideally not lying flat on your back with your eyes closed or you'll fall asleep. But if that's necessary, you can do that.

Q: I don't know what else to ask. I guess I feel like I've had some spiritual experiences but I know that it's <>. So that gives me hope. I guess I resist... I guess I feel, if I do, when I relax and I don't try and not think, then I do better, because I've been better at meditation classes where they're basically saying don't think. So I do better when I let things flow in and flow out.

Aaron: Are you working with a teacher now? (Q: No) There are many good teachers out here. I suggest if you really want to start a practice that you find a teacher you can trust who is working with beginners, and just be in a class and listen and try. If it's not the right teacher for you, don't be afraid to change teachers. But give it a chance, first.

Q: I did take a class, but then I felt like, when I just did it my own way it was much more comfortable and less painful than doing it their way.

Aaron: That's okay, but I suggest you try a different teacher. Part of the value of the class is the teacher and part is the spiritual community that forms. Being with a group of people who are in a similar place in their practice as you are, hearing their questions, feeling their support, making the spiritual friends with whom you can talk about a practice and share your resistances and concerns and joys and so forth. Though I know you have N to talk to, but it's important for you to have people who are also more at your level of practice. You'll find it very supportive to have such friends.

Q: Thank you.

Aaron: From what I see of you, I think you will do best with a teacher who does not teach a very strict and precise practice. A practice with some form but not rules-- do this, now do this. Perhaps the group here can suggest some teachers in the area who are appropriate for you.

Q: Thank you.

Q: I left the workshop yesterday feeling confused, and then J and I had a long talk and he reminded me of some of the things you said that didn't go through the first time. What has arisen in me is a very powerful intention to go all the way through into the Unconditioned. And I haven't been holding that intention. I've tapped into it. I feel it in myself now.

I was holding an intention to stabilize in awareness, which mostly has happened. And you can tell me if I'm wrong, but it seems like the intention now is how to <> through to the Unconditioned.

Aaron: Perfect. Perfect. Without grasping, daughter. Without grasping. Holding the intention with love, trusting that in this lifetime it is possible. But it is, as we've said, also an act of grace, and when you're ready it will come. What you have control of is to set up the conditions that make it possible.

There's a story about, I think it's Tom Sawyer, who had to whitewash a fence. And he set up the conditions by having the whitewash out there and the bucket of whitewash and the brush, and by making it look fun until his friend came along and said, "Let me do that."

This is how grace works. You've got to prepare for grace to come along. You've got to put yourself on the path, which is what you're doing. The whitewasher won't show up if the whitewash bucket is not laid out! It's an effortless effort. It's choosing. It's what Barbara has been talking about, choosing hearing without grasping at hearing, seeing that the more she grasps, the further away she is. But if she doesn't choose at all, she would not go to the Casa, she would not do any of the work with consciousness, with karma, to understand what might block hearing and release it. But still, she cannot make hearing happen, she can only invite it, no grasping.

Q: I think the intention is important so I am grateful for tapping into that more directly, more deeply.

Aaron: I agree and I have another metaphor for you. If you want to plant a garden, you know you cannot plant it in November, you've got to wait until the earth is warming. You need fertile soil, you need rain and sunshine, you need seeds. You put the seeds in the ground but you cannot make the seeds grow. You bring all the conditions together and then you stand back and hold space for it.

If there's no intention to grow a garden, you would not gather these materials, you would not till the soil. You've been tilling the soil. You're planting the seed now for this direct experience, it's not even for the direct experience of the Unconditioned, because that's not the end. You're not doing this to experience the Unconditioned, you're doing this for liberation, literally. For the highest good of all beings, not just yourself. To step out of the whole karmic flow through the direct realization of the Unconditioned and all that it teaches you. You've been busy planting the seeds and tilling the soil. The soil is still going to need some fertilizer, so keep at it. Trust that the seeds will sprout when they're ready.

Q: And I am willing to explore vipassana. This morning here I asked you to come and meditate with me for the first time, so you could see what I'm doing as I practice what I call vipassana. Are you aware of that?

Aaron: I am aware that you called for me. I am aware that you still do not fully understand vipassana but we'll work with that.

Q: I mainly know resting in awareness and I was making that the primary object along with nada and bliss together. And then noting arisings, thinking, thinking, and then going back to the primary object.

Aaron: Two difficulties. Too many primary objects, choose one. It's not that you ignore the others, but which is predominant? Spaciousness? Nada? Leave out bliss for now. Is spaciousness predominant, or nada? In any one sitting, choose one.

You are attached to spaciousness. When an object arises in your experience, you can't wait to get past it and back to spaciousness. (Q: (laughter) True) So what I'm asking you to do is just to be present with the object for as long as it's predominant. When it dissolves, you'll find spaciousness again.

Think of a train as you're sitting by the railroad track with the gate down. A long freight train has come just as you arrive at the crossing. You can't go across until the last car passes. You just sit there and watch-- train, train, freight car, box car. Then the last car passes and there's space. The gate rises; go through.

Then right away, you come to another railroad crossing. The train is making this curve. You go this way; oops, here it comes again. Breathing in I'm aware of the train, aware of physical sensation, aware of sadness, emotion, whatever might be there. Watch for the feelings of pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral. Watch for any move into aversion or attachment. Watch for body contractions. If anything is predominant, hold it, use it as a predominant object of the moment.

There might be seeing... Perhaps a memory arises, remembering, seeing, remembering, and a strong visual image and it's an unpleasant image. Aversion comes. The image is still there, it hasn't fully faded but the aversion is strong. You can feel it in the body. Don't try to hold on to the image; don't try to hold on to whatever thought has arisen or whatever emotion. Come back into the body. How does it feel? Work within the body a lot. If sadness comes, sadness can feel like a concept. What is the direct experience of sadness, without any stories? How does it feel in the body? And then knowing, is it pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral?

Watch this whole process unfolding: pleasant, grasping, unpleasant, aversion, usually, not always, usually. Mental formations beginning to come, stories, "Why did that happen? How can I fix it?" Ah, stories. As it dissolves, move back into the spaciousness. The train is past; the road is open again. Resting in spaciousness.

So right now you're trying to jump the gate, so to speak. The whistle is starting to blow, the gate is coming down, "Don't want that object, stay in spaciousness." Just be present with what is there. This is how you learn. And this will teach you what you need to know about the emotions right now also.

Are there any further questions? Has everybody has a chance to speak?

Q: Thank you for your guidance in our last visit when I was mourning the loss of my community.

Aaron: I remember that. How has that evolved for you now?

Q: Acceptance of the situation, and continuing in my individual practice connected to the larger tradition. I feel the fruit bearing from that. And I don't know what the next step is but I'm continuing and will discover. I welcome guidance if you have comments.

Aaron: Just to keep your heart open and trust that whatever is in front of you is there for a purpose, even if it seems like an obstacle, it's there for a purpose. If you greet it as an obstacle to be overcome with fear and force, then you won't be able to learn from it. But if you greet it with more spaciousness as a teacher it will either stay if it has a reason to stay and will evolve into something important for you, or it will pass.

Q: Yes. Thank you.

Aaron: You were considering at that time, the regular community was dissolving but there were a few people and you were looking for ways to pull it together. Have you evolved into a small group?

Q: For a few months, and that has dissolved now. Further dissolution.

Aaron: So you're clearly supposed to be at a place where there's nothing to join, nothing to hold onto. Just to keep the mind open, do your own personal practice. Look at any longing to be part of the larger community and move past that. It's the ego that yearns for that. The soul is fine as it is.

Q: Thank you. This Holy Week I've gone through the practices that we did in community and found it a wonderful sense of absorption, embraced by the larger tradition. I'm grateful.

Aaron: Good. I don't know what the opportunities are to join others within that tradition that are not too far away. If there is such an opportunity, but I would not hurry into that. Use this time to reflect and be certain what you need rather than jumping into something just because you think you might need it.

Q: Yes. Thank you.

Aaron: My blessings to you.

Thank you all for joining me today. It's been a pleasure to meet with you, to hear from you. As always I am inspired by all of you, by the deep inner work you are doing and your love and your commitment to growth, and really to liberation. Thank you for who you are.

I will release the body to Barbara...

(tape paused while Barbara reincorporates)

Barbara: I have just thanked P (the signer) and said it's not easy to do what P is doing because of course one cannot sign every word, so she's got to really hear what's being said beyond the words to communicate it clearly, and that takes an open heart and a deep knowledge of dharma.

Q: Both of which she has.

(silent pause)

Barbara: Thank you, Aaron. So good night to all. Thank you for joining us today.