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Dharma Path – September 4, 2018 Tuesday Class, Class 1, Part II What is the Dharma Path and Where is it Taking Us?
Aaron: We continue. The three kayas— Dharmakaya, nirmanakaya, and the bridge of sambhogakaya. In the Path of Clear Light, I speak about the radiant essence that is the core of each of you. The Path of Clear Light is basically about knowing this innate radiance of your being; this fully awakened aspect of your being; this unconditionally loving aspect of your being.
Frank Levey first walked in my door in 1989, curious to attend an Aaron night. He came with a strong background in vipassana, and quickly became a regular, then joined the 3 year teacher training program. He met his wife-to-be, Larissa, in class, and I had the honor to officiate at their wedding.
Frank was a first teacher to many in our sangha, and also a beloved friend. As a teacher he was clear and spoke from his heart, offering his own dharma experiences to encourage and elucidate. As a friend, he was deeply wise and compassionate, always supportive.
He was also a fine builder and carpenter. You can see his craftsmanship in my office, which for some years was our DSC meditation hall and will serve again now as the site for the new Dharma Path program. He was a great environmental champion as well, deeply knowledgable.
Frank, you are beloved and will be missed. Go brightly into this new adventure, carrying all of our love.
Recorded in Barbara Brodsky’s backyard in June 2018.
Video and Transcript, the video is also closed captioned.
Aaron: My blessings and love to you. I am Aaron. I’m sitting here sheltered by a beautiful old apple tree. Everything arises from conditions. Barbara and Hal planted this tree over 40 years ago, just a little sprig of wood. And here it is, giving dense shade on a hot day.
Everything emerges, expresses, and then passes away. Someday in the future this tree will no longer exist. Someday in the future you will no longer exist as you are now. What will the tree have become? Undoubtedly it will have dropped seeds, and perhaps there will be a new apple tree growing. Is it separate from the original tree? It bears the seed from that tree, and yet it expresses as something different.
For you, I’m not only speaking about a transition from this life and rebirth, but moment by moment, day by day, you express as something different. Sometimes you express as the one who is frightened, angry, controlling, or confused. Sometimes you express as the one who is joyful, confident, and at ease. These are all aspects of your being.
The human has the tendency to try to get rid of that which it deems unwholesome, the angry or confused aspects of the self, and to build up what it sees as beautiful aspects of the self. That’s fine, for a while. But after a while, be it years or lifetimes, you do come to understand that you cannot get rid of anything or create anything for the characteristic will continue until the conditions for it are purified. You must go into the core of your being and begin to know who and what you originally were and still are. Zen Buddhism sometimes calls it “knowing your true face”; knowing your true essence.
Last month, I spoke of the dharma path, based on the Buddha’s idea of sila (moral awareness), pañña (wisdom), and samadhi (presence). These are a beautiful path and will lead you to awakening. But some of you have been walking this path for over 2,000 years, and there is still a somebody there trying to fix, to get rid of, or to create.
The teachings do support this idea. “Abandon the unwholesome. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. If such abandonment created harm, I would not ask you to abandon it. But as it creates happiness, I ask you, abandon the unwholesome.” The scripture goes on to say, “Cultivate the wholesome. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. If such cultivation created suffering, I would not ask you to cultivate it. But as it creates happiness and good for all beings, cultivate the wholesome.” This is a beautiful teaching. But, if you have been abandoning the unwholesome and cultivating the wholesome for a thousand or two thousand years, and you’re still doing it, something is a bit off balance. Perhaps there is too much of an idea of a central self who must abandon and cultivate.
We cannot get rid of that self— that’s just more abandoning. We cannot create the true self— that’s just more doing. Rather, we begin to use our practice, all of it— the sila, the pañña, and the samadhi, all together— to rest more firmly in — Ajahn Chah, a beloved Thai meditation master, called it “the one who knows”. In the Thai language, pu-ru. To rest fully in the one who knows, first you must acquaint yourself with the one who knows. And so many of you are reluctant to do that, for various reasons; perhaps afraid of failure. But I think for the most part it’s because to open fully to the one who knows means you must release at least some identification with the ego self.
You are ready to do that, or you would not be listening to this talk. But again, I don’t want to suggest a doing, to say “release identification.” Pass through the various identifications you have, that the ego has, and through meditation, open to the fullness of what you are. I have called you “angels in earthsuits”. Sometime this fall, I don’t know the date, (Sat. Oct. 27) I will be giving an “Angels in Earthsuits” workshop, both live and online, and we’ll go deeper into this idea and into the experience of being the angel in the earthsuit. For now, I just want to remind you, you are not here as humans that occasionally have a spiritual experience but as spirit having a human experience. This line has been tossed around often in the past decade or two. I believe I first said this 30 years ago. You are spirit having a human experience. And you are here to understand the importance of this human experience and to use it, not only for the highest good of yourself, releasing and balancing old karma, not only for the highest good of all sentient beings, but literally to bring this whole Earth on which you live into transition to a higher vibrational planet; to come to know yourselves as the high vibrational being that is the essence of who and what you are. You are love, high vibration, spirit, AND you are here in human form, which must be met compassionately and tenderly.
Are you ready to let go of the myriad stories? “Poor me, why did this happen to me?” “I’m not good enough. I should have done it better. They shouldn’t blame me.” I should, they should, I want, I don’t want. Fine. What has all of that thinking gained you? Anything? The harder you try to push away the human in which you have expressed, to deny it in some way, the less you can ground yourself in the angel. That may sound odd, but only by opening to the fullness of your being can you truly come face to face with this one who knows; and learn to rest in the experience of the one who knows. Emotions will still arise— grief, confusion, anger, denial, grasping, hatred. They will still arise. You’re still here in a human body. If you step on a nail, your foot is going to bleed. You are here in a human body.
But, as I see it, the vital focus of this lifetime is to come to know yourself and all beings as part of each other, and as expression of the one who knows. Let’s call it The One Who Knows, in capital letters, and the one who thinks she knows, in small letters. But where do they merge? At a certain point you stop being the small-letter one who strives after certainty and simply are The One Who Knows.
Here is a leaf from the tree above me. Is it separate from the tree in any way? It has drifted down. I’m going to crumble it up and grind it into the dirt. It will decay there. Its energy will seep into the earth, feed the roots of this tree. Is it separate from the tree? Can anything ever be separate? What do you gain by living with this illusion of separation?
So, you are angels in earthsuits, each come into the incarnation to truly know this angel aspect of yourself; to take care of the human; to use the wisdom and power and the body of the human to co-create what is for the highest good of all on this Earth, without fear of the enormity of the power you have. I think this is the key to it, that at some level many of you, as you grow, have become aware of the enormity of power, but you have not yet fully resolved the ego and the negative emotions. So, there is fear that if you own this power, you could do harm, because you know you have not resolved the negative emotions. This is also a vital part of the dharma path.
In order to fully resolve the negative emotions, we must be willing to acknowledge. We cannot transcend what we do not accept. You must also be willing to acknowledge your power in order to transcend it as personal power and offer it as THE power, the power that can fully transmute negativity on this Earth, and fully transform this Earth, and assist its transition to a higher density planet.
Why do you want it to be a higher density planet? Each of you has been in situations where there was a lot of negativity and fear, a lot of darkness. Was it pleasant? Each of you has been in situations where there was a lot of love, laughter, joy, high vibration, ease. And yes, it was pleasant. The more you open into that high vibrational space, the more you can support that for yourself and others.
Last month you had a glimpse of Barbara’s very small garden here. You saw the high energy of the plants, so surrounded with love. Some of you may have read the book Findhorn, or read about the Findhorn experiment, in which plants were nurtured with love and grew beautifully. Well, this is Barbara’s own small Findhorn. All of you have the opportunity to truly create a Garden of Eden here on Earth. And I’m not just talking about flowers and trees and vegetables.
Recently, a dozen boys and their soccer coach were trapped in a cave, deep underground in Thailand. It was a situation from which it was almost impossible to envision that they could be released. Rains were flowing, monsoon rains. The only way out was by swimming underground, underwater, through narrow passages. I saw something beautiful happen on the Earth. So often the news shows the negative and plays out the negative. But in this situation, the news demonstrated the love and courage. And around the Earth, literally hundreds of thousands of people came together energetically, envisioning these boys released, offering their energy and love and courage to the boys and to the rescuers. And they were all freed, one man having lost his life. While we lament that one death, it’s quite amazing what this whole world was able to do because they came together with love. If there had been several hundred thousand people saying, “It can’t be done. It can’t be done. They’re as good as dead,” they would never have gotten out. Your energy carried them through.
You have some very unpleasant situations on your Earth, places of terrorism, places where harm is being done. Are you ready to move into knowing yourself as The One Who Knows, and claiming your power, so that all together you can transmit love around the whole Earth? Can transform the Earth and bring it into the higher vibration that is your birthright? This Earth is the Eden that you were promised. But it’s up to you personally to co-create that Eden, starting from within the self.
If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it. Thank you.
Recorded in Barbara Brodsky’s backyard in June 2018.
Video and Transcript, the video is also closed captioned.
Aaron: My blessings and love to you. I am Aaron. Welcome to our summer garden, where Barbara has enjoyed some hours meditating, reading, and relaxing this summer, and contemplating dharma truths such as impermanence.
My topic today is the path of the dharma, dharma path, which is the title of the new two-year class that we will begin in the fall. Many of watching this are already registered. Registration is full. There is a waitlist. We’re trying to understand how we can bring everyone in who wishes to participate, so if interested, please simply sign on to the waitlist. Then hold your heart open with the possibility.
What is this “dharma path”? I want to begin by reading you one verse from the Dhammapada, a beautiful Buddhist scripture, Dhammapada— dharma and dhamma being equal terms in two different languages.
Dhammapada, verse 178:
Better than ruling the whole world, better than going to heaven, better than lordship over the universe, is an irreversible commitment to the Way.
The way of what? To what are you committing? You are committing to know who you are beyond this human body and the small ego. To know the deepest truth of yourself and hold your heart open to that truth. To live that truth, not just think about it.
Twenty-five hundred years ago the Buddha suggested the idea of three segments to practice: sila (moral awareness), pañña (wisdom or more accurately, insight), samadhi (mindfulness, presence, concentration). I cannot improve on that. But I can bring it into this century. What do these teachings mean today, and how can we find true liberation through these teachings?
What I teach, and what I will be teaching in this class, is grounded in Buddhism but I am not teaching it as Buddhism. No ‘isms’ here; just bringing the deepest aspect of yourself into practice and into your pure being.
Let’s unfold this sila/ pañña /samadhi, starting with sila, moral awareness. On a relative level this means to honor the commitment to do no harm to others or to yourself. Notice there is still the word “other”. There is still a thinking from the relative plane of self and other, of doing no harm. Once we are well-grounded in sila, and most of you watching this already are, we move out of the relative and onto the ultimate. But you cannot reach the ultimate level of understanding without the wisdom and presence parts of this tripod.
When we come to a place of knowing that everything is part of the self, there is no longer a self or other. No one to do harm, no one to be harmed. And yet, we must understand that harm still does happen, because you are not completely free, because most of you, at least, still move into the ego self at times and oppose it to the will of others rather than resting in compassion and saying no from that compassionate heart. As long as there’s an ego there, there’s going to be harm.
To find the egoless place you must meditate, which is still a relative practice, a doing, until you come to the place of resting in pure presence, resting in spaciousness, resting in love. Resting in that pure presence, you directly experience that no-self, no-other, and then move out of the karmic field in which harming can happen. But of course, being humans, you slip back into it again.
Then we work with the wisdom practices. At first these are the early teachings. Every conditioned thing is impermanent. Whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease and is not me or mine. You begin to see how objects arise out of conditions and pass away; how the impulse to harm something arises out of conditions and passes away. With a strong commitment to do no harm— I’m smiling at the butterflies clustered over the lavender!— with a strong commitment to do no harm, as presence, mindfulness meditation, concentration, as these deepen, you begin to find that which is empty of a self, right there with the ego itself, and to begin to act more from that place; to speak, to think more from that egoless core of being. You begin to know this is who you are.
Then sila deepens. We enter the shift of moving from the relative, heavy vibration human into the true high vibrational spirit cloaked in flesh. That is what you truly are. The identification shifts.
Last week Barbara had a beautiful meditation, and she has given me permission to share it with you. She had an appointment with a well-trusted acupuncturist and was lying on his table, with needles at the various points on her body, knowing she had perhaps an hour just to be there, present, and to meditate. She had been feeling quite overwhelmed with many things in her life. Of course, with Hal, whose condition, a stroke— leads to the need to help him have the proper care; to organize the proper care. Then there is her own time spent with him. She is very busy with the remodeling she is just beginning in the house; the previous weeks, spending many hours a day, with some support, clearing out endless boxes of old books, old things, finding homes for that which needed homes. Recycling the rest. Fifty years of accumulation; a huge task. Hours are spent with trying to understand the home finances and paying Hal’s now $12,000 a month nursing home bill. Worrying, where the money will come from, month after month? She seeks to support her own health, trying to get the proper exercise, to eat properly; failing a good part of the time but not condemning herself, just persisting.
So she was feeling overwhelmed. As she lay on the table, she could feel the places where the body was holding all of this sense of being overwhelmed, all of the contraction. She asked for help. At least she’s getting that much of it; she remembers that she can ask for help! Jeshua came in very quickly. He invited her, “You are still here in the human body, and at the end of this session you will return to the human body. But for now, come with me. Come through this transition portal.”
He took her hand—energetically, I should say— and literally led her— not pulled her but invited her through what would be the transition experience, a simple transition experience. Moving from the heavy density plane into a plane of light. There was briefly a period of fear and of darkness, for Barbara. Then, sensing Jeshua’s touch and presence, and mine also, holding the commitment to move beyond the edges of that darkness and into the place where light and darkness become one, – not separate, no duality – moving into the light. Her energy field expanded, opened; joy arose. Where she rested was so flooded with light, with happiness.
After a few minutes resting there, Jeshua invited her to turn around, literally, and look back at the Barbara lying on the table, filled with feelings of being overwhelmed, with contraction, with fear, with worry, with doubt. As she looked at that Barbara, she saw that all of these myriad contractions, all of these thoughts, that these were all simply conditioned objects, arisen from conditions, impermanent, not of the nature of a self, and that she did not need to identify with them. But she knew that she would need to return to the body and take care of these fear-based contractions held in that body.
She rested there in the spaciousness for about 10 or 15 minutes. And then Jeshua invited her, “Now it is time to return to the body. Look at each piece of contraction literally as a conditioned object, and know it to be impermanent. Right there with that particular contraction, where is spaciousness? Right there with grief, where is love? Right there with fear, where is the one who knows the deep inner clarity and love?
So, she spent the rest of the hour lying on the table, back in the body, looking at each place where the body had contracted with this or that catalyst, and holding the intention, I should not say to release it, that’s too much a doing, but to move into the place where contraction was not. To move into the innate spaciousness of being.
By the end of the hour she had let go of all — let phrase that differently; that’s also too much of a doing— the identification had shifted itself to the spacious awakened spirit that she is, able to approach with compassion the human that she also is right now, and to touch the places of fear with loving compassion, with patience.
Lying there, she recited to herself again St. Theresa’s prayer, that I’ve shared with you before.
Be not perplexed.
Be not afraid.
God does not change.
Patience wins all things.
She who has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
Each of you, as for Barbara, must explore what God means in this context. For Barbara, God is Love. It’s as simple as that. Love wins all things. Love alone suffices. The power of love suffices.
She emerged from that room feeling infinitely lighter and more at ease, with readiness to return to the work of her current life; not viewing it as burden but as teacher. How do I bring love more to this, and to that, and to that? Where is the love that is already there? How do I bring the already awake self to this challenge that life presents me now? This, my dear ones, is the dharma path.
For those who are not in the class, and as I said, registration is quite limited, my talks every other week will be available in some way. Not yet understood how, but they will become available. I hope that many of you will choose to follow these talks and join us on this two year journey.
My blessings and love to you. Thank you for being with me today.
The One Year Anniversary of WHAT? by Celeste Zygmont
DSC newsletter, Aug. 7, 2018
My name is Celeste Zygmont, and I’m living way out here near Austin, Texas (Deep Spring Center is located in Ann Arbor, MI). It’s been 105 degrees (Fahrenheit!) the past few days. You can’t touch the metal of cars with your hand, and you can’t walk barefoot on the street. Who would have thought I’d end up here? Not me, but here I am.
I met Deep Spring Center for Meditation and Spirituality in the early ‘90s and right away knew I wanted more. Aaron would give his talks, and something inside of me would say, “I know this.” But search as I might through my own memories, I could find nothing related to what I was hearing. So listen I did and practiced and started going to retreats. It’s been an adventuresome road through life and into mind, continually re-applying the teachings I’ve learned these past 25 years.
So now I’m in Texas. Although I go on weeklong retreats twice a year, I yearn for my Deep Spring Sangha to be closer. But how? Then one day I was at a Deep Spring Board meeting. We were all gathered together through the online conferencing program called Zoom. That’s when it hit me. What if we had an online meditation group and meditated using Zoom every Sunday morning?!
I got help setting it up, and – Shazam! – the first-ever Sunday Online Meditation was born. I am happy to announce that this first online meditation took place one year ago. Since then, we’ve met week after week. And now it’s been one year, one year of my heart feeling humanly connected to my dear ones all over the U.S. and sometimes even farther.
We chant and feel the togetherness of our energies. I like reaching out, way out, energetically, and offering any benefit that might come as a result of our meditation to be for the good of all beings. Ah. Then we begin an hour of meditation. Except for meditation at retreats, it’s the deepest meditation I know. For the most part, my family respects this time.
Over the course of this year, it has worked out that a core group of us has formed to meditate this way. We represent the states of Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. What a bond we’ve created between us, just by silently meditating together. We all look forward to it each week. And we say goodbye with smiles and warm hearts.
Now here’s the good part. You are invited to meditate, too! How beneficial it can be for you. Imagine the growth of the heart that is possible! Especially if you feel isolated where you live, please consider committing to this heart time with us.
To sign up, go to the Deep Spring website on the Sunday Online Meditation page. Or try this link: https://www.deepspring.org/sunday-online-meditation-from-anywhere. Thank you so very much. I look forward to meditating with you soon!
Almost thirty years ago, Barbara became conscious of me in the room when she entered for her morning meditation. When she asked me, “Who are you and why are you here?” I told her I was her guide and was there to help her understand suffering and move past it. A few months later, I was speaking to many more people through Barbara. I was again asked: Why are you here? Are you also our guide? “For a few, I am a guide,” I replied. “For most of you, I am a teacher, perhaps one of many in this lifetime. You will find your own guides, learn to hear them, and connect to your own deepest wisdom through your Higher Selves. I am here to help you understand that you are spirit, that you have come into the incarnation to raise yourselves and this earth to a higher vibration, to be a ground for Love. In following that path, you can literally change the entire universe and end suffering on this and all heavier vibrational planes.”
My teaching first was brought out into the wider world through my book, Presence, Kindness and Freedom. If you are present in each moment and with lovingkindness, you will find freedom and help others also to find freedom. It is as simple as that: simple but not easy but requiring dedicated practice. Many of you have done this practice for years and deepened into it. When enough of you have moved into less fear, reactivity, and contraction and can live from the spaciousness of Love and the open heart, your earth will be on a path toward peace that was the original vision for this earth, by those angelic beings who helped to ground it in Loving Energy. (See the Earth History transcripts in the archives for more on this concept.)
I have always emphasized meditation practice that supports such presence. But I do not teach to make you into meditators, but to help you and all beings find true freedom from old fear and reactivity, to help you know yourselves as spirit, “angels in earthsuits” as I have called you, truly here on a divine mission to bring love where there has been fear and bring light where there has been only darkness.
That book and other books that followed were first steps. Through the years we have taught ten here, two dozen there, going ever deeper. Because of distances, many of you could join me only once a year. It has made progress seem slow, but we do not measure progress in time, but by the opening of the heart and deepening of wisdom.
Now many of you have the foundation, and we have the technical tools, to move ahead, through our upcoming two-year program. Through advances in technology that have finally caught up to my intentions, we may offer the deepest teaching to all who are ready, regardless of location: a teaching of love, of service and of liberation, grounded in dharma principles. For those not enrolled in the class, the contents will be made available to a wider audience through the Deep Spring Center transcript and video archives.
This technology needs your golden coins to pay for the equipment and the expertise of paid editors and our truly essential Managing Director. I do not wish finances to stand in the way of people’s participation. It would be lovely if you were all completely telepathic and we had no need for technology, but such is not yet the case! Please give as you are able to support Deep Spring Center, which in turn supports this movement to the Light and true liberation for all beings. Imagine it, and it will be so!
I thank you. You are ever in my heart,
With love, Aaron
It is summer in the northern hemisphere and Deep Spring Center is avidly planning our fall and winter programs. Since 2016 we have been expanding our reach to provide our message of unconditional love and compassion for all of life world wide thanks to ever expanding digital technology.
With new video and editing equipment and software programs, our super techs, Tana and Bill, have set up methods of video and live stream productions of classes, workshops, meetings and meditations to allow access by anyone in the world who has internet access. We have received warm thanks from those living in places such as China, Malaysia and Dubai-a long way from Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. I think this is very exciting to be able to reach out world wide and share these vital concepts.
Our present projects will video new classes and discussions, plus we will also resurrect some of the older archived videos which have valuable messages people have requested. It is our plan to be able to offer several different levels of topics, so each person may progress at their own speed through these integral spiritual concepts.
People who have been a part of Deep Spring Center for many years have different learning needs than someone who has just started with Barbara Brodsky and Aaron. We want to be able to offer information to each of you at your level and let you progress onward at your own pace when you are ready.
In this manner, more experienced students are not bored with repetitive information and newer students can revisit information they want as often as needed before moving on. We have found that it can take several times hearing the same message before one truly understands it. Creating videos one can access independently will aid in learning for all students.
In order to continue to produce these programs for world wide dissemination, we need funding. It takes time to record, edit, upload, maintain and store the video programs. We have to pay for these activities. We are asking you, our friends and students, to help fund this video project so we can continue to share these programs with everyone. Reviewing the fall and winter schedule, we will need $7,000 to share these programs with you.
During this semi-annual funding drive every donor with be gifted a free digital download to the ebook, The Awakened Heart by Barbara Brodsky and Aaron. For those donors who donate $100 or more, the first 100 will receive an autographed copy of Presence, Kindness, and Freedom by Aaron. For those who donate monthly or donate $250+ per year will receive Presence, Kindness and Freedom plus automatic registration to live streaming with Evenings with Aaron and the private video link to watch anytime.
Presence Kindness and Freedom is an excellent book. I recommend it to every patient I work with. Aaron has outlined most of our human emotions and how to effectively learn to use them for growth and healing. Every one of us can use this as a guideline. I typically recommend reading the whole book, from beginning to end to get a basic understanding of the concepts. Then, go back to the beginning and spend time on each chapter, work within yourself for each emotion, learn how to address these necessary emotions and challenges in our everyday lives in a spiritually constructive manner.
You can donate by sending a check made out to Deep Spring Center, 6655 Jackson Road, Unit 565, Ann Arbor MI 48103 or online at: http://ow.ly/fts330lf2aw We are very excited about these worthwhile video projects and hope you will assist us in developing these so you may share in the learning from wherever you are in our beautiful, but struggling world. Please introduce yourselves at http://ow.ly/C4L530lf2dh so we might learn a bit about you.
Love and light, Tavis Taylor, M.D. President, Deep Spring Center
As you may know, our Oakwood retreat is just five months away. That may seem like a long time, but many people need that much time to clear calendars for a week, and Oakwood planning for the retreat committee and teachers begins now.
I realize that some of you may have hesitated to register, as you wondered if John and I would show up, given John’s illness during Oakwood 2017 and my busy life during these past two months since Hal’s stroke. John’s health is much improved, as is Hal’s. I want to reassure you that both John and I plan to be at Oakwood, with deepened dharma drawn from this challenging year. For both of us, this year would not have been endurable without our practices. But we both go past enduring and do continue to find real happiness. This is the fruit of practice, what Aaron calls “The Dharma Path.”
Since January in Brazil, Aaron has been talking enthusiastically to me about his planned direction of teaching, the new year-long course we will begin in September live and on-line (more about that separately), and Aaron’s intention to bring some of the content to Oakwood. Aaron says:
“I might call this course ‘The Spiritual Path’— what it is, why we are drawn to it, in fact, came into incarnation to walk it, and how we may live it. Our two-part focus is waking up and living with love. You learn to use the challenges of daily life as the grist for the mill, to help you wake up. Everything is included—spiritual fatigue, pain, heavy emotion, feelings of shame or unworthiness, feeling out of control, helplessness, anger, confusion, fear, grief. It is all part of practice and of the human experience, all fodder for awakening. Our meditation practices are a vital core … .”
What is this spiritual path? It does ride like a roller coaster at times, with its ups and downs. I’ve been on this roller coaster quite a bit since Hal’s stroke. It may seem to be a simplistic statement, but I am learning to relax and know that it will go up and down, and to let go of trying to hold it steady. Many practitioners reach a point where practice seems to become stagnant or feels too hard and they withdraw or give up, just at the point where new support and dedication are most important.
A retreat is one of the best ways I know to rejuvenate our commitment and practice, and Oakwood is a beautiful venue for a retreat. I am personally very excited about the new course that Aaron and I will offer starting in the fall, and about this retreat, as ways to deepen our practice and support our opening hearts. This year our Oakwood retreat gives us an extra day, too. Aaron, The Mother, John and I look forward to this added time with you and look forward to seeing you there.
by Tana Dean, Managing Director
from weekly newsletter, May 2, 2018
As always, it’s a busy month at Deep Spring Center, serving an expanding international community, with local support in Ann Arbor, MI. Of course, the Board of Directors is always busy exploring ways to support you. This month, however, they have also been supporting our founder, Barbara Brodsky, and her husband, Hal, who suffered a major stroke in February. We are indeed fortunate to have the connection with spirit in the form of Aaron, The Mother and Jeshua, who offer their lighted spiritual guidance.
Since January, you have heard from many of the Board members, who not only give their time to serve on the Board of Directors but also lead a team to help run the center. Now we are asking you for help. We need volunteers to help with a variety of tasks, some that need to be done locally, and others that can be done from a distance. Every little bit helps, so when we put out a request, please step forward. The time commitment need not be great, and it can make all the difference in the world to the running and growth of Deep Spring.
The retreat team has extended the early bird registration discount until Friday, June 1 for the Fall Oakwood Retreat. Please take advantage of this extension to get the discount. In response to those of you who were interested in a full week-long retreat, the retreat this year has been extended by one more day, running from Monday to Monday.
You are what keeps me passionate, knowing that many people are helped in so many ways through this non-profit that continues its vision, “To awaken to higher consciousness. We rest in the knowing that this is already so.” Please join with us to help us strengthen our presence in the world.
Ruth shares her experience at this lovely, intimate retreat held in the spring at Steiner House on Geddes Rd. in Ann Arbor, MI…
I wanted to share what an extraordinary weekend it was at the retreat. The Steiner House was an excellent space that accommodated all our needs so well for meditation, separate groups, individual rooms, and food (yum!). It was a small intimate gathering in a safe space that felt supportive of individual inquiry. I’ve learned to trust where I’m guided to be and I’m so grateful for the teachings, healing energy, and sense of community that was nurtured over the weekend.
I am so grateful that my curiosity led me to the Oakwood retreat and now to Ann Arbor, as it’s made my life, inner and outer, richer.
Thanks, Mary, for your feedback on the weather. It had been snowing at home the day we were driving downstate and I was concerned about road conditions, but it was a mostly sunny, balmy day with dry roads. Buds were popping out on trees and bushes there and spring flowers coming up. Yeahhhh!
Tricia joined me on the weekend and this was her first introduction to meditation instruction/teachings and we were talking so much on the drive home that I missed the turn-off to get on 10 to Midland, so we were almost to the Houghton Lake exit before realizing we’d gone too far north on 75!! It was a good hour and a bit out of the way, but also such stimulating conversation that it was well worth it!
Well, that’s it from up north Michigan! I trust that all is well with everyone and look forward to our continued interaction.
From the President From Board of Directors President, Tavis Taylor, M.D.
Greetings from the Pacific Northwest! As the President of the Board of Deep Spring Center (DSC), I would like to fill you in on some exciting new developments that have taken place over the last couple of years. Following a major revision in organization that was made in 2016, Deep Spring Center is now poised to offer programming to all of our members located both near and far.
But first, let me introduce myself. I am a Board Certified Internal Medicine M.D. who is semi-retired from private practice, now working part time in an underserved clinic. I also practice complementary spiritual energy healing. Twenty years ago I would have told you that anything outside of allopathic medicine was unfounded and a placebo effect. I am glad I developed a more open mind and keep learning. I have two adult children, one getting a public health degree with plans to go onto nursing; the other working as a personal trainer and a brand new father—which makes me a new grandparent! I like to hike, bike, kayak, read, go to the theatre, travel and expand my spiritual well-being. The latter is why I am a part of Deep Spring Center.
I first came to know Barbara and Aaron personally in 2011. Having read her book Cosmic Healing, I then went to the DSC website and found a listing for a retreat that was to take place in Seattle. Imagine that: the center was in Ann Arbor, Michigan, yet there was to be a retreat in my area of the country! And it was to take place the following month: how convenient. I had no idea what to expect, given that the retreat was in someone’s home and not at a big retreat center. Yet there, in this nice cozy house with wonderful hosts, were Barbara and Aaron, the authors of the book I had just read. Wow! Over the years I have come to know Barbara and Aaron and some of the other members of DSC, despite my being located in the far northwest corner of the U.S.
In 2016 with the advent of an exploding digital world of technology, the Deep Spring Center Board took a new approach and decided to expand using computer media software that allows meetings to occur “face to face” in real time while members are anywhere in the world. I was invited to join the Board and jumped at the opportunity to help DSC expand. This connection via computer is integral to our success. While traveling, I have been known to seek out a pub with good wi-fi in order to participate in one of our meetings, such as in northern Scotland: good thing I had a headset to hear over the pub rowdies!
I am a relatively new president, having served as a board member from summer 2016 until November 2017, when I was drafted to this new position. I have found the DSC board to be a wonderful group of loving, compassionate people who feel strongly about sharing our mission with all those who are interested. We and the volunteers are developing new ways to reach out to as many people as possible. Tana and Bill have become IT whizzes with social media apps and video technology to bring live streaming workshops and other segments to you worldwide. Mary and Celeste are very organized and warmly create multi-day workshops and retreats for people to personally attend; Celeste has also organized an online meditation group. Bob, Isabelle and Tana are keeping us on track with finances and record-keeping. Roann is helping keep us up to date on the business end of things, and on making sure that what we send you is accurate and easy to read. And, of course, Barbara and Aaron are our loving and dedicated founding teachers and guides, without whom none of this would be happening. Tana is the backbone of Deep Spring Center. It is only because of her dedication, expertise and enthusiasm as our manager that we have been able to accomplish so much.
We rely on volunteers to help with the many projects being developed. Thank you to those of you who have stepped up to help move us forward. We are grateful for your specialized skills and your guidance. You are part of our developing international family.
With this new international digital approach, Deep Spring Center membership has grown significantly, which means that we no longer know who everyone is: we’re all over the world. As part of our effort in developing a sangha, a group of people with similar interests, we invite you to introduce yourself to us. Shortly, we will be putting a page up on the website for you to leave a short paragraph about yourself; we look forward to getting to know you a bit.
Thank you for sharing your love and interest in spiritual growth with us. As each one of us grows and lightens our own vibration, it lightens the vibration of the whole.
Light and Love to each of you,
Tavis Taylor, President
Deep Spring Center
Recorded at Steiner House in Ann Arbor Michigan in March 2018 during the Spring Vipassana Retreat.
Video and Transcript, the video is also closed captioned.
March 11, 2018 Sunday, Steiner Retreat, Ann Arbor Part 2: Vipassana Meditation | Deeper, Clearer Seeing
There are many forms of meditation; there is no one right form. What is the desired end? Why are you meditating? At Deep Spring Center we teach a mixture of vipassana and pure awareness meditation. This weekend you’re here specially to work on vipassana. I’ll touch on pure awareness just a few minutes as I talk, but not in depth.
Vipassana is a Pali language word, the language from which these teachings originated in southeast Asia. Passana means to see, and vipassana means deeper, clearer seeing. Normally we deeply see the things that are pleasant and we avert our gaze from that which is unpleasant. Vipassana invites us to stay present. When we do, we notice that some things are pleasant, some are unpleasant, and some are neutral, and how we normally relate to these experiences. When something is unpleasant, “Ooooo! I like that!” When it’s unpleasant we contract and pull away. When something is neutral we normally get bored by it and look for something else to entertain us.
When something is pleasant and we like it, that’s fine. “I like that.” But then, grasping comes: “I want that!” Can you feel the distinction? “I like it.” “I want it!” “I like it” doesn’t have any contraction to it. It’s open. Just, “Oh, it’s lovely.” “I want it! I want flowers!” Unpleasant: “I don’t like that”, free of contraction, versus “Aaack! Get rid of it!”, run the other way, with contraction. And neutral— hmm, kind of boring; where else can I go? Can I just be here with nothing? A little bit boring, nothing happening. The mind wanting something to stimulate it.
So, we start to watch mindfully, not just in meditation but in our daily lives, how we habitually relate, and we start to see the patterns. Very strong patterns like I mentioned earlier, my pattern of, “I”ll be upright when something pushes me.” To tighten myself and push back. (demonstrating push arms) push hard… (Barbara just relaxes with the push, then feeds the energy back) eventually she’ll stop pushing and then I’ll straighten up. Now, I can just keep doing that. How long is she going to keep pushing? Thank you.
I don’t have to push back. I don’t have to resist the push and tighten myself. I don’t have to run away. I just dance with it. We do this with arms. Push through… Now I’m pushing back hard! Can you see the contraction? Now I collapse with the push. Versus just dancing with it… I give the energy back. Just dancing with it. I can do it forever. As she begin to push hard—I’m dancing with it and I just kind of return the energy. And she pushes again… hard… I absorb it and push it back, return it. You can dance with it forever. This is not how most of us habitually live our lives. We harden up or we run, fight or flight, or freeze, try to disappear.
In sitting practice, we have the wonderful opportunity, just sitting, breathing in, breathing out. I am peaceful and relaxed and suddenly a fly lands on my forehead. It’s just a little tickle. It’s not really unpleasant, it’s not like something is burning me or hitting me. Tickling, tickling. I feel it, “unpleasant, unpleasant.” And I feel the “I don’t want this.” It goes so quickly from unpleasant to, “Oh no, is this fly going to be landing on my head the whole hour? What am I going to do? I can’t stand it.”
This is a vital point of practice. The touch of the fly is no longer the predominant object. My contraction around the fly is predominant. Can you feel that shift? Touching, touching, knowing it as unpleasant. Feeling myself contract, strong aversion, don’t want this. Tension, tension. Breathing in, I am aware of the tension. Breathing out, I hold space for the tension. I begin to relax, and the fly is still walking across my forehead. But I’m no longer feeling that strong degree of contraction, aversion and irritation. Then I can reach my hand up and just gently brush it away.
The experience is similar with body experience. Sitting, perhaps sitting with your legs crossed there on the cushion, and pain in the knee developing. Feeling pain, feeling pain. Same thing— same story: oh no! This is going to ruin my meditation because there’s pain in my knees. How can I find peace and meditate if there’s pain in my knees? Well, your meditation is not to find peace in a way of controlling your experience, but to open to the innate peacefulness that’s always there. To realize the power of that spaciousness and joy and peace in yourselves.
So, one notes the pain. Breathing in, I am aware of the pain. Breathing out, I hold space for that pain. We can do subtle things, like try to use the practice to make the pain go away. I’m holding space for it, I’m being kind to it, but it’s not going away. What am I doing wrong? We get into these stories too.
Instead, one notes pain as throbbing, as burning, pulsation, tingling. Then the growing aversion to the sensation is noticed, and how the whole body is hardening around it. Noting contraction. Same thing exactly as with the fly. The pain in the knee is no longer predominant. The strength of my “I want to get rid of it”, and the whole body contracted around it, is predominant. I breathe, noting contraction, anger, fear. You don’t have to give it a precise label, just contracting or aversion will do. Opening, relaxing, so that the heart is fully present with this human’s experience of body pain. Unpleasant, unpleasant. And then, very gently, I move my leg. Just once, into a different position. Releasing the pain— that’s a kind thing to do for our bodies when they hurt. But I don’t do it repeatedly, … “My knee hurts; I need to move it. (moves it) There, that’s better. Now my other knee hurts. I need to move it…. Better. Oh no, my back hurts too. I need to move that.” My shoulder hurts, my neck hurts— we can spend the whole hour trying to run away from pain rather than exploring our relationship with pain and finding the one who is aware of pain, and the deep place inside me, that can hold space for the pain and take appropriate care of the pain, without having to hold my body in contraction. My heart may be closed, the stories flowing— “I’m not going to be able to walk at the end of the sitting. My knees are going to be locked in place, they’re so painful. They’re going to have to cart me off to the hospital.” The experienced people are laughing. These stories come. If the story comes, just say, “Shhh….. Story! Story”” Quiet the story. Come back to the experience.
One may ask, “what does this story protect me form?” Often the stories are a way of avoiding something greater than the discomfort, like fear, grief, or anger.
All of these challenging experiences will come, I promise you. I want to read you a favorite poem of mine. It’s called “The Guest House”, by Rumi.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi
So our practice is not to control our experience. We’re all experts at controlling our experience. Our practice is to open our hearts and remind ourselves how to be present with love in painful and un-painful experiences— in beautiful experiences, too. How to just open our hearts.
We start with what we call a primary object. For those new to practice, it will be the breath. Feel the experience of the breath coming into the nostrils and flowing out. Try it with me. A slightly cooler sensation of touch at the nostril. Breathing in, and then the out breath, softer, warmer, touching the upper lip… (frequent pauses, not noted)
You can label it “breathing in and breathing out,” or you can just feel it. Just aware of that touch, knowing the direct experience of the inhale and the exhale. And again, the inhale… and the exhale…
As I inhale, I pick up a scent. Perhaps the cook is in the kitchen cooking food. Can others of you smell that? Subtle, a very lovely scent. It’s immediately pulling my attention from the breath to the scent. Pleasant, pleasant. So I’m still breathing, but the scent is also becoming predominant…
And now, I don’t know where the scent was coming from, but it’s gone. What’s predominant now is a kind of grasping after that scent. Where did it go? I want it back! Subtle tension. Breathing in and aware of the tension; breathing out and aware of the tension. The tension dissolving.
So this predominant object has faded away. The secondary objects have faded. I just come back to the breath. Breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in, and breathing out… As I sit here, I begin to feel the sun is no longer hitting the window. It’s not warming me anymore. I begin to feel chilly, cold. My body closes in tight— cold, cold. It’s not very cold, so it’s a more neutral sensation. I simply note it. Feeling cold, feeling cold, but it’s not holding my attention strongly. I consciously let it go and come back to the breath. Breathing in and breathing out…
Now, I cannot hear this but you can. You’re breathing, you’re relaxed, and suddenly:(tapping cup, glass, other objects on table). Hearing, hearing… (bell/gong) Unpleasant. If you’re trying to meditate it’s going to be unpleasant, whatever kind of sound it is, because you don’t want it. Somebody singing in a beautiful voice in the next room— “But I’m trying to meditate.” Or the lawnmower going, or the snowblower. “Hearing, hearing.”
So, we are present with the primary object. For the beginners, let’s let it be the breath for today. When something becomes predominant, we allow attention to move to it. We are not trying to hold our attention on the breath. That means pushing something away. That’s not being present with our direct experience of the moment. To be present in this moment, with its lovely sound, pleasant, pleasant; with its unlovely sound, unpleasant, unpleasant; with the contraction with the unpleasant; or with the pleasant. Maybe you live in an apartment and through the wall you heard your neighbor, who is a concert violinist, playing his violin. Pleasant, pleasant, ahhh, pleasant. And then he stops. “But I want more of it!” Grasping, grasping.
When we can be present in each moment with things as they are, we see the almost subtle intention to move to a story, such as, “I’ll never hear the rest of that concerto; he stopped.” Or, “I’ll never be able to meditate, the traffic is too loud.” Or the snowblower is too loud. We see these stories building up, and, my favorite response to stories is, “Is that so?” If I really want to hear the rest of the concerto I can go knock on my neighbor’s door and say, “Would you play it for me?” If the snowblower is loud, I can remember it’s blowing away the snow for me, so I’ll be able to walk down my driveway or path. “Thank you, thank you.” Or if it’s across the street and it’s not going to help me, I can just note my neighbor is getting his snow cleared. Sound, sound, loud sound, maybe unpleasant sound. Can we make space for that? And you can, you really can. Most people have not tried, but moved into that fight or flight or freeze. Get away from it, control it. Run out screaming and say, “Shut off your snowblower!”
Learning to live peacefully in myself means watching these arisings of war in myself. I talked earlier about clear comprehension. What is my highest purpose here? Is it to perpetuate a war within myself and in the world? Or to find a way to live peacefully with things as they are? With the early morning snowblower, with my husband’s stroke, where is peace?
Somebody asked me last night, is there still any joy in your life? Actually, I was talking to somebody on the phone, not a person who I know very well in terms of heart-centered discussion. He said to me, “Your life will change totally and you’ll never be happy again.” This is somebody who has also lost a loved one. I said to him, “Thank you for sharing your experience of it.”
I thought to myself when I hung up the phone, am I happy? Yes, I’m happy. I have wonderful friends! And many more of you out there, even those I’ve never met who are here today. People who I love, genuinely love. My heart is open. I’m awed by the strength of my three sons, and their wisdom and their love. I’m going to buy myself some sushi for lunch. I’m going to go and hold Hal’s hand again. And if I find he’s dying, this morning, then I’ll still hold his hand and say goodbye. But I can be happy, and that does not negate the grief.
Our practice allows ourselves to just be— just sitting with the unpleasant noise, the snowblower. “It’s interrupting my practice. I can’t practice with it.” Oh yes I can. Right here is my practice, to be present with sound, maybe unpleasant sound, and find the spaciousness to hold both the unpleasantness of it and the real joy of being. Here I am, a human— you can all hear the sound, I can’t. Imagine my joy if I could hear that snowblower! To be present with things as they are. Just sitting with unpleasant sensations like sadness and finding joy in the shared human experiences of joy and sadness! I am alive! I feel!
We call this practice choiceless awareness. We do not try to control what arises in our experience, nor do we climb on and ride it off into the sunset. We notice it. We hold space for it. We note that it has arisen out of many conditions. If you were going to go for a beautiful walk and suddenly it started to sleet, “Oh no, I was going to walk in the Arb. I really wanted to get out there and walk but the sun is gone, the sky is gray now. Oh no.” There are atmospheric conditions, and the sleet arose from the conditions. Breathing in and aware of desire, frustration, yearning. Just breathing. Whatever has the nature to arise has the nature to cease. This is true of the sleet and rain. It’s true of the inner storm.
I had 2 weeks of intense storm churning inside me, until yesterday when it really began to release. So it took 2 weeks, but it didn’t take 2 years, or even 2 months. This doesn’t mean I won’t grieve anymore; it means I’ve remembered how to hold space for the grief, the fear, the pain.
This is the fruit of the practice. And we do it just like this. Hearing the snowblower, feeling the pain in the back, knowing the grief. Watching that move from the direct sensation— hearing or touching, throbbing, whatever— to the mental formation— fear, anger, or just contraction, the confusion of, “I don’t know what’s happening.” Turmoil. What is the direct experience of turmoil? Where is it in my body? I give it my full, kind attention. The pain in my knee or back is no longer the predominant object; the turmoil is, whatever form it’s taking. And like that sleet storm out there, as I give it attention, gradually it resolves and blows away. And maybe I’m left with a pain in my back. Ahhh, putting my hand back there and touching it for the kindness. Ahhh, maybe changing my posture a bit. And then moving on with the sitting.
I know A and D are going to carry these instructions further. This is just a beginning glimpse of the instructions. And if I were here with you for another hour or for the morning, I would now have you stretch and do some walking meditation and come back and have another round of instruction. Or have you just sit and meditate for a while.
So, I’m going to leave you all and go off to my husband in his new room, where we got him settled in last night, and see how he’s doing. And I’ll be back with you tomorrow morning. I hope you all have a wonderful day. Thank you for letting me be with you this morning.
From living room talks in founding teacher Barbara Brodsky’s home, to group talks in various sangha settings, now via Zoom in the sanctuary at Interfaith Center for Spiritual Growth, the dharma is being spread around the globe. It has been quite a journey … and a steep learning curve at that. But with the help of friends to guide our acquisition of the proper camera and video equipment at a reasonable cost, and the help of Zoom, an online technology that allows us to bring together up to 99 people from around the world, the Deep Spring Center dharma is being spread like never-before imagined!
Approximately 18 months ago, we began with an office manager with some techie skills and a photographer wannabe. Our decision to stream content live on the Internet meant that we needed the equipment to do so and the training to know how to use the equipment! Slowly, we gathered the materials and outlined our production plan and needs. We spent much of the summer of 2015 figuring out how to work with the new equipment.
Learning how to use the camera was the easiest. But even so, with its remote controls, different optical options, and lack of clarity surrounding Bluetooth vs. wireless … we had our hands full. Learning about Zoom was another matter. We were optimistic. Why couldn’t we use three microphones and expect that each would operate predictably and also be properly connected to the laptop/Zoom? (We now use one!) And then we needed to make sure that the various pieces of equipment (approximately 7 or 8) were wired together properly.
We scheduled a dress rehearsal for early September. There were some glitches with wiring, of course, and problems getting the camera to behave as it should, but we did manage a 30-minute taping. With the live Evenings with Aaron night just one week away, anxiety was mounting. We arrived 2.5 hours early to get set up. We started ten minutes late and then encountered a few stumbles along the way—but no matter: we were up, live, sending out the dharma.
At the end of the session, the 12-15 people in Ann Arbor joined Barbara up front so that the 10 online were able to see who had been attending in-person. The hearts and voices from everyone there celebrated our first live presentation as we all waved good-bye to one another. And thus was the first video for the archives produced. It was an incredible, wonderful feeling (and relief). And, you know, maybe something we could consider doing on a regular basis.
Video Production Team Leader
Deep Spring Center Board
Recorded at Steiner House in Ann Arbor Michigan in March 2018 during the Spring Vipassana Retreat.
Video and Transcript, the video is also closed captioned.
March 10, 2018 Saturday, Steiner Retreat, Ann Arbor Part 1: Being Present with Pain, Fear, and Grief in Our Lives
Barbara: Good morning to you all. For those who have not met me, I’m Barbara Brodsky, the guiding teacher of Deep Spring Center. It’s wonderful to be here with you. D and I were to be leading the retreat, and then, as you may have heard, my husband had a major stroke 2 weeks ago. I got up in the morning. It was a beautiful day, like today. We had planned a wonderful day. We were getting an early start, going to the gym and then out for breakfast, to do some errands, go for a walk in the park. Come home for dinner and see a movie. Such a lovely day. I walked into the kitchen to see if he wanted to get ready to go, and he was unconscious on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood and vomit.
I called 911. An ambulance came. A little funny piece of this. I came in before I dressed, asking, “Hal, are you getting dressed? Are you getting ready to go?” I was naked! I ran to my phone and called 911; they said, “Stay on the line.” “But, but…!” I had my bathing suit there because we were going to the gym., so I pulled it on.
He was moved yesterday from the ICU at UM to an acute care, longer term rehab facility that’s housed in St. Joe’s. We have no idea what the future will hold.
Obviously, this is a major trauma in his life, in my life, in my sons’ lives. My 3 sons all came in that day, exactly two weeks ago yesterday, and they’ve been with me, putting their lives, their families, their work on hold. I could not have done it without them. But still, this is my husband and my life. We’ve been married 50 years; how am I going to live my life without him?
There’s a lot of fear, grief, and confusion. There is financial uncertainty: if he needs long-term nursing care, it’s pretty much going to eat up all of our savings. Eventually he’ll get on Medicaid, but not until I’m literally poor; this is how they do it. So, he has to use up all of our savings before he can go on Medicaid. Then what do I live on? So, fear. Fear about the future, fear about a lot of things.
For those who may be watching this as a video, the reason I’m pausing and turning my head sometimes is that we have a student here who is completely deaf, just as I am, and someone is signing to him. I’m going too fast! I need to remember to slow down. Mindfulness. I’m speaking here to whoever will be watching this on the video.
I’m talking about this mostly to share the fruits of practice. Why are you here to learn vipassana? In what way can it support you through this kind of major change and trauma in your lives? These things will happen to us.
Everything changes in a second. A friend wrote me an email two days ago— when it was snowing. She was getting off the freeway exit to her home, skidded on a patch of black ice, and her car spun around in front of the next lane of traffic. A car swerved around her, and she continued to spin and went off the side of the road. It didn’t turn over, fortunately; just slipped off into a ditch. She said that 15 seconds seemed like an eternity. Each second slowed down; she was not hurt but she could have been killed or badly injured. Everything changes in a moment.
Our practice is not to stop emotions, or pain, or fear; that’s simply denial. It’s not living; it’s shutting down, armoring. Of course, even at our best we’re going to armor ourselves when things are very painful. But, when the stories come up— not just, “What will happen?” but noting the anxiety, fear, “They’ll take all my money! I’m going to have to set up a tent somewhere and live there”. Then, “Well, I have a minus-zero sleeping bag, I’ll be okay!” Where does it stop? So many stories.
Letting go of the stories doesn’t mean I cut off the story, with, “No, I won’t allow this story!” but that I note that movement into the story before it starts to roll too far. So first, I’m breathing and I’m peaceful. Or I’m lying in bed at 4am and the thought comes up: what will happen to Hal? What will happen to me? Mind clenches into that question. One of the things that mind does, next, is to run into stories, such as trying to picture myself safe, living in my tent. “Poor me! Well I’d rather live in a tent than a really ugly, horrible dorm room with 3 other women in some cheap old age home….” Can you feel the stories and the energy and the negativity?
As an aside from the video, I am reviewing this transcript at 3AM; I woke after an hour’s sleep, intense grief and fear entering my dreams. I sat up and meditated for a while, but mind would not settle down at all. So, I came into my office to review the transcript. Sometimes we just have to allow ourselves an escape if the emotion is too strong. When I finish this, I’ll go out to my hot tub and soak a while, meditate there, and then go back to bed.
At this point, with stories wanting to pour out, we note “fear, fear”, or just “contraction”. I may not even be aware that I’m afraid. Contracting, contracting. Breathing in, I am aware of the contraction. Breathing out, I hold space for the contraction. When I open to whatever has come up and is causing so much discomfort, there’s space for it. We have enormous capacity for the fear, grief, pain, anger, if we will allow ourselves to experience these. I’ve been visualizing the grief or the fear as a small, compact ball, fiery hot, and holding it in a large, cool space, maybe with water pouring through. But mostly we don’t want to experience such painful objects. If we don’t allow ourselves to experience them then we shut ourselves off.
Probably 25 years ago, I was on a long retreat in Canada. It was cold, snow up to my thighs. II woke in the middle of the night and could feel the contraction in myself, that there was something I had been avoiding and needed to let myself see. My teacher, Aaron, said, “Go out and walk in the snow.” It was 2AM. “Go out and walk in the snow.” So, I dressed warmly, went out and walked in the snow with my walking sticks for balance. Along with my deafness, my middle ear semicircular canal is non-functional, so I don’t have normal ear balance. Aaron said, “Now let go of the walking sticks.” “But I’ll fall!” “Yes!”
I put the walking sticks aside, stood, and fell. Of course, the snow was deep. It wasn’t a painful fall; it was like landing in a soft cloud. I was warmly dressed. I got up. “Do it again: stand, fall.” I must have fallen over 15 times, sitting on the ground for a minute or two after each fall. The landing wasn’t hard. Letting myself fall was hard.
I began to see how I lived my life trying to be upright. I lost my hearing just after my first son was born 45 years ago. It was traumatic, and I was determined, “I will survive this. There’s nothing I will not do but hear.” Can you feel the tension in that statement? “I will do it!” It did take courage to learn to live deaf and without balance, but instead of opening with love to that part of me that was strong and courageous, and moving from there, I pushed away fear and pain and became armored and stoic. I WILL do it! I didn’t honor my strength but was determined to push away any weakness. I could see how I’d been living my life all that time trying to be upright, the strong one who could handle everything. It allowed a major shift for me, 20 years into being deaf.
Well, I felt I had long passed that old pattern, that I had learned what I needed to. Yesterday during a bodywork session, lying on the table, I could feel how hard and painful my back was, and how much energy I was holding in the clenched back,. Lying on a table, I was meditating, and as I felt that clenching in my back and brought kind attention to it, and the practitioner saw the hardness too and touched my back gently, there was a feeling almost like someone like someone had opened a valve in my back and tons of garbage and sludge were pouring out, all the accumulation of these two weeks, and probably of a lifetime!.
So it was very powerful to feel how I had been locking that energy in. Obviously, this has been immensely traumatic. I love my husband dearly. We were— are to celebrate— I will not use the past tense, our 50th anniversary in May. I could feel how I was storing this grief, the fear, in my body and especially in my back.
So, we do what is skillful. Here is an example. We have a practice called clear comprehension of purpose. I asked myself, as I was lying there, what is my highest purpose? Is it to armor myself in that way and push the feelings away? Or is it to allow myself to open, to be present with the pain? Because only when I’m present with pain can I be fully present with love. Is what I am doing in this moment consistent with my highest purpose? If not, what options do I have that I have not yet considered?
We’re here to live our lives fully. Trauma is going to happen to every one of you in some way or another. You may fall off your bike and break your wrist. A loved one may die. You may get sick or in a car accident. You may lose your job. A tree may be struck by lightning and fall on your house. This is life; we can’t escape this. In order to live our lives with joy and love, we need to be willing to be present with the pain, the fear, the grief. We begin to understand, this has arisen out of conditions and it does not have to rule the rest of my life.
There is another part. Right here with fear is that which is not afraid. Right here with grief is the one who is joyful. It doesn’t mean I shut out the grief, or the fear, or the anger, but rather, I learn how to hold both anger and the one who is not angry.
Last night, sitting in my husband’s room meditating, maybe because of my experience of opening earlier in the day, I was finally able to allow myself to feel how angry I was at him. Now, how can you be angry at someone who’s had a stroke? It’s not his fault. Basically, he took good care of himself. We went to the gym every day. He was in good physical shape. But the anger is there. “Look what you did to our lives! How could you have a stroke?” And the resentment. I depended on him, because he was a financial analyst in his working days, to take care of all the paperwork. “Why didn’t you set it up somehow, so we would have money for this?” Well, this is not his fault. This is the system we live in, and it’s a bad system. Nursing home insurance is exorbitantly expensive, and we made a conscious decision, years ago, not to buy it. This is the result of our decision. But, anger came up. So, I sat there, first allowing myself to feel the anger. Breathing in, I am aware of the anger. Just breathing and holding space for the anger. Aware of the intermingling of anger and fear.
I began to do a compassion meditation. First, starting with myself and offering compassion to myself. Can I truly love myself and the pain I am feeling? Hold myself in my heart and not condemn myself for being angry, for feeling fear, resentment, confusion? And then, turning to Hal, just: I love you unconditionally. I love you. And there’s still anger and fear. That doesn’t negate the love. So, this is part of what I mean when I say, “that which is aware of angry is not angry.” We can find the one who genuinely loves, is openhearted and tender, is not angry, right there with the anger.
I needed to find a way to hold space for our entire experience, pain and love. I could not have lived these last two weeks without my meditation practice. I would have been totally overwhelmed. I would have spent my days curled up in a fetal ball, sobbing. I couldn’t have done it. The practice allowed me to know the experience of the moment, and, just as important, to know how I was relating to that experience. Obviously I was not able to do this completely or I wouldn’t have been storing all the tension in my back. So, it took me 2 weeks to get in touch with the tension, but that’s better than 2 months or 2 years. It’s really pretty much released now. I’m slumping, I no longer have to be tall! I don’t have to be upright. I give myself permission to cry and be afraid.
With some time alone in the room with Hal, I did something I didn’t think I could do. I was standing next to his bed, and I bent over and put my head on his chest. I’ve done this a couple of times the past 2 days. He can move his left arm and hand. His right side is completely paralyzed. I took his left hand and put it on my face. It felt good to feel his hand touching me. And I just let myself cry there, with my head on his chest. He’s beginning to become a little more responsive. He’s opening his eyes and looking at people, but I had no idea if he recognized it’s me.
But last night as I was there, not sobbing but crying softly, I felt his fingers begin to move in my hair. That little bit of comfort, little bit of contact, saying, “I am here. Don’t worry, it’s going to be okay.” And what okay means… (pausing for a tissue)— some things are hard to talk about without crying… Current events are always harder than the past ones…
I felt myself melt into his being for about 10 minutes. He could die tomorrow, or today. Who knows. They told us the first week there’s only a 5% chance he’ll survive the first week. They told us the second week there’s only a 5% chance he’ll ever get off the ventilator. But he’s alive and off the ventilator. They told us when he left the ICU there’s only a 10%, 20% chance he’s going to survive the rest of the month. He will, or he won’t; I can’t hold onto him. But I can be present with my fear with kindness for myself and for him, can allow myself that connection with him. It may be the last really human connection I’ll ever have with him. In a sense I was saying goodbye to him last night, and also hello to him. Hello to the new Hal, however he is, and the promise, “I love you. I’ll stick with you and we’ll see what happens.” And I think he could feel that from me, too, at some level. My tears were for both of us.
We don’t know how much he can understand. The stroke destroyed the neural channels that allow the brain to send messages to the speech center, and to the right side of body. But the brain intelligence is intact. There’s no way of knowing whether he understands speech. Several times it seems that he has. Several times we’ve said, “Can you raise your hand?” and he’s raised his hand. So, it may be that he’s understanding. The brain can form new channels and is doing so.
Coming back to my talk. Can you see how important it is to allow ourselves to be present with things as they are and not shut ourselves down? This is the only way we can live our lives fully and with love. And I assume that’s what we all want to do, or you all wouldn’t be here. For each of you it’s going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, to find the places where you habitually shut down and to recognize: maybe I don’t have to do that anymore. Maybe I can open my heart and just be present in this moment with the grief, fear, pain, anger, or confusion of this moment. This is how the practice really changes us.
Deep Spring Center’s annual March Retreat with basic instruction in Vipassana Meditation was held at the Steiner House in Ann Arbor this year.
The event drew seventeen folks from all directions. Responding to our online promotion, they came from Traverse City, Cadillac, Alpena, Midland, Grand Blanc, Sterling Heights, Pinckney, Westland, Toledo, Dayton to join local Ann Arbor retreatants in a weekend exploring the four foundations of mindfulness as well as the four noble truths of Buddhist teaching.
Most of the retreatants for the weekend were new to the practice. But as the group settled in, it became apparent to the teachers that these students of the dharma were serious and hungry to learn the practice. They entered into the noble silence as if they had been doing it all their lives.
As comments were shared at the closing, it was plain that Barbara Brodsky’s teaching from her own personal situation with her husband’s health had left a very strong impression. We can forget how lucky we are in Ann Arbor to have such an inspiring guiding teacher and opportunities to sit with fellow meditators regularly.
As people talked during the final hour of the last day, Dorothyann Coyne and Amy Koch, who were both teaching with Barbara, could hear the very heart-felt desire for more opportunities to learn and practice meditation in towns around us. It is wonderful that Deep Spring Center can address this very real spiritual hunger not only with our annual March Retreat but also with the many classes and special events that are carried out into the world through our internet offerings.
As Managing Director I am passionate about Deep Spring Center and the possibilities of what like-minded, loving hearts can accomplish. We are on an exciting journey that is part of a growing international spiritual center, Deep Spring Center.
The volunteers and I have spent hours, dare I say years, developing a center that uses technology to connect us. This newsletter is a sample of the organization that supports the dharma and the teachings of Aaron, channeled by Barbara Brodsky.
Barbara Brodsky returned recently from the Casa in Brazil and is now ready to continue her work with Aaron and teaching the dharma.
The end of this month features several Deep Spring Center events.
Sunday, March 25, Remembering Wholeness, 2:00 – 5:00 pm, will be held locally offering Darshan, which is an interaction between the human and the divine as Barbara channels the Mother. Other sessions this spring will be held on Sundays, April 15 and June 3.
Wednesday, March 28, Evenings with Aaron, 7:00 – 9:00 pm, will be held locally and streamed live. Aaron, channeled by Barbara, shares stories, teachings and answers questions from those at the center and online. Another session will be held in late spring, on Sunday, May 9.
Weekly, Sunday Online Meditation from Anywhere, 11:00 am – 12 noon eastern,exclusively online for our growing international sangha. No experience needed; facilitated by Celeste Zygmont.
So many avenues have been developed to connect and support Deep Spring Center. Visit our website at DeepSpring.org. Join us on Facebook, follow us on twitter and view the monthly Dharma Journal on YouTube.
You can always connect with me personally at [email protected]. I will do my best to assist you.
Recorded in Barbara Brodsky’s office. Aaron discusses impermanence.
Video and Transcript, the video is also closed captioned.
Aaron: My blessings and love to you. I am Aaron. When you are watching this, it will be Febru-ary, the month of your celebration of St. Valentine’s Day, a festival of love. I hope that you ex-tend love to yourself and to others all year round. But let’s just focus on this one day, the day of the heart, the day of love.
Last month i spoke about impermanence, and that while on the relative level everything is im-permanent – that it arises out of conditions, and then passes away – on the ultimate level nothing ever passes away. The affairs of the moment— the itch, the worry, the planning mind, all of these things come and are gone. What remains is the loving heart; presence and loving kind-ness. When you move into the place where you and everything are not separate, then you can begin truly to love.
I spoke last month about the tree that grows out of the conditions of rich soil, sunshine, rain, and a seed, and grows into a tree. The tree is cut down. The sculptor shapes the tree. I used this (holding a wood Buddha) last month as an example, and we’ll use it again, a heavy piece of wood. This is a tree you’re looking at. This is clouds and sunshine, rivers and oceans, and the rich earth. You are like this piece of wood. Even more like it, as you are also a Buddha, an awakened one. But you are part of everything.
However, the human has the habitual tendency to close itself in and separate from everything else. It’s really part of the reflex of being a mammal. You understand that the body can be harmed, and so you armor yourself. The more armored you are, the less you can interconnect. It is only when you open the armor that you can truly mesh with everything and be everything.
A lot of you have been worrying about political affairs in the past few months, concerned be-cause there are certain policies of the governing bodies that you do not like, and that leads you to anger at them and closing your heart to them. As soon as you create that separation, whether it’s with your president or your Congress, your local officials, or your neighbors, people who create discomfort for you because they have different views, as soon as you separate yourself the en-ergy can no longer flow. This person has this stance, and that person has that stance, and they clash. When you begin to know yourself as energy and light, as the essence of pure awareness and the loving heart, you begin to recognize that everything else has the same essence. Two trees don’t fight with each other; the branches and roots grow through each other. They may even come to support each other. Does a tree have more wisdom than you do?
Last month I spoke about impermanence, the impermanence of the mundane aspects of your being. It’s so helpful when you begin to contemplate that which continues within you— not the mundane aspects but awareness, love, presence, wisdom. Not to create a new self-identity but to let go of “self-identity”, and to truly know, I am “That”. I am connected with everything. If noth-ing is separate, then I do not have to be afraid of anything. Then I can truly move into a space of unconditional love. Love and compassion come together, and they are strong.
The wisdom arises that knows how to balance the ultimate level of unconditional love and the relative level that knows how to say no to something that’s abusive, that’s dangerous, that’s harmful.
You probably realize I’m recording this not now in February but it’s actually December, and we’ve been watching the forest fires sweeping through California. People have come to me, say-ing, “Aaron, I hate these forest fires!” Well, I understand you dislike the destruction. I understand that you feel grief about the loss of life, human and animal and natural forest. But as soon as you say, “I hate this!” you create separation.
You are beings of energy, and fire is an elemental energy. You interrelate to everything. The same elements are in you and in the world out there. Hate is a contractive emotion. It’s a fiery emotion, ungrounded and devoid of water element, hard with a thick crust. Do you think hate helps to extinguish fires?
Of course I’m talking about the actual forest fire, but let’s look at the fire of anger; the fire of strong antithetical feelings toward another human being. Does hate help to shift them? You do not have to hate something to say no to it. I would guess that many of those who are out there on the front lines with huge equipment, trying to put out the forest fires, have much more a respect than hatred of the fire. There is the intention to control the fire so as not to allow it to do harm. But this is not hate.
What happens when you know the fire in yourself, as you’re fighting the figurative or literal forest fire? Since most of you are not out there with hoses fighting the literal forest fire, let’s go to the figurative. Here is a neighbor or a spouse or parent or child who’s angry. They’re always pushing you. It’s very uncomfortable, and the thought starts to come, “I hate this person.” Hate. Is that going to put out the fire? Let’s look at what you think of as the other alternative. “Oh, push me around! Do whatever you want.” And they’ll keep pushing and pushing. Is that going to put out the fire?
The option takes going into your heart and knowing that hate, as emotion, has arisen out of con-ditions and is impermanent. You can begin to uncover that within yourself which is connected, which has compassion for the pain of the other, and still is able to say, “No, you may not do harm because of your pain.” You begin a shift that says it is not your pain, it is our pain. And I am able to stay connected to our pain with my heart open. I say no, you may not do harm. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a forest fire or an internal forest fire of heavy feelings between yourself and others. Or nations threatening each other with nuclear arms. Or “hate-mongering” amongst polit-ical figures. You have the power to say no to all this because of the essence of what you are, which is loving, pure awareness that can hold it all when you release the armoring and allow yourself to be touched by the pain that is creating this world of emotions, this hatred, this anger, this confusion. Whenever you armor yourself it creates separation.
What is asked of you is the courage to allow yourself to be touched by the pain of this moment, and right there with the pain, to find the love in this moment, the spaciousness in this moment, the possibilities for growth in this moment. For communication, for learning.
I’m coming back to my initial thought: everything in the conditioned realm is impermanent. For some of you, that is a ground for fear. “I want something to hold onto.” You have something to hold onto, but it is not what you think. It does not belong to you. It simply is, and therefore it can never be lost. It is love, it is light, spaciousness and presence. When you know yourself as this, everything becomes possible.
So this month as you celebrate love and St. Valentine flying up there with his bow and arrow, let his arrow touch your heart. Let it awaken you to the truth of unconditional love that is your es-sence. Let it allow you to open yourself to the pain of the world, the enormous suffering of the world, because only as that hard shell of armor falls away can you begin to be the love of the world and invite others to be that with you. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to talk out disagree-ments, but there is no longer merely conflict but merging, understanding, and love.
I am coming back here as I close to a very favorite Buddhist sutra. “Abandon the unwholesome. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.” And it goes on, then, to, “Cultivate the whole-some. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.” You do not abandon the unwholesome by armoring yourself but by opening yourself so that you can release that tension of separation, of fear, of hatred, and find your true being. In that true being, you cultivate the wholesome. If it were not possible, I would not ask you to do it.
Davy Rothbart from his facebook page about his dad’s major stroke. Hal Rothbart is at the Neuro ICU University of Michigan Hospital. Posted: Mon., Feb. 26, 2018.
Hi friends and loved ones: As you may know, my Dad Hal Rothbart had a major stroke early Friday morning and is in the Neuro ICU at University of Michigan Hospital. I’ve been here with my family and some close family friends the past 3 days. While even small degrees of recovery from a stroke of this magnitude are very rare, my Dad has a uniquely vital spirit and has always been one to live life outside the box, and we are remaining hopeful and optimistic. He has shown some small but meaningful signs of progress, and while he can’t really communicate, he has occasional moments of semi-awareness, where he seems to understand our presence and be able to absorb some of our words. So, here’s where you all come in — whether you know my Dad or not… Two options below!
So many of you have met my Dad or know him well, and I know it means a lot to him to have so many people thinking about him. I would love for you to share a story about my Dad with me — and with him. I will read as many of these to him as I can. Could be a sentence, a paragraph, or a page — a small moment, a great memory, general good wishes, anything at all. Leave it in the comments below so that others can also appreciate your words, or feel free to email or FB message it to me privately. His condition, while severe, is stable for now, so feel free to share a quick message now or something longer in the next few days if you’d like to gather your thoughts first. Or both! CRUCIAL: Please address any reminiscences in the 2nd person, directly to my dad. Like: “I remember that time when you…” Imagine you are in the room with him and talking to him yourself. The idea is that I’ll tell him who’s writing to him and then read your message/story for him.
For the other portion of you who have maybe never met my Dad, I am seeking personal stories of people overcoming great odds and triumphing in some way. Maybe you, your friend, or someone you heard about who was told that something was next-to-impossible, highly unlikely, but they found a way to do it anyway. Could be a health battle, a creative pursuit, a social justice campaign, something from sports, politics, or anything at all, no matter how large or small the challenge. These stories are motivating, encouraging, and inspiring, and I plan to share some of these with my Dad as well… whatever you’d like to share here.
Thank you so much for participating, it really means a lot. And we are all so grateful for all of the loving texts, FB messages, emails, and calls these past couple days — and all of the generous local support as well, including the elite and empathetic doctors, nurses, and staff at U. of M. Hospital.
You can see much more detailed updates about my Dad’s evolving condition on my brother Mike Forster Rothbart‘s Facebook page, so if you’re interested please send him a friend request or stay tuned to his feed.
I’ll post again in the coming days, I’m sure. Love to all of you, and especially to my Dad, a true O.G. and an amazing father.