June 10, 1993

(We are meeting outside on the lawn, under the trees. It is a magnificent June day!)

Aaron: I am Aaron. Good morning and my love to you. You have been asking about passion for several weeks and I have saved that for today. Love, joy, passion and equanimity. Are they compatible? Absolutely and unequivocally, yes.

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Smell the freshness around you. Feel the warmth of the sun and the gentle coolness of the shadow of these trees. Feel the softness of the breeze. Watch the breath moving in and out. There are many kinds of joy. Feel this quiet joy.

Moving from that general awareness of what surrounds you out here this morning, let us reprocess it. Feel the myriad physical contacts on your skin, to your nostrils. Notice the move through consciousness and perception. Physical touch of the breeze contacting skin; mind knowing there is a breeze. Heat and cool of sunshine and shade; mind knowing there is sunshine and shade. Just that far for now.

Now shift again. I'm going to be quiet for one or two minutes here. Know that there is breeze, shade, sunshine and sweet smells. Close your eyes and just feel all of these things. See if you can attune yourself to that quiet joy, peace and connection. (Some time of silence.)

Let us come back to contact, consciousness and perception. There has no doubt arisen in you a sense of comfort. We spoke several weeks ago about the difference between comfort and liking. We investigated the ways that the move to liking draws in a sense of self. Comfort and discomfort can be totally empty of self, containing only the bare perception of the experiences. Yet the perception stage necessitates some degree of self. In order to know that a breeze is a breeze, or that the smell of a flower is the smell of a flower, you go into, ideally, the memory of bare perceptions. But at times you may go into not only the memories, but also the stories of those memories.

If you know that this is not a memory of bare perception but a memory that contained self, you're not likely to get caught in it this time around. But you need that memory that 'you' had, or 'someone' had, in order to identify what is in the present. The emotional and physical nerves will tell you if there's pain. If another is emitting anger, you'll feel that through the energy body. If it's something burning hot, you'll know that through the physical nerve endings. But those things which do not create severe discomfort, like a breeze or the smell of a flower, need to be identified somehow, and so we do go into memory. That memory gives rise to like and dislike. When you are aware of the shift from neutral into like and dislike, attachment and aversion do not need to arise.

That's work we've done in the past, exploring the differences between like/dislike and attachment/aversion. I know you all understand it. I simply wanted to mention it in passing.

Sitting here and experiencing the beauty of this day, close your eyes again and feel it. Watch very carefully in yourself; as I make the following statement, what happens? 'Enjoy the sunshine of this day my friends because this will be the last sunny day until September.' (As Aaron made this statement a large cloud covered the sun!)

What happens when I make that statement? Can you see any aversion or attachment arising? When you were simply enjoying this day, there was not any need to hold on to it; there was no clinging. When somebody moves to snatch it away from you, then there is fear and a sense that you're going to lose something that is important to you. There is clinging and craving. You are going to have to watch this in yourselves. What happens to the joy and peace you were experiencing when craving arises? A very simple question: is the joy still there?

One of you is answering me: 'Yes, Aaron, joy is always here.' Yes, but you're not aware of it, because the contraction of the craving blocks it. When you sit here and relax into the beauty of the day, you're a wonderfully free floating ball of energy. Your energy fields are doing wonderful dances within themselves and with each other. When I say, 'Hang onto this day because it's the last one,' even though you know that I'm not serious in the prediction, it still has the effect of contracting your energy. It acts as a stifling blanket, like an opaque window shade being drawn, blocking the awareness of joy.

I see this opacity in physical terms as well. Several times I've drawn for you the heart center and the bits of shadow that surround it. Your energy projects out from there, and if it doesn't hit any shadow it just keeps projecting. Also, external energy moves in and touches your heart. In that space your heart is totally connected, energy-wise, to all that is. There is a deep, abiding sense of peacefulness, joy, even bliss, and connection. With the contraction of fear, all of these barriers go up and you part from your connection. The joy dissolves, the peace dissolves. Physically, from my perspective, it is as if someone had built a wall with some holes in it around that heart center. It is not a solid wall, but a wall nevertheless.

Some of you have had meditation experiences of very deep connection; very strong absence of self. You have also experienced the extraordinary bliss of these experiences, even moving beyond bliss to a state we call rapture. There are changes in the body's chemical composition at that point, changes in the pulse; the breath becomes very fine and short; the vibrational frequency is very high. Talk about passion! These are among the most passionate moments that you can know. The body response is somewhat similar to that of orgasm, but much more refined, much more subtle. The more self comes into it, the more opacity there is, the more that rapture, or joy, diminishes. You suddenly find yourself caught in this self. Grasping at this, pushing away that. Where is your joy? Where is your love? Where is passion?

So this is a process of careful watching and mental noting, of learning to see when self solidifies, and to send love to that fear that has solidified self. You return to more emptiness of self, and from intense like and dislike to neutral. That return allows you a much deeper passion. Of course, this is only part of the picture. I want to go on and talk about what you think of as sexual passion, and passion for an idea or a person. Before I go on I want to know if there are any questions.


Barbara: I'm paraphrasing Aaron. C was giving an example of what happened within her when he said: no more sun, just as the sun disappeared. She saw the contraction and let it go, no aversion, just released it. He says, 'Can you see how that move back to neutral allows joy?'

Group: Yes.

Barbara: M has just asked if the process of noting can create self-consciousness? Yes, but that just becomes something else to note! If there's no fight with arising, there's no fight with seeing the arising of a 'self' who is noting. We note the movement from neutral into strong liking, the movement out of bare perception into old mind. We note, as something separate, that there's a self doing this. Then the whole thing comes back to center.

Barbara: M is asking about spontaneity. She says this whole process feels so lacking in spontaneity that, for her, is a necessary ingredient in joy.

When you first learned to swim there wasn't a lot of spontaneity to it. There was: 'Now I'm supposed to turn my head, and which arm do I move, and how many kicks?' Noting step by step: how do I do this and put it together? As you practiced it became very spontaneous. You don't think about swimming now, you just swim. It returns to spontaneity.

Barbara: Aaron is asking me to discuss something here before he goes on. He says he was talking about the depth of joy that comes with equanimity and how we lose that joy when we move into craving and aversion. He was talking about the very deep bliss of feeling connected. He is saying he thinks all of you have had that experience of deep connection at sometime.

What is passion? How do we define passion? Does it have to come from a place of self? A place empty of self? I'm not sure how we define passion. To me, I've had what I consider very passionate spiritual experiences.

(The following is several people talking:)

… We are not denying the passion of spiritual experiences. What we want to know is: what about physical, body passion?

… Or being really pissed off at someone, or fighting, or yelling at your partner. Working out problems in a passionate way. Feeling passionate about politics.

… All the things we get passionate about in our lives.

… It seems like all of those things connect us in some very deep and meaningful way that has to do with being human and not neutral.

… Including passion in making art.

… I remember talking to Aaron a couple of years ago about how my writing was more powerful when I was in a very passionate state. Especially when dealing with anger. Some of the most powerful writing came from being in the midst of the emotion and writing about it. He talked about the deep emotion opening some kind of door that then allowed love in.

Aaron: I am Aaron. This is complex, I'm going to try to break it into small pieces and see if we can put them all together. First of all, you as human are a bundle of nerve endings. There are quasi-physical nerves which discern energy. There are what I would call mental and emotional nerves, by which I mean if somebody touches you with a verbal pin, you also react. This is the gift of your being. You are not here to become non-reactive; to lose your very beautiful humanness. You are here to learn compassion and love. If there were never any sensations there would be nothing that would push you into reactivity and nothing to open your heart to love. Some of you live somewhat volatile lives. Could you have learned the truths you've learned in recent years if there had been nothing that had caused pain in any way?

You have somehow got equanimity mixed up with becoming zombies. The person who lives with deep equanimity has the freedom to fully express his or her heart, the freedom to live with intense joy, because it is not a joy based on something that he or she fears will be snatched away. He or she knows it is not permanent, whether it lasts 5 seconds or fifty years, so the joy has nothing to do with attachment. This unattached joy is the deepest joy possible in the expression of your lives.

This truth does not apply just to spiritual areas. The person with no strong aversion or attachment can make a strong political stand, because there is no hatred or separation in it. The full passion is given to the truth as it's being expressed-the truth of each being's right to be free of suffering, of each being's right to free will and self determination. Your practice leads you increasingly into that freedom to express passion. If you can not express that passion, then you are using your practice as an escape, as another kind of wall to protect you from feeling. What we are talking about here is feeling fully and ever more fully, with no fear of the consequences. Giving ourselves totally to our lives, to our lovers, to our work, to each other and to ourselves. Can you see how it fits together?

Now, I ask you just this: how do you live this moment as if it were the last moment of your life? If it were the last moment of your life, would you not live it passionately? Whether you were gardening or talking or making love, would you not live it passionately?

But each moment is the last moment. The being who lives with deep equanimity, without craving and clinging, is not attached to holding on to this moment. He or she simply lives it fully and feels the deep joy or the deep pain of it, without the need to make it be joy rather than pain. He or she allows the pain to become the fire through which he or she passes, and which hardens the metal, makes him or her stronger, fuller and more resilient.

In the actual living of your lives, each of you gets caught over and over again. Self arises and there is a fiery argument with another. Your lover looks at another and there is desperate jealousy. Each of you is hurt by others and moves into a defendedness that sometimes feels rage or even hatred, a seemingly passionate rage.

I am not suggesting that it is in any way wrong or bad to experience any of this. But the seeming passion grows out of delusion, that there is a self who reacts to the world, a self who clings or pushes away with passion, who even loves with passion-but still, a self. In reality, that illusion of self binds you to the illusory concept of passion, not the real experience! There is clearly a different kind of passion, one that you can allow yourself to increasingly experience and which is so deeply blissful and free of suffering. This connects to your humanness.

What is this identity I've called self? Barbara just read a written interview of a women who is a nun. She was asked about renunciation. Was it hard to give up having hair, buying things with her money and choosing what she wanted to do with her time? She said none of that was really hard. What was really hard was to put on these nun's robes, to shave her head, and to join a community where she was just another nun in line. To be truly nobody. She talks about how she struggled against that for some time, how she kept seeing the arising of wanting to be noticed, wanting to be special. She says that after some years of that struggle it began to abate. She ceased needing to talk to people in order to impress them. She began to truly speak from her heart. She does not say it, but one can read between the lines that at that time she became truly passionate.

When I think of a passionate lover I don't think of a person who is being physical in a self-involved way and inviting my physical response. The most passionate lovers I have ever known are those who were fully present. They are there with such a startling presence, such a strong energy, that one totally melts into that energy and all sense of separation dissolves.

The same is true in the arts. When you deeply involve yourself in that work there is no self. There are those who were in agony in their lives and yet created magnificent art work. Yet if you look closely, that art work must transcend the personal. Van Gogh was not expressing his own anguish; he was expressing the human condition, human suffering. If it were purely personal and egotistical, you would not relate to it in the same way. This winter Barbara saw a very beautiful dance, choreographed about the dancer's cousin. This was a woman who experienced some strong mental pain in her life. If it had only been the dancer's story, how he felt about his cousin, people would have been yawning. What was so gripping was how beautifully his body expressed the pain that all beings feel when they relate to the pain of the loved ones around them.

Your passion does connect you. In order for it to connect you, emotion or thought must come to a place of center, and come from a place of center out into the world. Otherwise it's not passion. It's ego, acting to proclaim itself, which is not at all beautiful or moving to others.

True passion is empty of self. It does not mean there may not be strong feelings involved, but it essentially grows out of a place of deep connection, not a place of separation. What of the passion of a passionate argument? Somebody is attacking you and you are feeling hurt, criticized or wronged. Perhaps you're arguing about a subject that is very important to you. On one level, if it comes merely from personal needs and fears, it becomes very petty. But, when it comes from a place of deep pain in your heart, so that it ceases being 'I want it this way,' and becomes a cry of agony, then you are opening your heart to that agony of all beings. You're touching a deep place of center. It is that opening of the heart that brings you back and connects you again. It is why two lovers come so forcefully together after an argument. Their hearts are so open to their own deep anguish that they begin to really hear the anguish of the other.

I began by saying that you are not here in incarnation to become calm zombies, but to live passionately. Your emotional body is so terribly painful for you sometimes. The deeply passionate moments are so high, whether painful or joyful. But, through it all, they bring you back to what it means to be human. Because your passions bring you back into compassion. Notice the relationship of the words. Passion is the key to compassion. We do not turn off feelings to find equanimity. We move deeper into passion, and that provides the foundation for compassion, because the heart is open and connection is felt. Is this compatible with Vipassana practice? The practice is necessary for mindfulness to become spontaneous. At first noting is awkward. Then it becomes so well practiced and so spontaneous that the pull into a strong ego self is noted quickly. Space is created for that pain. You come back to center and you are able to be more and more passionate, because you are free, without a self tying down that passionate open heart.

I know there are questions. We are also not at all finished with this subject, there is much more that could be said about it. I would especially like to further explore the sense of unworthiness, and its relation to passionate feelings. That is all.

Question: My friends have said: what happened to you? You used to have so much passion and you used to be funny. I can see what Aaron was saying, that I was trying to be perfect. The passion is lying at a deeper level of no self at this point, which also means accessing some of the deeper emotions of rage or grief that are inside.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I think that it is important not to get too involved in trying to categorize all this, to see that categorization as just another strategy to try to stay safe. Instead, just keep asking yourself the question: what is this feeling? Who is feeling it? If I was not feeling anger, or jealousy or unworthiness, or whatever it might be, what might I be feeling? Is this emotion masking something that I am protecting myself from? Can I begin to sink into that? And to know that that's also not me, it's just another layer of that which has arisen. Just something else to watch moving through.

I want to come back to passion here. Can you understand, as you do this work and find freedom from self, the ways in which you do grow increasingly passionate? Are there questions about that, about the deepest passion coming from a place of connection and leading you deeper into a place of connection. Can you see that striving to be passionate is just another kind of grasping that prevents you from feeling passion? Just come back to your heart. Keep letting go of defendedness and you can not help but be passionate. That is all.

Are there questions?

(M has said that this is an indirect approach to passion. What about a more direct approach like singing and dancing, and so on?)

Aaron: I am Aaron. By all means, sing! Dance! Make love! Argue! But do it with that degree of mindfulness which knows when there is a self-conscious self dancing and arguing and making love for its effect on others, to create an identity or self image. Begin to observe the ways that fear prevents you from being truly, open-heartedly passionate. Do you understand?

Barbara: Aaron has talked often about the balance between devotional practice and Vipassana. Vipassana leads us back into mindfulness, helping us to develop deeper and deeper awareness. Devotional practice is a way of expressing our connectedness; really nurturing that connectedness. Devotional practice does not have to mean formal sitting in meditation. It can be dancing, it can be gardening, it can be making love. When you make love, make sure the other is God.

J: When I was in the hospital, I was reading this article (talks about balance)

Barbara: I find that I keep going back and forth with this balance. That whenever I'm very immersed in Vipassana practice, to the point that I'm not taking any time to be passionate in my life, I'm using my practice as an escape. It just becomes an intellectual pushing away of anguish, of staying safe and in control. When I see that it brings me right back home, opens my heart and allows me to acknowledge that pain. Then passion returns.

Aaron was talking before about passion/compassion. It is very important that we remember that we're not doing any of this work to become perfect or free of emotions. We're doing it all to open our hearts and develop compassion, to really learn to love one another and stop judging ourselves and each other. We keep moving back and forth as we need to, to form the balance.

Aaron is just suggesting that the reverse is also true. If you push your practice aside and just leap into the passion, you are also pushing away and not wanting to be responsible because that's too frightening. And the balance comes in again. Just noting, 'Grasping at this or pushing that away; come back to center.' Noting, I come back to center.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I have only this to add. When you are passionate this week, and I hope that you will be passionate, be mindful about the passion. Try not to intrude upon the passion and become an observer of it, so much as to ask yourself afterward: what was that passion? When it has quieted down again, sit down with the memories of it and see how it moved through you. Was it a passion that separated or connected, or was there some of each? Did it start with a strong, angry self? And as self emerged into its pain around that anger, did self dissolve? Did it begin with a body desirous of being touched? As self let go of self and merged its energy more fully into the partner, what happened to passion?

I'm not suggesting that you write a scientific treatise on each moment of the arising of passion while it's happening, which certainly is destroying of spontaneity, but look at it carefully afterward. See what you can learn about when you are most fully passionate. See if you can better define passion for yourself. Are there questions?

Barbara: (We're talking about next year.)

Aaron: Now that we've gone through some of this dependent origination work, I would like to bring you back to seeing yourselves as energy and experiencing yourselves as energy. I hope you will start to know the ways your energy relates to everything. How does that apply to healing? to dreams? to nutrition? to the environment?

In the fall we will begin to focus on another part of the chain where the conditionality is causal and not necessary. This is the move from ignorance through volitional formation and into rebirth consciousness. We will look deeper at the meaning of the term sankhara and the ways it relates to vinnana. We will also be working much more with this 'Pure Awareness,' and learning how to stabilize this level of awareness, not with attachment to Ultimate Reality as a safe place, but with clear seeing of the relationship between those which we call relative and ultimate realities. We will also be working much more directly with energy and light, and with the practice of lucid dreaming.

I want to get further into the light body. We've been dealing largely with mind. You've seen this drawing of yourself with the body chakras, the higher chakras and light body. We will explore that energy and light. How do you bring it into the totality of what you are? How do the body energy meridians and the energy within those meridians relate to Universal Energy? In working with another's energy in healing, it is not enough to deal only with the physical body chakras. How can we work with the higher chakras for healing purposes, for ourselves and others? What is the relationship between energy blockage and old karma. We can clarify old karma in ways we have been practicing. How can we also work with it directly within the light body?

If there is interest I would also like to talk a bit more about what it means to be citizens of the universe. What is happening out there in this world beyond your immediate notice? How may you influence what happens there? That's just a suggestion, if there is interest.

It would be interesting to explore your infiniteness, how you express that power, or don't express it.

All of this grows from the ground of watching what moves through you, being aware of how you create adhering karma, being aware of motivation and of intention. As you expand your power more and more outward, you must be increasingly responsible. So much of the work this semester was to lead you into an understanding of that responsibility, before offering higher tools which can strongly influence others.

There are many more suggestions, which I will save. This is as far as we will take this work at this time.

I know you will all practice with what we've learned, with mindfulness and with formal exercises. Please enjoy your summers and enter into this work with a sense of joy, not of obligation. Especially the exercises offered last week will connect you to joy and peace. And remember that this has been so deeply ingrained into your understanding now that much work will happen unconsciously. If you are aware, awake, you cannot help but learn!

I wish you a joyful, indeed a passionate summer. That is all.

(Barbara: I gather from Aaron that it is his hope to continue this book. This present work will be part one of two parts. The second part will pick up here, where we left off.)