September 17, 2019 Tuesday, Dharma Path Class
Path of Sacred Darkness
Year 2; Session 1; Class 1
Barbara: So as we go into Year 2, we’re going to be asking a lot of you. You’ve all developed many supports for your practice. Along with using those supports, we will add new supports, and you will need those supports because we’re going to ask you to go into harder places. You are all ready to go into these Path of Sacred Darkness practices.
I’ve been working with this practice since a month or two after Hal’s stroke. Aaron has been teaching me different related practices. These are some of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it’s helping enormously. I’m finding far fewer places that scare me and an ability to be far more present with things.
I’m going to share a bit about what I’ve been doing with the path of sacred darkness, what it has meant to me, how I’m beginning to understand it, and then Aaron will give a talk.
I am paraphrasing Aaron. He says, his blessings and love to you, and let us start in a slightly different way, with a few minutes, 5 minutes perhaps, of silent meditation. Offering the intention for the highest good for all beings. Offering love to B and to anyone else in this group who is suffering right now—emotionally, physically, in any way. Through our practice may all beings find freedom from suffering. So, let’s have 5 minutes of silence…
We offer our practice to support the highest good of all beings, in happiness, in peace.
We consecrate our hearts, our bodies, our energy, to hold this intention that we may be of service, for ourselves and all beings, to help create a world of a higher vibration and love, where all beings live in non-harm.
May the work that we do in this class, the practices, help us to fulfill these intentions. May all beings everywhere be free of suffering, be happy and find peace.
I want to share a bit about what’s happened for me this past year, as I’ve worked with this practice. We live our lives with the highest intention, trying to find that which is stable and comfortable for us, and allows us to not enact negativity in the world, not live in fear or anger. In doing so, I found that I’m often using my practice in a subtle way to avoid feeling painful things, to avoid feeling fear, grief, confusion.
We talk about “that which is aware of fear is not afraid”, and I have learned to really be open to that which is not afraid. Then I’m not in the middle of the bridge, I’m way over here in a place of light and joy, and feeling a bit excited about the fact that I’m not feeling a lot of fear, I’m not feeling a lot of negativity. This is real. But I can see the subtle ways that I’m still choosing to avoid allowing those fears.
We can get very skilled at avoiding them. It’s not a “mental” kind of experience. I’m not consciously avoiding and denying; I’m choosing that which is wholesome rather than that which is unwholesome. That’s what we’re supposed to do, yes? But when I choose that which is wholesome, rest in that light and joy, but with a subtle contraction that says, “this, not that,” then there’s some dishonesty for myself. I’m also thusly believing that when I rest in that light and open to those high and loving emotions, that I’m no longer under the sway at all of the negative or heavy emotions. So, there’s a subtle pretense there. Temporarily, yes, the contraction goes away. But I’ve learned in my practice that I have to include everything. I have to be completely honest with myself.
So, I’ve seen, in this past 18 months since Hal’s stroke, the ways that I don’t want the grief—who wants grief? I don’t want the fear. I don’t want the feeling unbalanced. I don’t want the not knowing what will happen. And I can honestly come to a place of equanimity, but still with the subtle contraction, “Let’s not talk about that.” That which is beautiful really fills the screen so there’s just this little bit of black gunk at the bottom of the screen. But I’m trying to pretend it’s not there.
Well, if I have this feeling about part of it, about the black gunk at the bottom of the screen, “Get rid of it,” then I’m losing part of my experience, rather than saying this too can bring forth transformation and light. How do I include that which is most uncomfortable for me, which is most frightening for me?
The beginning 6 months of Hal’s stroke, were really about survival and re-grounding myself, and trying to find that which opened my heart and was loving. The second 6 months were more about learning how to rest in that and not get sucked off into negativity. This last 6 months has been more about looking at those places of fear. This is me; it will be different than what it will be for you. These last 6 months I’ve really had to look at me, Barbara, a human who has learned to live my life pretty skillfully. To not get caught in negative stories. To find something that’s truly positive—the gifts in what’s going on around me, even when it’s painful. And in doing those things, to learn how to be a survivor, which means including everything. But I wasn’t doing that.
Way back from when I first lost my hearing, I decided the deafness was not going to stop me from doing anything except hearing. I was going to live my life fully. I was going to be a wife, a mother, a friend, a teacher (I was teaching sculpture back then). To fill my life and not give undue weight to the loss of hearing. And I honor myself, that I had the ability and the strength then to do that; that I did not collapse. But I see that I used avoidance through those years as a way of not getting caught in a place of darkness. It’s like seeing the place of darkness and saying, “AH! Not that!” and running fast the other way. And the other way is so filled with light and beauty that you can almost forget that there’s the darkness behind you.
became very skillful at coping and adjusting and accepting. These are all wonderful traits; I appreciate them in myself. But I was cutting out a part of myself. Finally, these last 6 months, I’ve really had to look at this pattern. The part of me that is a little bit afraid of non-being. I would not say afraid of death; that near-death experience in 2004 really cured me of any fear of death. But of clinging to life and ego’s power; wanting to be in control, wanting to be safe, wanting to keep my loved ones safe, and knowing I had the capacity to do it.
But this path takes me only so far. No matter what I’m doing to support Hal— he just turned 83 last week— he’s going to continue to age. He’s had a major stroke, and no matter how well he’s doing he’s not ever going to be the man he was before. And at 83, eventually he’s going to continue to decline. I will turn 77 next month. There’s no way I can make myself get younger. So, I see myself going to the gym every day, working hard with physical therapy, and trying hard to pull this body back together. And having to realize I must let go. This summer I sold my beloved bicycle. It broke my heart to sell that bike, not because I wanted to be able to ride a bike, but because it was a clear statement I’m never going to be able to ride a bike again. This is just something I’m going to have to let go of. I’m never going to be able to do a lot of things again, but especially, I’m never going to be able to keep myself alive forever, keep my loved ones alive forever, prevent hurtful things from happening to those I love. I’m never going to survive this lifetime.
What scared me the most was what I saw as lack of power, lack of control. And I had to go into those feelings. Some of you know I had a bad fall the last morning at Emerald Isle, fell flat on my face. Tripped over a rug. I was not using my walker; I was carrying my clothes to put them in my suitcase. I fell over the edge of a throw rug in my room. Face-planted—I broke my nose. I hit the edge of my walker, and that went over with me, and I broke a rib. And my whole body hurt. Gradually, 6, 8 weeks later, the nose healed, the ribs healed, but the general body pain not only didn’t heal but was getting worse.
Finally, an MRI showed that I had torn a tendon in my hip, similar to the tendon that people sometimes tear in the knee; it’s the tendon that flexes the hip. It was excruciatingly painful, and getting worse. I was reaching a point where I couldn’t walk, and because of the broken ribs, and also because of Hal’s stroke I had not done much exercise for a year. I was just getting back to walking without a walker, before Hal’s stroke. I was just starting to get back to it, early last spring. Then, because of the broken ribs, I could not exercise.
So I’m looking at this downhill spiral, and fear comes up. I can’t control that. Now, I’ve started going to the gym, but I see the part of me that’s saying, “I can control this. If I go to the gym every day and work very hard, I can heal all of this.” Well, this week my physical therapist, who is a wonderful physical therapist, said to me, “Barbara, you’ve got to step back one step and stop pushing so hard. You’re damaging your body by trying too hard. Relax and trust your body to heal.” But I don’t want to do that—I want to get it better! I want control of my body, because control of my body says to me control of my life. I’m getting stronger—yeah! I’m going to be up there dancing!
We do not—‘accept’ is an odd word. Accept can sometimes mean resignation. What I’m talking about here is not resignation but really being willing to go into the place that sees inevitable decline as I age, whether it’s now or, instead of at 77, whether it’s at 87 or 97. Well, my mom lived in good health until 97, so maybe I have 20 good years left. Who knows?
Opening my heart and allowing myself to go into this place of darkness; as I meditated, it took me back to the experience of being pummeled and near-death experience by the wave in 2004. The wave breaking over me, knocking me to the ocean bottom. Excruciating pain. I felt like I couldn’t move my legs. I knew I had some back injuries. I couldn’t breathe; I was underwater. And then I would almost get to the surface—I couldn’t breath, get one breath, then a new wave would toss me back down again.
I survived that accident with the grace of God, Goddess, Spirit, Love, with my own very clear intention, not based in fear but based in an intention. I was asked, literally; I was told, “It’s okay—you can release this body at this point. We can’t promise you what kind of body you’re going to have after this accident. You could be para- or quadriplegic—we don’t know. It’s okay to go now, or it’s okay to stay.” And the clear decision was, “No, I choose to stay.” It was made from love, not fear. There was a huge shift, literally as I was drowning and in this near-death experience, going through this tunnel of light and seeing what I had come into the incarnation with intention to do, and that I wasn’t finished. And that there was still more service to offer in whatever kind of body I would be in. “I choose to live.” And then I felt spirit lifting me to the surface, getting some breath. People that were nearby saw me and grabbed me, brought me in to shore.
In essence, I lived at that point because I was willing to allow myself to go into the darkness and consider, yes, in this moment I could die. And yes, that would be okay; I don’t have to be afraid of it. But love chooses not to die. I think I was able to come to that experience of love because I was willing to be there in those—it probably was not minutes, maybe only 30 or 45 seconds. I don’t know how long a body can live without breathing. How long could I have been in this near-death experience— a minute, maybe? (smiling) I’m asking E (a doctor)— she says, “I don’t know.” However long.
Choosing to live because of the deep intention to be of service in the world and to love. That choice was open to me because I was willing to see the possibility of death; to be right there with this near-death experience and feel the beauty of it, as well as understanding the end of this sentient being, and being okay with that. So, I was able to be with the fear and not be controlled in any way by it.
So, I’ve seen in the past 6 months that this is what I’ve needed to do also now—to go into the fear. Everyone in this room will die. Our hearts go out to B. She may go sooner than most of us, but any of us could be hit by a car tomorrow. Nobody knows what our lives will be. What can I make of not only today but this hour and this moment? What is preventing me from being as fully openhearted and loving in this moment as is possible? There is still that fear that I mentioned earlier of not being in control. Being washed over by the wave and rolled around, hitting the bottom of the ocean, banged to bits—no control at all. And surrender of having to be the ego who needs to be in control.
This is my story. I asked each of you to look at a place that scares you, but ideally not to take the most terrifying place. Start easy. Begin to look at the experience of darkness that you’ve been avoiding, whatever it may be, and just to begin to sense yes, I could look closer at this and hold space for this.
Returning to my experience and taking it one step further; what I’m finding—it’s been a very hard summer, both because of the body pain and the limits—I only got out to my beloved lake and cabin for 4 days. That’s all I could do; I couldn’t walk. Limits. Finding right there with that darkness, the unlimitedness. Finding, really getting to know the one who is awake, the one who is filled with and surrounded by unconditional love. The human is limited and short-term, but this which is awake is…awake,… is present, and cannot be destroyed. I had to go into the darkness in order to remember and fully bring forth this essence of me that cannot be destroyed.
You all have very strong meditation practices, and we’ve been working for a year in ways to support those practices. One of the reasons I want you to have one or two dharma buddies is to begin to discuss with those friends, what are my strengths? Specifically, what awakening experiences of any sort have I had? Not necessarily in meditation but in any way. What awakening experiences that can support my knowing that, when the body dies, as inevitably it will, there is something, some essence, some light—that path of clear light practice—what continues? And then also to discuss with these buddies, what are the places that scare me most? And how can I begin to open into these places and use the transformative power of the darkness to help me grow further into the light?
I’ve done a lot of hugging trees this spring, summer, early fall. I can’t walk down paths quickly like I used to, so I find myself walking very short distances where each tree is unique and alive. And its roots are going into the ground. And at that level, all of the trees are connected; they’re all drawing from the same earth essence. The same sun and rain are falling on them. And they have unique appearances. So, walking around my yard—not even far back but just the trees up close—I’ve been appreciating the uniqueness of each tree in my yard, and thanking it for being. And looking at the form of it and the way it’s expressing. Feeling the light within it.
And further back in my yard, there are some trees that are dying or have died. I’ve been hugging those, too. Where did they go, when their energy washed out and they died? The tree is still standing in some places, and in other places, lying on the ground. A storm last year blew through my orchard and knocked down a few apple trees. And I never got them cleaned up, really, like I normally would, so they’re just lying on the ground. Hugging them. Who and what are you now? What continues?
Each of you will have different early places of darkness: fear of losing control of your emotions; fear of anger or greed; fear of not being loved or not being lovable; fear of not being capable. Fear of death; fear of not fulfilling what you think you came here to fulfill. It goes on and on. Any of these will take us home. Look deeply at the question, what is the place that I fear? And if I allow myself, instead of trying to combat that fear in order to move into a place of wisdom and compassion, of love, can I find that innate perfection right there with fear?
I am thinking of the bulbs underground. My tulips and daffodils, as all of yours, grew and flourished, and died. I’m going to plant more bulbs next month. They’re going to winter under the ground; we’re going to winter under the ground: we’re going to go deep into that sacred darkness and find the light and love that are always there. Then we will find how we blossom!
This is not just theoretical, and Aaron is going to walk you through this, step by step. So, he’s suggesting I just give this talk as a kind of background, a little inspirational, talk. We are all capable of this opening.There’s a song, “Anything you can do, I can do better,” but let’s sing it, “Anything I can do, you can do better; you can do anything better than me.” Do you know that song? (Q: From Annie Get Your Gun) So it’s not “Anything you can do, I can do better,” but it’s “Anything I can do, you can do better.” We all can do it better and better. We all have this amazing potential. That’s our human potential.
I’m not suggesting that there’s no more fear or worry about myself or Hal or what will happen to us. We’re neither of us aging as beautifully as we would have liked, at this point! Finances are running short. Nerves are frayed. And there are these beautiful trees in my backyard to remind me life goes on, love goes on. There is nothing to fear.
Quoting Theresa of Avila—this prayer has seen me through a lot this year:
Be not perplexed.
Be not afraid.
God does not change.
Patience wins all things.
He who has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.
We have to each understand what we mean by God. For me, it’s this essence of being, of light, of love. This, call it God, Goddess, Source, Unconditional Love, it suffices. And the only way I can lose that is to try to turn my back to some part of my experience—to the darkness, and try to grasp at light, and thusly create a duality. And in that duality, I lose God because I’m only taking a portion of what I know to be that divine source and saying, “Only this.” But I have to include everything. And I am the testing ground for that, for including everything.
So I will leave you with these thoughts. Let’s take 10 minutes to stretch…
Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. First, I rejoice to welcome you to Year 2 of Dharma Path. We’re going to do some wonderful things together. Let us start with a guided meditation.
We have formatted this in paragraphs. Please read slowly, allowing space between sentences.
We have all met together in a beautiful, sunny valley. September. The trees are still green, but just beginning to gain some color. We stand in a field filled with wildflowers, on the shore of a bubbling stream a few feet deep, with the water splashing through over the rocks, joyfully dancing its way down the mountainside and through the valley.
We have greeted each other with loving hugs and conversation. And then I have called out to you, “Are you ready to begin?” We’re going to hike up the mountain, leaving this peaceful meadow and beginning to climb. I have walking sticks for anyone who needs one. Each of you has a backpack whose contents we are unsure of. What did you put in your backpack? A bottle of water, a chocolate bar, a chunk of cheese, a map?
We will begin walking, just strolling up the gentle hillside alongside the stream. Slowly this flower-strewn meadow is falling away beneath us, and the ground becoming a bit more rocky, the trees becoming more dense.
Do you have a thought, “I don’t know how far I can climb?” That’s fine. There is no specific destination, only to keep climbing and see where the way will take us.
You are walking in small groups—pairs, threes, 4 or 5 of you—enjoying conversation and also helping each other climb over the places that are steep. “What is our destination?” you ask me. There is a beautiful and fertile valley, a very peaceful place, on the other side of this mountain range. That’s where we are headed, a place of unconditional peace and love. I am walking with you, and I know the way; there is nothing to fear. But yes, there will be challenges.
And so, we climb. Just at dusk we come to a plateau with a big open cave front. Build a fire and find a cache of wonderful provisions that have been left there, whatever you most like to eat. Nutritious and wholesome food. Unroll your blanket rolls out in the open or under the cover of the cave mouth—a high mouth stretching up 15 or 20 feet. A large opening. Enjoy your dinner, perhaps some songs, and enjoy the warmth of the fire. As the fire fades, the stars come out, a million brilliant stars in the night sky. And thus, to sleep.
You sleep very well. It’s been a hard climb, not beyond your capability but stretching you. Awake in the morning rested and ready to walk on. We have a wonderful breakfast—grains, eggs, meat, fruit, cheese—whatever your heart will desire. And then we begin to climb again.
We are getting higher up, but the trees are still dense. Here we come to the first very challenging bit of trail, a deep crevasse dropping down perhaps 30 or 40 feet, and 15 feet across, with only a few logs upon which to climb to move across onto higher ground. That previously friendly stream now is roaring water at the bottom of this chasm. Watch yourself stop and contemplate the fear of falling down into the chasm and to injury or your death. The path is very clear on the other side, so obviously others have walked across. There is one main log, a big log, and right beside it, a number of small branches that you can hold so that your feet are on the main strong log and the small branches are on the side. Is there fear?
We’ve talked in the past about that which is aware of fear but is not afraid. That one who is not afraid is right there with you, part of you. But in this situation, we are not going to avoid the experience of fear. Instead, I want you to sit right on the edge and look down at the churning waters. Look at the narrowness of this log bridge. Now, this is a subtle point. Rather than knowing, “Ah, I can touch on the one that is fearless,” I want you to open to the experience of fear. What are you afraid of? Of death? Of pain? Of falling into this chasm and being lost there?
I pull out of my big pack a number of ropes with harnesses. “Who would like to go first? Come forth.” Each of you in this meditation will be first! Fasten this harness so it goes around your chest and under between the legs, holding you securely with a firm webbing. I have walked across and tied the end of your rope to a tree. And on this end, a second rope tied to a tree.
Climb onto the log, present with fear. I am holding you on the far side, and friends are holding your rope, on this side. Stand on the log and begin to walk. One step, another step, and another step. Can you feel the fear that’s still there? Even though you are being held with a firm harness and ropes on either side, there’s still the story, “What if I fall?”
I’m going to ask you to do something hard, now—to allow yourself to fall. Stop in the middle of the log. See me holding the rope at one end and your friends holding the rope at the other end. When you fall, it will only be a few feet. You will not fall to your death or to severe injury, but it’s very hard to consciously choose to allow yourself to step off the log. Each of you experiencing yourself as the one on the center of the log. Reflect on what allows you to be ready. Perhaps trust of me, trust of your friends, trust of the journey. Or perhaps some deeper inner knowing: I am safe.
When you are ready, step off the log and allow yourself to fall. There is some elastic in the rope; it will not be an abrupt stop, at the bottom of the fall, but rather, a soft cushioned landing. Going down 25 feet; water is 30-40 feet below] and then slowly up a little bit, bouncing and then just suspended. Feet just a little bit above this raging stream, waterfall pouring down the mountainside. Hang there, facing upstream, watching the water coming toward you, feeling your feet touched by the splashing waters. Hang there until your heart stops pounding, and you can experience the beauty. “I am safe. My essence cannot be destroyed. I hang here over this deep crevasse, raging water pouring past me, under me. I am safe.”
Some of you are able to feel that, to experience that; others, not so much. It’s okay if you can’t. I’m going to ask you to return to either this visualization or a different one, several times during these next two weeks, and practice with it. Bringing love to the one who is afraid and finding the power that you have, the power that you have through love. But also, in part, through the fear and transformation of the fear. That is also love! Such transformation makes you so powerful, the ability to thusly transform.
Your helpers are watching you, and as we see you relax and begin to smile, we tighten the ropes and lift you up onto the log, and help you walk the rest of the way across. And then the next person will begin to cross.
So here you have gone into one area of fear and darkness. Each of you will need to uncover for yourself in your meditation, what allows you to lift yourself up out of that fear and use the fear as strength, rather than fearing the experience of fear and running from it.
I’m going to offer one more scenario here, and then we’ll stop, and add some, as the weeks go by.
We are all now safely across. The way has gotten steeper, the trees denser, so that the trail is fully in darkness, just a little light shining through. It’s almost full dusk, when in this steep area of trail, we reach a mouth of a cave. You may light your torch–fire or battery torch, whatever you have with you–and walk in. It is a large cavern and the light does not play to the furthest walls.
It’s beginning to storm outside, so everybody comes into the cave seeking shelter. We all eat right at the mouth of the cave, a small damp, sloping area, but now it’s time to sleep. Move deeper inside. The cave is rocky with small level areas, each one about 3’ x 7’, and then it may be 50 yards before there’s another level area. So, unless you want to spend the night on sharp fragments of rocks and a steep slope, you’re going to have to space yourselves out.
Please find your own place to sleep. Unroll your blankets. You don’t want to waste your batteries or flaming torch, so once your sleeping mat is settled you will need to turn it off, to allow yourself to be there in darkness. Forty of you and several guides—many guides, actually—forty of you humans and forty guides and friends like me, but slowly these almost hundred lights all flicker off, one after another, until the cave is full in darkness.
You are lying comfortably on your camping mattress, warm in your sleeping bag. It is your choice whether you will peacefully go to sleep, or whether you will lie here dreaming up all the imaginary demons that might come in the night. I bid you a good night and restful sleep, and I will see you in the morning, when the sun will be shining and we will walk on. Rest well. Good night.
Please work with this scenario. You may open your eyes. When you get in bed tonight, imagine yourself in this cave, and tomorrow night and the next night. You can tremble all night. You can try to tell yourself loving things, like there’s so much loving guidance here nothing can happen to me. Or you may choose to allow yourself to open to that which scares you. Not to fix it, not to deny it, but truly to move through it and find your power by moving through it.
I can’t describe this process to you in any better way than to ask you to try to experience it, and then we’ll talk about it next week and in the small group meetings. So please come to these meetings prepared to talk about your night in the cave.
A possible metaphor for this: the dark night of the soul. Are you familiar with this writing, St. John of the Cross’s “dark night of the soul”? You become strong by allowing yourself to move through the dark night, and use the energy of that dark night to transmute the negativity and fear.
Imagine yourself, my friends, being a daffodil bulb or a tulip bulb. The planter has arrived. There is a garden space with good soil. Right now you’re packed close, all the bulbs together, connecting with each other. But the planter comes along and plucks you up, digs a hole and puts you in the soil, and says, “Here you will remain until spring.”
Here is your cave. You don’t have to remain until spring, only overnight. “Here you will remain until spring.” What do you find here in this black soil that can nourish you? Where do you find the courage to spend the winter in that dark soil, to spend the night in that cave?
These are metaphors, of course. So again, I ask each of you to pick one place that scares you and ask yourself if you can let your roots sink into it and feel it. If you can rest there, deep within the cave, and find that which is strong, whole and beautiful right there with that which scares you. Not in place of it; in other words, not coming to a place of love and courage, which are real for you and denying fear, but knowing both fear and the place of love, of Center, of Pure Being, right there with that which scares you.
When that Center, that Light, is very strong, you have learned to rest there and turn the back on fear. There may no longer be awareness of the fear. The darkness does seem to dissolve. But there is still a subtle contraction, a natural preference for the Light and wish to avoid the darkness. I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with such response. But now we take it to the next step, to befriend the darkness.
This may be a little hard concept to get, hard to talk about, so you’re each going to have to do it with trial and error. Here, the value of a buddy who you can talk to at least weekly but hopefully two or even three times a week, even just for 10 minutes. Talk on the phone or on Skype or live. What’s happening in this practice for you? How is it working? Supporting each other.
We’re going to go a lot deeper with this. This is really just a start. I ask you not to start with the most challenging places that scare you. Let that come gradually as you become ready to do it. So, it’s okay just to pick something that’s a bit hard.
Barbara has been working with the body pain in part by sleeping in a very comfortable bed with a Tempurpedic mattress, and an adjustable button that you push that raises the feet, raises the head, adjusts to the body position so that when the body is in pain she can push a button and try to find a different posture so she can return to sleep. The Oakwood retreat is in two weeks, so she started thinking last week, how am I going to sleep there, on a not so good bed that’s not adjustable? She saw the fear that’s coming up. Now, this is not a huge place that scares her, but it’s a place where her bed has allowed her to feel safe and in control, because she knows that she can get, if not a good night’s sleep, at least a passable night’s sleep, working with the body pain and adjusting the bed in ways that allow her to sleep. She has to teach for a week. What if she’s exhausted because she can’t sleep? Fear, fear, what if!
Powerlessness. The one who cannot control anything! This is an example of an area that’s not a huge fear for her, but it touches on the bigger fear, “I am not in control. And if I’m not in control, I’m not safe. Then I cannot keep others safe!”
Look at the simple fears and see where they take you. Let them lead you into the deeper fears you’ve been avoiding. But I want you always to feel—‘protected’ is not the right word, but embraced. Throughout this whole journey, you are safe. I am with you. Your personal guides are with you. Many other beings are with you. And our intention here is for you to succeed in this journey, to succeed in learning what you came to learn.
The path of sacred darkness. We’ll keep going into different aspects of it, so this is just a start. There is no distance you should go; go as deep as you can, come back when you need to. If it gets too hard sleeping in that cave, we’ve got a fire burning right at the mouth, and you can climb out of your bed, turn on your little torch, find your way up to the fire and sit with us, and we’ll toast marshmallows together until dawn. You are safe.
So, no force; inviting yourself to go as deep as you can. And knowing there is no shame to pull back out and try it again, go a little deeper. It’s going to be a learning adventure to find the places throughout your life from which you’ve been trying to escape, to avoid, to overcome through your strengths—even that. That eventually we have to go into those places—the places of shame, of fear, of feelings of inadequacy, of loneliness, isolation, alienation, abandonment—whatever it is. The places that scare us.
I promise you that I will be with you every step of the way, and Yeshua and the Mother, and other very strong and loving entities as well. Stop any time you need to. Pause and rest, come out and toast marshmallows with me. No shame in that at all. Step by step.
Along with this practice, I ask you to continue your vipassana practice, or if your vipassana practice has diminished over the summer, to pick it up again, to get yourself back into a daily vipassana practice.
And third, I ask you each to spend some time reflecting on your highest intentions. Do some loving kindness and compassion meditation with yourselves and others. Gratitude for yourself and others. Gratitude for the path that is opening before you. The path of sacred darkness is not all in darkness; it’s completely surrounded by light. There is no duality inherent between light and darkness. This truth is what I hope you will come to see, by the end of the year.
So, I’m going to pause here and leave some time for questions. Thank you for being with me. Start where you are. Trust where you are. Please do not compare yourselves to others. You each have your own path.
Let me add one thought, here. For many of you, health concerns are the heart of the path. It’s wonderful to aspire to gain in health. But remember that eventually you’re going to die. Keep aspiring to gain in health. Keep doing whatever helps your body to heal, whatever helps your emotions to heal. But don’t delude yourself that someday you’re going to reach a place where the human, the relative reality human, is safe from mortal experience. The relative reality human is impermanent. Find that which knows its ultimate safety. Find the power of that through the practices of light and of darkness.
That’s enough instruction. I’m going to ask Barbara, let me see a show of thumbs up, thumbs down. Would it be helpful to have just this 40 min recording of the guided meditation? Would it be helpful to have the audio of that? How many would like that? All right. I will ask Barbara to send it out to everybody. If you don’t want to listen to it, no problem. If it’s useful, you can listen.
May we have questions…
Q: Some metaphors are much easier to be in. I love dark night. If we were underwater, I would have difficultly breathing. Should we find places that are relatively more threatening?
Aaron: Yes. If my metaphors don’t work for you, then invite yourself into your own metaphors. But be careful not to go to a place that overwhelms you. We want you to take it step by step so that you find the places of transformation and power, and not to feel overwhelmed and knocked off the cliff into the ravine or lost in the darkness of the cave and depth of the sea.
A simple thought. Comfortable in the darkness of that cave, you might find yourself awakened by something slithering over your body.
Q: Very good suggestion.
Aaron: I have spent a night in a cave suddenly aware that there was a snake beside me, not knowing what kind of a snake. Not knowing if I would be alive or dead in the morning. It was a powerful practice.
I am smiling at John, as I say this. He had his experiences with caves and snakes as a monk.
Q: So, I can imagine very easily things that scare me. And I feel like I’ve spent a lot of energy not dwelling on those things. For instance, I live alone, and I feel safe in my home. But if I let myself think about being vulnerable, I can’t find a good reason to do that. I could say more… on the converse, I could also think of an emotional fear, and that would seem more useful for me towards, so, even though possibly overwhelming in a different way. So, the easier one, the house thing also things like, why do I want to just start feeling like I might not be okay?
Aaron: I understand your question. It’s not that you may not be okay but that you find a different way to be okay. I’m going to use Barbara as an example, here. She never had air conditioning in her house before because she spent her summers at the lake. Now she has air conditioning. Some evenings this summer have been hot, but some have been cool. So she thought to herself early in the summer, “I should turn the air conditioning off at dusk and open the windows.” But she felt very vulnerable. Opening the windows, there are no locks on the screens. Anybody could break in. And there were some car thefts in the subdivision on the other side of the fence behind her house. So she felt anybody could come through into my back yard.
Now, she’s lived here for 50 years, and nobody has ever violated her back yard. But she felt vulnerable. So she lay in bed, first opening the windows, eeling the fresh breeze, eyes wide—afraid to close them and go to sleep. She finally got up and just sat in meditation, reflecting on, what does it mean to allow oneself to be vulnerable? What does it mean to allow myself to release the armor? It’s not about locking the windows; that may make sense. What is the other heavier armor I’ve been carrying to try to keep myself from being vulnerable? Being vulnerable to feelings, to physical experiences. What does it mean to allow myself to be vulnerable?
She felt that, let’s call it not just self-protectiveness but self-cherishing from the ego. Not in a wholesome way; it’s good to cherish the self, loving the divine essence that you are, but this fear of, “I could die. I am impermanent. Something could assault me.” Well, something is always going to be assaulting you. Letting go of the armoring.
One night a few days into this dilemma it began to rain outside. I said to her, why don’t you go out and sit in the rain? “But I’ll get wet!” It had been a hot day. It was a lovely evening, not cold. The rain was a warm rain. Barbara is the kind of person that likes to stand out in the rain. There was no lightning or thunder. She could go out and sit in a chair and just let herself get soaked by the rain, and watch the dissolution of the armoring; allow herself to merge with the rain, merge with the elements. And then she came in, dried herself off, and went to bed with the windows unlocked. The side with the rain driving in was closed, the other side open. And since then she has been sleeping with the windows open.
Does this help? Q? In what way may it help to allow yourself to feel vulnerable?
Q: Well, right, but I guess my imagination goes to, why is it a good idea to dwell on the fact that somebody could come in… I don’t normally think that way, and I’m realizing I don’t want to think that way. I don’t want to invite that into even my imagination. I don’t watch scary television shows. So, you know…
Aaron: Agreed. Because when you begin to imagine it, that’s part of the pathway to manifesting it. And it’s certainly not something you want to manifest. So, you watch that thought come up and you say, “No, I do not choose to dwell on this thought. I choose to dwell on the place of safety, of love.” But ignoring it and trying to pretend that there’s no danger or thought of danger doesn’t remove the danger. No matter how much you protect yourself there still can be danger. What is the armoring? Get to know the armoring that says, “I can’t do this.” Not that you should do it, not that Barbara had to go out in the rain or to open her windows. What is the armoring about behind which you are presently living?
Even just a little bit, can you see into that armoring and the ancient fears, the ancient stories which have no basis in reality, and let them go? It’s a gradual experience. And as part of this experience, one must go into the darkness and look at what the darkness is. Old stories.
Barbara grew up in a pleasant suburban neighborhood. There was virtually no crime. But she grew up watching her father lock the windows at night, lock the doors. What was he afraid of? It’s a very old fear that crept into her consciousness. Now, if you lived in a crime-laden neighborhood, then it would not be wise to open your windows at night; that’s different.
Q: Sometimes when an uncomfortable feeling comes, I recognize it as a karmic formation and say to myself that if this wasn’t here, there wouldn’t be an issue in responding to a perceived threat. So, I go to the space around the formation and remind myself to have faith instead of dwelling in fear. Is that a move which suppresses darkness, or is it skillful?
Aaron: It is very skillful because there will always be some of these things that still scare you, even when you do work in the very skillful way you’ve worked. And then you take it a step further, and just pause and say, “Okay, fear is still here. So, I’m willing to allow the experience of fear.”
There’s a sutra that I have long loved—the Bhayabherava Sutra. The Buddha, before his awakening, wanted to meditate at what was supposed to be a haunted forest shrine. Monks who went there at night experienced terror. Some of them ran screaming out of the forest. He said, “I need to go and spend the night (or many nights) in this shrine.” He went into the shrine, and the frightening spirits appeared. In the sutra he said, “I resolved to allow the experience of fear and dread and be present with it until it resolved itself.”
How does it resolve itself? Fear and dread—what will come in through the windows at night? What will be in the cave? What will happen to me tomorrow when this or that—this meeting or that doctor appointment—fear and dread. To allow the experience of it. Not trying to stop the experience, not trying to fix the experience, just being present. When there are no stories, what is the experience of fear and dread, and how are they built upon the ego’s self-stories of “Me, I must protect myself.” This has nothing to do with the actuality (of it). Use wisdom. If you’re in a bad neighborhood, don’t walk down a dark alley. That’s not fear and dread; that’s wisdom.
Q: Do I take a circumstance that makes most people scared but I am not?
Aaron: No, if it doesn’t scare you, it won’t work for you. Do you take the circumstance and start making up stories so you can feel the fear? No! Find something that scares you. I’m sure you can think of something. You cherish your family. Think of any fear you might have for their well-being. That might be a good place to start. Allowing the experience of fear, whatever your haunted shrine may be.
Q: Can you explain what you mean by armoring? Do you mean the conditioning that leads us to resist an emotion, or as Q said, to resist a karmic formation?
Aaron: Both. Armoring is whatever leads you to resist some portion of your experience, whether it’s karmic formation or body pain or fear or agitated emotion. And some portion of the armoring happens when you, rather than allowing the experience—let’s put it this way…
Barbara, lives in a relatively safe neighborhood, and with a big dog and the motion detector lights around the house. If she locks her doors and windows, seals everything tight, puts deadbolts on everything out of fear, there’s a certain armoring there. If she says, “There’s nothing there that can hurt me,” and she leaves her doors and windows open even when she leaves the house for many hours, then this is, let’s just call it stupidity, or brashness!
We have to understand the direct experience of armoring. You can usually feel it with contraction. When I’m open, I know, “This will be okay. I’m going to walk across the street. And there are some cars on the street, and there’s no traffic light here, but I can see there’s nothing coming anywhere near me that way or this way. It’s safe to walk across the street.” And then I walk. Versus freezing in place and saying, “Maybe I need to walk the half mile down to the traffic light, because what if I get hit by a car?” You can feel the contraction in that. One also doesn’t say, “Well, I don’t see any cars now, so I’m going to close my eyes and take 10 deep breaths and then I’m going to walk.” Because maybe a car will come up. You have to stay present.
But the armoring is felt in contraction. The knowing of one’s ultimate safety is spacious.
Q (from earlier question): Now I understand that I’m dredging up fear but working with what is, which is what I thought at first. I will likely be working with fear of an emotional situation that I habitually avoid.
Aaron: That sounds good.
I see it’s 5 after 9, so it’s time to stop. Please email to Barbara who your dharma buddy will be… (further instruction on buddies)
Let us close here. We’ll look forward to talking to the groups next week.
Thank you. My blessings and love to you all. I wish you a good night. And it’s fine to lock your windows, if that’s appropriate for you! It’s fine to keep the torch burning in the cave all night, if that’s appropriate for you. There is no “should” in all this, nothing that you should do, just to be present and see how the armoring and stories control you, and how breaking through those stories empowers you.
I love you all. Good night.