Volume 5, Number 1, January 1997

Deep Spring Center Newsletter
Volume 5, Number 1, January 1997

We have been talking about the balance between relative and ultimate reality. We've talked often about your having one foot in the relative and one in the ultimate, that you must realize that you are spirit and live from that spirit, but not with any denial of the human, of its body, of its thoughts, of its emotions. Rather, the human must be embraced. This image has given some of you the sense that relative and ultimate exist side by side and are dual, even though I keep saying the relative resides in the ultimate.

I want to give you a new image, then. Here are cubes. They rest inside a larger cube. This cube that you are in, would you put both feet in it and squat there? At times you may pull the flaps closed over your head. Then you're stuck in it, busy being the angry one, the righteous one or the good one, identifying as that small aspect of the self. You can climb in and out of any of these smaller boxes. At times you are angry. At times you are loving. At times you are fearful. At times you are giving or compassionate. Each is a small cube of relative reality. But when you pull the lid closed, you lose perspective and believe there is nothing else.

Perhaps you decide not to be in this fear box any more. Stomp it to little pieces. Are you then going to put on another costume? Who will you be? Put your head up! Look around!

The whole is in this larger container of ultimate reality. You are spirit, you are the absolute aspect and the relative, you are the angel in the earthsuit. You do not have to trample fear or any heavy emotion in order not to be stuck in it. There is nothing to conquer. Just put your head out of the box. Remember your true nature. You are spirit.


October 4, 1995 transcript


Barbara's Letter

Aaron's Pages

Wednesday, October 23, 1994

Barbara's Letter

Dear Friends,

I've just returned from a month of travel in diverse places including North Carolina, Kentucky and Mexico, making new friends and visiting old ones and leading workshops and retreats. It was my first trip to Mexico and I found it to be a place of stark contrasts, such as the dilapidated shack with corrugated tin roof we passed on the road, covered all over with astonishing pink and violet flowering vines.

I find it wonderful to carry these teachings around the world and experience our extended community. Wherever I go, people are family, opening their homes and their hearts.

Sometimes life does get very busy though and I need to stop and ask myself what I'm really doing. What are my highest priorities? Am I living those priorities skillfully. Occasionally, the answer is "no." I do see that I get off track, becoming so busy that I lose touch with my heart.

Two weeks before I left on my latest trip, I'd had word that a longtime student/friend was in the hospital with pneumonia. I meant to call him but the days rushed by. Late at night I'd move the call on to my list of things to do "tomorrow," always tomorrow. What was I busy with? What are we all busy with? I had "important" things to do, classes to teach, meetings to attend, I've reached a point in my life where I rarely feel stressed by busyness, but there's not much extra time either. It's often all scheduled, from early morning meditation, through meetings and classes, to late evening tea and check-in with Hal, my husband.

This was an extra. I tried to make it fit, but it didn't, so I put it aside with "tomorrow." And then I received the news that the unexpected had happened; he had died.

I sat that night, holding him in my heart, able to ask for his forgiveness that I was unavailable to him in his last weeks, able to forgive myself. I also was able to thank him for a powerful lesson. My heart needs to direct the show, not my brain. The brain gets things all figured out, finds ways, often seemingly skillful ways, to meet the demands of life. But the heart knows where it needs to be and can put all else aside and just BE, no doing, just be!

I've been given another chance to master the lesson. A dear friend of over 20 years has just learned that she has cancer. Her first surgery was last week, the day after my return from this month-long odyssey. My desk was piled high, and there was a scheduled class that night for which to prepare. My heart told me where I needed to be and I'm happy to say that this time I was able to listen.

What stops us from listening with the heart? For me it's usually fear. This isn't a fear that I'm going to be unloved or to do something terrible, nor a fear that my needs will be unmet. It doesn't come from a place of great clinging or need to control. It's just a quiet fear which grows from that part of me which really does want to live my life lovingly and in support of others and forgets how to do that.

It gets tricky because the mind thinks its paying attention, but we have so many subtle, self-deceptive tricks. One of mine is role-playing. When I'm in the brain and not the heart, I notice that I think of myself in roles-mother, wife, teacher, friend-and instead of attending with my heart to what's really asked, I let the brain plan from an almost disassociated distance. What does this role need to do now? It's almost a performance. It's a way of staying in control when something difficult is happening. More important, it's an old habit, because when I pay attention, I realize with certainty that I have no need to stay in control, that there's no one who needs to be protected.

What helps? The same old thing; mindfulness. If I watch, the body will tell me when I'm not present in my heart, in my experience. Maybe because the movement is mostly fed by habit and not real fear, it's very subtle, but if I watch, it's there. I may experience just a fleeting tightness in the gut as I make a decision that comes from a devising brain and not the heart. There's a small contraction and noting of, "pushing away; aversion." If I ask, "who is pushing? Who is controlling?" the answer comes, "habit is controlling," or occasionally, "fear is controlling."

Sometimes fear is strong though and really does drive us. I don't want to mis-imply that this is easy. There are so many fears which block us from experiencing the innate compassion of the heart. We want to shield ourselves so we don't have to deeply touch our fears, grief and outrage. Our first impulse is to distance ourselves from our pain. To force ourselves when such fear or pain is present, to say, "I should open or be kind," is just another controlling or coping strategy of the brain. We can "should" ourselves to death! The greater the pain or outrage, the more we need to offer ourselves our own deepest kindness.

No matter how intense the fear, the ever-open heart IS there, available, if we think to look for it. No matter what arises in our experience, the open heart is always there, just obscured. We can't find it by force when fear is strong, only by gentle, kind, clear attention. When we have paid that attention in the quiet moments and learned to rest in the open heart, in pure heart-mind, then that level of our being is increasingly accessible to us in times of intense pain and stress. We can also use the habit of lovingkindness, fostered in ourselves through formal practice. Remembering to look for that open heart can become as much a way of living as shutting it off, and with regular practice, the heart becomes increasingly available.

Sometimes people ask me how long I meditate daily. I don't choose to answer for formal practice is just part of it. Sitting is not the practice. Living from the open heart is the practice! Formal meditation is a way of practicing our practice. To live from the ever-open heart requires that regular formal practice to learn how it feels to rest in the heart center and live from it, to learn what pulls us away and how to skillfully respond to those pulls. Then there must be the ongoing practice of every moment. If we only find the open heart in 45 minutes of meditation and not the other twenty-three hours a day, what makes us so arrogant as to believe we can access that heart when life is rushing past?

With ongoing practice, there comes a stable balance of relative and ultimate, of brain and heart. The brain is a useful tool but it is just a tool. The heart often offers its truths in whispers and we must learn to listen very, very carefully.

In closing, I'd like to offer you part of a favorite poem from Kabir:

The Guest is inside you, and also inside me;
you know the sprout is hidden inside the seed.
We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside.
The blue sky opens out farther and farther,
the daily sense of failure goes away,
the damage I have done to myself fades,
a million suns come forward with light,
when I sit firmly in that world.
I hear bells ringing that no one has shaken,
inside "love" there is more joy than we know of.
Rain pours down, although the sky is clear of clouds,
there are whole rivers of light.
The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love.
How hard it is to feel that joy in all our four bodies.
Those who hope to be reasonable about it fail.
The arrogance of "reason" has separated us from that love.
With the word "reason" you already feel miles away.

From The Kabir Book, (translation by Robert Bly)

I wish each of you a winter of snow to slide on, a blazing fire to warm you, cookies, laughing friends, sunshine, and the deepening experience of your unlimited, true nature, of the ever-open heart.

with love,

[Picture] In loving memory of our dharma brother, Michael Barney

To you and all sentient beings:

may you be free from suffering
may you be happy, may you find perfect peace.

Aaron's Pages

My greetings to you. I appreciate this opportunity to speak to so many of you and to choose among past tapes those which I feel would be most beneficial to share. For this edition, I have chosen an older transcript because of its central importance to our ongoing work.

As you read my words, please remember that I am not omniscient. I offer my teaching to be truth only as I perceive it. If it rings true to you and helps you gain understanding, use it. If not, throw it away. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts. My love to each of you as we walk this path together.


Wednesday, October 23, 1994

Many of you have asked what a "typical" Wednesday session with Aaron is like. With that question in mind, we've chosen to offer one whole Wednesday evening in this issue.

Barbara: Tonight we'll let Aaron's talk evolve out of your questions.

Carl: I have noticed many times that it is much easier for me to be mindful when I am working with my hands doing something physically active. At work, much of what I do is logical, linear & sitting at a computer, working on a research project, and I find it difficult to be mindful.

Barbara: When your mind is involved in some logical work you find it difficult then to be mindful. But when you're involved in a physical activity it's easier to be mindful. Do others of you experience that that way?

(Some discussion of the awkwardness of conscious observation.)

Vicki: When I was sailing competitively in a race, I was using my intellect and my intuitive sailing ability and my physical skills, yet when I sail best I am also free of all those things and can observe myself doing them.

Barbara: So at some level there's an observer watching you being attentive to and manifesting the physical movements and manifesting and working with the thoughts.

Vicki: And also feeling very much one with the boat, the wind and the water. It is very centering. But that is different from deep, serious, intellectual work, which involves for me so much use of my brain that I would not be able to, at the same time, hold that and look at myself.

Barbara: I understand what you're all saying. Let me toss something in here There are times when I really find it hard to be present with writing. A couple of sentences come out, it catches, it sticks, then a few more sentences get pushed out. There are other times when I feel very centered and focused. I don't think I'd use the term "mindful" for the way I'm feeling, but I'm fully present. Then the writing simply moves itself out from a place of deep wisdom. It's almost effortless. This leads me to the question. When there's not mindfulness, is it because the work is coming more from an ego place that thinks it's got to do something, and is it that effort to be the do-er that cuts out mindfulness. In that case, what creates the effort?

Q: The doer creates the effort.

Barbara: Aaron is asking me to relate an experience I had some years ago when I was working as a volunteer one day a week at Seva. What I was doing was simply mailing out gift acknowledgments, filling in names. Sometimes I would get stuck on these, they would seem very tedious. I would think of my own work at home that needed doing. I'd look outside the window and feel like I wanted to go outside and take a walk. I really wasn't being very mindful, I'd find myself making mistakes, reversing the names for example.

So, I could see I wasn't being very mindful. I needed to really meditate with that and find out what was happening. I saw different levels of anger coming up-are my needs going to be met? Wanting to take a walk, realizing all the work I had to do at home, all the different levels of conflict. Aaron said to me at that point, "Do it with love or not at all," and he asked me to just stop at the beginning and look at this stack, and really connect with all these loving people that were offering money as a gift to somebody else so that people could have cataract operations or get farm implements, things that were really going to benefit people's lives and what a very loving process this all was and how beautiful it was to be a part of it. When I observed that for a few minutes in meditation and then would start working with this pile, I think the main ingredient that changed was that the anger was gone. When the anger was gone, I felt myself very mindful, very connected, and I would work my way through this pile with a great deal of joy. It lost its tedious quality completely.

Unless there is any other comment, which Aaron would welcome, he would now like to speak to this question. Is there any other comment? (No.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. Good evening, and my love to you all. This is an interesting question. I think it relates very directly to a question that came up Monday night in meditation class: What is the nature of fear? Barbara and the class were talking on Monday about what we call "conditioned arising." What this means simply is that when certain conditions are present, then something will arise. When those conditions cease, that which has arisen ceases. They were tracing the arising of heavy emotions, that first there is sometimes sense contact, a pleasant, unpleasant or neutral quality to that contact, and if it's unpleasant, discomfort arises in one form or another and may move you into the various mental formations of anger, aversion, fear. We have discussed here that fear is a condition out of which the other mind states such as anger, desire, jealousy, impatience, arise. When you are feeling fear, you've got to know you're feeling fear. "Fear" is not always the perfect word for it. You might want to acknowledge it as feeling threatened, feeling afraid that your needs won't be met, or just note it as tension in some part of the body. In some way there's a sense of a self and others, and the others wield some kind of a power which may harm you or deprive you.

When there is connection, there can be discomfort but there cannot be fear. Connection completely obliterates fear. It can be extremely unpleasant. Barbara has told a story about a car which ran over her foot. People screamed and the driver stopped to see what was wrong, leaving the car sitting on her foot. It was excruciating. But at a certain level there was no fear. There was no anger, there was just this extreme discomfort. What prevented the arising of fear and anger at that point? Simply, Barbara's ability to stay present in that moment, to see how things were. It wasn't her fault, it wasn't the driver's fault, it wasn't the car's fault. Barbara at that point had stopped and turned to talk to someone. So Barbara was there first, but she was standing in a parking lot. She stopped, the car began moving. The driver should have seen her? Should we blame her deafness that she didn't hear the car start? What do we blame?

She was simply able to be present and to let the compassionate heart see and understand. It's hard to say who felt more pain, Barbara in her foot or this woman, in her horror, seeing what she had done, that her car was resting atop someone's foot.

This kind of presence takes practice. It is easier to practice this sort of presence in certain situations, such as in your formal meditation practice, and as Carl just described, during some kind of activity, because then your body brings the experience into focus. You're in your body and your body is in the experience of walking, swimming, washing the dishes, pruning the hedge. You can feel the muscles, you can feel the breath, so yes, it's easier to be present when you're in the body.

Although it is true that with logical work the brain is active, it is very possible to be mindful in these types of activities. It is not the lack of physical experience which prevents mindfulness. Rather, I would strongly suggest that it is your relationship with what you are experiencing. As simply as I can phrase it, when you are angry and not relating with presence to that anger, then it is very difficult to be mindful.

If you are mindful with the presence of that anger then you've got to acknowledge the anger and to do some work with it. What is the anger? What conditions led it to arise. Was there a sense of separation, fear that you would be hurt or your needs not met? Was there need to defend or was there clinging? The anger is turning itself on in a very subtle level, and it doesn't want to be noticed because if it's noticed, then it must cease its function of self-defending or holding on.

You can't be mindful with anger and simultaneously go on using that anger as a way of separating and defending. If the anger doesn't want to be noticed, then you get into the activity and you simply note, "It's hard to be mindful."

A conjecture is that for Carl, for Vicki, and perhaps for most of you, you find more joy in physical pursuits. I'm not saying that an intellectual pursuit cannot be joyful. Those that are joyful present no problem; you're mindful with them, as Barbara stated about her writing. Those which involve work such as the logical paying of your bills and balancing of your checkbook, or work at your job where you may feel unappreciated which experience inspires anger, or simply disinterested and feeling pushed into a chore, which arouses anger-in these situations it is not the intellectual work that prevents mindfulness as much as your attitude about the work.

Of course, when the full body is involved, mindfulness is easier, but it is not linear, conceptual work that blocks mindfulness, in my opinion, but the relationship to that work. I emphasize that this is merely my opinion, and I should like to hear your thoughts about what I have just said. We have a small group tonight and I would like to keep the entire session moving as a kind of dialogue between us, moving on to other questions when you are ready or moving deeper into this question. I pause.

Carl: What Aaron said about my attitude towards my work rings a bell. I've been trying to remember some time when I have been involved in that kind of intellectual work and have been able to be mindful while doing it. And I cannot remember one!

Barbara: Aaron asks, can you think of any intellectual work you might do that's really joyful for you? He brings up researching and reading the various sutras that you've been collecting from the web and bringing to me. Such research, collecting and reading does take staying with; it's intellectual work.

Carl: I noticed that there is some enjoyment while I am reading, but the greater enjoyment is when I just relax with what I have read and just see what arises from that. I notice that I am not thinking about it in a logical process but just holding it softly in my awareness. And after awhile, often some deeper level of understanding arises.

Barbara: Aaron asks, but while you're reading is there some time when you feel what Vicki described as "in the flow," when you're really just there with the reading. He says there's nobody saying, "Oh look, I'm being mindful," it's just mindfulness happening.

Carl: Yes, I've had that experience of reading just being effortless.

Barbara: And this is the same experience that we were talking about in writing, or that that Vicki was talking about in sailing. It's the same experience you have when you're playing a game of tennis-you're not thinking about being mindful but the presence that's required to play a game of tennis is pure mindfulness.

Carl: I have had some experiences but they've usually involved physical activity where I will suddenly become aware of how effortless it has been.

Barbara: Just fully present.

Carl: And then as II become aware of what has been happening, it stops flowing.

Barbara: I'm reading the book, The Ground We Share, by a Zen master named Robert Aiken and a Jesuit priest, David Stendl-Rast. It's a dialogue between the two men. Brother David tells a Jesuit priest's story about a Zen retreat he attended. When the teacher asked how he was doing, the priest, Johnston, answered, "To put it in Christian terms, I'm just sitting there in the presence of God. That's it, silence of prayer and the presence of God." The teacher said, "That's good. Just keep sitting and before you know it, God will disappear and only Johnston-san will be sitting there." Father Johnston said, "It seems to me that Johnston would disappear and only God would remain." "That's right," the teacher answered, "exactly what I said!"

Aaron wants me to read a little further. Robert Aiken says, "I'd express it like this. Continue your sitting and you find that only the song of the thrush and the cry of the gecko are sitting there. Only the scented incense is sitting there."

Aaron: I am Aaron. This is it. You reach a place where the personality self does not cease to exist but is seen clearly for what it is. It has no more solidity. The senses continue to exist-there's hearing, there's seeing, there's touching. These are manifestations of the physical body. The personality is manifestation of the emotional and mental bodies. As is the ego.

At that place, all division disappears. When "somebody" steps in and sees that it has disappeared, there's a kind of shift of the weight from one foot to another. A shift from the space of the pure awareness mind into the ego mind. What happens with practice is that you develop the ability to watch this shift, watch the ego mind observing without getting caught up in an identity with that ego mind. There is an observer but the observer is also nobody. Then when there is the statement, "Ah, it's flowing effortlessly," that which observes the running this effortless flow doesn't become solid. One may note, simply, "observing," but it becomes observing without an observer, as opposed to observing with an observer. There is just observation happening. I think this is the focal point.

When the observer becomes solid, then it's like stepping through a doorway and losing the focus of the "empty" observer. When the observer is simply noticed as another conditioned arising, another expression of the divine, there's nothing solid there. So we simply note how it's flowing effortlessly, and then note, "observing, observing," or "observer, observer," whichever seems most appropriate. Then you don't lose touch with that pure awareness mind. In fact, noting the observer as conditioned arising and expression of the ever-perfect leads you even more emphatically back into pure awareness. I pause.

Barbara: I'm paraphrasing Aaron, He asks can you see how that works. He says it's a wonderful practice, just to note, he says of course we're always resting in rigpa, we're always in this pure awareness space. It's always there. When we experience being out of it it's because we've lost touch with it. He says it's like the experience of sitting with your back to the window on a clear sunny day. Perhaps the rest of the room is dark; and you can be so intent on your work, you really forget about the light. That beautiful sunny day hasn't gone anywhere but you're so intent on this 'in here' that you forget that the outer space and inner space exist simultaneously.

Aaron's saying you don't even have to turn around to look out the window, just take a deep breath and remind yourself how beautiful a day it is out there. He says you can reconnect with this pure awareness mind constantly, until you reach a point where you stably can stay in contact with it. Even when things are furiously arising and seem to be pulling you away from it, that arising in itself points you right back to pure awareness.

He asks, are there further questions related to this and if not he would welcome questions on other subjects. He's glad to move deeper into this or move on to something else.

Len: Two comments. First, I find music a great aid in moving out of the small self into the big self, both playing and listening. When I play too consciously it gets very flat, the experience of the music.

Barbara: Too much of the ego self, too much of a listener or performer then the music gets flat. But when there's no listener or performer, there's no edge between you and the music.

Barbara: Aaron asks, do you have any understanding why it happens so forcefully while making music.

Len: Not at all.

Barbara: He says he conjectures it's because your whole body is involved. You're not only listening, it's like sailing the boat, you're needing to be right there, completely connected, completely in tune with, so that there's no room for mind to wander, as in the tennis game. You've got to be present, but it's not only present with the ear and the mind, it's bringing the whole body into it. He says this is why for many people yoga is such an effective spiritual practice. He pauses.

Aaron: About the listener, I would not speak in any way to deprive you of the beauty of that experience, but I would like to challenge you to take it a step further. After listening to music in this way so that the boundaries have fallen away, I would like to challenge you to stop the music and just listen to the silence in the same way. I pause.

Len: Second comment. I liked what Aaron was saying about anger. I've worked with that on a moment to moment basis at work. If I don't feel my anger, it comes across when I talk with customers. And they pick up on it and give me feedback. So what I do with employees is to encourage them to express their anger. Because it is angering when the phone rings and you don't want to answer it. I try to give them permission to express that anger as they're reaching for the phone, so that when they get on the phone, some of it is gone.

Barbara: Aaron says that some interplay such as Thich Nhat Hanh's letting the phone ring three times and breathing deeply, could be even more helpful. "Breathing I am feeling anger, breathing out I smile to my anger, breathing in I am aware of my anger, breathing out I smile at my anger."

Carl: I like the idea of a primal scream.

Q: In the office!

(Dialogue and jokes about office anger.)

Aaron: I am Aaron. This forthcoming suggestion may not be easily accessible to coworkers or employees, but certainly you can use this suggestion yourselves. Remind yourself that the anger that you are experiencing is not bad, it is an invitation to express compassion. Here it is, another opportunity, and another one and another one. On a day when the world is filled with those catalysts, keep reminding yourself, "It's OK to be angry. I don't need to take out my anger on others. I can have even more compassion for myself and the pain I'm experiencing." Keep the big view, seeing how the anger has arisen from conditions, allowing a spaciousness which invites compassion for all who are involved. Stop and do metta meditation for 5 minutes with yourself. Look deeply at yourself and your frustration, your sense of impending work to be done, frustration with the interruptions, and that people's concerns seem so petty, so meaningless. Allow yourself to get in touch with that pain, and then simply offer yourself kindness, "May I be happy. May my heart remain open. May I be free of pain."

This can be enormously effective because it gets at the root of the anger. The root of the anger is not the other person's interruptions but your fear or discomfort with those interruptions. The other person and their interruptions seem "other than." There's separation that's come up and this illusion of a self that needs protecting. Then the flow is gone. Then you begin to feel defended, threatened. As soon as you bring strong kindness into yourself, you allow the possibility of reconnecting. There's nobody else out there, just extensions of your own voice making various requests in person or on the phone, extensions of yourself with different kinds of needs, some of which seem valid and some invalid. With awareness, there's a flow that begins again, allowing compassion and connecting with them. I pause.

Barbara: Aaron is reminding me of a very funny e-mail that I received last week about a woman who worked at an airlines reservation desk and received constant absurd questions such as telling someone she had to change planes and the customer responding with anger asking why she had to change clothes on the plane! She was feeling so much frustration with that and yet the essence of her job was to try to be a service representative and help people find what they want. How do we do that? What prevents kindness when somebody makes what seems like a ridiculous request and anger comes up,

Aaron is asking, what prevents us from feeling a deep wave of compassion for this person's confusion and ignorance, and really allowing that which wants to serve to come forth. He says, that which wants to serve is always there along with that which feels offended.

Hal: To me there's always a confusion between what a service person thinks is an imposition on them rather than an opportunity to help somebody in need. There's that confusion.

Barbara: As you're talking the image comes up of the all-too-often salesclerk in the store who gives the hint that while you're the customer, you're an imposition.

Hal: I have an image I carry around when I'm providing service which is, what if my grandmother is on the other side of the aisle wanting service, what would I want somebody to do for her? Grandmothers are usually very old people. So the idea is to try to visualize what you would want people to do for your grandmother and do it for them. I think it really has to do with taking a step back from your needs and being open and loving. I don't think it's easy but there's so much fun in giving outstanding service. People don't expect it, and it's a lot of fun and joy.

I've thought a lot about it. For example, I've personally tried to make 3 people laugh every day. (laughter!) I really do that! You're my fourth today. But it really is an interesting concept. One way to look at service is, next time you go into a restaurant, just mentally reverse the situation and think that your job as a customer is to make that waiter or waitress happy while they are serving you. And it just changes your whole mindset around. If your mindset is that your job is to make them happy in their service of you, it's like a revelation.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear you, Hal, and all of this is wonderful and very loving to enact. All of you have the capability of doing this. Yet all of you, and I know you would agree to this, Hal, all of you have times when somebody makes a request of you when you simply are not able to give that lovingly. When you can't say, yes, I want to offer outstanding service. You are ready to throw the grandmother out the window! The question then is not whether this cutoff point comes early or late. At whatever point it comes, what do we do about it? What creates the cutoff point and how do we speak to it?

What creates the cutoff point is your own fear. Then there is a sense of separation, fear that you will be hurt or your needs won't be met, an actual closing in of your energy field. Then there is boundary and self and other. And then, you're completely separated and you start to act from that self-centered separate place. When you don't actually act from that place but give an imitation of service, it's coming from an "I should" place which is still a place of fear and judgment. There's still somebody serving. Some ego to get something out of it, and so forth.

Of course you can't get rid of that ego; you can only remember that the ego is also there and work with different techniques which allow you to reconnect and to work skillfully with whatever fear has arisen. All of the techniques that Hal mentioned-and others of you may have similar techniques are wonderful! But what do you do in that moment when you're even snapping at your grandmother? How do you attend to that inner pain so that you may reapproach your grandmother with kindness?

Too many spiritual teachings talk about being kind to others and hold that up as a goal, and certainly a very loving goal. But they do not speak about how to be kind to yourself in those times when it's difficult to be kind to others, and through that kindness to yourself, to allow to reopen your natural kindness to others.

When your own fear has arisen and is preventing you from allowing service to be offered, I phrase this specifically, not "serving," just allowing service to arise, what fear is preventing that? It's wonderful simply to be able not only to touch yourself with love but to turn and say I need help, I'm feeling blue. I'm feeling tense, contracted, confused. I need a hug. Most of you have friends we can call on at those times and connect for a minute or two.

Another way to connect is simply to meditate for a few minutes. In meditation you see that which defends and also come to know the undefended, know it intimately and see that it's always there. So you move deeper into your fear and also into fearlessness. There are always ways in which you can reconnect if you really wish to.

Which leads me into a very different but related question: What is it that does not wish to reconnect? You all have the ability to reopen all the time when you want to, so you may wish to look at hat is it which wishes to hold onto your sense of annoyance, judgment, and so forth. I pause.

Hal: Why don't we want to connect? I think in my case it might be anger, disagreement with some people, being hurt &

Barbara: Aaron says dig deeper. He says connect what you just said, please.

Hal: Old and long-standing fears.

Barbara: He says that's another aspect of it. But go back to what you said about anger and being hurt. Take that deeper.

Hal: Trying to get back? Revenge?

Barbara: Revenge, yes, but he's saying, what does your anger protect you from? What if the anger dissolved in that moment? There's the possibility of compassion and with compassion there's no revenge but there's the possibility of another feeling, which is the feeling of being hurt you just mentioned. So that anger may have become a defense against feeling pain. He asks, can you see that, that we may feel betrayed by the other people or as if they don't love us enough, or different kinds of painful feelings, and we don't have to feel those so intently if anger masks them? Aaron wants to talk.

Aaron: I am Aaron. You may play with the concept of feeling betrayed, feeling unloved, and so forth, but it remains somewhat of a concept. The concept seems to spur the anger, but within the concept you do not have to be touched by the direct experience of feeling betrayed or not loved enough. That experience of needs not being met and the old conditioned fear it gives rise to are very powerful.

For most of you no matter how much your parents loved you, you always wanted more, simply because that is the way the human is. Even for the baby who is very carefully and lovingly attended, when it cries there are still a few minutes between the time of the cry and when it's dried or fed. The parent may need to take a few minutes just to find out what is wrong. The baby's wailing. It wants the parent to be totally telepathic. In fact, it wants the parent to take care of the need before the baby even knows it has the need. This desire is innate to the human.

What you really want is to experience that pre-human, astral plane connection with the divine, where you know that you rest in utter safety and love. You come into the human experience wanting that. But the human experience is different. You're no longer telepathic. You've got to learn to communicate through this awkward symbol of language. And you find you can't communicate your experiences through language but only certain thoughts about the experience. Then you start to feel increasingly separate. This is such a deep place of pain for so many of you, wanting that deepest connection so intensely, seeking substitutes for it.

When another person does not meet your expectations or your needs, or when another somehow takes advantage of you or acts in ways that are discomforting to you, when anger arises, one of the things involved in that anger is it serves as a defense against feeling the utter pain of the imagined separation. Imagined on one level and experienced by the relative reality self on another level.

This is only part of the reason why you hold onto your anger. It is one of the larger reasons but there are others. I said to this group once, you like to have problems. Your problems make you feel powerful because then mind calls on ego self to solve the problems. There is another way to experience your power. All of you in this room have touched on that experience to some degree. This is to come to the direct experience of your true being through meditation.

But it's very deeply ingrained habit to find your empowerment through the ego self. Here is a place where you can consciously work, noting that which wants to feel re-empowered by pulling in the ego self, by grasping at problems, resolving problems and encouraging the formation of new problems. As you watch that you can begin to ask yourself, "what if there were no problems here? Can I rest in that which doesn't need to create situations to enhance its power, in order to feel safe?"

Again, this is only part of the whole, another large part. I invite you to share other thoughts with me about why you might want to hold on to your anger. I pause.

Jack: I am finding myself as I pursue my own work of letting go, particularly these last 6 months of seemingly stripping away the place of refuge for the ego I'm finding myself experiencing anger on more and more frequent basis as ego loses its known identity.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I think this is an important question. I noticed others of you nodding at Jack's question. Expression of anger may be held in check by a judgmental "I shouldn't;" you may call it conscience. That which is taught in childhood, "Be polite, be kind" has nothing to do with experience. It's concerned only with the surface expression that you offer to the world. The prohibition against feeling heavy emotion is very deeply ingrained in you.

You had thought at one point that you could not allow the experience of anger because if you allowed it, it was going to be difficult to follow that with "Be kind, be generous, be polite." As you do this work and get more deeply in touch with your feelings, you cease to be afraid of the heavy emotions. So you start to let more of the anger that's there emerge. You learn it's just anger, it's just energy. There may be a period of time when you find yourself expressing more anger for awhile because you have to learn what to do when this comes up, and when to acknowledge the experience of it, but with practice it simply becomes anger and you do not have to enact it.

This is very important. In order not to enact the anger, there must be mindfulness that it's present and the increasing ability to make space for it. There must be a presence that sees what's happening, sees how a person is acting in an unpleasant way or the situation is unpleasant, how it's giving rise to various levels of fear, anger, discomfort, and sees that there is strong aspiration not to enact that anger.

I stress aspiration-no longer the judgment "Oh, you must be good," which fragments the self, but a deep heartfelt aspiration which fosters the integration of experience. So there's strong presence which sees deeply and understands just what's happening. Awareness notes, "That person is tired, she's short-tempered, she's finding her own work difficult, and so she snapped at me." Instead of going into defense that says she's wrong or right, or trying to figure out who's right or wrong, you just see what's happening. You see her anger as the expression of all these forces acting on her. Understanding is the gateway to compassion, compassion from the heart, not the concept of compassion ordered by the fearful brain. Compassion becomes so deep that the anger ceases to arise. There's just a clear understanding. From that very centered space that does not need to judge what's happening, you may firmly say no, you may not take out your anger on me that way, but there's no anger involved in that "no." It comes from the heart.

Now, Jack is talking about the place where anger IS coming up as response to the allowing of emotions. Remember, this is a process. So catalyst arises and because there is no longer so much monitoring of the feelings, there is awareness of the presence of anger. It really is not more anger, Jack. It may seem that way. It is simply more permitted anger. And that's important. I would conjecture there was more anger before, but it wasn't allowed to emerge. As the anger comes up and is allowed to emerge, as you work with it in mindfulness, releasing deeply into what is happening, and offer compassion to the other and to yourself, you'll find as you yourself described to me earlier today that the anger just dissolves. Will it come up again? Of course. Increasingly you experience it just as energy and you do not have to do anything with it, neither deny it or enact it. With that willingness to just be present with your anger, compassion increases. With increased compassion, yes, anger does cease to arise as quickly. and eventually will almost entirely cease. I stress "almost" because there will always be something that may finally trigger it, some momentary lapse in mindfulness. I pause.

Barbara: Questions or comments?

Len: That has probably been the most significant learning for me in the 4 years I've been working with you and Aaron-that acting out is not necessary, having space around my anger or whatever feeling. That's a real freedom for me, truly freedom.

Barbara: I agree. I experience that too and it's wonderful.

Len: Thank you.

Barbara: You're welcome.

Len: Going back to this unresolved separation from the parent, it seems like that's probably one of the most significant issues that one needs to deal with in relationship, primary relationship-is not trying to get resolution around this neediness related to separation.

Aaron: I am Aaron. I hear you and agree, Len. However, there are two ways to approach that issue. One is from that same "I should" space which says "I will not let my relationships hang on that unresolved need." One phrasing of that resolve is a decision to move deeply into the unresolved need and "fix it." Exploration of the unresolved need certainly can be useful, more so for some than for others. But I would suggest an entirely different approach. The unresolved need is based on myth. It's based on myth that you're separate. When your meditation experience takes you into the direct experience of your connection, then the unresolved need simply shatters. Based on the light of experience, it's so clear that the unresolved need was a myth that there's simply nothing to hold it in place any more.

Again, I challenge you with the question, what if you let go of that need? Is there any part of you that wants to hold on to that myth? I pause.

Len: I don't know why it's so scary to let go.

Barbara: Aaron says this is precisely what the pure awareness practice is about. He said one of the reasons that there's resistance to dzogchen meditation is there is that which doesn't want to let go of the myth. What if I do discover there are no boundaries? Then what of that which thinks it needs to defend?

Len: I've been getting hits of the illusion quality of separateness.

Barbara: Getting glimpses that it IS an illusion, is that what you're saying?

Len: Yea, yea.

Barbara: Aaron says there's nothing like the direct experience of non-separation to prove to you that separation is a myth. It also is a myth that's borne out by your relative experience. Certainly Len, Vicki, Carl and Jack, you're separate people.

Len: Sure. But not really. And that awareness scares me sometimes.

Barbara: Aaron would like comments, especially on why we cling to various myths, why we cling to our anger in the myth that we need to defend ourselves, why we cling to the myth of separation.

Jack: From my own experience I have found anger being a tremendous source of power.

Barbara: Because anger is energy.

Jack: It has also been the only energy I have felt reliable when I need such energy. And letting go of this source, am I willing to risk it all to accept love &

Barbara: Aaron says this is precisely the place where most of us are confused. I'll let Aaron talk.

Aaron: I am Aaron. A major area of confusion for most of you is that you think you have to enact the ultimate and therefore divorce yourself from the human physical being. You then tend to invalidate your feelings. But this is not how it is. The relative is not lesser than the ultimate. Perhaps part of the fault is mine when I use such terms as "myth." Separation is a myth, but nevertheless, your separate being, your body, your mind, is your human experience. To move out of the myth of your separateness does not mean to negate the human. It means to come to the deep understand that both levels exist. That the ultimate self can be fully open AND the human self can be afraid and angry, and that there is not need to negate that fear and anger.

When you see the real human dilemma here, with great presence and mindfulness, then there's deep compassion for the human that's so stuck in its dilemma. There's still pain, pain about the whole dilemma in which you find yourself. But you can then experience both levels simultaneously, and are increasingly able to act from the ultimate level, which does not need to attack external catalysts as other, but also out of real compassion and respect for the human. You're able to say no very appropriately to that which is destructive to you. You're able to honor and respect the human's pain; nobody needs to use you as a dart board. Those darts puncturing your skin hurt.

So you don't enter some kind of lovey-dovey ultimate level which says, "Fine, use me for a dart board &" You enter an ultimate level which feels compassion for the other which has nowhere to throw his darts, but which can firmly say "no, I am not a dart board." In that way there is a self and an other. You may not experience the self and other but the one who wants to use you for a dart board is experiencing you as an other or he would not want to throw his darts at you.

So there is a difficulty for the spiritual seeker who aspires so deeply to connect with the divine, to move from this place of ego-center, that the seeker then tends to negate the human instead of embracing the human. I pause.

Barbara: Len?

Len: Why can't we just have a big hit of ultimate reality so we know it's OK!

Barbara: You can! That's what your meditation practice is about. Dzogchen and Vipassana both are leading into that space. Once you really get into that space you don't lose it, although there must be constant practice to maintain the outer expression of that truth. I talked about that in meditation class two weeks ago. It's just so strongly there that you really can rest on it when you see fear and different mental formations coming up.

Len: (Something about Dzogchen practice.)

Barbara: But Vipassana practice is important too; even more important in some ways, because without the mindfulness and this choiceless awareness, dzogchen can be an escape, spacing out into some wonderful blissful place which has no connection with everyday reality.

Len: I'm starting to prefer dzogchen over Vipassana meditation.

Barbara: Please keep a balance. Part of our practice is to look at preference, so if there's a preference for dzogchen, fine, just take that preference as the primary object of Vipassana for awhile and see deeply into it.

Jack: The other thing for me that ties to all of this is the deepening awareness of the subtleties of self-judgment when experiencing heavy emotions. And attempting to choose NOT to act from them.

Barbara: (This is Barbara speaking, not Aaron.) We're addicted to these emotions. We enjoy the flows of adrenaline; as you said, it's very empowering, a lot of energy in anger. Judgment is just another negative emotion. It's part of the whole chain. So, when judgment arises, when you note it as judgment, at each place where you note the heavy emotion, there's an opportunity with each one to simply be present with it and invite in compassion for the human that's experiencing that emotion.

In each place we can open up that obsession with the emotion. Sometimes mind just becomes obsessive and runs away with it, and the best we can do is simply to note how mind is running away with anger, judgment and self-recrimination, or blaming others. But in each arising of heavy emotion there's simply the opportunity to open the heart. To me the best resource is simply metta, working with loving-kindness, coming back again and again to the self which, real or not real, at the moment certainly is feeling very real and is feeling in pain. Then we offer love to that self and finally extend it to all beings.

Aaron has talked at length about how we're addicted to our emotions, and about ending addiction to emotions with different practices we can do. Aaron will speak.

Aaron: I am Aaron. Please note that you can not end the addiction to the emotions when you attempt to fix yourself. That move to "fix" solidifies the self and emotion. Even when motivated by aspiration to live with more love, any movement which attacks simply solidifies self.

In Dhammapada are the beautiful words, "In this world, hate never yet dispelled hate. Only love dispels hate. This is the law, ancient and inexhaustible." When heavy emotion arises, which the mind says must be fixed, can you draw it into the heart of love?

Then you do not fix the addiction to the emotions at all; you allow heavy emotion to fall away because something else replaces it. As the open heart connects with the deep aspiration to move lovingly and without harm in the world, and allows that aspiration to be nurtured and to flourish, then the heavy emotions simply lose their solidity.

It does take constant mindfulness. It does take frequent check-in to observe the habitual and defended qualities of the tendency toward heavy emotions. Such mindfulness is your ongoing practice through the entire incarnation. You are never done with it. Then, when impulse to react arises, you can note to yourself, "I don't have to do it that way any more. It's very old. I do have a choice-there is this which deeply aspires to offer itself with love. So I'm just going to let the emotion be and allow the spaciousness which is also present to express itself." You must stay in touch with the whole of yourselves. That which is divine is not separate at all from that which feels enormous, even murderous rage. You embrace and bring into the light that which feels such rage, and touching it with compassion.

We must end this discussion as I am told the hour grows late. I thank you for sharing of yourselves with me and one another and for your earnest work. My deepest love to you all. That is all.

[Picture] Comic relief at the close of the 10 day summer retreat, June, 1996. "A lotus blossom for you, a Buddha to be &" Clockwise from left: Carl, Jack, John, David, Tom

Copyright © 2000 by Barbara Brodsky