October 30, 2018 Tuesday Evening, Dharma Path Class
How Do We Come Back Into Balance?
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Aaron speaks of the Mala Recollection from Barbara Brodsky in this class.
Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. It’s good to be back together. Many of you were at the retreat. There was so much love shared at the retreat; it was very beautiful. Those who were there went very deep and worked very hard. I salute you; I bow in honor to you, for that hard work. The repeated question I heard through the week is, Aaron, this practice is breaking my heart. I am touching places of old pain, or current pain. Not just personal but universal pain. I don’t know how to open up my heart enough to hold all that pain. This is both the goal and the fruit of your practice. We talk about awakening. Awakening is meaningless unless it’s grounded in the heart.
(Aaron asks note-takers to listen rather than take notes.) What are you afraid of losing? Nothing can be lost. (Pausing for Tana to walk through; there is conversation and laughter.) Tana does so much, pulling this all together, the Zoom links and the recording and the technology. I am very grateful to her.
As you meditate this week like we just did, and watch objects arising and passing away, watch the grasping to hold onto what is pleasant. Watch the reluctance to be with what is unpleasant. The wisdom does take hold, “It is all arising out of conditions and it is passing away. It is not me or mine, but I am still responsible to it.” You begin to see so clearly the ways the heart is afraid of being broken, through losing what you want to hold; breaking through fear of not being able to armor yourself against that which is painful. But of course, you cannot armor yourself. If you live under that armor, nothing can get through.
We’ve talked a lot about living from the middle of the bridge. Resting openheartedly on that bridge, one hand reaching out and holding the Dharmakaya, and the other hand reaching out and fully engaged in the nirmanakaya. At the retreat, speaking with many of you, I often heard your question, how do I keep my heart open?
I decided it was time to take a side step— not backwards at all, but a side step, and look more at the supports for practice. Remember, this class is called Dharma Path, and we have many different teachings to weave together. But I want to be sure that you have the supports in place before we go further.
Can one of you take this and pass it out? This is a section of the Mala recitation, the 27th bead through the 52nd bead. Cultivating the supports of the loving heart. Cultivating the factors of enlightenment. Cultivating the spiritual faculties. Cultivating the deepest qualities of the loving heart. Barbara will email this to everyone.
Let us read through this section. Those who are here can read it with me. Some of you on zoom may have a copy of that Mala recitation from the retreat, and if so, if you want to get it, you can do so. If not, just listen because we’re only reading a small section, and then I’ll talk about it.
Cultivating the supports of the loving heart
Marker Bead: I remember the four immeasurables, expressions of the open heart:
27th bead: Metta, the practice of lovingkindness.
28th bead: Karuna, the practice of compassion.
29th bead: Mudita, the practice of sympathetic joy.
30th bead: Upekka, the practice of equanimity.
Intention bead: In this way will I train myself. (Bell)
Cultivating the factors of enlightenment.
Marker Bead: I remember the seven factors of enlightenment which bring balance:
31st bead: Joy
32nd bead: Energy
33rd bead: Investigation
34th bead: Mindfulness
35th bead: Tranquility
36th bead: Concentration
37th bead: Equanimity
You’ll notice that some of these are phrased in different ways in different sections.
Intention bead: In this way will I train myself. (Bell)
Cultivating the spiritual faculties.
Marker Bead: I remember the five spiritual faculties:
38th bead: Faith, or confidence
39th bead: Energy, or vitality
40th bead: Mindfulness
41st bead: Concentration
42nd bead: Wisdom and discernment
Intention bead: In this way will I train myself. (Bell)
Marker bead: I remember the ten perfections and will practice them well:
43rd bead: Generosity
44th bead: Morality
45th bead: Energy
46th bead: Wisdom
47th bead: Renunciation
48th bead: Lovingkindness
49th bead: Truthfulness
50th bead: Resolution (clarity)
51st bead: Equanimity
52nd bead: Patience
Intention bead: In this way will I train myself. (Bell)
When I first began to teach Barbara she was struggling with what Buddhism calls the hindrances; I prefer the term “the teachers”. They are difficult states, but they are teachers. You think of them as hindrances— “If I only didn’t have anger; if I only didn’t have lethargy;” if you treat them as something that is assaulting you, you try to fix them. If you say, “Oh, here is anger. Hello, anger— what have you come to teach me? Hello, doubt— what have you come to teach me? Hello, greed— what have you come to teach me?”, then you become receptive to the teaching. But as long as you think of them as hindrances, you tend to believe they must be moved out of the way before you can progress. They are teachers. Difficult teachers, unpleasant states, but teachers.
So, my earliest teaching to Barbara, that first year, was, when there was anger, fear, greed, doubt, lethargy, agitation, to ask her, what is needed to bring this into balance? When this state has arisen— agitation— stop and say, “Thank you, agitation, for reminding me to come back to center. To find the balance I know is already there.” What balances agitation? Looking at your list of factors of enlightenment, tranquility balances agitation. But we can’t just say, “Okay, I won’t have agitation; I will have tranquility. Now I’m going to be tranquil!” What supports tranquility? Looking at the list again… loving kindness is a good one. Patience is a good one, and equanimity. Gratitude, while not on this list, is a good one.
We begin to create a recipe from our practice— I’m not sure I phrased that right. If you have a cook who is an excellent cook and doesn’t need the cookbook anymore, they taste the food, and they know it needs a little more salt, a little more sugar. What does it need to bring it into balance? Because they have tasted the food and prepared so much food, it becomes almost immediate—hmm, a little more of this, a little more of that, until it’s just right.
There is that beautiful teaching from the Buddha. The monk who had been a musician in his earlier life before he ordained, he was tearing his hair out. He just couldn’t get himself to settle down, he couldn’t still his mind. He came to the Buddha and said, “I’m going to disrobe, because I can’t do it right, I’m no good at this.” The Buddha said to him, “When you were a musician and your musical instrument (a stringed instrument) was out of balance, when it played too low a note, what did you do?”
“I tightened the strings.”
“If it played too high a note, what did you do?”
“I loosened the strings.”
“How much did you loosen it?”
“Until it was just right.”
We loosen and tighten the strings, so to speak. We bring in these different tools and supports until it seems to just hum along perfectly. And then, no surprise, it goes out of tune again. So, we pause, noting it has come out of tune. A little too much tranquility here; I’m falling asleep. I need to bring in more energy, maybe more concentration. You learn just as the cook learns, how to get the seasoning just right. The skill comes from the place of intention, starting with the intention to practice for the highest good of all beings, including the self, and with harm to none. Practicing with the open heart. It comes with mindfulness.
Something we’ve done many times before, but if you will allow me, I’m going to do it again. I’m going to shout. I’m warning you I’m going to shout but not when I’m going to shout. Banner will probably become alarmed, so, just comfort him (Banner is Barbara’s collie; speaking to the person beside him). Let him know I’m not yelling at him. So, I’m talking here, and just watch what happens to your energy field when the shout comes. No (shout!)
Good dog, Banner, you’re a good boy, a very good boy…
Did you contract? Alright, now watch the contraction. Just sit for a minute and watch. Where is that contraction? What’s happening to it? Where are you feeling it? Probably here in the belly, but maybe in the jaw or the back. Contracted, contracted. That which is aware of contraction is not contracted. Opening into the spaciousness of the uncontracted, even while there with the reverberations of the contraction. How are you balancing the contraction? Has it resolved yet? More or less. So, share with me, a few of you here in the room, for simplicity, what did you do immediately, feeling that contraction?
Q: I didn’t hold onto the contraction. I let it go as soon as it came.
Aaron: How did you let it go? You can’t tell yourself, “Now I should let go.” That doesn’t work.
Q: I just opened myself to it and just let it drain away.
Aaron: Thank you. Others? If it went, how did it go? How did you experience it at first, and what led it to change?
Q: I jumped when you screamed, but then I took deep breaths to release it. Deep breathing.
Aaron: And it went. Did anybody try to force it away?
Q: Not force it, but I was aware that you were going to scream and was concerned that Banner would be distressed. So I started rubbing his chest to calm him, and that actually also calmed me.
Aaron: Good. Thank, you, Q. Coming back to Q’s statement, first there had to be mindfulness of contraction. There had to be a preceding intention not to hold a contraction, not just in this situation but in any situation. To find the uncontracted right there with the contraction. Then, the loud sound, or whatever caused the contraction. Mindfulness of contracting held in one hand, and mindfulness of intention for spaciousness and the open heart, held in the other hand. Breathing in, I am aware of the contraction. Breathing out, I hold space for the contraction. Right here with contraction, where is spaciousness? Without getting rid of contraction, I open to the spaciousness. Let the contraction alone; it will go.
We begin to find the simultaneity of contraction and spaciousness, of agitation and tranquility, of grasping and release, of aversion and opening. Of all these— certainly they’re not dualities; there is no duality— but all of these states that balance each other.
Perhaps most important, at the stage where most of you are in practice— and yes, your practices span a distance, not all in the same place— but all of you have developed a vipassana practice. All of you have developed mindfulness. All of you have worked with noting your highest intentions. Al of you have found a lot of courage to be with the hard things, and to hold the heart open rather than running, or you would not be in the class.
These practices, then, come in support. When I first began to work with Barbara; before Barbara came to her first retreat with John, she sent him notes ahead of time, saying, what I’ve been learning is when the hindrances arise, to ask, what is needed to balance? What’s lacking here? If there’s a lot of agitation, where is tranquility? If there’s a lot of fear, where is the open heart? It sounds simple. It really IS simple. Not easy, but simple. It takes courage. I would say it takes mindfulness, but courage is needed to invite full mindfulness with these states.
The usual posture for most humans is armored. You learn this as babies, to protect yourselves. You learn it from your families, your culture. You learn it from the human body. You don’t want to be hurt. But you do not learn early on that if you armor yourself, you close yourself off from love. So most of you move through youth and middle age, and even into the elder years, carrying this armor. Are you done with it? Has it been enough?
Essentially, I could ask, what are your options? Do you want to walk through the rest of your life like a turtle constantly pulling its head into its shell? The turtle with his head in his shell can’t look around. He can’t really connect with anything in his world. Is that what you want? If you are like the turtle, are you now going to say, “No matter what, I’m going to keep my head out.”? Then along comes an alligator. Maybe it’s wise at times to pull the head in. The wisdom to know when it’s wise to duck into the shell and when it’s wise to come out and look around, and take a little bit of a risk. “I don’t see any alligators in sight. I’m not in alligator territory, so it’s probably safe for me to walk around with my feet out and my head out.” If I don’t, I’m just going to dry up here in place. And that’s not why you came into the incarnation.
There’s a lot of overlap in these simple practices. We see mindfulness in 3 categories. Let’s start by looking at the Brahma Viharas: metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha. Chant it with me…
Chanting: repeated: Metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha…
Can you feel the energy of that chant? Just the little bit we did, can you feel it opening the heart? It’s the vibration of it, and the words, and just easing yourself into this space. So, one of the first things that you can do when you approach a challenging situation is just quietly— you don’t have to put the hands together, you don’t have to chant out loud— just to the self: metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha… Just saying it to the self.
Sometimes, Barbara has the habit when she’s driving and she’s running late, if the traffic is bad, and somebody is sitting through the green light, talking on their cellphone in front of her, she just stops. She’s not driving; the car’s not going because the car in front of her is stopped. Rather than saying, “(inaudible)! Get moving!!”, she says, “Metta, karuna…”. She just brings herself back to center, and then wishes that person in front of her well. “May you be happy. May you have well-being.” Occasionally she adds a slightly sarcastic, “May you become a better driver.” But basically, she wishes the driver well. Eventually the cars will move again.
Karuna: the practice of compassion is so powerful. The acknowledgement that you and all beings are suffering, and simply wishing each a release from suffering. Compassion that acknowledges the reality of suffering helps you to deepen in the wisdom that there is suffering, instead of denial of it. “Oh, everything is fine. Yes, I just fell and broke my leg, and my house caught on fire, but certainly everything is fine.” “Right now I’m in pain. I ran out of my burning house and I broke my leg, and my house burned down. I’m very sad.” But I feel compassion for myself.
I think many of you are afraid to allow the depth of that compassion for fear of becoming weak, in some way. That you have to keep the hardness in order not to allow the fullness of the pain. But how can there be growth, how can there be compassion unless you acknowledge the fullness of the pain while knowing, “This pain will not destroy me. This is not MY pain but THE pain. The pain of all humans, of all sentient beings.” You are not alone in that experience. Each time we release some of our pain, it releases it for everyone, holds a bigger space for everyone.
Mudita: Barbara was reading some about the refugees coming from Honduras, Guatemala. Coming up through Mexico. Some of them barefoot, at this point, because their shoes had fallen apart. No food, no water; very hot sun. Very uncomfortable.
What happened in the scenes that were described and in the short videos Barbara saw reminded me of people coming out to offer food to monks. People were coming out to the streets in the morning with bowls of food, giving people plates or dishes and handing them food. So that in one scene that we saw, these refugees, barefoot like the monks, walking down the street, there was a row of people by the side of the road, really kneeling there, some of them, sitting there, holding out food. “Take what you need.” So, so beautiful.
It was very beautiful to see people, the gratitude and joy on people’s faces with the unexpectedness of coming around a corner and seeing people, not yelling and cursing at them, but offering them food. In some cases, offering them the rubber flip-flops, shirts and other such things. Offering them water. Offering children small blankets. Compassion— so very beautiful.
We allow the heart to open by the pain of others. It is OUR pain, all of our, pain. And greeting that pain with kindness, with love, with generosity, instead of fear. “Oh, what will they take from me? They are invaders— what will they take?” There’s so much fear being generated by this word “invaders”. How can anybody who is a refugee, who has a constitutional right to come to the border and say, “I am a refugee and fleeing persecution, hardship. I ask to come in.”… This is in your constitution; how can they be considered invaders? But words generate fear.
Refugees; seeking refuge. You are all refugees. You take refuge in Buddha, dharma, and sangha. You are refugees. Are you invaders to the dharma? You are refugees. We open our heart to our own need for refuge, and to all beings’ need for refuge.
So, gradually we soften in this way. Metta, karuna, mudita… The joy for those who are being given food, and the joy of those who are giving. It was just a short frame on the Huffington Post, about one minute. It was very touching, seeing the joy that the people—most of them, probably, who were very poor themselves— had in giving.
Upekkha, equanimity. Whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease and is not me or mine. Trusting the true equanimity that’s there, right there with agitation, right there with there with fear, right there with grasping. Trusting equanimity. It’s real. Right there with agitation and fear is peace, is equanimity, is joy.
So what’s needed is to consider the possibility of the simultaneity, and to begin seriously to ask yourself, right here with agitation, where is tranquility? Right here with sadness, where is joy? And you will find it— I promise you, you will find it. How could it be anywhere but here?
Let’s look at the Factors of Enlightenment. Joy, energy, investigation, mindfulness, tranquility, concentration, equanimity. Joy— it doesn’t need a lot of explanation. Joy. Energy. Well, right there with lethargy, where is energy?
Investigation is a beautiful quality. For investigation there has to be a willingness to be the turtle sticking its head and limbs out. You can’t investigate if you’re inside the shell. Therefore, you need to be willing to be present with fear and acknowledge fear, acknowledge discomfort, acknowledge that which wants to hide. Find the deep intention that pulls you out. For the highest good of myself and all beings, I choose not to hide but to come forth. To see things as they are. To investigate. Investigation doesn’t mean taking off a list and checking off points. Investigation really means presence, to be present with things as they are, and ask, what is this? What is this sadness? What is this confusion? What is this anger? How does it feel in the mind and body? From where did it arise? How does it feel now? Where might it go at the end? Just to be willing to be touched by it so that you can explore it.
Here I come, serving a dish. You can’t recognize any of the ingredients, but it looks a bit strange. It looks like it may have some hot peppers in it, maybe pieces of eel or some other foods that you’re not used to eating. What is it? Are you going to say, “I won’t have anything to do with that because I’m not familiar with it. It might taste bad. It might not be to the liking of my palate, so I won’t try it.”? Are you going to be willing— I’m not asking you to take a huge gulp of it— are you willing to take a teaspoon, a taste? “Hmm, what is it? Oh, I taste lemongrass in there. And what looked like red pepper is really not really hot pepper at all, it’s mild red pepper. And this, I don’t know whether it’s eel or snake or calamari. It’s something long and stringy, but it tastes delicious. Shh— don’t tell me! I don’t want to know that it’s a mouse tail! Don’t tell me! It tastes delicious.” Or, “This is tough and slimy— I don’t like it. It does not taste good to me. I put it aside.” That’s fine. With investigation you have the perfect right to put aside that which does not feel wholesome, nobody’s forcing it on you; only to open your heart and be willing to investigate that to which you have previously armored yourself and pushed away.
Mindfulness, of course, is the core of them, mindfulness right in the center. You note the that first three factors— joy, energy, and investigation— give energy. They’re energizing factors. Mindfulness is in the middle, and at the end, tranquility, concentration and equanimity. These are calming factors. So, in your practice you can simply note with mindfulness that there’s an overabundance of agitation and say, okay, where are tranquility, concentration and equanimity? For the moment, can I shift to a concentration practice, just 2 or 3 minutes to really stay with the breath or primary object; inviting the whole body to settle down. Can I invite tranquility by picturing a beautiful scene— letting go of the formal practice for a few minutes and opening into either literally looking out your door or in your mind to visualize a very serene and beautiful landscape. Sit by your window and watch the raindrops falling. Tranquility. On the other hand, when you’re falling asleep you want more of the joy, energy, and investigation. It brings balance.
I’ve noted that these different practices overlap each other. The spiritual faculties— faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Faith is sometimes considered as confidence or knowing. Opening to the One Who Knows. It’s not a blind faith but a verified faith. In what can I truly trust? The love of my friends, the support of my sangha, my own mind and body, the love around me; in what can I truly trust? So, we start to develop faith in the world around us and in our own capacity to become increasingly mindful on this road to awakening.
Energy or vitality, it’s both literally energy flow and vitality, being alive. When you’re drooping you ask, where is energy, here? Where is vitality? It’s never far away. Where did it go? Where is it? I invite it without grasping at it. But I trust it’s here. I just can’t see it at the moment, but it’s here. It will come.
Mindfulness and concentration, again. Mindfulness and concentration balance each other. Mindfulness is the big picture, open to everything, and concentration is the small picture, coming down to a fine point. They must be kept in balance. If you walk around looking at only one point on the ground 3 feet in front of you, would you go on a tour of the Grand Canyon that way? Is that how you want to see the Grand Canyon, just looking at the ground 3 feet in front of your feet? Would you choose to see the Grand Canyon only looking at the big picture, until you stumble and fall into the canyon? You need to be present with both, what’s in front of your feet and the big picture.
So, we invite mindfulness and concentration to balance each other. You get a feeling for when they’re in balance. Sometimes what you want is not absolute balance. Sometimes you want more mindfulness; sometimes you want more concentration. But, with awareness you start to see what’s strong and what’s lacking; then you understand what you choose to invite in, in any moment.
And wisdom, the last of the spiritual faculties. Wisdom or discernment— not exactly the same things. Wisdom allows for discernment. Discernment is not necessarily wisdom, but the ability to be discerning relies on wisdom. So, what is wisdom? Wisdom is simply the understanding of the dhamma. Knowing how things are— everything arising from conditions and passing away. Discernment— you came out to the park for a picnic. Suddenly a cloud came overhead and it’s pouring. And the inner voice of anger says, “It’s raining on me! Why is it picking on me?” And wisdom knows the rain arose out of conditions. It is impermanent, it will pass, and it is not of the nature of a separate self. It’s not about me. Discernment puts up an umbrella. Discernment acknowledges, right now it’s raining. I’ll take care of myself and others with me in the rain. So, discernment is a fruit of wisdom. But without wisdom, we cannot discern. Then we make quick guesses, trying to fix rather than seeing deeply into how things are.
So, I’m going to go on here. We have the Brahma Viharas, the Factors of Enlightenment, the spiritual faculties, and the Perfections. There are actually in some traditions many more than 10 Perfections, but the traditional ones offered in the Theravada Buddhism are generosity, morality, energy, wisdom, renunciation, loving kindness, truthfulness, resolution or clarity, equanimity, again, and patience. And I know you can come up with many more— gratitude, peacefulness, joy, … many more.
A number of you were in Venture Fourth, and we spent a lot of time on these in Venture Fourth. We will do some of that again, but I don’t want to duplicate what we did in Venture Fourth. Rather, we’ll have Barbara send out some of the notes from Venture Fourth so that those who have not practiced with these before can do so. And we’ll talk some more about it.
But basically I’m going to ask you to choose one quality for this next two weeks, such as patience or gratitude, truthfulness, generosity. Just watch it. What supports it when it’s strong? What seems to be lacking when it’s weak? When impatience comes, where is patience? What is the ground out of which the impatience has arisen? When you watch that with some spaciousness, and that self-identification with that ground dissolves, does patience come back? Was patience ever lost, or was it more like the clouds in front of the sun, so that you could not see the sun? But the sun was always there. Patience, generosity, gratitude— they’re always there; you can’t lose them. We need to attend to the clouds.
Again, the vital point is intention. If you hold the intention to protect yourself, you’re going to be stingy, to try to hold onto things. If you hold the intention to live as if you are connected with all sentient beings, the natural generosity will come up. And, when fear arises, “My needs are not being met,” you can pause mindfully and say, “Ah, is that so? In what way are my needs not being met? Well, I didn’t get the job I wanted.” Or, “My car broke down.” Grasping. Okay. Then we hold the intention to manifest what we need, for the highest good of all beings. Not with fear but out of love.
So, we start to learn that generosity is always there and available. But if you are starving you do not have to give your last bit of food away. You can trust that somebody else who has more food will give to the people who are starving. Moderation. Balance. Not, “I should give everything,” but balance.
These qualities, all of them, are so beautiful. Gratitude is a very special quality, in my mind. Right here with… —it’s sometimes hard to find the antithesis of something because everything contains everything else! Right here with— what would a word be that’s opposite to gratitude? Not stinginess.
Aaron: Ungrateful. Gratitude, lack of gratitude. But there’s something deeper in there. Gratitude— when I’m not feeling gratitude, usually I’m not open, I’m not receiving. So it’s a kind of armoring borne of self-diminishment. I can’t feel gratitude if I can’t receive. When I’m armored and I can’t receive, then I feel a lack of gratitude. We start to intuitively find what’s there, what we can strengthen, what we can release to bring us more in balance.
My whole talk direction here is simply ways to come back more into balance, with any trait. There’s no rigid rule to it. In Venture Fourth we spent a lot of time with humility. There could be a false humility that says, “Oh, I’m just terrible. I’m no good.” And there can be immense pride that says, “I’m better than everyone.” When we talk about humility, we’re not talking about the part that wants to say, “Throw me on the ground and walk over me. Treat me as garbage,” or the part that says, “I’m the best,” but a centered place. Being humble means acknowledging we have a place among all beings, and all beings have a place. Holding that center place.
In all of these characteristics, we want to hold the center place. So, generosity, what does it mean? Does it mean you give away your home, your car, all of your retirement savings, everything you possess? You do not need to be destitute. Generosity can be simply a smile. Generosity doesn’t have to be a divesting yourself of everything. But choosing generosity, look at the place where fear comes in. “My needs won’t be met. I can’t give this. I have one bottle of water, and I’m going to be thirsty after the walk. And these people, they forgot to bring water. Why should I suffer?” Can you not suffer if you walk beside them and they’re thirsty? You don’t have to give them the whole bottle of water. You can acknowledge that they’re thirsty. You can go with them and help them try to find water for all of you.
I want to get away from its being either this or that, and to understanding the middle of the road; finding that place of balance.
So, we work with these various forces— so very beautiful, so very powerful. Finding ways to bring ourselves back into balance, always based on the highest intention, always based on love. From my experience, the strongest clue that one is working skillfully is the state of contraction versus spaciousness. By contraction, I don’t mean simply the contraction of grabbing, and the hand has to contract to hold it, and then it drops it and opens. Lifting, contracting, releasing. I mean held contraction, unbalanced contraction. By spaciousness, I don’t mean total lack of contraction. Every breath requires a contraction; but, coming into the place of spaciousness that watches the contracting and release, contracting and release, of the breath. Watches the arising of different mind states, free of fear. Heart open.
Just being with things as they are, and if the contraction becomes unbalance, mindfulness to note it and ask, “Whoops, I’m moving more and more into contraction. Where is spaciousness?” So, we just keep coming back to that innate spaciousness.
The beautiful thing, here, is that spaciousness is inherent to you. Well, contraction is too, because you’re human. And the human does contract. But held contraction is not the natural state for the human; spaciousness is. Agitation is not the natural state for the human; tranquility and peacefulness is. You are not bad that contraction arises. You are not bad that agitation arises. These simply lead you to ask, “Where is spaciousness? Where is peacefulness? Simultaneous in this moment, I choose to open to it.”
The wonderful thing is, as you make these conscious choices and allow yourself to re-open and to live, openly energetic, openhearted in the world, it does change everything. It becomes a ground for joy, for generosity, for patience, for love. It changes everything.
Barbara will email the whole Mala recitation and this small set of the recitation to all of you. I would like you to go into each of these categories in these 2 weeks. Choose whichever feels predominant for your attention— metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha. Which one calls out to you to really watch in the next 2 weeks?
The Factors of Enlightenment— a little different assignment with that. Watch the arising of fear, of anger, doubt, grasping, the traditional hindrances, agitation. And when they arise, instead of saying, “I have to fix this,” simply ask yourself, “Ah, fear has arisen in me. What will bring balance?” Anger has arisen in this mind and body. What will bring balance? Am I ready to take that big step of trust to not use the fear, or anger, or whatever it is, as armor, but to invite balance, to re-open? So that’s how I would ask you to work with that section.
The spiritual faculties—faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Just reflect on them a bit. No special assignment with these.
And the Perfections— generosity, morality, energy, wisdom, renunciation, loving kindness, truthfulness, resolution, equanimity, patience. Which of these perfections is weak? When something arises that pulls you off center, where is balance to be found? Same question.
I am not asking you to, or suggesting that you should, fix anything. Nothing is broken. I am simply inviting you, first, to reflect on your highest intentions. When you find yourself in a place of discomfort, stop and ask with mindfulness. What is my highest intention here? Our clear comprehension practice. Is what I am about to say or do harmonious to the highest intention? If not, then in what ways might I invite more balance, so that I can come back to this intention with more ease? And so that which is pulling me off balance releases.
That’s basically my instruction for tonight. We’re going to build on this, of course. For some of you, you may be saying, “Aaron, this is basic. You taught me this 10 and 20 years ago.” Yes, well, keep going with it! Are you perfect at it yet? Keep going at it. (inaudible) It’s not a problem.
All of you who were at the retreat received copies of the whole Mala recitation, all 108 beads, and saw the mala that Barbara was given to support that practice. Barbara will email this out to you too. I strongly suggest that you do this Mala recitation at least once or twice a week, for now. Go through it in these two weeks, just reflecting; asking yourself, what parts of this really call out to me? What’s most important for me, here? And then let go of the rest temporarily and focus on those areas that speak most to you. In future classes we’ll look at some of the other portions of the Mala recitation. So, today we’re focusing on beads 27 through 52. And I would ask you to focus there. But do, at least once in these two weeks, read through the whole thing. And as I said, we’ll be coming back to other parts of it and putting it together. The whole Dharma Path is here in these 108 beads.
Thank you for this time with you tonight. It’s after 8, so I will close my formal talk. Invite those in the room who wish to leave, to leave; invite those online who wish to leave, to leave. And stay present for another 20 minutes or so after that for questions. But those who need to leave are free to leave. Thank you, and I’ll be quiet for a minute or two so those who want to leave can do so.
Reviewed to here; the rest of the transcript has not been reviewed.
Barbara: The question was about the amount of “doing”, in tonight’s talk. I said, when I was learning to drive a car, at first there was a lot of instruction but eventually it started to come naturally. Riding a bike; somebody running beside you, saying, “Lean to the right! Lean to the left! Pedal harder!” But eventually you found your balance. So it really is the same thing. We need the words at first to give some guidance, but very quickly you put the words aside and just be. And probably the only key instruction that remains is mindfulness, presence.
Q: This is closely related to what Q asked. When I get this kind of assignment, I find myself grasping, working too hard. Could you reflect on that, please?
Barbara: When grasping arises, mindfully note grasping! When contraction arises, note contraction. Right here with contraction, where is spaciousness? Who is grasping— the ego? Looking at the ego, but not with a fix-it. Just, “Hello, ego, hi. I figured you were going to drop in.” Not a problem. We just keep coming home. And that’s it.
Some of us have different tendencies. So for some there’s a tendency toward lethargy. “I don’t want to be bothered with all of this.” For others, there’s a tendency toward, “I’ve got to get it all right.” For others, there’s a tendency of wanting to be the star student, or believing oneself to be the dunce— whatever it may be. Our practice is a chance to observe the habitual tendencies and gently say, “Thank you. I release this one; I release that one. Don’t need this one anymore.” But if I believe I need it, can I just look at that belief? Not figure it out; just hold space for it and watch how it arises, and not get so caught in the stories. Again, coming back to what balances this old myth that I have to get it all perfect. Who has to get it all perfect? What if I don’t? What am I afraid will happen? I don’t mean truly figuring that out, but just watching that fear is there, and how strong a force it’s been. And maybe I don’t need to do that anymore.
I had a powerful experience with this myself at the retreat. I’m now 8 months into post-stroke for Hal. For the first 7 months, although there was some softening, I felt like I was carrying the world on my shoulders. And I was trying so hard to get it all right, and feeling, if I don’t, if I fail, I’m condemning Hal to a slow death. I’ve got to get it right for him to get him some chance— not that he will get all better, but to give him some chance for improvement. If I turn my back on him, there’s no chance, so I’ve got to get it right. And I saw at the retreat how I was using that as a way of avoiding my own grief— not that I was not feeling the grief, but I was not fully allowing myself to feel the grief because it was too hard. So, as long as I could keep doing something then I didn’t have to acknowledge maybe there’s nothing much I can do. Maybe this is just how it’s going to be. And I have to learn to live with it, and he does. The life we lived before will never be like that again. Can I just open my heart to that and still do everything I can? But it stops being a burden.
In the Metta sutra, there’s a beautiful instruction, “(whispering, inaudible phrase). Let them be able and upright, openhearted and gentle in speech, unburdened with duties.” This “unburdened with duties” has always been a stumbling block for me. Exactly what does it mean to be unburdened with duties? And I’ve understood it intellectually, but not ever been able fully to do it. To accept duties as a gift, a chance to be of service. But it’s not a burden because there’s nothing I have to fix, and I’m not good or bad if I do it right or wrong. Just doing what needs to be done as well as I can, with an open heart.
So, the retreat, I did have more chance to meditate than I usually do, even though I was busy during the retreat, but not nearly as busy as I am in my life at home. Looking at the places where I’m running from, looking at the burden. Looking at the grief. Looking at the “have to get it right”. Who has to get it right? Aaron kept saying to me, all through the week, “Who has to get it right?” And as soon as he says that, based on the depth of my practice, I know there’s nobody there. It’s all a story. It’s all something I’m building, creating, that has no substance, like a snowman that’s just going to melt. Let it go.
So, I came home from the retreat feeling much more spaciousness than I’ve felt in all of these 8 months. I’m certainly not happy about the situation, but I’m living with it much more gracefully. Sunday I didn’t go to his nursing home, and today I didn’t. I went Saturday, I went yesterday, I’ll go tomorrow. I’m more or less going every other day, and I’m allowing myself to do that. And instead of going for 4 or 5 hours, I’m going for 1 or 2 hours, and acknowledging I have to live the rest of my life. I have to figure who I am when a big piece of my identity is not as being Hal’s wife. I’’ll always be his wife, but who am I, now that I’m no longer living in a house with this man after 50 years. How do I recreate myself?
So, it’s been a big release. So much of it comes from not having to be somebody special, fixing something special, having expectations of myself. Just letting myself be. And I’m sure I’m not always going to be able to do it well. Remind me if I seem <not today>.
Other questions or things you want to share?
Q: I’d like to share something— well, maybe not sharing, but I just want to say something. When I was trying to keep Banner quiet, it was because he was sticking his nose in someone’s shoe, and I was trying to prevent him from chewing it up. And he kept going back to it, so I kept pulling him away from it. That was what the action was.
Barbara: Thank you for protecting the shoes. Banner will never chew a shoe, but given half a chance, he’ll pick it up and carry it across the room! So I keep finding one shoe in the bedroom, one shoe there… but he won’t chew on them.
Q: I just have one last question. What time did you guys start tonight?
Barbara: 7pm Eastern. Any other questions?
Q: I wondered if there is a particular practice for upekkha like there are for metta and karuna and mudita.
Barbara: For me, the practice for upekkha is basically reminding myself those words: whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease, and is not me or mine. It arose out of conditions; it will pass away. This is so deep in our experience. We know this; we just forget it so quickly. So, just reminding myself very gently: let it be. It arose out of conditions; it will pass away.
I’m seeing this so much when grasping starts around Hal. Will he get better? Is he making enough progress? It’s all arising out of conditions and passing away. It’s not in my control. It’s just so much the fruit of our practice. One of the things Aaron is saying here, I’m paraphrasing Aaron, he says, when there’s no equanimity, what is blocking equanimity? Because equanimity is our natural state. So, when we find that there’s really not equanimity, there will either be a lot of grasping or a lot of aversion, when there’s not equanimity. Then to ask, what’s blocking it? What would allow me to get past the grasping or aversion and move through this cloud back into true equanimity.
John, do you want to add anything here, to anything that’s been said tonight? I don’t mean to put you on the spot, but just do want to open the door for you, if you want to say something.
John: Hello to everyone. I was just waiting to be put on the spot! Here it is! So, in response to Q’s question about equanimity meditation, traditionally one equanimity meditation is, “All beings are heirs to their karma,” their own karma. A person’s happiness or unhappiness is not dependent upon me but upon their own choices, their own actions. So, all beings are heirs to their own karma. A person’s happiness or unhappiness is not dependent upon me but upon their own actions or choices.
So I (background noise- found?) that especially helpful in situations where people find themselves, where we find ourselves in kind of negative co-dependent relationships, where we try, out of our own pain and fear and grasping, want to help someone, but that desire to help and to aid is coming more from fear and grasping than is coming from love. The open heart that, just reflecting upon this equanimity meditation, that although I love this person and I wish them well, and happiness, and peace, and healing, the truth is, all beings are heirs to their own karma. A person’s happiness or unhappiness is not dependent upon me but upon their own actions and choices. So it creates the ability to let go.
As Barbara was speaking about Hal’s situation, there’s only so much she can do. She’s doing all that she can to aid his healing. But at a certain point, all beings are heirs to their karma, and I can’t necessarily make somebody happy, or have them heal, or fix their problems, or whatever the case may be. There are other forces that are at work, that are also contributing to the situation, including this other person, who I’m engaged with here, their own choices, their own actions.
So I have found this helpful in regard to the equanimity practice. And I also want to thank Aaron and Barbara for a wonderful dharma talk and lots to look at in our practice for the coming weeks. Thank you.
Q: Thank you, John, that was very helpful.
Barbara: Thank you, John, for reminding me to practice equanimity more with Hal when I am starting to freak out! This is crashing, that’s crashing— just little things like, this (play) on this schedule suddenly has shifted. Letting go of control. “All beings are heir to their karma and inherit its results. Their future is born from such actions, and its results will be their home.”
Okay, anybody else?
Q: I get caught with that one a bit. know that, especially with my daughter, I made some errors in my parenting. And that’s a guilt. And then you have resentment when you also feel wounded by your family. So, it’s hard to believe the heirs of their own karma when you feel like you contributed, or they contributed to you, in a negative way.
Barbara: I feel like, what starts out as a very friendly volleyball game, hitting the ball over the net, but one person is very aggressive. They start slamming the ball. It hits me. They didn’t make me angry; my old karma, my old habitual tendencies were the conditions that brought up anger, so that when I get the ball, I slam it back. Or, I catch the ball and say, “Wow, that was a hard one.” And then I hit it back gently again. It’s my choice. People will hit me these hardballs, and I, based on my karma and based on my free will in this moment and my wisdom, will decide how I’m going to relate with what was thrown at me.
The other piece of this, Q, especially with our children— remember, they chose to be our children. We didn’t force them— they had free will choice! They at some level knew their karmic history with us. We’re older, so they knew their karmic history with us before they decided to incarnate in a situation where we were going to be their parents. Why would you have chosen me as your parent, your mother? I guess you had something to learn. You came to teach me something. We’re passing it back and forth.
It’s not a matter of getting it perfect; it’s a matter of each of us doing the work to learn, and helping create the situation where the other can learn. Which means not taking it personally when they throw the hardball at me. But also, with compassion, saying, no, you can’t throw a ball right there at my head. No!
It’s hard. I think the learning with our children and our parents is probably the hardest learning in our lives.
Others? Okay, if there’s nothing else, we’ll end here. I’ll ask one more time— is there any other question?
Q: If people want to, could we meditate for a while?
Barbara: Yes, I was going to have us end with, not meditation so much as a chant, and then we can meditate if people want to. “All I ask of you… “ For those of you who were not at the retreat, you may not know this but I think you’ll be able to join in. Is there anybody who does not know the “All I ask of you…” chant? The words are, “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.” And then the Arabic: “Ishk allah ma budh- lela”, which means, “God is lover and beloved.” So, let us chant… (John plays the harmonium)
All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you…
Ishk allah ma budh- lela…
(bell, bell, bell)
Mala Recollection from Barbara Brodsky