October 29, 2019 Tuesday Evening, Dharma Path Class
Stories of Working with Ego: Suffering from Feelings of Powerlessness and the Fear of Lack of Control; The Positive Side of Ego
Year 2; Session 1; Class 4
Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. You have learned well to take good care of yourselves and your loved ones. You have many skills, both physical skills and emotional ones. It’s wonderful that you have these skills. In your present lives, the way your life is now there is almost no possibility of starving, of dying of exposure to the elements, even of dying of being murdered. You are by and large comfortable and safe. When you get a warning, a storm warning, you know what precautions to take. This is wise; it saves a great deal of suffering.
It used to be, a long time ago, that it was not so easy, and that you were not really able to keep yourselves safe from these kinds of life events. So, you’ve gained something very tangible, and I’m glad for you. But you also have lost something. You now assume that everything will continue to move on okay, relatively comfortably. I don’t want you to have to be uncomfortable, but unless you experience some kinds of discomfort, you don’t have the opportunity to observe the, can I call it negative skills of control that pull you into a very different form of suffering.
I’m going to begin here with a story. Long ago and far away, I was a fisherman in a part of the world around the Mediterranean Greek Isles. I was a very skilled sailor and shipbuilder. If one wanted to sail a well-balanced and well-designed boat, one had to learn how to design and build it. You couldn’t just go to a boatyard and say, “Please build me a boat.”
I had great trust in my boat. I had sailed it through numerous storms. I did not sail and fish alone; I had a partner, a younger man whom I was training. We caught some big fish. We did not sail too far from shore. There was no refrigeration in those days, but I had a deep well in my boat into which I would pack our catch and could keep the catch cold for 24-36 hours.
So, one never knows when the next terrible storm is around the corner. There came such a terrible storm. The mast broke. We had furled the sails, of course, but the mast broke and came down on my partner. It broke his leg. We had no way to control the boat. Under ideal conditions, we were only a day, less than 2 days’ sail from shore. These were not ideal conditions.
The winds blew us out beyond the more sheltered area where I usually fished, further out into the ocean. We had water, enough water for at least a week. We had food, we had fresh-caught fish from the hold. I had some basic medical supplies. Two days passed, three, four. We were not in that desolate an area. I thought once the storm had passed, people would be back out fishing; help would be there. But we had drifted away from the usual fishing areas toward more desolate islands. Nobody was in sight.
This young man, I loved him like a son. He was perhaps 20, 25 years younger than me. I had taken him as an apprentice when he was a lad of 10 or 12. I had no children, so he was in every sense my son. He could not keep food down, and I realized that perhaps he had internal injuries as well. And there was no medicine for that in those days, no surgery possible.
We drifted up to a small abandoned island. I built a fire, brought him onshore. Made him some fish broth, that I fed to him. He was growing weaker, sicker. I was grasping at every possibility. Now, how can one not grasp at possibilities? When you love someone, you want to keep them alive. You want them to be able to heal. You don’t want to think about the idea that maybe just letting him pass is the kindest thing. But he was in a lot of pain from the broken leg, infection, setting in. There was a gash in the leg, as well as the break. The bone had broken through, a compound fracture. Whatever internal injuries he may or may not have had—no way to know that.
In all of my lives, this is one of the harshest of memories. I could not give up on him and just let him die. I could not keep him alive to ease my suffering. When do we know to step back and let go? When do we continue to try to do everything in our power to resolve whatever the challenging situation may be?
I was, I would say a wise being at that time. I could tell the difference from when something was coming just from my ego or coming from a deeper place. But what when it comes equally from both? What when ego says, “Keep him alive” and love says, “Yes, he can live.” And to abandon him, what would I do—just let him starve to death? Die of thirst? Die of terrible pain? I had to take care of him.
What was hardest for me was not being able to help. Now I can look into myself at how desperate that made me feel. This man that I was, was so competent in so many ways, and here I was, quite helpless. Never before had been helpless in that lifetime. I had had unsettling incidents. A time when my boat went over in a heavy sea. Alone in that boat and just drifting in it for several days until help came. I would live or I would die. I was at peace with either. Here I wasn’t at peace because this wasn’t about me, it was about him, and I loved him.
Let us move to a different lifetime. (I’ll come back; I’ll tell you what happened.) Long ago and far away, again; this time on the African continent. I was the woman who helped other women with childbirth, very skilled in my work. I can’t say I had never lost a patient. I didn’t think of them as patients, then, simply child-birthing women. Very normal activity. But I had always been able to help successfully—not always, almost always. And where I could not, I was aware at the start that there was something drastically wrong, and the choice was made to save the baby.
This woman, it turned out, was pregnant with triplets. The babies were small. I helped her to deliver them, one after another, after another. But she was exhausted, and the bleeding was excessive. I could not save her; I could not help her. Feeling a similar kind of despair, helplessness. It startled me in that lifetime because I was so skilled at what I did. And because for most, bearing children was not seen as something difficult, in that culture. One simply bore one’s children. For many women, they were doing that all alone.
So, these two lifetimes had that helpless feeling in common, lack of control. What do we do in our lives when we have worked hard to gain certain skills that will bring comfort to us and to others, and suddenly there’s no way to bring that forth?
This story comes to me from a friend, not anyone any of you know, living in California during the last round of fires. They had been told they must evacuate. Her beloved dog was pregnant and very close to time for delivery. The dog had had a previous litter with no problem. Now the fires. They decided to leave a little bit early, ahead of that “must evacuate” warning. They put the dog in the back seat, knowing that she could end up giving birth as they drove. It was a large dog, not a carry-able size, tuck-under-your-arm dog.
They were being guided out by the fire department, other cars all moving through the evacuation route when a large tree came down on the road just ahead of them, a burning tree. Their car and the cars behind them had to stop. The rescue workers brought some kind of a truck, made everybody get out of their cars and climb into whatever this rescue vehicle was. Not just a pick-up truck but some kind of a rescue vehicle. There were so many people the truck was packed. There was no room for the dog.
They cried, they pleaded. “She will die!” “We have to save human life first.” Do they stay with her, on the good chance that they will die? Do they leave her alone?
Fire could be seen coming over the ridge. The wind had changed direction, and it was coming toward them. It was very clear that anyone left alive in this line of cars was going to be burned within an hour. What do you do?
Again, the sense of helplessness. This last story had a good ending. One of the firefighters had deep compassion for this situation and picked up the dog and sent them along, picked up the dog and got the dog to safety. But they were not guaranteed that would happen. They simply let it be known, “Our dog, about to give birth, is in the back of the car.” So, they were reunited with the dog and the litter of puppies. Happy ending.
But you can feel the enormous grief, fear, anger and powerlessness. We’re used to being in control. There are some things you cannot control.
Barbara’s mother lived to 97 or 98, I think just past her 98th birthday. And for most of those years she was in good health. Until she was 93 she lived in her own home, did her own marketing, took care of herself. Then she fell and injured an ankle and had to be put in assisted living. But she was still a strong, capable woman with a good mind.
At 98 she fell, as happens to many people. Got up in the night, did not take her walker to walk the short distance to the bathroom, tripped, broke her hip. Was taken to the ER. They X-ray showed it to be too serious a break for any possibility of healing, and it was felt she was too old and frail to survive surgery. They decided to just send her back to the nursing home and give it a week or two to see what happened, to wait until some of the swelling went down. Barbara was here in Michigan; her mother lived in Philadelphia. Barbara has a sister-in-law and two nieces and their families that lived a short distance from the mother, and the mother’s younger sister, also.
So, several times a day, the phone calls, and them saying, “Wait, wait. Let’s see what’s going to happen. Don’t come now because you may be here for 2 or 3 days, then go home, and then be told you have to come back, that she’s dying. Wait and see.”
Barbara wanted to know. She wanted an answer. “Shall I come now? Shall I wait?” She did not want to be powerless. She did not want to —let me phrase it this way—she did not want to trust that all would be well, including the possibility of the mother’s death at 98. Okay. Grasping, grasping.
So, I’m talking of different situations in which one has a lack of power and control, and the enormity of suffering that comes, not from the lack of control but the fear of lack of control. The anger at lack of control. Lack of control is just lack of control.
Do you really have any power? Or is it an image, a pretense of power? What power do you actually have? You must act in as loving and skillful a way as you can to prevent suffering, and you must be willing to let go and know that you are not the one in ultimate control, but together with everyone and all that is, co-creating whatever will come next.
In our shipwreck, I nursed him. He could not keep down food or liquids. No one came to help. Finally, I had to simply hold him in my arms and allow him to die. I could not save him. It broke my heart. It is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in any lifetime, not only to lose him but to acknowledge, “I do not have the power to save him.” We do not as humans have that kind of power.
I had the opportunity to speak recently, in the past 6 months, with a few doctors, one of whom is a heart surgeon. He talked about the terror that he feels every time he operates. Will this be the time when I do not have the skill to save this person? We asked him had he considered moving to a different line of work, maybe a different form of surgery that was not so critical. And he said, “I’m outstanding at what I do. Because of that, I can save lives. What right have I to let it go?”
I asked him if his fear was to the point that it was disabling to him, that he felt he could make a slip in his work because of the fear. And he said, “No, because I’m able to tune out the fear. It’s after the surgery that I fall apart.” After a very difficult surgery—not any surgery but after a very difficult surgery, that he’d start to tremble, and start to dread having to do another surgery.
You can see where I’m going with these stories. How do we walk that fine line between the one who is literally helpless and the one who is in control and has power? We talk about manifestation, and that’s beautiful. Many of you have learned how to more skillfully manifest that which is wholesome in your lives. Very wonderful and important. But it gives you the illusion that you can and should be in control. How do you begin to live your lives knowing that you are not in control and can still do the best you can?
One more story, this from a being that I was who was a shaman and I guess you would call him medicine man and spiritual leader of a wide group of small tribes of people where he lived in South America. This was before my final lifetime, but I had reached a point of some degree of wisdom.
I learned when somebody brought a very sick person to me that there were several of us participating in any healing that might happen—me, with whatever skills I had, knowledge of herbs and so forth, medical skills, and with my ability to connect with spirit beings; the patient and whatever he brought to it; and the spirit that was surrounding us and working with us. I learned that all that was required of me was to do my best, and that if the person died, I was not at fault unless I had made some clear mistake of judgment. If I had done that, I had to acknowledge that to others and to myself. But I was very skilled, so those mistakes did not happen often.
More often, it could be this or that; I could try these herbs or those herbs. We didn’t have the medical tests of today; I couldn’t tell exactly what was going on. My heart tells me, and what I hear from spirit tells me, we should try this, but there’s no guarantee. To the patient, “Are you willing to have us try this, or—you are in charge, do you think you would rather try that?” They might look at me and say, “You’re the doctor,” so to speak. But in that kind of community, that kind of tribe, everybody had connection to spirit. Everybody had access to his or her own wisdom. I served as a guide. I helped people connect with their higher selves and with their guidance. But I was not the one who made the decisions. Decisions evolved amongst a group. If it was a child, the child’s parents would be involved, even the grandparents. We would invite in the higher self. There was no feeling of self-blame in that lifetime, but there was a strong determination to continuously deepen my medical skills and knowledge so that I would have more to bring to the table.
I look with some interest at the fact that despite any kind of modern medical technology, so many fewer people died in that society than they do in your current, highly-evolved technology. Yes, something like appendicitis, we could not do an appendectomy. But we had certain kind of, we didn’t know them as antibiotic herbs—the term ‘antibiotic’ was not present—simply, healing herbs that could help reduce infection in the body. If taken soon enough, they could reduce the inflammation of the inflamed appendix. But if the person died, that was the way—I hesitate to say meant to be, but perhaps at some level that person had taken birth to live with his family, his people, for a short time to teach them something and move on. There was not a feeling of failure, “We must save this person!”, only what does your spirit seek, and how can we best support the spirit’s path, love’s path.
When I think of those people, that tribe, they are amongst the most peaceful and joyful people with whom I have ever had the grace to live. The most profound difference in that culture is that there was no shame and no guilt. People did not lie. It was almost impossible for anyone to lie. They might believe they had seen it differently, and say, “No, this is what I saw.” But they could not lie to protect themselves or to cover up. There was no word for lying. And this group of people were the most deeply loving, most happy, and really the most healthy of anyplace I have ever lived in any lifetime.
So, what do we have off-balance today, and how can it be amended? I think it comes back to looking at the ego self that is so built up in your culture, that is so powerful; in some ways, very positive and in some ways, very negative. Without that ego, you don’t have mass murderers, you don’t have hatred. Can we live without the ego? Can we live with ego only as servant, knowing that of which it is servant and resting in that deep place, thanking the ego when it serves as servant, and letting it go?
Almost everybody that I have ever met today on Earth is attached to the ego. What replaces the ego? You’ve all done a lot of vipassana practice. Almost everyone in this class has had at least some experience of ego dissolution. What remains? When you look through the eyes of the radiant true self, who are you?
But we cannot live from that space until we make peace with the ego and get it sitting down quietly where it belongs, not trying to run the show. This means connecting with the higher self, the true self, living more totally from a place of awareness. Not just touching it now and then but learning how to rest there.
Now I’m going to take us one step further, here. What blocks you from learning how to rest in awareness and live from awareness? What do you think?
Group: Ego, fear, karmic patterns
Aaron: Karmic patterns, places where you have been stuck forever, which are grounded in ego and fear.
Q: Wanting to control.
Aaron: Which is grounded in fear. How about shame, which is part of ego.
Group: Feeling I have to produce something and be someone, guilt, wanting to control.
Aaron: We want to control for many reasons: wanting to be important, feeling guilt, feeling fear. So much of this is just deeply ingrained human patterns. Remember, through many lifetimes you have learned all of these patterns and practices. There has been, especially more recently, a deep aspiration to freedom from suffering for yourself and others. But the old patterns… I’m thinking of a thicket with the big burrs. You walk through, and it grabs all your clothes, and it snarls around your legs, and you can’t budge. You did not intend to get caught in these thorns, but if you walk through a thorny thicket, you’re going to get scratched and caught.
But for most of you, you are still like I was in that lifetime on my sailboat, feeling, “I know I can do it. There must be a way to do it.” The one who wants to control. But perhaps ‘doing’ is not what’s required. Letting go may be more important. Our friends with the dog. If they had stayed there they probably would have died, because while the firefighter could carry a dog, he could not have carried two large people. So he was able literally to carry the dog up over a hillside and down to a road where some cars were still moving, put it into a car. The dog had ID. The dog gave birth. The shelter contacted the owners eventually, and they were reunited. If ego had said, “No, I have to see this out,” they all would have perished.
There’s the need for discernment. When is this coming from a place of ego and fear, and when is it coming from a deeper place in myself. But I think the most important thing here is knowing that this ego is a part of the human experience. Not a necessary part. I described that one lifetime in which there was so little ego. It’s what we learned as children. You learn about ego. We learned in that lifetime about our interconnection with everything, so there was not much space for ego. Children in that lifetime in that culture were never told “You should be ashamed of yourself,” or “Look what you did.” Children were cherished, and children were trusted. Children at a tender age were asked, “What does your spirit say?” That was the way it was phrased. “Mama, what should I do?” “What does your spirit say?” No adult saying, “Well, do this or do that.” “What does your spirit say?”
If there was a case with two children who had a conflict, the adults would sit them down, sit around them, ask them to hold hands and look in each other’s eyes and ask, “What do our spirits say?” And lying was basically unknown. Truth was allowed to come forth. And sometimes it would look different. “This was mine, and he took it.” “I didn’t know it was his. I would be happy to give it back to you.” Not, “It was mine!”, “No, it was mine!” Just, getting down to the deeper truth.
So let’s come back to where we go from here. You’ve lived your lives to this point wanting to be free of ego, wanting to experience dissolution of ego, but not really wanting to let go of ego.
I’m going to give you a few exercises to try. Try any or all of them. Play with them these next two weeks. Some of you have done some of these with me before. Taking something heavy in your hand and hold it out, hold your arm straight out. I will not do it with Barbara’s arm, as she has some muscle soreness. But hold the arm straight out. Breathe. Feel the tension. Feel the “I don’t like this” from the tension, maybe from the physical discomfort. The aversion, wanting to fix it. And then, either you just put it down or you say, “No, I’m going to stick it out and see what happens.” The more you try to stick it out, the more tension and pain there is. But if you relax and just hold the arm out, breathing with it, treating the arm like a beloved one, holding space, ahh. Feel how the tension changes. It is no longer you holding the arm out; it’s love holding the arm out.
Now, in this situation, love will eventually say, “It’s time to put the arm down. I don’t want to damage it.”
But what if you were holding something that was critical to someone else? Somebody has been severely injured. Some rescuers have come. They give you an IV container. They don’t have anything to hang it on. “Hold it. It must be kept at this height.” How long do you think you could hold it? Ego could not hold it for very long. How long could love hold it? As long as is needed, truly.
I’m going to give you a few different exercises to try, then we’re going to try this first one, which is something everybody can do sitting where they are. Some of you may have the big inflated balls. At the retreat last May, we had you sitting on the balls and balancing. Do any of you have a ball like that in your home? Show me if you have one… A few, okay. So, just sit on it. Watch balance. Watch how much easier it is to balance when there’s no ego driving the balance with “I must”. Come to the place of balance. Ah, just sit, balance. There’s a ball over there, you could try it.
Here’s one that some of you have worked with me on. I call it my egg exercise. I’m getting some smiles. Several ways to do this. We start with a dozen eggs. It’s okay to take them outside so as not to make a mess in your house, or do it in your bathroom where it’s easier to clean up. Not on your best rug. First, just take 2 eggs and juggle them. See how long you can keep them up until one goes splat. If it’s easy to do two, add a third. Watch that, “I have to get this right,” or, “I can’t break an egg.” Watch the tension. Which one can juggle the eggs more easily, tension or love? “I should” or “I choose to”?
If you find too much tension around the idea of breaking the egg, then set it up a little differently, perhaps in your kitchen. Take something like a large cutting board and put it at a very gentle angle, not a steep slope. Lie the egg on top so it will roll down slowly over the edge and fall on the floor. Watch the one who cannot let go. Watch the one who can let go. Can you give yourself permission to let an egg break? And no, you cannot have it drop into a bowl that you will then pick up and scramble and cook! It has to really break, be gone.
I don’t want to give too many complex exercises. I think this is enough. Juggle the eggs. Actually let some eggs purposely break. Just hold it in front of you and say, “Now I choose to turn my hand and let it go.” Feel the resistance and the one who resists. “Hello, ego. Hello, ‘I should’.” Shame may come up, anger, fear, grief. Perfect—this is what we’re aiming for, to help invite these emotions that you’ve done so well to keep out of your lives, or to keep them from conscious attention in your lives, by the power of ego and competence and so forth. What if in this case you are not competent to juggle three eggs? Can that be okay?
I’m sure some of you can say, “No, I’m going to be competent!” Okay—if you can juggle three eggs, add a fourth! At some point you’re going to drop them. As soon as it drops, if shame or guilt or fear or anger come up, just sit. Be present with it. Go into the darkness there with shame, fear, anger, guilt, and just hold space for it until it resolves. Be the loving parent to yourself who never said, “Shame on you!” Or, “Only Bs? I expected As.” Or whatever the story may have been.
In this way, I would like to invite you to touch not on the deepest places of fear, grief, anger, or confusion, but along the edges of it. To begin to see how these places that have seemed so deep, so massive in you, really are quite shallow. And that there is something so much stronger and more radiant and beautiful that can come forth, if you will give it time to do so.
Don’t try to fix things. If you end up breaking the eggs and feeling shame, don’t try to talk yourself out of the shame. What is the direct experience of shame? Is it still there if there are no stories? What is the direct experience of anger? Is it still there if there are no stories?
Shame, anger, fear—they are energies. You’ll feel the contraction of them in the body. You are going to start to give birth to a different pattern by simply holding space rather than using all the devices you have built up through so many lifetimes to fix these patterns.
I’ve warned you that this is not going to be easy! I’m going to ask a lot of you this year. But please don’t start with something too enormous. Start gently. And I want to make a strong request that each of you, some time during these next two weeks, both weeks, talk to your dharma buddy. Share what has happened. Help each other with this.
So, let me close here. We’ll give you a chance to stretch and then open the floor to questions and sharing. I’m smiling. I know I used to try for 1-hour dharma talks, and watch the timing. I no longer do that. I’m no longer attached to its being an hour. But as I look here, I notice it’s 59 minutes and 43 seconds! What is an hour? An hour can be years or it can be seconds. I’m going to pause this.
(break) reviewed to here
Barbara: We talked about ego. We never talked about what the positive function of ego is. Aaron will incorporate…
Aaron: Good question, thank you. Does it stoke your ego when I say, “Good question.”? Before there was a word for ego, we still had pride, wanting to control, and so forth, in ancient cultures. But I think that in more modern times, creating a distinction between ego and the heart has taken people away from the simultaneity of that which we call ego and the loving heart.
You have no trouble with something coming from the body awareness. If there’s pain, you put the book down. Some of you may have felt ashamed or competitive, but others of you very clearly stated, “It was uncomfortable so I put it down.” There was no story, “I should be able to do it.” No ego. You listened to the body.
It’s harder for many of you to listen to your emotional body, especially in the culture in which you’ve been raised where you have been taught “I should be able to do this.” The children that are taught, “Get a better grade.” “Run faster in the race.” You’re rarely told, “How much kindness can you bring forth?” Some children are, but not as often. I think that you relax the erroneous distinction between ego and love so that you draw the ego into the heart of love and make it a tool of love. Then it’s a servant. Then it acts in a very different way. It’s only when ego wants to be the boss that you get into trouble.
Is there any more sharing before I summarize, here?
Q: This reminds me of two years ago when we were moving out of our house. It came right during the time when my husband’s brother was dying of cancer, and J was very involved with that. And a lot of the physical reality of preparing our home for sale came to me. I was resurfacing our garage floor and amazed that I could move a whole tool chest, big bags and boxes. When I would align with love—love for J, love for that house, love for whoever was going to be the new owners, love for myself—it was literally easy to do things well beyond what I know would be a normal capacity with me. This experience and sharing reminded me of that a lot tonight.
Aaron: Thank you. I want to remind you, there is no right or wrong. If you get the floor painted, that’s fine. If you don’t get it painted, that’s fine. If Barbara had not been able to pull this woman in and she had drowned, we cannot say it would be fine. But also, Barbara would need to know it was not her fault, that she did what she was capable of. There was no other help around. She didn’t do anything wrong. But almost certainly had that happened, there would have been a great deal of shame and grief and self-recrimination. This is the role of the ego—it gets caught up in this. “I should have done this; I should have been able to do that.”
So, what I’m going to ask you to do in these two weeks is to watch the arising of ego with its stories. To see two different things, really. One, what does the story protect you from? If the story was not there, “I should be able to do this,” or the actual effort, “I will hold the lookout. I will not give up.”—if not this, what would I be feeling? What would I be experiencing? Go into that place of feeling powerless, feeling ashamed, feeling angry, and just sit with it.
Start to become more aware of when you call up the ego, usually subconsciously, to avoid moving into that kind of a place of shame, of fear, of powerlessness, of fear of powerlessness. You don’t have to figure out exactly what it is you’re avoiding, just become aware of the juxtaposition. How when there’s a certain feeling of deep discomfort in the self, how you begin to use the ego in a healthy or unhealthy way. It can be a healthy way. Barbara’s determination: “I am going to get her to shore. I am not going to let her drown.” It was not about Barbara; it was coming 90% out of caring for this person and knowing it was up to her. And knowing that somehow she did have the strength in her body. Not ego; trusting in her body, “I can do it.” We’re not talking about rowing 10 miles but 100 yards. “I can do it.” Love can do it.
Just begin to discern these subtleties. Allow yourself to go deeper and deeper into, “Is there something I am avoiding?” What does it feel like to let myself touch that place of grief, of shame, of helplessness, of confusion? Just to get to know it and to embrace it. When I embrace myself feeling grief or shame or despair, I am embracing all humankind, all sentient beings. Can I do that? Not that ego saying, “I’m going to do that for all sentient beings,” just love holding it all. Here is where you begin to find your true power. But you’re going to have to wade through many lifetimes of old habits to come to a place of being more friendly with yourself.
For some of you some of the time, this is going to lead you into this sacred darkness. Trust the darkness. It’s okay to move into that darkness. If it goes from darkness into depression, that is the ego speaking. Darkness is not depression. Darkness doesn’t tell stories about how terrible you are or about how terrible everything is. Darkness has power and energy. It is the ground out of which the flowers grow.
Are there any questions?
Q: I appreciate that you said darkness has power and energy. That resonates and pushes me forward.
Q: Is the ego located in all of our bodies or just in our mind?
Aaron: Mental and emotional bodies. In physical body, too. It moves itself into the cells, really. So, in all of the bodies, yes, but more in the mental body.
Q: Aaron’s comment that depression is not the darkness but the stories that come from the darkness, that confuses me. I always thought that the darkness was just a distortion of the light, light distorted by fear, shame, etc. So I didn’t have a sense of darkness being the nourishing earth from which plants grow.
Aaron: Let’s distinguish. When I say darkness, I am using this as synonymous what what we are calling sacred darkness. This is the place, this is the darkness into which you put your tulip bulbs in the fall so that they may winter over and draw energy and grow in the spring. There is no distortion in this darkness. It is contrasted with light. It is absence of light. But there is no light and darkness as dual forces. The light and darkness must be part of each other, otherwise nothing could grow. It is the darkness of the womb, which is alive, pulsating with life force, and yet held back from the actual light into which the fetus will emerge in 9 months.
Darkness, in this sense, is expansive. And this is what I want you to begin to experience through investigation of it: the expansive, spacious quality of this darkness, full of possibilities, as opposed to depression which is closed and contracted. Does that clarify it for you?
Q: Yes, but when you say, for example, our exercise climbing over the log over the chasm. My sense was that the darkness that I experienced was tremendous fear. And that our work was not to shy from that but to go into it.
Aaron: The fear, pain, confusion—these can lead you into first a contracted darkness through which you must pass to enter into the spacious darkness. Your English language does not have any terms for these, no distinction made. I am using the term ‘sacred darkness’ for lack of any other word. At (?) we had completely different words.
Sacred emptiness. It would give a feeling of being (in) dark because, when you’re deep into it, at first there’s no sense of light. But as you read my story in The Path of Clear Light last year, when I was wandering in that cave with those with whom I was guiding, there was no more light. We were lost. And as I was willing not to run around screaming, “What will we do?” but just to sit, I began to find that true light within me, which is within everything, which made it possible literally to find our way through the cave.
Light is the heart of darkness. Light is not the contracted, depressed darkness and fear. Light can be found within fear, but only when you address the fear to come back from the negative, contracted aspect of fear into the sacred, that which is filled with possibilities and light.
Beyond this, words fail. You have to try it on your own. One way in which I taught Barbara about this—I’ll describe it very briefly and ask her to share it—perhaps 20 years ago, at a point when I felt she was ready, I asked her to sit through the night motionless. She was using a zafu then in a half-lotus position. To set herself on the zafu, light her candles or lantern, get a posture adjusted comfortably, and then make the commitment not to move until dawn, perhaps 7 hours.
We had discussed it. She knew she was not a failure if she had to move, that I would not be disappointed in her if she had to move. That she had to be honest with her capabilities. but I felt she had a lot to learn by just sitting.
After a while, there was pain, of course, body pain. There were some profound experiences of dissolution, and then coming back to the experience of the body, which hurt all the more after the bliss of the body and ego dissolution. There was the ego that said, “Enough of this!” There was the ego that said, “No, I’m going to do it.”
But I think, in the end, and I’ll have Barbara describe her experience, in the end this is where Barbara really first understood sacred darkness, and how totally full and rich and beautiful this space was.
She did not make it through the night the first time she tried. Perhaps the third time. The first time, she gave up after about an hour and a half. I use the term ‘gave up’; she said, “That’s enough”—put the book down, so to speak. The second time, she lasted about 5 hours. Then ego started saying, “I’m going to make it through.” And I finally suggested to her, trying to push your way through with ego is not what we’re after, here. Let it go and we’ll come back to it. The third time, love was able to walk through this experience, sit through this experience.
Q: Can you please clarify what it means to go into the darkness? How does this differ from being with the contraction, the darkness with love, and holding it in spaciousness with love?
Aaron: It does not differ. To go into the darkness means to be present with it with love. I’m being brief here; it’s after 9.
Q: I have a client here who is dying of cancer and there is a lot of fear of dying. I have been unsuccessful for over a year in getting her to try and face the fears, but now it’s here. I’m wondering if you have any advice for how I can help her face this. She has a lot of resistance and fear and sadness and anger that she has to leave her 9 year old daughter. I can understand that.
Aaron: Q, let’s you and I talk about this, because it’s late. I’m sure others would be interested, but it’s late. There was one more question that came to Barbara by an email earlier today, somebody who was planning a trip to a South American, Central American country, where there has recently been a lot of violence. Asking, is it safe to go?
There is never a guarantee of safety. If you ask me, “Is it safe to cross the street?” I’d say, “Probably, but no guarantee.” The important thing is that this is an opportunity to discern the voice of love and the voice of ego or fear. Probably you’re hearing some of both. Which one is louder? If moving through the ego and the fear, love says, “Yes, I choose to go, but I realize I could die in so choosing,” then you can ask, is that okay? Not that I want to die, but I want to take this journey, and it could kill me; is that okay? If a part of you says, “No, it’s not okay,” where is that answer coming from? Is that from love or from fear?
You’re all going to die eventually. Some of you may prefer to “die with your boots on” and go off to explore a new world. Others of you might prefer a few more years of life and die in bed. There’s no right answer.
I cannot promise this will be safe. Looking at the circumstances, the political and other forces down there, yes, it could be dangerous. But that doesn’t mean you don’t go.
I’m sorry we’re out of time… “I was just returned from a trip to, amongst other places, Nepal,” and while she was in Nepal she had some excruciating back pain. I would have liked to give her a chance, and maybe next class she can talk some about how she came through that, she really went into the darkness and found light in the darkness because of her commitment to continue the service she was there to do. She was not a tourist; she was doing service with midwives and so forth, helping many, many people. I think she can share that, and it would be informative for people, if she is willing. I don’t want to put her on the spot.
That’s all. Much love to you. Remember, you are never alone. (incomplete passage— is last sentence the alternative to the first sentences?—>) As you find yourself in a place and say, “Here’s darkness. Here is fear, shame, discomfort, and I don’t want to be with it. I’m closing myself out, tight, contracted, because I don’t want to be with these emotions. I am going to move into the emotions and through the negative expression of the emotion to find the sacred darkness and rest there, and begin to find the light within the darkness.”
My dear ones, remember we have until June; you don’t have to master it in the next 2 weeks! Go gradually. Give yourselves time and patience and love. Step by step we’ll talk about it, we’ll work with it.
I love you all. I’ll say goodnight…
Barbara: They’re holding books. When discomfort comes, bring awareness to the discomfort. Bring awareness to whether there’s any ego there that says, “I should be able to do this.” You’re looking at each other’s pictures. “I’m not going to be the first one to put my arm down.” Just watching that. Meeting the ego, aware of any “I should”.
Aaron says, who is trying to keep the arm out longer? At what point does it become skillful to say, “That’s enough.”? Can there be a sense of “That’s enough” with no feeling of shame or defeat or comparing yourself to others, or feeling, “I should be able to do it longer.”? Just very at ease with it. I’m just going to be quiet here; simply watch it…
(end of recording)