Wednesday, September 29, 1993

A brief opening question: Last week Aaron stopped the channeling when the first side of the tape was near the end (Aaron usually pauses and says 'Please turn the tape' about 30 seconds before the tape ends.), yet at the end of the evening he did not stop when the second side ran out, and some of his talk was not recorded. How does he decide what to have recorded and what to let go unrecorded?

Aaron: I am Aaron. Good evening and my love to all of you. A quick answer to this question. This machinery of yours gives off a different energy as it approaches the end of the tape. The tape leader pulls a bit harder and I have learned to distinguish it. It's hard to phrase the difference in words. It's not that the machine is working any harder; it is not offering any special noise or static. The energy is simply different when the bulk of the tape is on the leading spool or when it's on the take-up spool. What fools me sometimes is when Barbara uses a tape other than this standard length, because different lengths of tape give out different energy.

Last week, on the second side, I simply felt that what I was saying for those last few minutes did not need to be recorded. I didn't pause to have you put in a new tape because I knew I was going to finish very shortly. I can easily fill in on the transcript if it seems necessary. Sometimes I stop, sometimes I don't stop. This is especially true with private work. If there is a chain of thought and people are deeply involved in that thought, it often seems more important to finish the thought and allow people to move fully into the experience of it than to capture the words on the tape, which, after all, are only words. I am much more interested in the experience than the concept. So as you move from the words into an experiential understanding, I don't want to break the mood. On the other hand, if what I am talking about is still in the conceptual level, then there is no break for people when I say, 'The tape needs to be turned.' Does that answer your question? That is all.

Aaron's talk

I am Aaron. This weekend's workshop revolved around the question: what is the spiritual path and how do we live it? Since we spoke for some 10 to 15 hours, I am in no way planning to summarize it. You all will read it in transcript form, if you wish to, thanks to our transcriber. What I want to do is pick up on a specific issue raised in the workshop that we did not have time to fully investigate, and explore it a bit. We began to talk about this subject two weeks ago here-the intersection of relative and ultimate reality and the ways in which you may learn to rest in that curve where they intersect. Not only ways which you may learn to rest in that intersection, but in which the whole focus of your work is coming to rest in that spot.

When I last spoke of this (Private session, not transcribed.) I talked about Christian and Buddhist paths as well as relative and ultimate reality. Very briefly, I said that the Judeo-Christian path, and especially the Christian path, has a focus of love, of openhearted compassion, forgiveness and loving kindness. Of course, this same focus is part of the Buddhist path. And wisdom is part of the Christian path. But the Christian path is a bit more weighted towards faith and loving kindness. The Buddhist path tends to be a bit more weighted towards wisdom, developing the wisdom mind that penetrates the delusion of permanent self, penetrates through ignorance, and does not anchor there.

Wisdom must be tempered by loving kindness and compassion. Compassion becomes maudlin and can not lead you to liberation without the insights offered by deeper wisdom. I spoke at the workshop of why I feel these paths so beautifully blend together for those of you who have no need to cling to the identity of one or the other. In a similar vein, your work in the everyday world, living your life with constant awareness, helps you to deal more lovingly and skillfully with relative reality. You learn not to be reactive to that which is flung at you. You are changing the old mind patterns.

We have talked about this in depth. I'm going to speak to you here as the small group that you are, who are all knowledgeable about what I'm saying. Some of you have studied dependent origination in depth with me. Others of you are at least familiar with this doctrine. We've talked here about karma many times. You're familiar with how you either continue old patterns or how you may move to the bare perception of what's happening and find some freedom from patterns. But if there is a self doing this, that's just the creation of a new habit-a more skillful habit, perhaps; one that allows you to relate more lovingly to the world, and that's fine-But there is still somebody doing this. As long as there is somebody doing it, you are trapped.

Any word, action or thought that grows from a sense of self creates karma. It may create wholesome karma, which brings happiness or the arising of more joyful and peaceful new conditions and phenomena. But there is still karma, because there is still somebody doing. Because your life becomes more spacious and there is more joy, stillness and peace, and because reactivity drops away, this path of relative reality practice of generosity, loving kindness, patience, truthfulness and mindfulness will eventually lead to arising of wisdom. But it can be a very slow path. That's okay; we're not in a rush. By the use of such mind practices we use mind to tame mind. Mind can get very out of bounds: owning, controlling, fearing, waging war, worrying, fixing. We observe that tempestuous mind and relate to it more skillfully.

Mindfulness uses mind to observe what is happening. I do not need to relate to this group the ways in which that creates more space in around the arising of phenomena, but there is still somebody to whom it's happening and someone observing it.

Then we make the shift to the wisdom mind. Lets call that vertical practice. The wisdom mind is a sword cutting through delusion. With the arising of any thought, emotion or physical sensation, we ask, 'Where is it coming from? Who is experiencing it?' You will begin to see the ways in which it is old mind pattern-just old mind conditioned to respond in set ways. As wisdom penetrates into that reality and sees how that thought or emotion has arisen, 'Poof!' it loses its substance and disappears. Then there is a moment of stillness, a moment of coming home. For that moment there is only pure awareness, with nobody there, no observer. That watcher that we've looked at so often disappears.

Pure awareness may only last a second until the next arising. That arising may be thought, 'Oh, there's nobody here.' Whose thought is that? Where did it arise from? It is old mind needing to fill in the gaps, as it always has. Let it go. Poof! Stillness, again. I don't mean to emphasize stillness. Stillness and occurrence are the same thing, just part of the flow. What I speak of is not stillness as the non-arising of phenomena, but stillness that transcends arising and dissolving. Stillness beyond stillness or occurrence. Do you understand that? We use the word 'stillness' as your language has no specific term for this awareness. It's the place where you no longer own that thought, sensation or emotion. There is simply nobody home, just mind running its show. Pure awareness rests in itself. That pure awareness can get to be a stable place of resting. Slowly, you move into something that is not simply reconditioning of the relative reality, but is true wisdom.

Now I want to take this one step further. Because your lives are filled with pain, turmoil, fear, suffering, there is a very natural desire to defend, to protect. Using wisdom mind in this way one can fall into the seeming discordance of seeing clearly and yet feeling pain. One is then at risk of saying, 'I shouldn't feel pain, it's an illusion.' But the pain is undeniably there! On the other hand, one can keep finding space for the pain, space for the fear, the turmoil and suffering, and continue forever to be someone making space. Remember that they intersect. Either one will eventually lead you to freedom, because either must eventually lead you to the experience of the other. But, when you can rest in that intersection, that is your most viable path. That's really what all of our work is about-heart centered practice of deepening compassion combined with skillful, loving, living on a moment to moment, day to day, basis and non-identification with/non-ownership of all of those experiences. How do we bring it together?

What I'm doing here tonight is laying the groundwork for something that I want to go into deeply in the coming months. Basically, we've got a giant toolbox. Most of you are familiar with some of the tools that you may use. The skill with which you walk the spiritual path depends upon how wisely you can choose from those tools. Part of the value of having a skilled meditation teacher is that that being can better guide you into the right tool at the right moment. But, you do not always have a teacher beside you. The ideal use of a teacher is to help you learn to choose the tools yourself. When is one getting lost in maudlin emotionalism? Why? Is there defense, pushing away the wisdom mind because of fear of this whole experience of emptiness of self? When is one clinging to the wisdom mind? Is it a refuge from pain? Is there burying of the pain with, 'I shouldn't, because I know better.' This doesn't really rid us of pain at all, but only denies it.

I want to end here simply with the story which some of you have heard before. A Zen master whose son had died was crying. One of his disciples came into the room, saw him crying and said, 'Why are you crying? You've told us it's all illusion.' The Zen master said, 'Yes. And the loss of a child is the most painful illusion of all.'

We speak here often of non-duality, of moving away from a dual vision of good or evil, worthiness or unworthiness, of any of these seeming opposites. We speak of the fact that one must act in accordance with moral values, not because it's evil to harm another and good not to harm another, but because one must simply always act in whatever ways one can to alleviate suffering where it exists and to avoid creating suffering. It's not a question of good or evil, but a question of our total relationship with all that is. When you harm another, you harm yourself.

We speak of love and fear. Some of you come to understand those as if they were opposite poles, but basically all of your acts, words and thoughts are conditioned by love. No, I'm not contradicting myself. When you act in a way that is self serving and ignores the needs of others because there is a fear that you will be hurt or that your needs won't be met, you are acting out of a sense of love for this one part of the totality of all that is. There is simply the delusion that says this part is separate. But you're still acting from love, only love which acts from the delusion of separate self.

From where does that delusion grow? Here again we come to relative and ultimate practice. We work with looking at the arising of fear, seeing the old mind conditioning, and creating new and more skillful ways of relating. We also must work at seeing the delusion itself. There is nothing to be afraid of, nothing to hurt you, because there is nothing separate from you. And yet, undeniably, if you walk into the highway and a car hits you, you can be killed. Ultimate reality and relative reality are not separate. I want you to come to see the ways that relative reality rests in ultimate reality, to know when you've got more weight on the relative foot or when you've got more weight on the ultimate foot, and stand with your weight balanced.

I thank you for your attention to my thoughts. I will be glad to answer questions about what I've said. These are simply thoughts that grow out of the weekend workshop. However, many there did not have the meditation background many of you have, so it did not feel appropriate to take it this deep in that setting. That is all.

I am Aaron. With apologies to those of you who were at the workshop I'm going to repeat the instructions that I gave you as homework. Let's do this as a guided meditation. This is somewhat related to what the Tibetans call sky yoga.


(Leaving pauses between sentences, as indicated by dots (…) in the first paragraph.)

First, breathe out, follow your breath … Just follow it out as far as it will go … Does it stop anywhere? … This is best done outdoors, looking at the sky. Since we're indoors, I ask you to simply visualize the sky … Does the breath stop at the end of the earth's atmosphere? … Are there any boundaries out there? …

Focus only on the exhalation … Breathe out and watch your breath move outward from you … Out to the ends of the universe, if there could be an end. Out and out and out. Focusing on the exhale. Follow your breath out … Visualize the sky that's just outside these windows … No limits, no boundaries.

Now move your attention to the in breath. What are you drawing into yourself? Where does it come from? Yes, it's the air closest to your mouth and nostrils, but where does it come from? Is it not also that air beyond the universe? Breathing the whole universe into yourself with each breath, and then letting it go out again. With every breath the entire universe moves through you.

Is your skin solid? Certainly it holds in the blood, the bones and the muscles. But it's made up of millions of molecules. It's porous. Does your energy stop at the skin? It radiates out. Does outside energy stop at your skin? It radiates in. You are a flow- through, interconnected with all that is.

Where does a thought come from? If the air that you breathe comes from the whole universe and if the energy that moves into you comes from the whole universe, can you claim a thought as yours? What is an original thought? I'm not saying that there is no such a thing as an original thought, but even if it originates in this mind that you call your mind, do you own it? What happens when you share it with a neighbor? It's just more of this stuff that's recirculating: air, energy, thoughts.

(Longer pause.)

What is an emotion? Some combination, perhaps, of thought and energy. We won't try to define it. I only want you to see that you don't own it. We have said here many times that it is not that which arises that creates your suffering, but your relationship to that which arises, most specifically, your sense of ownership of it-your fixation on it-your attachment or aversion to it. So we train ourselves to make space, but that is mere training, until we move fully into the experience of our interconnectedness.

I want you to take this to a second level; another step. As you sit here, whatever thought, emotion or physical sensation arises, I want you to touch it with the questions, 'Where did it come from, where is it now and where is it going?' First, see what answers you come up with. Second, as you ask the question, see what happens to the thought. While you do this asking, if the thought, emotion, image or sensation dissolves when you touch it with awareness, just rest in that space where thought dissolves, where awareness becomes aware of awareness itself. There's nobody being aware, only pure awareness. Just rest there. There's nothing to get rid of; whatever arose self-destructs, self-liberates. Each time a new thought arises, it's another chance to practice.

If only one thought arose every ten minutes and the rest of the time you stayed in this space of non-occurrence, it would be easy to get attached to that stillness and think that the stillness was who you really were. When thoughts continue to arise with increasing rapidity, and you touch them each time with this analytic 'Where did it come from?' see them go 'poof,' and then rest in that space, you then move past stillness and occurrence.

It is here that your intense emotions can also begin to self-liberate. It is not that they decrease in intensity, but you can know that there's nothing to do. It's okay that there's anger; it will go. You don't have to get rid of it, it will go … This is not disassociation when done in this way. Disassociation from pain is what we must take care to avoid. We are working towards the full opening of the heart, allowing oneself to be vulnerable, but not owning whatever comes along. Disassociation contains fear. When it arises, analyze it in the same way and let it go.

(Resuming pauses between sentences.) Not holding on to anything … not getting rid of anything … just being, with pure awareness and an open heart … You begin to see that even arising is the natural movement of mind … Pure awareness does not attach to stillness but sees all that arises as part of the nature of mind. Choiceless awareness …

I am going to be quite for a few moments. Try this process; if thoughts speed up, that's fine. All the more chance to practice. You are not stopping thought, but changing your relationship to it … moving to see thought from the perspective of the ultimate.

(Long pause. We sit silently and meditate. Ends with bell.)

Barbara: Aaron is asking if we will share whatever we are experiencing as we work with this.

(Some of the group comments.)

Experiencing the constant movement between analysis of the thought, which can be 'Where did it come from?' or 'Whose thought is it?' 'Mine,' 'Who am I?' and, after it goes 'poof,' that moment of pure awareness that transcends all of this relative reality.

Just being in it; very still even in the arising.

The pure awareness really does stabilize!

Barbara: I've been working with this with Aaron for almost two years, but I found that the intense practice of doing this at the retreat for a number of weeks really lead to a profound change in my awareness. It was very powerful. As in all of our life, the most important factor is how aware we are, the level of mindfulness that we bring to it.


Questions and Answers

Barbara: This is a question that Aaron says is a pretty universal one. (Reading question.) I've been feeling particularly good, even wonderful, since the retreat. However, I've noticed that I've been doing things to sabotage feeling good. When I tuned into the sabotage I felt angry toward the part that was doing or causing the counter-productive behavior and activity and told it to leave. Then I thought, okay, I'll embrace that part of me instead of denying or trying to get rid of it. When this shift occurred I first felt a peacefulness, then accepting. As the accepting feeling grew I asked the sabotaging part why it wanted to sabotage. The reply instantly came: there's risk in feeling good. I asked further, what does this mean: no response. Aaron, what does it mean?

Aaron: I am Aaron. This relates to the holding on to unworthiness that we spoke about at the workshop, and have spoken about here very often. All of you, indeed every human being in any culture, has times of feeling unworthy, inadequate, of comparing itself to others. In some cultures this is more prevalent because it has become learned behavior in that culture. Yours is a culture in which it is highly prevalent. I want to tell a story from a conference of Western Buddhist teachers with the Dalai Lama.

They were sitting around a table. One woman asked the Dalai Lama, 'What about those people who really don't like themselves, who really have a lot of self-hatred?' The Dalai Lama was puzzled. He said 'You mean people in mental hospitals?' The participants turned and looked at one another, and their spokesperson said 'No, those of us sitting around the table.' Such self-hatred is felt much more in your culture. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist in Eastern cultures, but there's much less focus on a self. Your culture brings out that me-ness, me against, me doing, me as separate. So, it accentuates the feelings of inadequacy because of course no one can always do everything well.

What is this about? No matter how loved you are as children your needs are never totally met. Even the most loving parents, stumbling out of bed at 3 AM to a squalling infant, may fumble with the diaper, may not have food ready instantly, or may show some expression of displeasure and tiredness. Since so may of you were not tended by loving parents, but faced many different degrees of abuse, that sense of unworthiness is accentuated. The infant and young child has an overriding need to be embraced by the adults in its life, to win their favor, to please them and to feel loved. Most soon learn when love is conditional on certain behaviors and move into patterns of behavior that seek to please the adult in order to be loved. It can not help this. To feel safe, secure and loved is a overriding need. One child may learn that when it parents the adult and becomes the caretaker, then the adult favors it, so it learns that pattern. Another may learn that when it allows itself to be a doormat, then the adult seems to favor it. Each adapts in the ways it must to feel loved. Those adaptations become the patterns for your adolescent and adult behavior.

When the message is even subtly one of being unworthy, when the adult says 'Why are you so careless, why are the towels on the floor, why did you spill your milk?' even that bit of harshness is read by the child in one of two ways, acceptance, which feeds the sense of inadequacy or defiance, which, ironically, also may feed inadequacy. The child may have the attitude that the adult is wrong and the child is right, and what he or she did isn't so bad. The child may then be defiant and say 'I just spilled my milk.' But then if the adult gets angrier it takes the child further from the possibility of love, makes him/her feel unworthy of that love. Then defiance becomes a stance behind which the maturing being hides its sense of unworthiness.

The other alternative is that the adult is right, the child is careless, forgetful and no good. But deep in its heart the child knows that is not true. How does it cope with the dishonesty in which it must live?

Most of you grow up with a very deep level of rage, even those of you who have loving parents, because they are human and have not been perfect. When you felt wrongly criticized, if you attacked the adult, that was not safe. So you turned that anger into yourself. You convinced yourself 'I really am no good,' as one way of handling the rage.

Being 'good' doesn't feel safe, in part because you have learned such deep patterns of acceptance of the negative labels that were thrown your way. In order to comply with the adults' need for a scapegoat you've offered yourself as the sacrificial lamb, because that's what brought the illusion of love. To some degree or other, this has happened to all of you. It's part of your learning. Not being good is equally unacceptable for some of you who have needed to be 'the good one' to gain acceptance. There is subsurface rage in either case, rage which turns against the self and enhances unworthiness.

If we take it one step further and look at it from the spiritual perspective, part of what you are here to learn is compassion and equanimity with what arises within you. What if you never experienced any negative emotions? How would you learn? You all know the story of Gurdjieff and the yeast for the bread.

(Barbara: (Retelling this story in the transcript for readers unfamiliar with it.) Gurdjieff had a spiritual community in France. There was one man who could not get along with the others. He didn't do his share of the work; he was rude; he was even unclean in his physical aspects. Finally he chose to leave. Gurdjieff went after him, asked him to return. The man said 'No.' G. begged him to return, finally offered to pay him, so the man returned. The others in the community were aghast, 'How could you do this?' G. replied, 'He is like the yeast for the bread; without his presence, how would you learn nonjudgment and compassion?')

Aaron: All of that which is negative and seemingly thrown at you is not just something dumped on you for no reason, but the yeast for your own personal bread, the opportunity to practice what you most need to practice. That doesn't mean we go out and seek abuse, thinking 'I need some practice, I think I'll go get beaten up.' Your life gives you enough pain that you never need to seek it. But pain is an unavoidable element of human incarnation. In this society, much of your pain has been that of unworthiness, aloneness and alienation. In some other societies, much of the pain may be that of starvation or other kinds of hardship. One rarely dwells on unworthiness when one is starving or being tortured! What are you learning? Why did you incarnate into this culture?

Why is it unsafe to feel good? When you are feeling good, in what way does that rob you of some of your defenses? Defenses against what? When you feel good, the heart is open, connected. There is no defendedness, nothing against which to defend. When you're not feeling good there can be subtle levels of anger or depression, or a sense of something lacking. You may feel fragmented or incomplete. What do those feelings protect you from? It is painful to feel isolated or depressed. Is it also safe?

I ask you to ask yourselves: 'What if I were not feeling unworthy now? What might I be feeling?' 'What if I were not feeling isolated now, what might I be feeling?' The answer is not simple. These questions help you connect to that space where you have judged yourself so severely because rage, greed, fear, or whatever, has arisen. 'Unworthiness' protects you from the very fundamental rage and terror of your seeming separation and isolation, the fears that your needs won't be met, that you won't be heard, and that you'll be hurt. It also protects you from the need to move to the open, undefended heart.

Each of you has places inside where you are a saint; each of you have places where you are a murderer. There is nobody in this room of loving people who has not at some time in its life felt that it could have killed. How do you start to find compassion for all of that in yourself? And you must find it if you are to let go of your judgment of yourself and others, which letting go is a primary part of spiritual growth. Compassion is an outgrowth of understanding, of true empathy, which grows out of honesty with yourself.

So, why is it so frightening to feel good? Why is it so frightening to come back to this deepest place of pure awareness? There's another reason beyond all that I've said. When you rest in this space of pure awareness, you know your ultimate responsibility. The whole flow of karma is absolutely clear. You can not hide anything from yourself in that place of pure awareness. Without the development of deep compassion for the human who must live through this tangle of emotions and thoughts, of being pulled and pushed, the burden of ultimate reality becomes too heavy to carry.

This is why wisdom must be tempered with compassion-both feet balanced. We need deep kindness toward the being that has to be that honest, kindness for its fear that it's not going to be able to carry through, tolerance of it when it falls in the mud, when it tries and can not carry through. Weight equally balanced! Wisdom must not become a hiding place.

One more reason why it is so hard to feel good: what if you lose it? That's always that fear. Suppose you're very, very hungry and I bring you a dish with your favorite food. You pick up the fork and just as you're about to put the fork into the food I take it away and say 'No, I'm just showing it to you, it's not to eat.' Suppose I show you a room where people are being very loving towards each other. You can feel the flow of energy, the connection, that's happening in that room. You start to walk across the threshold and I say 'No, you must to say outside.' You must begin to understand that nobody else is taking away your nourishment or connection; you are. Precisely because of the fear: what if you get too attached to it? That's another one of the fears that's part of this.

I've only scratched the surface here of why it's so hard for you to allow yourself to feel good. These are the predominate causes that I see. But, of course each of you could tell me a half dozen more. Has this sufficiently answered your question or shall I speak further?

(Related question: not transcribed.)

Aaron: The one suggested addition would be a more precise look at what to do when you come to the place where it's too scary to feel good. What do you do next? You don't do anything. We've gotten into this mess by constantly being fixers, trying to get this or that just right, and it never gets just right. Can you take the awareness one step further? You said you were able to see the fear and let it be. Can you let this be, too? Just knowing that right now you can't let yourself feel that good. Just watch it.

Not all of the possibilities I've suggested will be optimum for any one of you; some will predominate. Watch fear and see it dissolve. Then you shift back again to ultimate reality, because you've seen fear's story is just old mind playing its record. A friend calls it the 'Top Ten Hit Parade.' Just me being unworthy again. Just fear of getting caught in something I can not maintain; fear of loss. How many tens of thousands of times have you done it?

When you start to see that clearly you know, 'In this moment, I'm not unworthy. In this moment, if I allow myself to feel good, of course it can't last. But I don't need to hold on to it because feeling good and feeling bad are all part of the flow.' You keep coming back to this moment, using the truth you have seen as to why you're afraid to feel good, not as something you've got to fix or change, but as something around which you just make more space.

Let go of the ownership of it. That is the key. 'I don't own this, it's just a cloud passing through, it's just a scratch in the record.' How many raindrops does it take to create the Grand Canyon? It was never created by a massive upheaval in the earth, just by one repetition after another. Do you wish me to speak further about this, or is that sufficient?

Group: Enough for now.

Aaron: That is all.

(Discussion, not transcribed.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. Last week I spoke of an intention to begin deeper dream work this week. I want to look at dreams in two ways. The first is starting to do some group work with interpretation of dreams and learning how the conscious mind may learn by the sub-conscious' gift of the dream. I also want to begin work with what we call lucid dreaming, which is being aware when you are dreaming that you are dreaming. This life is a dream. Are you aware you are dreaming? You can carry it to different levels, but it's very helpful to come to the awareness during a dream, that it is a dream. So I want to start to teach you how to do that.

The first step is to simply become more aware of your dreams and to that end I would like to suggest that you start to write down or tape your dreams. I will let Barbara talk about the specifics of this; she within a body is more suited to speak of it.

Barbara: (Laughing.) Aaron said that in his last lifetime they didn't have tape recorders. They didn't even have pencil and paper so writing down dreams was hard.

You need to wake up much less if you keep a tape recorder by your bed. All you have to do is push the pause button. In the morning you wake up and there's a whole tape of dreams. You'll vaguely remember recording a couple of dreams, but you didn't have to wake up and turn on a light and write, so, it's much less disturbing to your sleep. But it does serve as enough of a jar to your memory that it allows you to remember the full dream. Or you can just keep a notebook by the bed and write them down.

The first step to remembering dreams is intention. As you're getting in bed, getting ready to go to sleep, make the statement 'I want to remember my dreams.' Start with the intention. You'll be surprised at how much you remember.

Obviously this dream work is optional. For anybody who would like to move on to working with Aaron with lucid dreaming, you'll find this is foundation for that work. Lucid dreaming is very powerful. If you really know that you are dreaming within the dream, you can make changes. In one dream you've got a dragon chasing you, and you stop and say, 'No, this is a dream.' Or you turn around and say 'No' to the dragon. It's very powerful, very self-empowering. The first step is just to get in touch with your dreams, so we'll start there.