Wednesday, March 2, 1994

Aaron's talk

Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. While Barbara has been flying around the world, I have more or less been sitting still and allowing my energy to follow her here and there. One of the conveniences of not having a body: no jet lag.

During this time with Mother Meera, there was much talk about and focus on devotional meditation. The question came up a number of times of what the relationship is between a path of mindfulness and a path of devotion.

There was a group of young French men at the pensione. They had driven many hours from their home to come to darshan with the Mother. Darshan is the word for spiritual meeting. Barbara spoke to two of them about the teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, of whom most of you have heard and whose meditation center is very close to their home in Bordeaux. They had not heard of him. They did not formally meditate and they said, 'Why should we? We come here once a year and Mother shapes our path.'

It is indeed possible to find freedom from this cycle of birth and death through a purely devotional path. At first glance it seems that it would be easier. You don't have to do anything, just hand it on to God. In fact, it is much harder and I will tell you why.

What we're working with here is the continuing illusion of a separate self which has opinions, which discerns good and bad and other dualities, which likes and dislikes, which has emotions and labels them good or bad, comfortable or uncomfortable, to be held onto or gotten rid of. Those who move into a purely devotional path are often taught, offer it up to God. If there's anger, offer it, release it. If there's fear, if there's judgment …

Now, that sounds fine on the surface, but if you notice the arising of anger, judgment or greed, and have sufficient discomfort from that arising that you ask God to lift it from you, to free you of that, this is a very subtle form of getting rid of. What actually happens is that such asking may reinforce the duality of good or bad. You don't ask God's help in releasing your generosity. So, there comes into being a form of 'I keep this which is acceptable and good, and I get rid of that.'

At some stage along the path, that's very helpful because it helps guide the individual into awareness of when it is doing harm, when it is contracting into distortions of fear. But it's only helpful to a certain point because, as long as there is a getting-rid-of, there's still duality. There's still somebody judging 'This is no good,' not an embracing of everything.

When I speak of embracing of everything, I don't mean that you hold onto your anger, I simply mean that you find compassion for that heavy emotion, and make space around it. This is where you understand you do not have to act upon it. You also do not have to get rid of it. 'Offering it to God' is often misunderstood to mean when heavy emotions arise, we say 'no, this shouldn't be here, God please lift it from me.' But its presence is a useful, although uncomfortable, teacher.

The direction that must be established is to find awareness of the arising of these emotions, and then awareness of the aversion to them. Such aversion is not the same as the arising of the emotion itself but a secondary step; there is discomfort, dislike of that discomfort, distrust of one's ability to handle that discomfort, all of those secondary reactions to the emotion. You look at those secondary reactions and must find compassion for them because, unless you have compassion for your own arising anger or greed, you cannot have compassion for another's. You cannot move beyond judgment of another's.

Only from that space of absolute compassion where there is no longer need to get rid of the emotion, but simply awareness 'This is unskillful and painful to me; it comes from old mind; I don't need to carry it,' can you ask God's help to release it. This process of release may happen in one of two ways: through prayer or through some of the work we've done this winter. You find the divine in your own self and from that place within you where there is absolutely no fear, no anger, no greed, see with clarity 'I do not need this, I just let it go.' These are not really different but aspects of the same process, since the prayer connects you to the divine within yourself.

For some time, then, the devotional path in itself can be very helpful. For a very few beings it can be sufficient in itself as a path to freedom, to full realization. But for most beings there is that stumbling block of duality.

Other beings may start with a mindfulness path. Again, it can be a path to full realization on its own. But is also has a built-in stumbling block which will catch up most people, that is, the heart is never encouraged to fully open. It can become very dry, just watching how things arise, how they pass away. It can become a very safe hiding place from the open heart. One watches assiduously. One feels safe and in control because of the consistency of one's watching and so the watching becomes a place to hide and feel safe, rather than a place to be naked and vulnerable and open.

When these two paths are brought together, they balance one another very beautifully. When one is very, very mindful, one cannot help but be aware of contraction, pain, fear and judgment. When one brings in the light to that judgment and fear, allows oneself to connect with that place of God within, one's heart cannot help but open in compassion for this being that is feeling fear and pain. Then the mindfulness ceases to be a place of escape and becomes a pathway leading into the discovery of one's own divinity. If one starts with devotional meditation and becomes aware of how one is using that path as an escape, constantly re-lodging in duality and judgment, one can only be drawn deeper and deeper into mindfulness.

The real question then is, do you want full realization and the level of responsibility that entails, or do you want to simply be able to say 'I am a meditator' or 'I am this or that religion?' This is to cling to a path and to cling to the ego of a being on that path. It can be very comforting. It can lead to a sense of self-righteousness, feeling good about oneself. But it will not lead to realization.

To become a realized being-by which I mean to know the true self, not the small ego self but the God self-to know the self stripped of all ego and standing naked in the universe, to see the divinity in that self and in everything else-in every grass blade and every rock, bird and insect-that's a very frightening path because the being who has seen that must be responsible for what it has seen. It's easy to see it, it's hard to live it. Once you know that God is in everything, how do you live up to that understanding? Are you ready to be compassionate enough to yourself to forgive yourself when you err and forget that God is in everything and do something that harms? Are you ready to be compassionate enough to forgive others and not to judge?

To follow a path takes love, commitment, deep aspiration and courage. To truly seek realization and live your life responsible to that realization also takes maturity. It is not for the faint-hearted. It is a place where all of you will come eventually.

I want to make it clear that I have no quarrel with those who would choose a devotional path solely, or a vipassana path solely, or any other path. Only keep in mind where you are aspiring that this path lead you and constantly ask yourself, 'Is it leading me there? Is ego growing or diminishing? Am I able to lead my life more skillfully or less? Has this path led me into deeper judgment instead of less judgment? If I am not living my life more skillfully, what do I need to bring in in order to balance? If there is judgment, righteous anger, prejudice, fear, am I trying to get rid of those or am I learning to make space around them, to be less reactive to them? Can I cease judgment of myself, to grow beyond judgment of others? In short, am I truly learning how to love on this path?'

Barbara will talk to those of you who are interested in Mother Meera at least briefly tonight. I believe she plans to write about it for her next newsletter as well when she's had more chance to digest the whole week. In answer to your questions, I want to say only this: It is not my place to affirm or deny the truth of another's existence. This woman presents herself as an avatar, the Divine Mother, incarnation of God. For me to tell you how I see her would not be meaningful. It is far more important to hear how people respond to her energy.

In truth, all of you have that divine in you. Some of you have considerably more distortion than this one who calls herself Mother Meera and whose energy is so very, very clear. The clearer one's energy is, the more able one is to be a channel for the divine. And it works both ways. Yes, she, in offering herself as a personification of divine energy, becomes a human whom you can look at and say, 'She doesn't judge.' Remember, I am not saying she is God, only she is a channel for God. If God looks within you and sees your anger and your fear and your greed and doesn't judge you, why do you need to judge yourself?

Here is where that release becomes possible, not because there is a getting-rid-of, but because there is finally clear seeing: 'There never was anything to be gotten rid of. It's just emotions and thoughts that are moving through. They have no reality on their own. They're just the busy-ness of mind. They only become solid when I make them solid. Therefore, I never was bad to feel anger or greed or jealousy or impatience or any of it because it never had any reality to begin with, but was given solidity through my reaction to it. God, who doesn't judge, most certainly doesn't judge for something that was never real to begin with. I've never had to do anything about this jealousy or fear or impatience other than to see that it's simply the process of old mind, old conditioning, old fear.'

The release of it is another part of the self-liberation of it that we've talked about, how, when you look at these thoughts and emotions and see how they arose, they just go 'Poof!' and they're gone. Having this personification of the divine before you, this human who accepts you just as you are and doesn't judge you, can be a powerful tool to teaching you not to judge yourself. Then you hand it to God and say, 'Take this from me.'

For some, that is easier than the process we've worked with of watching it disappear. If it's easier, that's fine. For some, a human personification of God is a much more powerful tool to work with than the meditation, the guru yoga for example, where you visualize some great teacher or saint and allow your energy to merge with that being.

So, yes, this woman's energy is very powerful. But she cannot do your work for you. There is no shortcut to spiritual growth. She can be a powerful ally in your growth if you are drawn to her energy. So can the Buddha, Jesus or Mary, Krishna, or any of a number of beings, if you are drawn to their energy. So can some of the more human gurus that some of you have found. They are all tools in a giant toolbox, all ways of reaching maturity.

This is much more that could be said about all of these paths; we have only touched upon these two of devotional and mindfulness meditation. I would be glad to answer questions if there are any. That is all.

C: I was talking to Aaron about this subject on this trip and he gave me a very interesting image which helped me. He said that if we are walking on a road, the complete devotional path is on one side of the road and the complete vipassana or other traditional path is on the other side, but most of us find it easier to walk down the middle using parts of both.

Barbara: I'm paraphrasing Aaron. He says thank you. He says, using this same metaphor, one of the difficulties if you are trying to walk the edge, on one edge or the other, is that it's a very fine edge and it's easy to fall off. When you're in the middle you can bring in some of each. Sometimes you may find yourself over-balanced one way or the other and you swerve back and forth, but there's much more leeway.

Aaron: I am Aaron. For the person who so deeply aspires to cut through distortion now that they are willing to walk the edge of that road with constant attention, the edge of the road is a more direct path than meandering through the middle. But you notice, as soon as you bring in the direct attention to the devotional, you've got mindfulness. And, similarly with mindfulness, if there is attention given to the mindfulness, devotion automatically develops. It may be called faith rather than devotion. The name doesn't matter.

So what we end up with perhaps is a path that cuts, maybe not straight down the center, maybe 60 percent this way or 60 percent that way, but it doesn't meander back and forth because, as devotion strengthens and as mindfulness strengthens, the path straightens. And it is that balance which I would advocate as the most viable path. That is all.

M: Mother Meera says the relationship between the jhana/concentration path and Bhakti/devotion path is … 'To be a jnani is to know and the more you know the divine, the more you love. To be a Bhakti is to choose the path of love and the more you love the path of the divine, the more you know.' There's another part where she's talking about prayer to the divine and about duality, that I couldn't find, in which … My take on it was that it was useful for some people to pray to the divine as something external because it's like something we can turn to when we don't feel strong or feel the presence within ourselves. So, for me, this has become useful in moments of self-doubt or self-judgment when I can't feel connection inside. It helps to reconnect me. So, I wanted to say that has been a useful discovery to me about duality practice.

Aaron: I am Aaron. When you are more relaxed, you're more open to the divine self. When you see … Let me put it this way, one cannot see the divinity in the Mother unless one acknowledges, even to some small degree, the divinity in oneself. When one looks to God in any of Its forms and finds refuge in God, one is necessarily connected with one's own heart and one's own divinity, and finds it easier to live that divinity, to manifest one's own perfection. That strengthens one, helps ease one away from the sense of unworthiness, for example. It's hard to persist in feeling unworthy when you know that part of you is divine. This is the beauty of this practice. That is all.

Q: I would like to ask Aaron if he could give me insight on the severe problems I am having at work. What is the spiritual growth in this?

Aaron: I am Aaron. If it would be acceptable to you, I'd prefer to keep that problem until after the break and hear if there are any questions now related to the talk. I hear your question and we certainly will address it. That is all.

Q: I am assuming, but not sure, is Mother Meera's method devotional rather than what we're doing? Does she recommend a path of devotion rather than vipassana meditation?

Aaron: I am Aaron. Not quite. Mother Meera advocates that each being stay with its own path and remember God as part of that path. If its path is Christian or Moslem or Jewish, if it is strict Buddhist, as zen or vipassana, that's fine. If it's none of those, that's also fine. However, as Barbara read in her book, Answers, which is her only statement of what she believes and teaches-remember this is a woman who does not give any verbal teaching-it is clear that Mother Meera is not saying this is a shortcut. She's only asking people: 'Remember God.'

You can't talk about spiritual growth without bringing the divine into it. It doesn't matter what you call that. If you're a Buddhist and don't want to use the word God, use 'the Absolute,' 'Nirvana,' whatever you wish to call it. God doesn't care what It's called. But if you are sincere and not just using spiritual path as a place for ego to solidify-saying, 'I'm on this path, look how great I am; I put them down because they're not'-if you don't want to misuse your spiritual path in that way, then you must keep yourself aware of why you're doing this work, which is to learn to manifest your own divinity, and that can best be done, for some people, by having an example, a personification of that divinity. Others don't find that necessary and that's fine. For those who do find it useful, as M just said, it is a very powerful tool.

All I offer here is the reminder, there is no one path. All paths will take you home. All paths lead to God, by whatever name you call the Unconditioned. Mother Meera says this in her book-she says religions are all rivers leading to the sea, why not go directly to the sea? I would phrase it a bit differently. Each path is a river or stream leading into bigger rivers and bigger and eventually to the sea. And the water that makes up those rivers has evaporated from the sea and come down as rain and is washing down again. Even if you think you're back there on the river, you are surrounded by nothing that is not of the sea. No matter what path you follow, remember that the center of it is God by whatever name you wish to call that energy. Does that answer your question?


Barbara: We've been talking about Mother Meera and are going to go on now to answer the question that was asked earlier and any other questions that come up.

Q: In the workplace, people giving other people a hard time. How can this become positive catalyst rather than a pain in the neck?

Aaron: I am Aaron. We've said this countless times before: everything in your life is a gift to teach you. Sometimes it's a very painful gift. Sometimes it's a gentle gift. Your relationships, especially, point out to you precisely where you are still confused.

An example that came through here today, speaking to several people. One spoke of commenting on another's actions, said 'I wouldn't do it that way.' The one who was criticized became defended. When each stopped to look, they could see that they were seeing in the mirror of the other a reflection of themselves. The one who was criticized, that one felt that in the other's taking it upon itself to do this or that, that that was a criticism of it's own efforts. In fact, the other's taking it upon itself was not criticizing the first one's efforts, but was simply doing something. It was the first one's sense of inadequacy which made it afraid so that it saw a very harmless movement on the part of the second as a slap in its face.

What is the difference between what really happens and what you perceive has happened? People all act from their own small selves, at least in part. They act from their own perceptions and their own needs. If there is a bowl of fruit and many hands reach in and grab and you're left without, do you interpret that as 'Everybody else is selfish and doesn't care about me' or as 'I'm no good or I would have gotten some' or as 'They sure were hungry?' If you see it simply as 'They are hungry,' then you are free to say, 'I am also hungry. May I have part of somebody's fruit?' If you perceive it with anger, as 'They sure are greedy,' then what comes out is the demand, 'I want some, too!' made in anger, which alienates the other.

The point to my saying this is that when you watch carefully your own reactions to the catalysts that others hand you, it takes you deeply into seeing yourself and your primary issues with clarity. If somebody says this or that, does this or that, why do I become defended around it? In a specific example, perhaps the boss needs to be in control. The boss cannot compliment and assist others but needs to take the credit for him or herself, needs to put other people down so as to feel adequate. Nobody says you have to like such a person, and you're even free to leave the job if you need to but, as long as you decide to stay in that job, can you look at that boss and see how afraid that human being is? Can he win your compassion?

Can you look at your own reaction of anger because you're not given credit, anger because you're treated as if you were stupid, anger because someone is always trying to control and tell you what to do and make your decisions for you … does that anger arise out of what the other has said or does it arise out of your own sense of uncertainty of yourself, of inferiority, unworthiness or incompleteness? What is that about? Can the other's words, and the pain of the other's words, help point you directly into the place where you most need to heal?

You cannot heal the other, you can only heal yourself. Or more correctly spoken, allow healing to arise in yourself. You do that through paying attention. Each time the boss comes in and says something controlling or derogatory, what is the righteous anger that arises? 'He shouldn't do that.' 'She's unfair and stupid and I know more than she does.' Notice all the rage that comes up. Is that rage a necessary reaction to the other's push or does it grow out of your own imbalance?

You're perched on a rock here by the sea. If you are perfectly balanced and the other pushes, you simply lean back a bit and then come back to center. If you are imbalanced and the other pushes, you topple off into the ocean. The issue is not to stop the other's pushing, but to learn how you can become balanced. The other is a catalyst to help you learn. If nothing ever challenges balance, how are you going to learn it?

When you begin to greet this catalyst that pushes and shoves at you with a more open-hearted sense of 'What have I got to learn here? Here's a new chance to practice,' you find your relationship to that catalyst changes. You stop hating that it and wanting to get even with it and, instead, it simply becomes a reminder, 'Learning opportunity: Pay attention.'

What really is happening through this process is that you become more accepting of yourself. As you do that, you become more accepting of the other. It's a spiral: compassion for self enhances compassion for other, compassion for other enhances compassion for self.

This Earth is your schoolroom and you are here to learn. Sometimes the catalysts are gentle, sometimes they're painful. Balancing human relationships can be among the most joyful and most painful work. When you can keep foremost in your mind the simple words, 'What can I learn here? How can I open to this pain instead of defending against it, so that I can let in the experience and see what it points to in me that needs attention?' then you can pay attention. Then you can look at the righteous anger, the sense of unworthiness, the sense of 'not fair' and begin to understand how you have solidified those.

I'm not saying that in this moment what may be happening is fair. This other one may be controlling, may be using its own personality in very offensive ways. So what? Can you permit another to be fearful and offensive? I am not suggesting you have to like this person and choose her for your best friend, but can you allow the space to work with him, simply looking at that being and seeing the depth of her fear and pain, looking at your reaction and seeing the depth of your fear and pain? Can you embrace it all? This is the process of continually reopening the heart, noting defendedness and contraction and simply, as you note it, being willing to let go. Again and again and again. It is not the offensive one who prevents letting go but the fear in yourself.

This only begins to touch on this subject. We have a few minutes for questions. I also think that it is a central subject for many of you, simply, how to get along with people and why there is such pain in your relationships. So, I would be glad to address further questions about it in future weeks.

Another question that came up during the trip, and which I would be happy to speak about if there is interest, is that of sexuality and the myriad expressions of your sexuality. That is an aspect of human relationships. Are there specific questions? And may I also ask if some of you think of questions through the week, will you write them out and bring them to us next week, that we may dive into them? Your questions thought about at home and written out with care often lead us deeper than the spur of the moment questions, although both are certainly of value. That is all.

Q: I have a comment. I am aware that many times people show love to me and I perceive it not as love until I look at it. My fear says it is something bad. I would like to receive it because I know it comes to me often. And maybe others may not receive my love but take it differently.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Briefly, as we have little time here, we have two different things happening. One, there is a certain opening that is demanded in order to receive love. It can be very frightening to open in that way even if you want to. Your defendedness and contraction-I'm not speaking of you specifically, but of the whole group-your ways of defending and contracting have been ways that you've stayed safe, kept a fence around yourself. To receive another's love you must take down the fence. It's safer to ask, 'What are they trying to get out of me?' than to trust, 'They really simply want to love me.'

A deeper part of this, of course, is the part of ourselves that so desperately wants to be loved and cannot admit how much it wants that. When another offers it, it's so painful to feel that we haven't had it that we must push it away. It's like somebody who hungers deeply. If you offer that being food, they're going to have to acknowledge how great is their hunger. In some ways it's easier to just push it away and deny, 'No, I'm not hungry,' than to touch on the deep pain of the hunger.

It also touches the issues of unworthiness. There is no such thing as unworthiness. How could anything ever be worthy or unworthy? It's just a concept that we pin on things. Many of you, for one reason or another, have put that label 'unworthy' on yourselves. Often there has been safety in that label. I've challenged many of you with the question to ask yourselves: 'If I were not feeling unworthy now, what might I be feeling?' Many of you have looked at that carefully and come up with the answers: anger, rage, fear, shame.

How did these become 'unworthiness'? Many of you were treated in some abusive way as children, or simply had needs which were not met. Even the loving parent may not always meet the child's needs, may be tired and leave the child to cry. The child will naturally feel anger. If the parent is 'wrong' then the child is 'right' and the anger seems justified. To feel thus justified may terrify, because if the parent is wrong, he/she may be without love or attention. What is the child to do? It feels it must play the role the parent has cast it in if it is to get the attention it seeks. t is unable to challenge the parent and say, 'I'm okay and you're not. You can't treat me that way.' So you went along with the parent's game and accepted the abuse because that at least bought you the parent's attention and what felt closest to love to you. You learned that you had to play the game, and included in that game was feeling unworthy.

Now another being genuinely offers you love, but the old habit is there,' I'm unworthy, therefore this must be just a trick. They can't really be offering me love.' So you hide in that myth of unworthiness because it feels safer.

Of course, the heart wants to feel loved. What is the threat? I would like to suggest very specifically for any of you who have experienced this blocking of love, when someone treats you lovingly and you ask, 'What are they trying to get out of me?' ask yourself the simple question, 'What if I allowed myself to trust and feel this love?' You're going to have to do this very mindfully, very carefully, and with as little judgment as is possible. Can that question lead you to the deep places of fear and pain in yourself? What if I really was worthy of this love? What if they really mean it? What deep grief for all the times I've wanted it and it wasn't met or given? What deep rage about that? What you'll find there will differ for each of you, but do begin to ask the question and you'll start to find the answers you need within yourself.

We're out of time. I thank you for joining me and allowing me to join you this evening. My love to all of you. That is all.

Homework: Two weeks ago we spoke about this meditation-breathe in … pause … breathe out … in … pause … out-finding the now in that pause, the way resting briefly in that pause brings you into this moment. I asked you to try that at times when there was tension. For example, when the boss is criticizing you or when somebody is offering you love that you're not able to accept. I'd like you to try that this week. In any place where there's tension, come into this breathing pattern and focus on the pause. I want you to see how resting in that pause cuts through old mind conditioning and brings you into the present where you can see more clearly what is really happening as distinguished from your fears, opinions and concepts about what's happening. Resting in pure awareness, in 'now,' allows you to be in this moment with the question, 'Am I really unworthy? Am I really bad?' or whatever question may have arisen. How did you get caught in those concepts in the first place? In this moment is there any good or bad, worthy or unworthy? How does judgment arise? Does it arise in the present or from the past?

Use this very simple breath tool to bring yourself back to the present and to see how that resting in now effects the painful emotion being experienced. This is not to escape the pain but to know it more clearly as it really is, free of old concepts. I'd very much like to hear your responses to this next week and to share some discussion about it. That is all.