Volume 15, Number 1


Letter from Barbara
Barbara Brodsky

From the Board President
Sandy Wiener

On Kalyana
Southern Dharma Retreat
October 9, 2006

Walking Through Fear
Wednesday Night Open Group
October 26, 2005 (Excerpt)

Christmas Stories
Wednesday Night Open Group
December 21, 2005

Meditation with Zoey
Lynne G. Tenbusch

Characteristics of Reality
Ann Barden


Aaron Quote

Letter from Barbara
Barbara Brodsky

Dear Ones,

This fall, after 6 intense weeks of teaching and leading retreats, I'm hibernating again as I did this summer, doing a mix of personal retreat, work on a new book, and healing. These months have been the longest break from daily teaching I've had in 18 years. It's been good to work on the book and read through old journals with Aaron, to take stock of where I've been and where I'm going. Yet Aaron reminds me we don't go anywhere, just open more deeply to the profound truth and wholeness that's always within and around us.

Gradually I understand more fully that any sense of brokenness or limitation is part of the illusion of the incarnation and that we are truly always whole and unlimited, just as Aaron tells me. The work is not to destroy the illusion, for it is a teacher, but to see it clearly as illusion and not be bound by it. The illusions of deafness, poor vision, and body pain, are very compelling, so much so that I often give energy to defeating them. I'm learning to treat them like a passing feeling of anger or sadness, just arisen out of conditions and impermanent. That which is aware of anger is not angry. That which is aware of deafness is not deaf.

Only when I cease to give energy to the illusion am I able to give that energy fully to the knowing of wholeness and unlimitedness, and how to live it. Catch 22: On the human plane I still can only move in one direction at a time! One cannot deny the personal experience. Right now this body is deaf, and experiences pain and lack. I find myself increasingly able to be in both places, to offer compassion to the human who's prey to the illusion, without believing she's flawed or limited. In meditation I saw a frightened child, hungry but angry and resistant to take the offered food. I became aware that all that I seek is and always has been right here and now, if I can but open myself to it.

In January I head back to Brazil for a month. Please hold me in your hearts with the prayer that I may open to the healing that is already here, fully receive and manifest it. I hold the same prayer for you.

With love, Barbara

From the Board President
Sandy Wiener

Dear Sangha members,

Nothing major to report about Sangha developments, except that we have signed an 18-month lease with our landlord, taking us into June of 2008.

In this Newsletter I want to write about two aspects of the Howell Nature Center weekend retreat, which ended yesterday, October 29, as I write this.

One: At Howell, I heard one of the best Dharma talk that I can remember. John Orr spoke of his many meditation experiences: in India, Thailand, Laos, Sri Lanka, and then, eight years later, his experiences back in the United States. Suddenly, flesh and blood details filled out the abstract concepts of Vipassana, Access Concentration, Dzogchen, the Jhanas and other meditation practices. They all became much more understandable through hearing John's stories of what was actually happening to him as he practiced these disciplines. I was particularly struck by John's descriptions of the distinct pluses, and the minuses, of the "bells and whistles" in his more advanced states of meditation.

John's story reminded me of one of my favorite books, "Will Yoga and Meditation Really Change My Life," edited by Stephen Cope. In his introduction, Cope says. "I've noticed something interesting: In spite of all the fancy keynote talks and concurrent sessions we offer [at Kripalu] . . . students almost always feel most inspired by simply hearing true stories of transformation -; both the teachers' and their own. . . [italics his]"

It would be good, I think, for the Sangha to find a way to share our "stories." For example, I've recently written three-plus pages on three questions: 1) What led me to meditation? 2) What is my current practice? 3) Why do I continue to meditate? If you have any ideas, please share them with me.

Two: Another second notable aspect of the retreat was the great amount of Sangha volunteer hours that go towards putting it together, and in such a wonderful fashion!

It all starts with the Retreat Committee handling countless preparatory arrangements, and culminates in all the on-site retreat work. Among so many details, I'll mention just one: the delicious and nourishing food at the Howell retreat (though I fear I engaged in grasping here). For example, the opening dinner featured organic vegetables picked fresh that morning—and sliced and diced—from Frog Holler Farm.

Peter Drucker, probably the greatest management guru of the 20th century, in his book on non-profits, figured that if all of the volunteer hours in the country were added up, this would increase our national GNP by 20%. The Deep Spring Board back in 1999 helped calculate that Deep Spring members put in an average of 760 volunteer hours each month to keep our Sangha healthy and functioning: committee work on all the Deep Spring committees, transcribing Barbara's and Aaron's talks, teaching, preparing and mailing the Newsletter, and many other ongoing necessary activities. Seven years later, the number of Deep Spring volunteer hours has undoubtedly increased substantially.

So . . . great bravo's and huge thank you's to our large corps of Deep Spring volunteers. And to those of you who aren't volunteering yet and are fortunate enough to be benefiting from Deep Spring programs, the Board invites and encourages you to join in as well. Please call me or another Board member to inquire about helping out. Many thanks!

Sandy Wiener
Board President

On Kalyana
Southern Dharma Retreat
October 9, 2006

The dharma is sometimes called "that which is lovely in the beginning and the middle and the end." John spoke last night about certain aspects of dharma, the Four Noble Truths and suffering. These are very real parts of dharma. The deep truth of the cessation of suffering is a very beautiful part of it. It will cease, but no argument, there's suffering, it's real.

We also need to attend to the beautiful side of dharma. The word kalyana means lovely or beautiful in Pali. It's not loveliness so much in the sense experience but a spiritual kind of loveliness, the very beautiful qualities of spirit and heart. This is a vital part of the dharma. How do we awaken these in us?

Sitting today down by the waterfall with all of you, doing dzogchen, sun shining, leaves fluttering down, so beautiful, and my heart deeply opened. This is dharma, too, to share a moment like that together. It's inspiring; it's beautiful.

The word kalayana is used in two major places, kalyana dhamma and kalyana mitta, the spiritual friend who reminds of this loveliness, and the sangha that reminds us. We see other people's beautiful qualities much more readily than we see our own. We're hard on ourselves, so we see this beauty in others and it inspires us. It's not just the qualities of lovingkindness and compassion and so forth, but also just the willingness to do one's practice. This is a beautiful quality, to express the faith that to take something very painful and just rest in the practice and not be moved into a place of hatred or rage. This is beautiful.

Again, reading some sutras to you tonight …

From Samyutta Nikaya, number 45 part 2. It's called "Half of the Holy Life"

Samyutta Nikaya XLV.2 Upaddha Sutta Half (of the Holy Life)
Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.


I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was living among the Sakyans. Now there is a Sakyan town named Sakkara. There Ven. Ananda went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to the Blessed One, sat to one side. As he was sitting there, Ven. Ananda said to the Blessed One, "This is half of the holy life, lord: admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie."[1]

"Don't say that, Ananda. Don't say that. Admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life. When a monk has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, he can be expected to develop & pursue the noble eightfold path."

He goes on to explain how he develops Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action. He does this based on his friends, companions, and colleagues:

"And how does a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & comrades, develop & pursue the noble eightfold path? There is the case where a monk develops right view dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation, resulting in relinquishment. He develops right resolve ... right speech ... right action ... right livelihood ... right effort ... right mindfulness ... right concentration dependent on seclusion, dependent on dispassion, dependent on cessation, resulting in relinquishment. This is how a monk who has admirable people as friends, companions, & colleagues, develops & pursues the noble eightfold path."

"And through this line of reasoning one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life: It is in dependence on me as an admirable friend that beings subject to birth have gained release from birth, that beings subject to aging have gained release from aging, that beings subject to death have gained release from death, that beings subject to sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair have gained release from sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair. It is through this line of reasoning that one may know how admirable friendship, admirable companionship, admirable camaraderie is actually the whole of the holy life."


1. As AN VIII.54 points out, this means not only associating with good people, but also learning from them and emulating their good qualities.

Without this, how does one get started? We can't do it alone.

In Theravada Buddhism, the teacher is not an authority as it is, for example, in the Tibetan or sometimes in the Zen practice. But the phrasing kalyana mitta, spiritual friend, is used: one who walks the path with you and reminds you of the beautiful qualities of heart and spirit. The beautiful qualities that help to develop practice.

Ajahn Sucitto, a monk who is a wise, loving man and a wonderful teacher, has a book called Kalyana. He's speaking about the words kalyana mitta. I'm reading from his book.

From Ajahn Sucitto in his book, Kalyana:
On Kalyana mitta:
These words indicate an ongoing process in cultivating the Eightfold Path, and that it has a continually gladdening aspect. Something inspires so you draw close, you're interested–this is the first sign of the lovely. Then you get involved; also a lovely quality. You practice; and even struggle with yourself, not from a negative position but because you really want to pull out of dullness and delusion. So this energy is also beautiful. And as much as anyone else can inspire, advise or encourage, once you're involved, you have to find the kalyanamitta in yourself. You have to develop the moral qualities and conscientiousness in yourself. An external kalyanamitta can remind you of that spiritual friend in yourself, by helping you attune to your own core values. The spiritual friend reminds you of things you know and hold dear in your own heart.

We can see this clearly. If these qualities didn't resonate for us, we wouldn't be attracted. If the qualities you see in John and me as teachers didn't resonate, if we were both bitter, angry, critical, vengeful people, you'd probably never want to come to another retreat with us again! You also wouldn't be inspired to practice. That doesn't mean we're always kind and loving; we're human, too. Our role is not to be someone you emulate so much as to remind you and empower you to bring this forth in yourself. I'll come back to this in a little while.

The other meaning of kalyana, the other way it's used is in kalyana dhamma, a sutra that says this dhamma is lovely in the beginning, lovely in the middle, and lovely in the end. "In the beginning" refers to the inspiration, the intention to practice. It's what gets us into practice. "In the middle" is where you are now. Working to nurture these qualities of patience, lovingkindness, mindfulness; not qualities that you've got to go out and get somewhere but qualities the seeds of which have been either lying fallow or already starting to blossom in yourselves.

Remember the other night, the phrase I quoted, "Cultivate the good. One can cultivate the good. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it." We're cultivating the good. We're gardeners. We have all of these seeds growing, some big thistle bushes here and there, lots of thorns, and also many beautiful flowers, some of them just little seedlings. As any good gardener does, we have to ask ourselves, what will help to make the beautiful seedlings grow? How do I nurture the seedlings? Since the weeds may be thick, if I go in there with a hoe and start to hack out the weeds, I'm probably going to kill most of my seedlings. It's a very good metaphor. If we practice with anger and aggression, we can't possibly nurture the beautiful qualities because these qualities cannot be nurtured with anger.

"Hatred will never resolve hatred; only love resolves hatred." This is the beginning of the Dhammapada. A very beautiful phrase and very clear statement: hatred will never resolve hatred; only love will resolve hatred.

So how do we attend to the weeds? We've really got to go in there with a little tiny spade and look at the weed and see its root structure and how it's growing, and how we can snip it back gradually without disturbing the beautiful flowers, until finally the weed just shrinks itself and dissolves and the flowers grow. This is our practice. This is the dhamma that's lovely in the middle. We're practicing loveliness.

Lovely in the end. Even if we're not fully enlightened, we seek fruits of our practice. In the small group meetings, all of you have discussed positive things that are coming out of your practice. We look back and we see we have a little bit more patience than we had five years ago, with others and with ourselves. We're a little less frantic when things are not going right. We don't become angry as quickly. We start to see there is a fruit here. It's not the end yet, but it's also not the middle. There's a really tangible fruit and the first of the fruits of liberation. Whether it's complete, the liberation of the arahat, or a beginning level of liberation, it's still liberation. When somebody speaks abusively to me and I don't have to punch him in the nose, that's freedom. Seeing how I don't personally go around punching people in the nose, still when somebody speaks abusively to me and I don't become angry, that's freedom. Instead, I might feel compassion. It's very powerful. It's dhamma that's lovely in the beginning, lovely in the middle, and lovely at the end.

So we practice this dhamma. We nurture it. Again, what I read to you the other day, what is right effort?

Saccavibhanga Sutta/The Exposition of Truths (Majjhima Nikaya, 141: 29)

29: And what, friends, is right effort? … He awakens zeal for the arising of unarisen wholesome states and he makes effort, rouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives. He awakens zeal for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase and fulfillment by development of arisen wholesome states, and he makes effort, rouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives. This is called right effort.

It's not easy. We're in the habit of telling ourselves stories, avoiding looking deeply at ourselves, and when these difficult mind states arise, we tend to want to get away or to fix them. But we can't fix them: that's getting the hoe and slashing at it. And we can't run away forever. How do we attend in a loving way?

A statement that I often make, and people often don't catch on the first time, so you're going to hear me say this a number of times during the retreat, "That which is aware of anger is not angry. That which is aware of fear is not afraid." Consciousness arises, the mind reverberating with anger, tense and fearful. That which knows, "This is the experience of the mind filled with anger," is not angry. Anger has arisen in this mind and body. But Awareness in itself is not angry. It may be very clear and calm. We get so caught up in the anger and its stories that we fail to notice this calm, spacious aspect of mind.

Look at the image, if you will, of the window here. There's clear glass, and you can see out to the trees beyond. If we threw mud all over the window, you couldn't see out. Is the window in itself stained or affected in any way? Do we have to replace the glass? No. We just wash it off. The glass is clear. The glass is like the innate quality of pure awareness in ourselves, that innate purity, goodness, lovingkindness. It cannot be stained or spoiled. Its innate clarity is not something we have to get; rather, it's something we recognize, nurture and develop. And then we look at the mud and we attend to the mud. We hose it off.

That which is aware of anger is not angry. That which is aware of fear is not afraid. That which is aware of greed is not grasping. This instruction means that we need to go deep in ourselves when we experience an emotion like anger and not say, "How do I control anger, how do I fix the anger?" But rather to know, right here with the anger, here is lovingkindness.

When we open our hearts, we find that these qualities exist in ourselves. Going back many years, early 1960s, a sit-in in a little lunch counter in the South. We, the group sitting in, were arrested and thrown in a jail cell in town. I was angry. I was about 20 years old. I was pacing up and down the cell, stamping my feet. Two hours went by; I was really cultivating my anger. How can they be so bigoted? Bigoted idiots! Blah blah blah!

There were a half dozen women in the cell. This wonderful black woman, at that point she seemed old to me but she was probably younger than I am now, maybe 60, with a lovely dress, and she still had her hat pinned on. Finally she walked up to me. She said, "You're so angry." I said, "Of course I'm angry. Aren't you angry?" And she said, "Yes, of course I'm angry, sweetheart. But I also love them, and they are so afraid."

Wow. "Of course I'm angry, but I also love them and they are so afraid." This is a woman who had a lot more to lose than I did. I didn't live in that town; I had come down from the north. I wasn't black. I wasn't being persecuted. But she lived in this town. This was her home. She was the one who rode in the back of the bus. She was the one who couldn't go into lunch counters, or restaurants, to eat. And yet she was able to open her heart, go past her anger, recognize the power of love, and see deeply into another person's fear.

We all have this ability. The question isn't whether we have it but whether we're going to choose to nurture it. And this is where the lovely dhamma comes in, because we start to see the power of these beautiful spiritual mind states, and we start to see the suffering that's caused when we hold on to anger and negative mind states. Then we have a very clear choice: do I really want to hold on to this anger or not?

Years ago, I was waiting for an appliance delivery. Our refrigerator had died. Sears was supposed to deliver it at 9 o'clock in the morning. At 2 o'clock I was supposed to pick up my 10-year-old son from school and take him to a music lesson. You can guess what happened: no Sears … no Sears. Back then, I couldn't just pick up a phone and call. Now I can because they have new telephone systems for the deaf. But then I had to walk down my country dirt road and find a neighbor who was home, who would make the phone call for me. I did, and Sears assured me they were on their way.

And the lunch hour passed, no Sears. 1 o'clock came. Again, Sears assured me at 1 o'clock they're on their way. Finally I had to leave to pick up my son, and I was so angry. We had three kids, I had no refrigerator for three days; I needed the refrigerator. Where are they! How dare they!

So I got to the end of the road where it connects into the bigger street and just there I saw the Sears truck turning on to my road. I followed them back. I had a choice. I could have stopped them and said, "I'm sorry, you're too late, come back tomorrow." I made the choice to follow them home. "How long will it take?" "Oh, just 10 minutes." Okay. Well of course it's going to take more than 10 minutes: they've got to unload this thing, get the old one out, balance this and get it centered on its legs. An hour later they were driving away and I was just in a rage! There was no way to call my son and tell him what was going on. I knew he was just standing outside his school waiting, wondering, where's my mom?

Half-way into town, finally, I caught on. I stopped the car. This little thought occurred to me, I'm enjoying this anger. I really was attached to it. I was feeling so powerless in the face of Sears', what I deemed negligence, and my anger gave me a feeling of power. I didn't want to let it go. And it was clear to me it wasn't helping me; it wasn't helping anybody. It had probably caused them an extra 20 minutes that I was stomping around the kitchen, refraining from verbally making noise but stamping my feet and looking impatient.

Right there in that moment there was just the awareness, I can let go of it. Right here with anger are equanimity, patience, and compassion. What do I choose to cultivate? So we can do this. It's not always easy, but we can do this. What is the deepest intention?

Theravada Buddhism has many lists of beautiful qualities that we can work with. The first, of course, are the brahmavaharas that we've talked about. We've done metta and karuna meditations. Mudita is sympathetic joy, real joy for another, even when the other person is getting something you wanted. Can we be joyful for that person?

So with mudita we watch any jealousy or grasping that comes up. Watch the wanting mind, spinning its stories. And we can really move into a direct meditation practice, wishing the other person well-being. "May you be happy"–not trying to create an artificial idea of happiness but really touching on that in ourselves which is genuinely happy for the other person. It may be just a little spark, but we can nurture it.

And the fourth brahmavahara is equanimity. When we're feeling a lot of turmoil, we can look for that which is inherently peaceful right there with the turmoil. We don't look someplace else. We have to look where the turmoil is. But sometimes it's dark there and we want to get away from it.

In the Sufi tradition there's a wise fool whose name is Nasrudin, and there are some wonderful stories told about him. In one story, Nasrudin is kneeling on the ground under a lightpost; somebody comes along and says, "What are you looking for?" "My keys." "Where did you drop them?" "Over there," and he points to the dark under a tree. "Well, why are you looking here?" "It's easier here under the street lamp."

We don't want to look in the place we have to look for these qualities. We tend to think, "If I'm filled with turmoil, I've got to either escape or kill the turmoil first before I can finally find peace or equanimity," instead of looking right there inside the turmoil. We don't want to look in the darkness; we want to look under the lamppost where it's light. But that's not where we're going to find it. It's there in the darkness. It's right there with the anger and fear, right there with the grasping.

So metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha, metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha … We did that chant at least once and will do it more. It's a beautiful chant, just a reminder. Sometimes when I'm feeling a lot of turmoil, I like to just chant this to myself. I find it helps. It's just a reminder. It's like asking myself, right now where is metta? Where is karuna? Where is mudita? Where is upekkha? Right now, where is it? Allow myself to invite it in.

We have these famous, or infamous, Theravada lists: the Ten Perfections, the Seven Factors of Enlightenment, the Five Spiritual Qualities, endless lists. The perfections: generosity, morality, energy, wisdom, renunciation, lovingkindness, truthfulness, equanimity, patience. The spiritual faculties: faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, wisdom. The factors of enlightenment: joy, energy, investigation, mindfulness, tranquility, concentration, equanimity. Some of them are repeated in several lists.

These are the precious seeds that we work to nurture. There are many ways to do this. The most important is simply to remember our purpose. I spoke about Clear Comprehension the other night, clear comprehension of purpose and of suitability. If my purpose is to be powerful at all costs, to be right, to force others, I probably don't want to open to these beautiful qualities. But if my purpose is to live my life with more harmony and lovingkindness in the world, then I have a clear choice to make. And it's never impossible to connect with these qualities no matter how deep in the mire we are. We just have to remember they exist and allow ourselves to be open to them. We have to see the stickiness of the anger- and fear-based qualities and make the decision not to reinforce them.

Years ago I went with my son's class on a camping trip to a place in Canada, near Michigan, a long peninsula of land that runs out into Lake Erie. The campground is in the middle of this finger of land. Just a few hundred yards away are beaches, rocky beach on one side and sandy beach on the other. The peninsula juts out maybe a mile into the lake. At the end, it's no wider than 10 feet. Part way down, it's no wider than this room. But where the campground is, a few hundred yards wide.

There used to be a path that went from the campground to the sandy beach. But that year it was blocked off and the sign said, "Take the road to the beach." The map showed me it was going to take about maybe a mile and a half to get to the beach, way down and then circle around, and then back this way. And I said forget it, it's a hot day, I'm going to the beach.

I walked in a ways on an old trail and I came to a patch that looked like mud. I stepped into the mud and whoosh! I was literally up to my chest in mud. A BIG mud-hole. And there were some sticks and things on the surface, and I grabbed as I felt myself falling, plopped over so my face was in the mud. My whole body was in the mud, my feet not touching bottom, and fear coming up.

So I managed to inch my way forward and crawl out onto the other side of the mud-hole. Now the camp was behind me, the beach was ahead of me. I started to walk, but immediately came to a huge patch of thorns, a solid wall of thorns. There was no way past. I walked up and down and I couldn't get through. Turned around and there was the mud-hole, and I figured, well I'll go around it. But there was no way around it. I went 20 yards, 50 yards, north and south, feeling with a stick; all mud. No way around it. Fear came up. I was only 200 yards from camp. Maybe they could hear me if I screamed, maybe not. But it was September, it's not too cold. It was probably going to be cool at night and I was in a bathing suit, but I wasn't going to die out there. I wasn't lost in the wilds of Canada: I'm simply in a populated park with a mud-hole and thorn break.

I tried every way I could, pushing from a place of fear. I considered just walking through the thorns and getting cut up, and decided not to. I had the sense finally just to sit down on the ground. I gave up. Best thing I could have done. I just started to breathe and to meditate, quieting myself, allowing that deep wisdom and openheartedness to emerge. As I sat there, a bunny rabbit went through, and he went right where it seemed there was mud. Hop, hop, hop, and through. And I watched him and I could see what looked like a deer trail there. So I got up with my stick and I tapped: mud, solid, mud. Only mud 6 inches deep in the middle.

So I tapped my way across. It was only about 10 feet across. Tap, tap, tap, follow the deer path. To do it, I had to stop running with the fear and its stories, open my heart, be present. Maybe there would not have been a deer path. Maybe I would have just sat there. Eventually somebody would have said, "Where's Barbara?" They would have come out looking for me. If it got late enough I would see their flashlights. They would have figured I was somewhere around. They would have found me.

We can open our hearts to our situation in any moment or we can act out our fear, our anger, our negativity. We always have a choice.

As you work with your practice this week, see what nurtures these beautiful seeds within you. See what defeats them. Ask yourself, what is my purpose here? You're not doing this dhamma practice for power, for success in the world, to be a somebody: you're doing it from a place of love. Trust this beauty in the self, the seeds of lovingkindness and the open heart. It will take you where you want to go. Trust it and cherish it, allow it to grow. Where will you put attention, on the negative, and thereby further energize it, or on the Kalyana, the lovely?

Thank you.

Walking Through Fear
Wednesday Night Open Group
October 26, 2005 (excerpts)

Sometimes fear can lead us to a place of honesty, sometimes to a place of dishonesty. In other words, one can deny one's fear or one can transcend one's fear.

I was a boy in a culture that was quite primitive by your standards. For me it was not at all primitive. What you judge as primitive is that which is technologically undeveloped. And yet, beyond the technology standard, this culture was quite well-developed, had trust of one's intuition, a deep access to the subtle bodies, and the subtle plane. There was trust of one's experience beyond what the physical senses told.

I was an apprentice working to become a shaman, deeply trained in healing fields, and related spiritual practices. I came to shamanism because I was crippled in that lifetime. I had an accident as a young boy and broke my leg, which did not set well. I could walk but with a clumsy gait. So I could not be a warrior, I could not be a hunter, and I was naturally drawn to spiritual practices. The shaman of our tribe became my mentor and began to teach me the many things I needed to know to someday be his successor.

When I say to be his successor, he was quite old at that point and yet still he was the one who trained me, but there was one who would take over as his successor long before I would. So it would not be until I was middle-aged that I would finally become his successor. But he trained me well so I was no longer an apprentice but truly was named as a shaman. To finally hold this title, it was required of me that I would spend a night in the cave of the elders. This cave was so named because at the death of each shaman for many, many generations, the bodies were wrapped and taken into the back part of this cave, into a deep, dark chamber at least a 20-minute walk from the cave entrance. There it was pitch black. The releasing of the spirit of the dead shaman was a ceremony in which the new shaman and members of the tribe carried the wrapped body back and laid it on a table of sorts, created out of rock.

There are a number of these tables; the newest table holds the wrapped, freshly deceased flesh, but upon an older one, perhaps from 30 years ago, there is just the skeleton left, and of earlier bodies, only dust remains.

So when you enter, there is the strong sense of the loving power of these very wise, ancient ancestors. And yet often such presence can also call forth negativity that senses an opportunity for power if it can find a chink in the armor of love within these remains, and with those who come into this sacred space. So there is a sense of both the radiance and wisdom of their lives, and also of negativity that has gathered seeking an entrance.

As a boy I was apprentice and now I was stepping beyond the apprentice stage. In the ceremony, I was led into this chamber of the elders and asked to spend 24 hours. I was given water and a blanket, but no light. They brought me in, there was an hour of prayer and chanting, and then they took their torches and they left, leaving me in pitch blackness.

I sat there for the first hour alone, continuing the chanting that had been going on around me. Needless to say, the chambers echoed and it was a large cavern, so my voice returned to me in different tones, different pitches, until it sounded like there was an entire chorus around me.

It began to sound distorted, fearsome, so I stopped chanting. I decided to sit in silence. What I first thought would be silent was not silent at all! There are many creatures deep in a cave: bats, of course, and a fierce snake that lives in these caverns. Rats and other things. Noises were all around me of life that I could not see. Soon terror began to come.

I had seen the direction in which the elders left, but of course I could not fully mark that direction, and we had come in by a winding path. I knew I could not escape. All I could do was to stay there until the next day when they would come for me. And so I was forced to be there with my own terror, or become mad. I admit that part way through the night, I began to scream, literally to scream. Then I began to sob. I fell asleep crying and woke up to a new wave of terror, feeling icy cold, not sure where I had left my blanket. The imagination grasped every noise. There is negativity in the universe, not any absolute evil, but beings of negative polarity; but with our imagination we create so much greater negativity. Each noise became not a living creature moving, but a voice of intentional evil, though I knew there truly was no absolute evil. The mind creates its own horrors, not needing the world to create them.

There was no way of telling the passage of the hours, as the chamber was dark. Twenty-four hours can seem like an eternity. Finally I began to calm down, to move into my meditation and spiritual practice. I was able to touch on that which was afraid and offer it kindness, to not be so involved in the stories and creation of phantom spooks around me. I called on the loving and wise spirits of my ancestors who surrounded me and asked their help. I moved to awareness of the breath, feeling the breath in the body. With each moment, being born and new with the in breath and literally dying to the out breath, not knowing if there would be a new in breath. Hearing the noises around me, watching the imagination jump into creating some kind of monster who would attack me, and knowing the mind's games, noting "imagining, imagining," and coming back into the heart.

I needed that full 24 hours. Some of you have read with Barbara the Bhayabharava Sutra of the Buddha, wherein he resolves to meditate at a haunted shrine. This is before his enlightenment. He says, "As fear and dread would arise, I resolved to stay present with that fear and dread and allow the experience of it until it dissolved itself." It doesn't dissolve itself quickly. I needed every minute of that 24 hours.

Finally I felt calm. There was just noise around me, just darkness. Still some unpleasant energy, but I was no longer so afraid of it. Then I began to think, if I tell them of my terror, they won't let me be a shaman. They'll say, "You failed. You were terrified, you failed." I'm going to have to lie and tell them I was just peaceful like I am now. So here I created the worst horror of all, a denial of my experience.

I sat there in meditation touching the deep wisdom and love of my ancestors and I knew that I could not lie in their presence. If I was not to be a shaman, so be it. Because of my crippled leg, this path was all that was left to me. And now I had to face the fact that I had failed at this. I had not been able to sit here all night and hold the space of love. I had failed!

They had told me they would return. They had not told me how they would return. They came in beating drums. Long before I saw any light I heard the boom, (pause) boom, (pause) boom, resonating through the chamber. What was it? What devilish thing was upon me now? But at this point mind was in such a space of calmness, equanimity and clarity, that there was just hearing. The mind jumped to, "What is that?" This sound, that sound, then coming back into the heart. Holding space for that, I can't call it a frightening sound, it was only frightening in the mind. Boom! Resonating off all of the walls in this large chamber, and then finally the lights.

The cloaked elders who came were all dressed in costumes, with fierce-looking masks, and they surrounded me. They just stood in a circle around me. I was able to look in each one's eyes that shined through the mask and I was not afraid. Then the one who had been my teacher pulled off his mask and he said, "Were you afraid?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "Wonderful. Then we accept you. You have passed."

There is much that is frightening in life. To be present with it, not to try to push it away or deny it, and not to get caught in the stories, is our work. My situation was extreme but not much more extreme than that which many of you face in your daily lives. Seeming monsters surround you. There is darkness even though the light is there, and you feel lost. And when you open your heart to yourself and allow yourself to be present with fear, you find that which transcends fear, which is love. Love and fear are not mutually exclusive. Right there with the fear is love. You don't have to get rid of fear to find the love, only to create enough space for the fear and the love to be there together.

Here is another story.

The boy I was lived in very early Europe in a small village. At the outskirts of the village was a very old house. Sometimes elders would go into the house briefly and come out. The other houses were lit with candles, or with oil lamps. This house always seemed dark at night. I realized years later it was because there were heavy curtains that were drawn, but for me as a boy, we just called it the House of Darkness.

There was an old crone who lived there, a bit stooped, snaggle-toothed, always with a cloak. Occasionally we would see her out in the yard doing some chore or other, carrying in some wood, bringing in some water. When we saw her in the yard, we fled–she was the "witch" of our childhood nightmares.

When I was a boy of perhaps 11, at the age where boys dare each other, my friends all said, "Who will go into the House of Darkness tonight?" It was that season of All Saints' Day, the Day of the Dead, and so forth, a time when according to our myth, witches, goblins and monsters were abroad. I was the tallest of my friends, not the eldest but the tallest. So when they said, "Who will go in?" they all looked at me.

They said, "If you go first, then I'll go the next night, and I'll go the next night," different ones. "You go first, Aaron." My name wasn't Aaron in that lifetime, but "You go first." Refusing to be seen as a coward, I went into the house. I crept in by a back window, windows not being glass as they are today, just shuttered, a shuttered opening. I lifted the latch on the shutter, pulled it open and climbed through. I was terrified!

There was just a little bit of light. I crept very cautiously from the kitchen in which I found myself, not a kitchen as you would call a kitchen, more a sitting room that had a stove in it, and boxes of odd shapes that led the imagination to conjure monsters. There was a lantern in the next room, a small bit of light. I crawled in, creeping along close to the ground. Then I saw a figure with its back to me. It was not the old crone, it was someone smaller.

Just then the floor creaked under my feet, and this figure turned toward me. The face was dreadful to be hold. There was no mouth, just a wide opening. There were no arms, only short stubs on either side. Two piercing eyes looked at me. I screamed and ran out!

But as I ran out of that first room and toward the window into which I had come, a hand grabbed me at the nape of my neck. I turned and saw this old crone glaring at me, fury on her face. "I'm done for," I thought. Will they eat me? What will they do to me? Will they throw me in the dungeon? Now this was not a house that could have had a dungeon, but the child's mind said, "They'll throw me in the dungeon. They'll torture me."

She looked at me with a fierce angry gaze. "Why did you break in here?" I was honest, I said, "On a dare." "On a dare? To learn what?" "We knew that there are monsters that live here. So I was the one who was chosen to come and see what the monsters were." Fear was not my natural state, so even in this predicament, held by the senior monster, I was forthright. "Do you want to see them?" she said. "Not really." But she did not give me any choice. She had me by my ear, now, and was pulling me back into the room wherein I had seen this hideous-looking being with a hole in his face. "Come," she said, "I want you to meet my grandson."

She picked up the lantern and carried it with her. She called a name, and that gruesome appearing visage turned around again, his gaze meeting mine. She brought the lantern up to his face.

At first all I could see was the deformed mouth and arms, but then I looked into the eyes, and saw that they had a soul to them. "This is my son," she said. "He was born with these defects." There was what today would be called a cleft palate, and for some reason the arms had not grown; they were just small stubs with fingers at the end. He was a bit hunchbacked. He could barely speak; his speech was not very intelligible. But with what speech he was able, he said, "Hello."

I struggled at first to get past the dreadful hole of a face, and suddenly there was no longer a monster there, there was a human being enclosed in a horribly deformed body. She saw my confusion and at first she shamed me. She said, "Did you come to make fun of him? He's human just like you. He wants friends just like you. You came to win the approval of your friends: will you go out and tell them you saw a monster? What will you tell them?" But then she saw the tears in my eyes.

She sat me down and made us both something sweet to drink. A warm drink. And we sat and the boy brought out something akin to your chessboard. Setting up the board, he asked, "Do you play?" It was a game that I knew. And so we played. When I got past the distortion of his mouth and face, I started to be able to see the smile on his face, the joy.

Now I had been in there for over an hour. My friends had expected me to be in there for only 5 or 10 minutes. What were they thinking? Was another of them going to break in? She said to me, "It's time to go." And she asked me, "Will you come back?"

He was capable of a guttural kind of speech, hard to comprehend but when I tried it was understandable. So he said, "Will you come back?" He looked at me and I saw the longing in his eyes; he said, "Please?" And I said, "Yes, of course."

She let me out the door; I did not go out the window. My friends were in the back watching for me to come out the back window. I sneaked around the house, back to where they were, got behind them, and said the equivalent of "Boo!" They all leaped 10 feet. "What happened?" What was I going to tell them? "There was a deformed monster in there," I said, and told about how he looked and how he scared me, but then I said, "He's a boy just like us, almost our age exactly. And he needs friends."

So I asked if the next night somebody would come with me. One of my friends was courageous enough to do that. The two of us went in, this time through the front door, knocking on the door. The old woman opened the door. She welcomed us. It was earlier in the evening and she offered us bread and soup. Once my friend got over his dismay at the boy's appearance, he began also to be able to see the human underneath. We spent the evening in play, meal and conversation and departed.

I wish I could tell you that all of my friends opened up to this boy. Many of the others were so disbelieving that they thought we were under some kind of spell. They separated themselves from us; they didn't want to spend time with us any more. But we found we enjoyed the beauty of our new friend. We stopped seeing his misshapen face. We found his heart, his soul.

It took three years before we were able to convince him to come out on a beautiful summer day. Through the woods there was a nearby river where we liked to swim. He had never been outside in the woods, nor to the river, so we brought him there. He could not swim because he had no real arms, but he could walk into the water and enjoy the cool freshness. The grandmother trusted us enough at that point not to come with us, to leave him in our care. So that was the first day that the other boys saw him, and most of them, seeing his delight in the water, began to come up and splash water on him in a friendly way, play with him in the water, show him how to sit down and kick his feet, to talk to him. Through our friendship his speech had become increasingly intelligible.

It was a powerful lesson for us all. The only monsters are imagined ones. We create monsters everywhere, but when you get to know the monster, what you find underneath is the potential for love, kindness, intelligence. I'm not saying there are no truly negative people in the world; certainly there are people who carry enormous negativity and take delight in harming others. Those people often have very normal appearance and you would not know them just by their appearance. But so often when we see something that disgusts us, and we say, "This is awful!" it's just our fear. It's our imagination creating the monster. When somebody acts in a way that is unpleasant, perhaps talks with anger, we say, "This is awful!" instead of looking through and finding the human soul underneath that anger. But when you touch that soul and invite it out, you find beauty. The anger may be present, and the beauty, both at the same time. But one has to get beyond the face of things and into the heart. So this is what I learned from that experience so long ago, not to judge things by their face but by their heart.

Christmas Stories
Wednesday Night Open Group
December 21, 2005

Aaron: Good evening and my love to you all. I am Aaron. Special blessings to my young friends. (There are numerous young children here tonight.) I'm very happy to have you with us.

A question was raised last year. For many years I said I was a simple shepherd, and this is true. In most of that lifetime, my time was spent in the hills as a shepherd, and yet I did have an education in the Essene school at Mt. Carmel. I knew Jesus both as a child and as an adult. People asked me, why did I never speak of this? Because it's His story I want to tell, not mine. It doesn't matter who I was or what I did; what matters is what He taught, what He lived and expressed. So I have tried to keep myself in the background. Now many of you have asked me to tell a little more about myself, and I will tell just a little of that story as background.

The earth at that time was full of fear and anger. For many humans, the predominant consciousness was one of what persons could see and hear and feel from their own senses. There was little trust of any experience beyond the physical senses. Without touching the heart in the ways He taught, there was not yet ability for compassion, for forgiveness, for that which opens the heart and knows the interconnection with all that is.

Can you see your interconnection, sitting here, literally looking around you? Can you see it? You seem as separate beings, but of course you're all connected. Think of two twins who are joined at the back and side so that they have two heads but they have just one body connecting between them. If you put up a wall so that all you can see are their heads, you would say, "Ah, certainly there are two people." But perhaps they share one heart. You all share one heart! Not knowing this, it's easier to kill others for your own need, to take from others for your own need. But when you understand, "Your heart is my heart," how can you kill, how can you take from yourself?

The highest intention at the time of His coming was the opening of the earth plane to higher consciousness. For so many millennia, the earth plane had lain in very heavy mundane consciousness, which sees separation and not connection. His coming was meant to open the door to higher consciousness, to help people begin to know their interconnectedness with each other and with the earth, because only through that knowing can there truly be love. There can be an imitation of love but it's the ego saying, "I'll be loving," and acting out a part. It doesn't come from the heart. He came to connect us to that innate love in our hearts.

Through decades before His coming, there was a lot of work to prepare the way. The one who was my earthly father in that lifetime asked me to come into incarnation to be his son. He was a shepherd in the hills. He was also trained in the Essene school, knew some of these deep practices to hold that centered space of love. He believed that those who lived the simple life as shepherds had more ease to learn how to open their hearts than those who lived in the cities, in a more greed-filled environment. Thus, this was his mission, to prepare the way for higher consciousness. So he asked me to come into incarnation as his son to carry the same training he had, to be a shepherd. That was my life. So I had training in those schools, but most of my life was as a shepherd living and teaching other shepherds, in an oral way as a teacher, but more, teaching through being.

It was known that He was coming; it was not a surprise. We had been rejoicing and awaiting His birth through that year, those of us who were part of that school at Mt. Carmel. I was a young boy, younger, I think, than most of these children, but I knew something special was going to happen.

That night of His birth, the sky was filled with stars. There was a deep clarity. It was not December; it was early spring, April, though that detail doesn't matter. There was that one star of which the legends tell. The whole earth seemed to reverberate with a heavenly music, not music your ears could hear but an inner music, a powerful energy. Many shepherds went to the town. My father stayed in the hills with his sheep. We walked a little ways, but I was young, not able to walk so far, and we knew the reason for this rejoicing of spirit.

But the next day I had the opportunity to walk with my father to the place where He was. We brought him an orphaned sheep as a gift. It was a great blessing to see Him, and I was given the opportunity to hold Him, to hold this blessed infant, so that was my first connection with Him. And then His family took him away for safety and I did not see Him again for a number of years.

When they returned, again I had the opportunity to spend some time with him, so I knew him as a boy. The first stories I want to tell you are some of those boyhood stories. I think you children would like to know what He was like as a boy. Did He ever get angry? Did He ever do mean things? What was He like?

I was five years His elder. We had become closer friends during that portion of the year that I spent in school at Mt. Carmel. Then during the time of year I spent in the hills with the sheep, He was occasionally permitted to come with me for a few weeks. There was a young boy my age, 11 or 12, who lived in the village and who had a hunched back. He walked with a limp and his mind was not clear. He had the understanding of a three-year old. He could be told what to do and could follow simple directions. He sometimes drooled a bit, and children teased him.

I remember the first time that young Jesus, just seven years old, met this boy. We had been at my father's house in the village and were going up in the hills where the sheep were, to stay there for ten days. As we walked down the street, this boy came out of his house and waved at us. There was a gang of bullies, as there often are within groups of children. They saw him waving and they began to mock him, imitating him in a cruel way. The little boy Jesus walked up to the hunchbacked one and took his hand. He asked me, "May he come with us?" and I said yes. Sometimes this boy came with me into the hills for a few hours. I knew if he came with me I would need to bring him back, as he could not be left alone, but his parents trusted me with him. His mother was there and nodded her assent.

So Jesus, meeting him for the first time, simply took his hand and brought him along with us. This boy did not have much understanding and during that afternoon, as we walked we came upon an injured small animal. The boy moved to kick it, and Jesus just put his hand on the boy's arm. Remember, we're talking about a seven-year old Jesus here. He put his hand on the boy's arm. The boy was much taller, big for his age even with his humped back. "No," Jesus said, and He reached out to pick up this small creature. He put it into the boy's arms, helped him hold it and pat it. He held this injured creature through the whole afternoon, tending to it, loving it. Jesus occasionally took it to stroke, then returned it to the boy.

The boy was changed after that. When he had come with me before, I had seen a streak of cruelty in him; I think he was mirroring the cruelty that he received from other children. But watching this young Jesus holding the injured animal, holding it himself and offering it love, suddenly he became radiant. He learned how to express that loving heart in himself. No matter that he was feeble minded, no matter that his body carried distortion, he found that deep healing in himself to know he was capable of love, that he was love. And this is what Jesus came to teach.

Did I ever see him angry as a child? Yes, sometimes he was very angry. He had to work hard to learn how to be present with His anger, not to condemn himself for His anger, but He learned it. This was one of the basic teachings of the Essene schools, not to cut off feelings but to learn how to be present with feelings. I've spoken of this at great length in a presentation of trainings from that Mt. Carmel mystery school. (See January 24, 2004 Trainings transcript.) I will not repeat it in depth here.

It was vital that He had to learn to be present with fear, present with anger, present with confusion. He had to learn to express this human side of Himself and not to use it for harm in the world or to be controlled by it, because His life asked of Him that He be present in situations in which there would be much catalyst for anger, fear, and confusion. So He learned to hold space for them.

Another memory, of perhaps a year later. Many of the shepherd boys in the hills would kill snakes because snakes could injure the sheep, and also could injure some of the small animals of their families' farms, kill chickens and so forth. Snakes were thus thought to be bad. We were in the hills together again and came upon some boys with knives striking at a snake. "What are you doing?" said little Jesus. "Killing the snake." He said, "Why would you kill a snake?" And they said, "Because it's evil." He wasn't afraid to speak up. These were young teenagers twice His size. He said, "Nothing is evil." And He pushed them aside, reached in and picked up the snake, held it to him, and He carried it around for a week, taking care of it until its wounds healed; then He set it free. Even then He knew non-duality. He couldn't articulate it yet but He knew it in His heart. This is what He came to teach.

I knew Him during His early teenage years and then He grew up and went away. There were ten years that I did not see Him. When He came back, He was not yet the teacher that He was growing to be, but was moving into readiness for that role.

The story that comes to mind … as we walked we came upon a young boy with a very overloaded donkey. When I say young boy, a teenage boy. The poor beast was staggering under a heavy load. It was emaciated, and the more it staggered, the more the boy beat it. My first impulse was to yell at the boy and grab the stick away. Jesus, now a young man, stepped forth and just said, "You seem to be having trouble. Where are you going with all your packages?" The boy replied, "To the city to sell these things. But this (using words that I will not repeat) beast won't work for me." And Jesus said, "I see your urgency to get to the city. Perhaps we can help you. Let us carry some of these things for you." The boy was suspicious. "Are you going to steal my things?" "Oh no, no, but we're going that way and I want to help you. We can carry these things for you."

So He quickly took everything off of the donkey and handed it off to us. Then He put His arm around the donkey, just holding it and supporting it as we walked. And while we walked, He talked to this young man. He asked him about his life. He expressed an interest in him. Where did he get these things, mostly food stuff that his family had grown? How did his family live? How many siblings were there? Learning that he was the oldest and that he felt responsible to take care of his siblings. So He saw beyond this negative face of the boy and into the heart of love, and He helped the boy to see that heart of love in himself simply by loving him.

When we got to the city, we returned the boy's burdens and Jesus saw that the donkey was fed and stabled. And He invited the boy to eat with us, so that the boy also was fed. He didn't teach by lecture. To lecture is to say, "No, this is negative, let's get rid of it. We only want what's good." He didn't do that. He just went right through the negative and saw that which was beautiful and offered it loving nurturance.

Every being has the capacity to open into that love which is their true nature. So His self-perceived work was to take us beyond our own duality of that which is good and that which is evil in ourselves, to not enact the negative but not to self-identify with it either. We go deeper into the loving heart and begin to learn how strongly we are that love, and that we can bring that forth when we wish to.

There are so many stories, and yet there are not that many stories. Through the years I've told you many of them. What I particularly wish to focus on tonight are these stories in which He looked through that which was negative and focused on that which was good. This is what you are all asked to do, both for yourselves and for those around you. And yet when we look through that which is negative, we cannot simply cast aside the negative; it must be attended to.

There was another time–I think I'm repeating myself in some of my stories but I don't think you'll mind hearing them again. There were young boys who had hold of a small cat and were torturing it, killing it. Rarely have I heard such a strong, shouted "NO!" but it was not to shame them, just to strongly stop them. No, you may not harm the small being.

He took the cat and it was dying. I have no doubt He could have saved it but it was badly mutilated. He held it lovingly in its arms, and I'm sure it felt that peace and ease at His holding. He asked the boys to consider that this was a living creature. How would they feel if somebody much bigger than them beat and cut them and hurt them in this way?

These were children, children your ages. He did not tell them they were bad, He awakened in them the awareness of the love that they had. He said, "You have taken a life. Now can you give life?" In the village we found a young goat that was orphaned and was very weak. Its owner said, "It's going to die. It needs constant care." So He said to these boys, "It's up to you to keep it alive. This is the service you can do to balance what you have done to this cat."

The boys did keep the goat alive and it thrived. They fed it. They stayed up through nights with it, to care for it. They learned not that they were bad and should be ashamed of killing the cat, but to move through that negativity in themselves and find that which was capable of loving and nurturing, and to rejoice in that aspect of themselves and bring it forth.

I never saw Him shame anybody, but He was not afraid to say a strong no when it was appropriate. No matter what a person's character, He seemed to be able to see through to that which was beautiful in them and to bring it forth.

Again, a painful situation, when a man joined our party, asked if he could walk with us. When we awoke in the morning our food and our heavy cloaks were gone. He didn't get angry. He just said, "Let us walk on. We'll find food." And we were cold but it was okay. The sun came up and warmed the day.

Two days later we came upon this man on the road. He saw us coming. He had not expected us to follow in this way; he thought we would have to find food and clothing for ourselves. So he was quite alarmed to see us.

The man started to run and Jesus stopped him, physically stopped him, and said, "No." The man became defensive and Jesus said to him, "My brother, when you stayed with us two nights ago, you did not tell us you were cold and hungry. Is there anything else that we have that you need?" The man looked very startled. He expected to be beaten, and certainly not to be offered something. Jesus said, "Please come and sit by our fire. We have more food tonight and perhaps you used up that which we had two days ago. Please join us for dinner."

I think the man sat with us because he could not pass up a free dinner! He was still thinking, "What can I get? What can I get?" The night passed and the next morning, of course the man was gone again with our food, with our robes. Again we walked on, a few more days. And there he was again. This time he certainly expected we would beat him, and again Jesus said, "My brother, you don't trust me. You run off in the night instead of asking for what you need. We're happy to give you what you need. Please sit with us." And He fed him.

The man had an injury. The reason we were able to catch up with him so easily was that he had an injured leg and bad limp. There were wounds and infection on the leg. So this night Jesus said, "Let me look at the leg, it looks very sore." He offered to wash it. He put some ointments on it. And He said, "Please don't rush off tonight. Stay with us so we can help you take care of the leg and let it heal." The man was there in the morning; he breakfasted with us and he walked with us.

It took about a week for the leg to heal. Each day Jesus was careful to include the man, to talk with him, to see that his needs were met. Something wonderful happened during those days. We came upon another man who was injured, a man who could barely walk. Perhaps a long-term injury where the leg had not healed properly so the man leaned on homemade crutches and hobbled. This man with the infection in his leg was healing, so Jesus said to him, "Can you help my brother here? It would be wonderful for him if he could put his arm around somebody's shoulder. If he could walk that way, it would help him walk."

So He gave the man something positive to do, a way really to give of himself. The days passed. Of course the man with the crutches could not walk quickly, but now he had support. He wanted to walk with us; he wanted to hear Jesus. Jesus made it possible for him, but in doing so, he gave this brother who had been a thief an opportunity to find that part of himself that found real joy in being of service to another, and it was wonderful to see this man blossom.

We came at last to the city to which we were headed. The, I don't want to call him the thief, the reformed thief had planned to stay in the city and Jesus asked him, "What are you going to do? What will you do here?" I think his original intention was that the city was a good place for thievery. He said, "I am going to see who I can help in this city." The man found others of a like mind and created a mission of sorts, a place where people who were homeless or without food could come and find goods. He went out and literally begged of those who were more wealthy to give him their food, their blankets, and so forth, and created a place where those who were in need could come. Months later when we came through that city, he was working as such a helper to others. His life was completely reformed. You can imagine what would have happened if instead of this course of action, we'd beaten him with sticks. He would have simply moved deeper into the negativity that had been conditioned in him.

All of you humans have negativity conditioned in you by the pain in your lives. Only love will heal it. Your own negativity to yourselves will not heal it, and your own negativity to others will not heal it in them. But when you see the divine, each in the other, and the divine in yourself, you come to know that you can live that divinity.

We were walking through hills that were steep and dry, just a few of us. Jesus, myself, my son Mark, who was at that point perhaps 11 years old, and two other people. There were lepers in those hills. The process was for them to ring a bell and call in their Aramaic language, "Unclean! Unclean!" to warn people to stay away from them because the leprosy was contagious, or so it was thought. So people would hear the bell and they would avoid the lepers.

All my life I had avoided lepers. Much as He had taught me love, it had not seemed loving to me to put myself in a situation where I could catch this disease and no longer be available to my family and so forth. But when Jesus heard the bell ringing, He immediately headed up a small path into the hills. There we came upon a colony of lepers, and one in particular was in great distress, crying and in pain.

I was hanging back and I had sent my son Mark even further back, very nervous about his being exposed in this way. I know that Jesus would not have thought less of me if I had said, "I'm going back down the path; I can't stay." He looked at me and He said, "We need rags and hot water." The woman was giving birth but the baby was in a difficult presentation. He certainly could have resolved that presentation himself, but He also knew that I was a shepherd and that I knew how to do this with the sheep, that I was quite skilled in this.

Clean water was brought; I took off the robe I was wearing and shredded it. He looked me in the eyes and said, "Can you help?" I knew that if I said, "No, I cannot," he would not have judged me. But through His eyes I saw that in myself which could help. Right there with my fear, I saw that which was unafraid and able to come forth to help.

I knew how to work with sheep. I had never helped a woman deliver a child before, but I could see how awkward the presentation was, and washing my hands, was able to insert my hand and shift the baby in such a way that it could emerge. Jesus called Mark to him and again fear came up in me because Mark had been back away from the people. He said, "Mark! Come! Come!" and as the baby came out, He took it in a cloth and He handed it to Mark.

I trusted that he would not do something that would harm my son. Not on the ultimate level, at least. Now, of course, harm has different meanings. Would it have harmed Mark in the ultimate way if he had become a leper? Not in the ultimate sense, no. Certainly in the relative sense it would have brought great pain and discomfort. But through Him I began to trust the ultimate meaning of our lives, to change my sense of what was safe, not to be so afraid for my own immediate safety but to think instead of the bigger picture. I still have that image of Mark holding this perfect baby from a very deformed mother.

He continued to attend to the mother for a few minutes and then took the baby back to hand him to her. In some places such a baby would have been whisked away from its mother because the mother was "unclean." But He would have none of that. This was the baby's mother; of course she would suckle her baby. So He gave her the baby.

We spent the day there with Him tending to various people. I knew He could perform miracles and yet His practice was to keep it as simple as possible. If He had performed some kind of miracle where the mother's distortions suddenly healed instantly, she would have revered him, put him on a pedestal.

His intention was to awaken us to our own divinity because only by knowing our own divinity could we know the divinity of everything. He didn't want to be put on a pedestal; He didn't want to create a duality of mortal and god. He wanted us to know our divinity. So He worked that day doing what healing He could, washing wounds, offering food, offering kindness. Looking in periodically on this mother and baby. And then we went on our way.

We had reason to return via that route a month hence. We came to the place where the bells and voices had announced, "Unclean! Unclean!" and it was quiet. What was going on? Had they all left, I wondered? We saw the path and He said, "Let us go and see."

As we walked up that quarter mile path, we began to hear voices. We opened into a very different scene. Not one of agony, sorrow, and fear but one of joy and lightness. The raw wounds of the leprosy were healed in everybody. Missing fingers had not grown back, but there was no progressive sign of the disease any more. People had more energy. There was laughter; there was music. This mother and her baby came out to meet us. The baby was radiant and the mother was also radiant. At the time of the baby's birth, it was questionable whether she would survive, but so many of her raw wounds were healing. She was healing.

They asked him, "Did you do this? Did you bring forth this miracle for us?" He did not say no and He did not say yes. He neither denied nor confirmed. What He simply said was, "Your love has brought it forth." So He didn't say, "No, I didn't have a part in this," and He didn't say, "Yes, I did this," He said simply, "Your love has brought this forth. And your love will continue to bring it forth, to bring forth your healing." We spent a lovely day with them. I never returned there but I imagine that there was a continuation of that healing.

What empowers us, each of us? What dis-empowers? In what way does the fear in each of us want to be powerful and use that fear and need for power to dis-empower another? If you address that fear in yourselves not with shame and anger at it but with lovingkindness, aware of the fear but with the intention not to build a self-identity with the fear, you can see the need to control others in order to become powerful and you can say no to that need. Then each of you has the ability to empower others through your love, through your trust. You empower others most by seeing their divinity clearly; you cannot see their divinity unless you see your own divinity.

My final story for the evening. My wife, my beloved wife, had died in childbirth and I was grief-stricken. I knew that Jesus was in the vicinity and I had gone with my son Mark to seek him. In walking through a rainy night, I fell off a small cliff and broke my leg. Mark brought help. They carried me up the cliff path. They splinted the leg. Somebody with a wheeled cart offered me a ride, and thus in pain and with my grieving heart, I came to where He was.

He greeted me with loving arms and began to work on the leg, to rebind it, to make sure that I had a comfortable place to sleep and food to eat. I knew that He had the ability to heal and though He seldom would use that as instant healing, I knew He could do that. So I said, "Heal my leg." And He said, "Well, it will heal. It will take a month or so." And I said (shouting), "No! Now!" I said, "I have my sheep, I must go back to my sheep, and my children." He said, "Mark is a big boy now, He can go and take care of the sheep. Your children are safe with family. You just stay here with me. The leg will heal."

Every day He came and made sure I was comfortable and had food, looked at the leg and talked to me. He talked to me about my wife. He talked to me about my grief, which at first I did not want to talk about. Through the month of His presence I was able to open to that grief, to release her, to find that within me that knew I was safe without her and that she was also safe, to wish her well on her continued journey and to let go. So of course this was the greater healing. If He had healed the leg and sent me off, He would have sent me off with that grief unhealed, and He knew that.

It's important that there was not a sense that He healed either my grief or my leg, He simply held me in love while I found that capacity in myself to heal and brought that forth. By the time the leg was healed and I was ready to leave, I was ready to thank him for not fixing the leg but for allowing this full healing to develop.

Some of you are in a hurry to fix what is uncomfortable in your lives, and I would challenge you to ask yourselves, "What is the fullest healing which is possible here, not just of this particular ailment, mental or physical, but what is the greater healing?" Be for yourselves as He was for me, for you are no less divine than He was. Open your hearts to your divinity and bring forth unconditional love that allows that which has felt ashamed and broken in you to know its wholeness. In this way He is with you as He was with me.

Meditating with Zoey
Lynne G. Tenbusch

My breathing was very slow creating about forty beats of my heart per minute. Above the rhythm of my inhalations, I could hear the nasal cooing of Zoey's as she pulsed about six times per minute. I was in a space far away from detailed attentiveness. My awareness was my breath and Zoey's weight around my waist and thighs. Before settling down, she would react to my every move by tightening her muscles. She did this with rapid twitches. Now in our "trance" we were both slack.

I was aware of her weight coiled around me. I had noticed a gradual lessening of any twitching in reaction to my movement as I reached toward her probing head and guided it back toward me. Her eyes were open so I could only assume she shared my reverie. I was all sensation, free of self-awareness. Thoughts had surrendered to easily hovering awareness. My mind was as flaccid as my muscles.

I looked at her iridescence. Aquamarine reflections shone from her deep brown color. Depending on her movement or the angle of my head, I could see all the colors of the rainbow dancing along her body. I tilted my head and absorbed her startling yellows and greens. Another slight adjustment brought oranges and reds. Supporting the reflections was a brunette body with rectangular and diamond shaped patterns running along her entirety. Her underbody was pale yellow with black spots interspersed at regular intervals. She was velvety to the touch. Her rich feel compelled my hand. It seemed to move without my volition. Up and down. Slowly up and down her body. This was a sensation unlike any other. I was eclipsed, a victim to her touch.

We sat there together, Zoey and I, in our fullness. She inched her head outward searching with her tongue. I gently placed my hand about five inches below her probing head and persuaded her back. She leaned into me. Gradually she had stopped clinching my waist and thigh. I was of two minds about this. I loved the feel of her contracting muscles on my waist and down my leg. But I also loved the idea that Zoey was relaxed. I knew that as long as she worked her muscles against my touch, she was still not settled.

I had to guess at her state of being. She could not close her eyes, as she has no eyelids. Her nasal breathing sang her song. Her plushy body left me no option. I had to caress her, my strokes becoming a physical mantra. When Zoey did not react, I knew she too had surrendered.

I sat with her. And she curled with me. I fondled her. She blew her mantra through nostrils too small not to catch the air and produce song. She extended the stillness with her quiet weight. She held me in her coil. She supported my calm. I was all receptors. To her soft richness. To her chanting breath. To her visual uniqueness. To her subtly overwhelming personality.

I had fallen in love. I wasn't ready to be without her. But she was getting cold in the room temperature of 75 degrees and needed to go back to her 98 degree cage. Like young lovers separating on a steamy night, I had to tear myself away. Reluctantly I thought about unwinding her twelve-foot body from mine. I still wasn't finished being with my new lover. I clung. She hung, neither resisting separation nor urging it. Finally I began uncoiling her tail while directing her head with my other hand. Gently I supported her body with mine and moved carefully to her crate. With a deep sense of loss I gently placed her head into the opening. We both let go. Zoey began her cautious approach. She explored with her tongue, probing her head up the side to reclaim her territory. Her languorous body gradually slewed from my arms. Soon she coiled herself around her rock and was still.

Characteristics of Reality
Ann Barden

We have said that when we sit for meditation, when we are present with bare attention, we are able to see reality, the truth of the way things are. What is the nature of this reality?

The Buddha taught that there were three basic characteristics of reality. They are impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness.

When I first heard this teaching, this mind said, "Yes, of course." Intellectually accepting the truth of impermanence was easy. I walk in Bird Hills Woods. Watching what happens in the woods from day to day, week to week, year to year, is a lesson in impermanence. Big trees fall and rot. Flowers bloom and die. Leaves change color and fall. Green sprouts come up in the spring. Every day is different. I look at what is here today with gratitude and appreciation. Seeing impermanence was easy–at first. As my meditation practice deepened, experience of impermanence changed from a concept that seemed true, to direct experience. When I was on a personal retreat several years ago, I had the experience of vividly seeing endings of everything—each momentary experience was gone, dissolving before mind had an opportunity to savor it, identify it, appreciate it or feel gratitude for it. At first, this was very uncomfortable. It made me dizzy with the rapid dissolution of each experience. Fear arose. Is this madness? Mind answered, "No, just is the direct experience of impermanence." This answer was the spontaneous insight that arose.

We talk about the nature of impermanence. We understand that every experience arises because of certain causes and conditions and passes when the causes and conditions change. This is logical and sensible. There is evidence everywhere we look—not just in the woods but even in our own bodies—that this is the truth. No problem, no argument. This cognitive acceptance can be important. It is a doorway that may lead to study, to meditation, to seeking truth and opening minds. The direct experience of impermanence is less comfortable than this concept. The reason for the discomfort leads us to look at the second characteristic of reality. That is unsatisfactoriness.

Experience is unsatisfactory because we can't hold on to it—and we try. Even the gratitude and appreciation we have for today's experience can be a way to say THIS is what I want, THIS works, THIS is good. It can be a way to deny the fundamental unsatisfactoriness of experience. We are not in control of this swirl of impermanent experience. When we grasp and cling trying to stop the swirl, we suffer, but we don't stop anything. The swirl continues. Grasping and clinging are futile because there is no aspect of experience solid enough to hang on to. This is what is meant by the unsatisfactoriness of reality.

Selflessness, or no-self, as it is sometimes called, is the third characteristic of reality. We look around and see each other. We have bodies. We have egos—personalities and identities. What is meant by no-self? We know that, in a psychological sense, we need a strong enough ego to skillfully manage being in the world. In fact, it takes a pretty secure ego to even look closely at the concept of selflessness. No-self is not the opposite of this ego self. It is the truth that even this ego self, with whom we are so intimately involved, is impermanent and unsatisfactory. Every second of our lives we are changed. We forget this. We compartmentalize our lives into baby Ann Marie, child Ann Marie, adult Ann, mother Ann. We believe each compartment—we act as if it is a fundamental reality. Even our memory of a past compartment has a tendency to fix it in character. But every second we change—every second. Who is this Ann Marie? Is it this body, or the body that was here last week? Is it this mind that is struggling to learn Spanish, or that mind of 40 years ago that was fluent in French? Who is? When mind begins to look, there is nowhere, no corner where it can turn and nail down some definite, permanent self. Pretty disconcerting.

The direct experience of these characteristics can bring reactions of grief and loss. Emotional feelings of uneasiness come: we have lost something we thought we had. At the same time we experience the loss, we know that what we have lost was an illusion—the illusion of permanence and security.

This all sounds pretty uncomfortable, doesn't it? Why would we want to go there? Simply because, there freedom lies. When we experience the truth of the way things are, we begin to let go of all our futile attempts to hang on to what we think we want and push away things we think we don't want. Little by little we come to see this life as unfolding. Some experiences are pleasant, some unpleasant, some neutral. Actions arise because of causes and conditions, some of which we can know, and some not. If we choose skillful acts, it's because of conditions. If we choose unskillful acts it's also because of conditions. Life becomes less personal, more peaceful, more abiding.

Without attachment to particulars, all experience happens in open-heartedness. We see that our skillful acts can improve the world; at the same time we love the world just the way it is. When we are angry, we observe our anger. We see it as rising from causes and conditions and passing as those change. It's not so personal. We don't have to have some solid self who gets angry; anger is just what happens. There is no need to fix it, make it go away or get bigger or smaller. When we watch it, we see that, just like all aspects of experience, it is impermanent, unsatisfactory and selfless. Here freedom lies. See it for yourself.

Diane Kimball

I am free
as always
I have been,
not as in free
to be alone with
not as in free
to be away from
not as in free
because of,
all prepositions,
these with's,
because of's,
some false
relationship to
the other.

I am free
as always
I have been
what if the I

am free
what if the am
drifted away?

and yes,
if the free

Ah, now,

That Which Is

Nature Does Not Seek
Lynne G. Tenbusch

Nature does not seek
wisdom from humans
Rather suffers from what
passes as our truth

She reproduces herself, becoming
pregnant with leaves, gives
birth in spring, surrenders
in falling
to rest in its snow

Her breath blows away bruises, water
washing off blood
lightning shouts out pressure, letting
tides bring in the shore.

Nature does not reflect upon itself, but
swirls about its cycles
oblivious to us
sufficient in itself

Takes temperature from its
sun, sustenance in harvest
purity from its streams, while
cooling the oceans

warm sights, cold
hot dawn, dull
lights, calm

No blustering phrasing
but notes
if we could read, would
stretch our stature.

Craig Brann

I face this man, this place
I love the words, the exquisite pain
That remind me I am alive
It is crazy and insane
To love tight spaces
But everyday changes
Every moment another year passes
It is entertaining?
It is intended?
It is this boat of Karma


I'm filled with my falsehood
How can this be?
Something and nothing at the same time


I have lost the content of my life
And exchanged it for an empty cup
No wonder I am thirsty


This sadness
This tear
How does it come out of nothingness?
I've created this depression
But it is nowhere to be found


Where is the joy?
It is Winter
Dark, stark
Some days even the snow is afraid to fall

Aaron Quote

Open your hearts to your divinity
and bring forth unconditional love
that allows that which has felt
ashamed and broken in you
to know its wholeness.

~ Aaron

Copyrights © 2006