Dharma Path – Transcript – April 16, 2019, #7

April 16, 2019 Tuesday Evening, Dharma Path Class
Pure Awareness Instruction; Skandhas; Discussion: Do We Need Eyes Open to Do Pure Awareness?; Introduction to Working with the Elements; Q&A on Chakras

Barbara: I’m going to assume it would be beneficial for you to hear basic instructions again, even if you’ve done it before. People seem to be away, out enjoying spring. Meditating under the trees, I hope.

Vipassana and pure awareness fit together well. But vipassana moves from one direction, and pure awareness moves from another direction. Pure awareness starts with just resting in spaciousness, then may investigate objects from that perspective of awareness. Vipassana starts with the noting of objects and ends up with that spaciousness. Vipassana is much more linear; pure awareness meditation much more simply present in this moment.

This practice is often taught in specific parts. The first part is often called “seeing the view”, to see the view. View, out there… We sit with our eyes open. Those of you who are in front of your computer screens, if you can, turn and look out a window if you can still hear me. You don’t have to be able to see me. There’s nothing special to see. I’d love you to be able to look out a window, if possible. If you can’t, that’s okay. If you have an attractive altar, or a pot of flowers, or something else to look at—even your cat, sleeping on the sofa, rest your gaze there. Just resting and looking.

Eyes open. Let your jaw hang open just slightly. Tongue loose in the mouth—not touching the teeth or the roof of the mouth, just ahhh, soft, open. Breathing in and breathing out. Present in spaciousness, present in the open heart.

Now, it sounds very lovely to say, “Just rest there,” but of course we can’t just rest there; the mind gets busy. We find things we need to do. Thoughts come up; body sensations come up. In vipassana, when these things come up, we bring attention to them, seeing them as an object that has arisen out of conditions. With pure awareness meditation, you also gently bring attention to it just for a moment, inquiring, what is it? The way Aaron presented it to me is to ask, is there anything here that’s not an expression of the Unconditioned, of God? Well, some things more clearly are expressions of God/Goddess/Divinity than other things. A beautiful view out your window, it’s easy to see that that’s an expression of the Divine. A butterfly hits your window and falls to the ground, dying—it’s harder to see that’s an expression of the divine. Birth and death. A beautiful thought comes—yes, an expression of the Divine. An angry thought comes—expression of the Divine? But of course, there’s no duality, and everything is an expression of the Divine.

So, we begin to look at everything that has come forth as thought, as object, as emotion. We just experience it and experience any contraction that comes up about it. And we hold the intention not to fixate on it, not to try to change it or fix it. Simply to know that it has arisen out of conditions, it’s impermanent—ahhh, let it be. Here are these rude words that someone said to me today—let it be. Here is the fear I felt—let it be. Here is the itch—let it be. Whatever arises, there is nothing to fix, nothing to do, just hold space and be present with it. It arose into predominance out of conditions, and it will pass. Ahhh, holding that spacious presence as witness to it.

We’ll practice this just for about 3 minutes, now, and then I’ll talk more. So, observing whatever has arisen, or observing spaciousness. Just rest, eyes open, ahhh, and present. Looking out your window, if you can, or at a flowerpot, or at something else. Please don’t try to see a thing, just objects, movement, space, all mingled together. I’ll be quiet now for a few minutes.


In the traditional dzogchen teachings, one is taught to ask the question, does this object have any color, any form, any substance? On the relative plane it may seem to, but ultimately, no. I was teaching this practice to a friend, a senior Buddhist monk. He said, “then you have to had some kind of awakening experience to understand it.” He said he would prefer to simply ask the question, what is it? And I think that’s a useful approach, for many of us: this has arisen; what is it?

As I was meditating just now, part of me was feeling upset about my broken computer and my email—10,000 emails lost! What is it? It’s just a thought. It has no solidity. It’s impermanent. The thought will go. The reality of my broken computer and lost emails, well, I’ll have to find some way to attend to that. But for now, there is only thought arising out of conditions, noting contraction, and shhh…. come back and rest in spaciousness. That spaciousness sis always there, with no denial of the relative contraction.

This practice is the heart of non-dual teachings. That spaciousness is always there. The busy mind is always going here and there, and the busy body, agitated. Ahhh…
What invites us to return to that kind of spaciousness? Ahhh…

So let’s try this again for another 3 minutes, , and then a bit more instruction.


As we practice this way, there may begin to be bits and pieces of a sense of spaciousness, something beyond the busy mind, beyond the agitated body, that ahhh… What dzogchen calls “the view”. I find it a very peaceful space, very joyful. Obviously, 2 or 3 minutes is not enough time to really connect with it. I’m just trying to give you some basic instructions, here, with the hope that in the coming week you will practice longer term with it—10, 15, 20 minutes. Ahhh….

So this is taught in three phases. There are several segments, here; let me go through them. The seeing the view. But if something arises and is strong in our experience, we can inquire after it, a kind of “what is it?”, or the traditional, does it have any color, any shape, actual ultimate substance? When something strong arises into my experience, doing this practice, I’m willing to hold that object. Agitation, tension, contraction. Right here with contraction, where is spaciousness? Sound familiar? Right here with sadness, where is joy? Right here with confusion, where is clarity? Right here with the itch, where is that which doesn’t itch?

What Aaron and I are doing here in this Dharma Path class, and what we’ve been doing for a number of years, is taking these traditional teachings out of the framework of Tibetan Buddhism and trying to put them in a very accessible format, without a lot of imagery, and so forth. Just present in this moment.

So there is this inquiry stage. We’re resting in spaciousness, and suddenly the bee is buzzing around your head, or the fly—contraction. What is it? Is there anything here that’s not an expression of the Divine? Hello, bee—a beautiful expression of the Divine. Ahhh… I don’t have to contract around it. I don’t create a separation, me and that. And as soon as the separation ends there’s a relaxation with it, even like, sitting here much of the day while a friend, who’s a computer tech, tried to fix my computer and had bad news and more bad news. What am I going to do?? Watching myself contracting. Ahhh… Well, I can’t say that this broken computer is an expression of the Divine, but I can’t say it’s not, either. It simply is a broken computer. All mechanical things are inherently impermanent. Eventually it will go. Ahhh….

I come back to that beautiful prayer from Teresa of Avila:

Be not perplexed.
Be not afraid.
Everything passes.
God does not change.
Patience wins all things.
He who has God lacks nothing.
God alone suffices.

We can ask ourselves, what do we mean by God, in this sense? To me, the statement “God is love” works. That which is of the highest nature of love and light. This alone suffices; this takes me home.

So, in the beginning we practice this resting in the view, becoming increasingly stable. As I said, 2 or 3 minutes here is not going to do it. Then, the second phase of practice is meditation, in which we sit, ahhh, present. And when the eye catches some object or ear hears some sound or mind thinks some thought, and we contract around it and move into separation, we remind ourselves: this is also just an expression of the Divine, of the Unconditioned. There is nothing here that is not an expression of the Unconditioned. Relax. Rest! But if this particular expression of the Unconditioned is a hurt child on my front sidewalk, then I’m going to walk out the door and see if I can help. We attend to it, but we attend to it without contraction, from that place of spaciousness.

But mostly, for the meditation phase we’re not taking it into action, yet; we’re simply aware of the spaciousness, then aware of the object and the meditation phase. And then, spaciousness again. Another object—contraction. Moving into separation again. Then ahhh, seeing; moving into separation. Who is moving into separation? Just this mind/body complex. There’s nobody here. It’s just old habit that “I” move into a separation.

I saw on my computer yesterday, Ram Dass has a new movie out called Becoming Nobody. I just saw the very short 2 or 3-minute introduction. He talks about how we’re all born into “somebody training.” The first part of our lives, our parents try to teach us how to be somebody. And then we move into a spiritual path and we get into “nobody training”. How do we remember—not to learn how to be nobody but remember how to be nobody? And that doesn’t mean I don’t exist. I just means all I am is a collection of—you’re probably all familiar with the words, either skandhas or aggregates. The aggregates of form, of feeling, of mental aggregate, and so forth. These are simply arisen out of conditions and impermanent. They have no solid substance.

I spent a beautiful day, probably 25 years ago, on a spit of land reaching out into Lake Erie, just a point of land with water coming up, waves breaking on the windward side. It was such a narrow spit, maybe only 20, 25 feet wide, that I was lying on the top with my feet running down the leeward side. The prevailing wind side had waves; the other side was calm. So, as I lay there with my chin right on the top of the little hill, I could see the waves coming in and receding. They were running up this little hill and almost reaching me, soaking into the sand. But they were right at eye level—wave….. and gone. Wave…. and gone. Wave—big wave!—right over the top, wet me a little… and gone, sinking into the sand.

Aaron began at that point to speak more directly of the aggregates, or skandhas. This wave has form. I can’t deny that it has form. And yet, there’s nothing separate there from the lake. Lake Erie is a big lake, it has big waves, like the ocean; nothing separate from the lake. Investigating the aggregate of form. This form that I am, it’s not the form that I was a year ago; certainly not the form that I was 70 years ago. Just form, impermanent.

So I got that. That was pretty easy. And then, thought. Here’s a wave, just like a thought. It exists, and then it’s gone. Our thoughts are like this—waves coming up, thought, and then it’s gone. And then a new one. A happy thought, an angry thought, a confused thought—gone. Feelings of pleasant, of unpleasant, of neutral—waves. Impulse: waves. It was so easy to see that yes, they had a substance, but no separate self. Each wave arising out of conditions and then just dissolving back into the lake.

Consciousness was more challenging for me. I could see the non-self nature of the other aggregates, but with consciousness I had to take a lot longer. But eventually I got that one, too. What is consciousness? This is not where I want to spend our time tonight, so I’m just introducing this idea.

Everything arising out of conditions, in its nature it is empty of self. And as we do this pure awareness practice, ahhh, forms will come to us, feelings will arise, emotions, thoughts will arise. All of these things will arise and pass away. Our practice is just ahhh… Not disassociating from it, and not entangling with it, but just ahhh…Ahhh… And as we do this repeatedly, we find that we do stop fixating so much on what arose and stop taking it so personally. There’s so much spaciousness, ease and joy in that. It’s a beautiful practice.

How does this mesh with our vipassana practice? Vipassana begins as a more linear type of practice that, when practiced with sincerity and effort, eventually leads us to a deepening wisdom that everything truly is arisen out of conditions, impermanent, not of the nature of a separate self. And then, gradually there’s a shift.

We move into a phase of practice where we’ve so clearly seen everything arising and passing away. And essentially, we ask, if I am not this, if nothing is this, if it’s all not solid, what is real? What can I depend upon? Or, we might phrase the question, everything is arising and passing away. This is all the conditioned realm, and this body and mind are of the conditioned realm. None of this is the truth I’m looking for. What goes beyond this mind and body? Who am I? Who are you? In what can I rest?

Basically, the doorway is opened, at this point, to the citta, the consciousness, that is capable of perceiving the Unconditioned. This is a very specific point of practice. One can come to this point by a quick, brief opening to the Unconditioned, and then coming back and spend years in the conditioned realm again, with just that taste. Or one can move through in a gradual way and finally have a deeper experience of the Unconditioned. How ever we come to it, we do get that taste of the Unconditioned, and it’s very powerful. Or perhaps a very deep experience if it.

The citta—lokuttara is the Pali word, lokuttara citta that are capable of perceiving the Unconditioned, have opened. As long as we’re looking through the mundane citta we can’t perceive the Unconditioned. With pure awareness practice we relax to such a degree that the lokuttara citta, the citta capable of perceiving the Unconditioned, have begun to open. Not fully, but they’ve begun to open, and we begin to get a sense of the spaciousness and light and joy. It’s life-changing to really rest there for a while.

If we have not done any vipassana or similar practice, we don’t have anything to stabilize this. We come back and ask, what was that experience? We don’t know how to understand this experience or return to it. Of course, in the Tibetan tradition they have their own specific forms of practice to stabilize it. So you can’t just take this pure awareness meditation on its own without anything to stabilize it. But for us, with a vipassana background, we can use the vipassana to stabilize it. That means having opened into this spaciousness and light and joy, we’re able ask—as my friend Ajahn V reminded me, he said, “I want to just ask, what is it?” What is this spaciousness? What is this light? Where has it been all my life! Am I ready to invite its full presence? Spaciousness, light, joy.

At the intensive we’re going to do quite a bit of play back and forth between vipassana and pure awareness meditation. For now, in this month before the intensive, what I’d like you to do is simply, on these beautiful spring days, take yourself out on the grass, spread a blanket under a tree and lie back and look up through the branches where the flowers are starting to grow—the apple blossoms, or whatever it may be. Ahhh… Ahhh…. Watch a squirrel scampering across a branch. Maybe an acorn or a pine cone falls on your head. (clap!) Wake up! Ahh, anything there that’s not an expression of the Divine? Just let it be.

Feel yourself coming back into contraction when something startles you. It is quiet, and then your neighbor’s lawnmower roars to life, or a squirrel drops an acorn on your head. Once many years ago, I was doing this practice sitting on a lakeshore. Ahhh… and in a very deep place. Just sitting motionless, looking out at the sunlight glinting on the light ripples on the lake. Ahhh… so beautiful… and totally oblivious to a dog from somewhere who had wandered up to me and was sniffing at me. But I was so deep in this ahhh space, and joy and ease, ahhh… At some level I probably noted “dog, dog,” but I wasn’t reacting to it at all, until he lifted up his leg and peed all over me! That got my attention! Contraction! Anything separate here? You and a lake, dog, wetness!!!

Just rest, eyes soft. Don’t try to see every branch. Don’t try to see details. Just, ahhh… Not making a distinction between the tree branches and the sky. Not noting this is this and that is that, just ahhh…

Aaron’s Path of Clear Light is an excellent guide, here. I hope you’ve all read it. Please reread that in the next couple of weeks. Use that as a practice guide. Lie under that tree, or sit looking at the daffodils and tulips opening up, or look at your cat or dog stretched out on the lawn in the sun—whatever gets your attention, ahhh…. And then watch the things that bring up separation and contraction, and the question, however you want to ask it: anything that’s not an expression of the Unconditioned? Or just, what is it? When you ask “what is it?”, can you just see it’s all just part of the conditioned realm blossoming out and moving through? Nothing separate. Come back into spaciousness.

So I’d like you to practice this month to stabilize that a bit. And then at the intensive we’ll be able to take it further.

Q: In pure awareness practice, the emphasis is on keeping one’s eyes open and gazing…

Barbara: —Q, I don’t want to say the emphasis is, but it’s in the way it’s practiced, because with the eyes closed we separate ourselves from what’s out there. With the eyes open we can take it all in. Please continue your question…

Q: The pure awareness practice can take you into a very quiet, spacious place. And the clear light practice can do the same thing with your eyes closed.

Barbara: Yes. The difference is that with your eyes closed, you may be separating yourself or isolating yourself, even to a small degree. The eyes are closed, so you’re putting up some barrier to the whole world out there. I find for myself that when I practice eyes open, connected with the whole world out there, it gives me a lot more catalyst. It’s easy for me to close my eyes and move into a very light-filled space, but I don’t learn as much. But when I’m sitting—ahhh…, so spacious, so filled with joy—and suddenly there’s a dog peeing on my lap, how do I deal with that without moving into a separation of me, dog, good, bad, anger, whatever? Where did that spaciousness and light go?

So, for example, looking out, and the beautify of everything. And then seeing a storm cloud in the distance. Or suddenly there’s rain coming down over the meadow, or the lake. Or, eyes open, field so beautiful and filled with flowers, and suddenly I see a snake slithering along on the grass a few feet from me, or a rat, or whatever it may be. So I find it a more challenging practice, because it offers me the opportunity to rest in spaciousness; and to notice the kinds of catalyst that pull me out of spaciousness. When I do it often enough, to find the inherent spaciousness in every moment, even when there is contraction. That free will choice is offered again and again, to go with the contraction and deepen the separation, or to remind myself it’s all expression of God. Just rest there. But yes, it’s okay to go in and wash my clothes and take a shower after meeting the urinating dog. No separation there, just kindness..

So, I’m not saying you must do this with your eyes open, but you’ll have a very different experience with your eyes open. Does that answer your question?

Q: It helps, because I’ve traditionally meditated with my eyes closed. Part of that is due to an eye condition I have. I’m very photosensitive. But that doesn’t mean I can’t meditate with my eyes open.

Barbara: Use dark sunglasses. Many of you will find if you do pure awareness outside, you will want to wear dark sunglasses, because the light becomes very intense.

Q: But I also, in meditating with my eyes closed, it doesn’t feel like an isolated experience. I feel a sense of strong union, non-separation. So, the meditation doesn’t feel like it’s about me. It’s really about a sense of non-duality.

Barbara: I am simply offering a suggestion, here. As with all the practices we’ve done this year, if it doesn’t resonate for you, don’t do it. It’s perfectly fine, because everybody is practicing in their own way, and each of us is different and unique. There’s no right or wrong to this. But if you feel interested to try this pure awareness practice, please try it with your eyes open. Otherwise, just trust your vipassana practice and meditate that way. That’s fine.

I wonder, is John Orr on tonight? (Yes.) John, anything you would like to say that might help people, with your experiences of eyes open versus eyes closed, with pure awareness?

John: Yes, I’d be glad to share. Hello to everybody, happy spring. Barbara, I’m sorry about your computer. But no, this is not the first time that one of your computers has broken down! (laughing)

So, I learned this practice with my eyes open, in Thailand. But I also found that I can experience pure mind or pure awareness with my eyes opened or closed because pure awareness is not dependent upon my eyes being open or closed. Really, pure awareness or the experience of pure mind is not dependent upon anything, because in resting in my pure mind I’m resting in direct expression of the Unconditioned. So I don’t find that experiencing pure awareness or pure mind is dependent on the eyes being opened or closed.

However, Barbara’s point, that in having the eyes open, (I’m) more connected with the conditioned realm with my eyes open, and therefore can see that interface of the conditioned and the Unconditioned very clearly, with the eyes open. I can see non-duality, the non-dual nature of the trees, of the birds, of the flowers, and awareness that they’re not separate from each other. So, I think in that sense it’s been very helpful for me to do pure awareness meditation with the eyes open.

However, I can also experience pure awareness with my eyes closed. So I do it both ways—with my eyes open; with my eyes closed; going back and forth; even within one session, going back and forth. That because a lot of my training in vipassana has been with the eyes closed, I’ve found it helpful to have this larger view, so to speak, or experience of spaciousness with the eyes open. It really helps to open up my meditation, especially if at a time when I’m doing a lot of vipassana, object-focused meditation, to kind of open it up and bring more spaciousness into the meditation with the eyes open. I’ve found that helpful. And I’ve also found it helpful in the reverse—and this is something that Aaron taught me, which is sometimes to do the pure awareness meditation initially and be in touch with that spaciousness, and then close my eyes and do vipassana, and have that spaciousness brought into the vipassana meditation. I have found that very helpful.

So I go back and forth with all of this. That’s what I have to share. Thank you.

Barbara: Thank you, John. John, you probably remember, as I do, that month of Dzogchen retreat that we both attended. And then a year later we had a self-retreat at Dechen Choling. We would go out in the morning and sit out on that hillside meadow, eyes open—at least I was sitting there, eyes open, looking at the mountain range in the distance, vast sky. Then coming inside to the meditation hall in late afternoon, closing my eyes and meditating. The moving back and forth. That was a very powerful experience for me of learning how to blend the two practices.

I agree with everything that’s been said. We don’t need to have eyes open to rest in pure awareness, not at all. But for me, learning the practice and becoming stable in it, it was more helpful to have the eyes open. Once there is stability, then it doesn’t matter. Then pure awareness is there constantly. But until it’s stable, for me it was helpful to have the eyes open, at the beginning.

That retreat that I was just talking about, light and space were so predominant, sitting on this hillside. Beautiful view, sunlight, flowers, scent of flowers—ahhh…. Heart was so open. There was no contraction. And as soon as I came into the meditation hall and closed my eyes, both luminosity and spaciousness—one or the other; not both together, but whichever one was predominant—became the primary object. It was such a strong primary object that it led me within seconds into access concentration; and because of the strength of that object, into what one might call dissolution experience—dissolution of the mind and body, and so forth, and experiences of the Unconditioned. And the next morning I would go outside and sit again—ahhh… And then later, in mid-afternoon, come back inside, repeat.

This is how Aaron taught me to practice, and I’m just trying to pass this on to all of you, with your free will choice as to your discernment, what works best for you.

John, let me ask you one short question: in the very beginning of pure awareness practice, did you find it helpful to sit with your eyes open until pure awareness was more stable?

John: The first time that I did pure awareness meditation was living in a forest monastery in Thailand. I had become too attached to vipassana meditation method and techniques, and I needed to let go of those techniques, methods of meditation. So, I sat on the porch of the hut that I was living in, and I looked into the forest, especially toward the tops of the trees, and let my attention just rest in awareness, spaciousness, and the nature of mind. So, I didn’t have any instruction in it at all, but innately it just felt like that is what I had to do, is have my eyes open, and have that more spacious view. That that was helping me to get in touch with my pure mind. I didn’t know that I was doing dzogchen meditation at the time. And it really wasn’t until Aaron taught you and I—before we went to upstate New York to practice with Surya Das—it wasn’t until Aaron started talking about it to you and me that I realized that that was what I was doing in Thailand.

So what you’re saying, in terms of the interface between pure awareness and vipassana, was what I was experiencing when I was in Thailand. For almost a full year all I did was pure awareness meditation. I completely let go of the vipassana for a whole year. But then I saw a need to go deeper, to go back to the vipassana again, and to integrate that along with the pure awareness practice. I realized I need to more fuse the two. And they’re not separate practices. The way that we’re doing them now, it’s really one practice. They’re not two practices, pure awareness and vipassana; we’re bringing them together as really one practice. And I started to do that when I was in Thailand.

Barbara: Thank you, John. So now we’re going to take a 5 minute break and stretch, and then Aaron is going to come in and talk. We’re changing topics, new topic.

My final words on this: please read or reread Path of Clear Light. In the coming weeks—spring! Just stretch out under a tree, or sit by a bubbling stream, or watch ducks running across the sand into the lake. Ahhh…. just practice that way. And we’ll put it together more at the retreat. That’s all. Five minute break…

Reviewed to here. I want to get this out to you and have not reviewed Aaron’s portion of the evening. It should be adequate.

Aaron: My blessings and love to you all. I am Aaron. So now, into part 2 of our evening. And no, Barbara and I do not expect you to spend 20 hours a week working with all of this. Do what you can. Many of you have worked with pure awareness with us before, and many of you have worked with the elements with us before.

Earth, air, fire, water, and ether, or energy. When you think about the elements, you think about them as separate: the earth element, as the ground out there; fire as sun; water, the oceans. But really, every one of these objects contains all of the elements in different distribution. A freshly plowed field, we think that’s earth. But certainly, if it did not have water in it, it would just be baked clay. If it did not have air in it, it would be baked clay. The air creates a loose loam of soil. The water helps moisturize it. The sun beating down warms it. And there’s energy flowing through. That freshly plowed field is going to have a different balance and degree of elements than the ocean. But the ocean also contains all the elements; everything does.

You contain all of the elements. There are times when you feel yourself to be very heavy, and you might want to reflect: “perhaps the earth element has become imbalanced in me; perhaps some more air or water would help.” Or if you’re low energy, perhaps more fire would help; perhaps there is too much clay. If you’re feeling flighty, running around and very agitated, too much fire and wind—bring in more earth, or more of whatever would be useful. You start to become intuitive about it.

But first, you do need to get to know each of the elements individually before you can look at the distribution of them. It’s a bit like looking at the colors on the color wheel: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet. We get to know each color. Red, yellow, and blue, for example—you have to know red, know yellow, know blue, before you can bring the right amount of blue and the right amount of yellow together to make green. The right amount of red and the might amount of blue together to make purple. And then, do you want a red violet, or do you want a blue violet?

Working with the elements is very similar. Each element has its own characteristics, and it’s valuable to spend some time with the elements one at a time, getting to know how they feel in your body, how they feel when they’re in balance, how they feel when they’re out of balance. Here I’m not talking specifically about the balance of the earth energy in your body, but simply, how earth is, how earth feels in your body, as opposed to water in your body, as opposed to air, or fire. Once you get to know them, then you can begin to ask about the fire element in your body: is it out of control? Does it need a bit more earth, or water? What does it need to help bring it into smooth balance?

The elements are such a vital part of your human existence. And because all of you, really, are here with an intention to help stabilize the earth and raise the vibration of the earth, it becomes very important to get to know the elements that are so much a part of the earth—earth, air, water, fire, ether. What are they like? What is each one? How do they blend?

If you go out into the desert, can you find the water element? Of course, there is less water in the desert than there will be in the ocean. Can you feel the earth element in the middle of the ocean? Can you feel the fire element while visiting Antarctica?

We get to know the elements individually, and then we look into the self at how they are balanced. I first taught Barbara about the elements, I suppose it must have been 20, 21 years ago. Barbara and Hal took a trip to Greece. They were staying for a few days on an island, Santorini. It was once a big volcano, and then the volcano blew, opening a big, open bay. So, the mountain goes up on one side from the Mediterranean Sea. It raises up, and then there’s a town up on the top, and the land drops down where the volcano erupted. It’s the volcanic cauldron. Far away, on the other side of the water, you can see the peaks arising that were the far side of the island before the volcano erupted. So what you’re seeing is the open circle there. Boom! And there was the explosion, and this beautiful bay.

They stayed in a luxury cave, if I may call it that.

These were literally caves that had been whitewashed, painted and polished, with comfortable plumbing and electricity, and furniture put in them. And when you walked out of the entrance, that sliding glass door, there was just a short distance before there was a fence, and looking down, and a flight of stairs that went to the cave one level down, and another one and another one; steps winding down.

Barbara spent the dawns of the week sitting on a rock, looking out to sea; the morning sun just becoming hot on her back. Wind blowing in her face. Sitting on what was literally volcanic rock, earth. We began to talk about the elements. I’m going to ask her, when she has a computer again—and no guarantee how long it will take, but within a week or 10 days—to ask her to send you her journals with my instruction from those mornings sitting and meditating with the elements, because I think you’ll find it helpful and informative. (see the attached link)

You don’t have to be sitting on volcanic rock, facing a vast sea. Just sit in your yard—earth. Sun coming down—fire. You can have a glass of water next to you, or turn on the sprinkler. Wind—perhaps there’s wind, perhaps just air. And feel the energy around you—the energy of the growing things, the energy of the birds. First, isolate each element in the land around you and in yourself, first feeling the earth element that you’re sitting on, and then asking, where is the earth element most centered in me? How does it feel in me? Probably here in the gut—earth. Can you feel the water element in you? Put your fingers in the cup of tea; feel the water there. Then begin to feel the water flowing through your body. Sip some of the tea or glass of water. Literally feel the water element in your body. Stop and feel the breeze on your face. Breathe in and feel that breeze, drawing it into you and blowing it out. Be part of the breeze, the air flowing through you. The sun beating down on you, and the warmth of it. Where is that sun most lodged in your body? So, step 1: just get to know each individuated element.

Then, when you have some confidence about how each element feels in itself, choose any one element to start with. Talking about it here, I’ll use earth. We may have located the earth element in the solar plexus or spleen, feeling the heaviness of the abdomen. Grounded, sitting on the earth, touching the earth. Then, right there with the earth element in yourself, begin to ask, where is the water within this earth? Where is the fire? Where is the air? Where is the ether? Is the earth element in my body balanced or imbalanced? Does my body feel sluggish and heavy? What might balance the earth element in my body? Which element does it need, that the present earth element is most lacking?

Let’s use wind as an example. Feeling the earth element very heavy in yourself, breathe in, and literally breathe that breath down into the belly, opening the belly and infiltrating the heaviness of the earth element with that wind. And then breathe it out. Just a few breaths, letting it mingle together. Then, perhaps as you begin to feel the earth element, you feel it’s too much fire, it’s a very agitated feeling in my belly. Ahhh… releasing some fire. Put your hands over the belly, and just, ahhh…. Or perhaps the earth element in your throat feels very heavy—(toning a note), perhaps releasing some of the heaviness of the earth. Drawing in air. Take a sip of water or tea; bringing in water. What helps to bring balance?

I suggest you do this the first one or two or three days just getting to know each element. Even a day on each element, just getting to know it in itself. And then take a day to investigate one element in your body and whether it feels balanced or imbalanced. And of course, at different times it will be different. First, just explore: how is the fire element in my body today? Is it very hot? Is it very cool, almost burned out? What does it need to bring it into balance? If it’s almost burned out, is it dying out because there’s too much earth element there? If I bring in air to fan the fire and release some of the earth element, do I feel more energized? If I bring in more ether, feeling the energy flowing through my body, do I feel more energized? What helps to invite a balanced energy? If on a given day you feel very agitated and ungrounded, what helps to ground me? Is it that I am lacking, right now, in earth element, or that there’s too much fire or wind, too much air? What happens if I consciously invite some release of fire and of air and focus on allowing the earth element to settle? Do I feel less scattered and agitated, more centered and grounded?

It’s completely an experiment. If you play with it as a joyful investigation, I think you’ll have fun with it. As with pure awareness meditation, it’s something enjoyable to do outdoors, although you can do it anywhere.

This is the substance of it. This is not in place of your vipassana practice. And actually, you can use your vipassana practice to investigate. If you find yourself very tired, low energy, heavy, note this in your vipassana sitting. Note the intention to bring in more balance. Watch how the body is hardened. Just watching, not trying to fix. Just watching. And then, after your sitting, fulfill the intention by going outside and asking, what will bring some release of this sluggishness? What elements are out of balance? Explore. There is no wrong or right way to do this. The only thing I would suggest is, enjoy yourselves. Don’t take it too seriously. Play with it; have fun with it. Take some notes afterward. Reflect on when you invited in more of this or more of that, how did you feel afterward?

Barbara, today, was feeling very agitated, as N broke the news to her that her computer is not really fixable. Tension, tension. She could feel the fire energy coming up, and she could also feel the hardness, the fire energy hardening the earth energy into clay, heavy in her belly. There was a lot of agitation, and there was also a lot of hardness, wanting control. Wanting control can be heavy clay; contracted, wanting to fix. So, she opened the door and went and sat outside on the deck for about 10 minutes, first doing some pure awareness meditation for a few minutes and then feeling the very heavy energy, feeling the armor. Inviting in air, inviting the freshness, inviting in flowers, scent, sun; opening, releasing. And then she closed her eyes and did some vipassana for about 15 minutes, just coming home. Ahh…watching all of this arising and passing away, coming to a very still place. That awareness that can watch arising and passing away without taking it personally. Deep access concentration, just ahh…. So it took about half an hour while N explored the computer. Barbara just…and came back in smiling, a vast difference.

Simply explore. No right, no wrong. But, remember your highest intention, which is to be balanced in your lives. To hold yourself in a place of ease and joy, connection to all things. And if that’s not how you are at the moment, what might help support that intention? What’s out of balance? It may be emotional; it may be physical—just explore.

So, that is the instruction. I’m not going to do a guided meditation with you. We’ll get these instructions out to you as fast as possible. They will be on the web where people can listen to them, so before we get a transcript to you—which may take some time, given the broken computer—you can listen to my instructions here at any time.

Now, just a few minutes for questions…

Q: Can working with the elements help balance the chakras?

Aaron: Yes, of course. Everything is part of you—the mind and the way the mind relates to external objects (the calm mind, the agitated mind); the chakras; the elements; the sense of self as a solid object versus the sense of spaciousness, seeing the self as simply arisen from conditions and impermanent, the relative self. Getting to know the ultimate self, the deepest level of being. The chakras and the elements can help you come more fully into this deepest heart of who and what you are when you’re not busy being the skandhas.

Now of course, the elements are related to the form element. And yet, when the elements are balanced, you transcend the form element and begin to find this balanced radiance of the true self.

Other questions?

Q: Do the elements exist in a more subtle form in the higher dimensions?

Aaron: Yes. Valuable question, thank you. Yes, the elements have a base form, a heavier density form, and a much more subtle form. So do the chakras, for that matter—the more heavy, relative chakras that are part of the body, and the more subtle chakras that are part of the light body.


John: I don’t know if this is the best time for Aaron to address this question; it doesn’t relate to the elements, per se. But we have been working with the clear light practice and also pure awareness. Can Aaron talk about the interface, or the relationship, between pure awareness and clear light?

Aaron: It’s fine, thank you—all questions welcomed. Clear light is object. Let me phrase this more clearly—let’s start at the other end. Pure awareness is citta. It is the citta that is more capable of perceiving the Unconditioned, as opposed to mundane awareness that’s more capable of perceiving mundane objects. Clear light is a direct expression of the Unconditioned. As such, it can only be perceived by pure awareness. Clear light cannot be perceived by mundane vision. You may sit there saying, “Ahh…” and seeing radiance; that radiance is an outer expression of the clear light, but not the clear light itself. But as you come deeper into supramundane awareness, that lokuttara citta can perceive the direct expressions of the Unconditioned, such as clear light. That’s a short answer. I’d be glad to expand it, if you wish, but perhaps that’s sufficient.

Q: So are the subtle chakras and the regular chakras both active when you stand on the bridge (of sambhogakaya) and hold both the relative…

Aaron: Are they both active when you stand on the bridge—yes. Beautiful image—yes.

Q:… hold both the relative and the ultimate?

Aaron: A beautiful image. Extending out to the relative, extending out to the ultimate, holding them together. And both the subtle and the heavier chakras are active. It is from this space that you can best invite movement in this heavy density earth, invite change and openness. If you are situated solely in the mundane, that’s all you can see. If you’re situated solely in the supramundane, that’s all you can see. But sitting in the middle of the bridge, touching both; enjoying the subtle energy and the more mundane energy and how it holds everything together, like a weaver with beautiful threads of warp and weft with which it’s creating a fabric. Thank you for the question. Others?

Let me speak here for a bit. Some of you grumbling, “This is over my head. I’m out of my league.” Please give it time. We’re introducing a lot because at the intensive I want you to have some background. But at the intensive, we’re going to use some tools to help you pull it together. For example, we’re going to get some kites and invite you to go out in the big field there and fly kites. If we can find a place for you to do it, with your feet perhaps in a mud puddle, grounded, and the kite up there, and all of you soaring up there—flying the kite and being grounded in the earth. What pulls it together? I want to make this experiential for you so it’s not just intellectual, and give you easy ways to get it.

Q: How do the more subtle chakras and subtle elements compare to the ever-perfect chakras and ever-perfect elements? Are they the same thing?

Aaron: You’re asking some wonderful questions tonight. Consider the ever-perfect. It’s perfect, and yet it’s frozen, not flexible. A bit of rigidity to the ever-perfect. You can’t imagine yourself—let’s differentiate between the Ever-Perfect in the broadest sense and ever-perfect of the elements. Can there be an ever-perfect of the elements, or would it constantly be changing? Can there be an ever-perfect of the flow and openness of the chakras? Or, if you were in a situation in which there was much tension, might the chakras need to have a different flow of energy than in the situation of relaxation? What is the ever-perfect of the chakras? Really, the ever-perfect of the chakras is the flexibility of the chakras to become totally suitable to that moment’s situation, and able to shift in its balance in the next moment.

You’ve done this with me, some of you, at Emerald Isle. Envision yourself sitting on the ocean beach, feet extended in front of you, waves coming in, just touching your toes and flowing out. Chakras open; everything open. And then a wave comes in higher, and comes right up to your waist and washes down. What happens to the chakra in that moment, as the wave washes in—the flow of energy in the chakras, the balance in the chakras? What happens to the elements. You were sitting on dry sand, toes just being nibbled by the incoming tide, and then suddenly you’re soaked. What is the perfect balance?

I understand the question, but to me, the idea of an ever-perfect level of chakra energy or of element is a misunderstanding. There has to be flexibility, as long as you’re in a human body. I pause.

Q: Back to John’s question: if the pure awareness is the subjective side, and the clear light is the objective side, isn’t there a kind of duality there?

Aaron: I’m sorry, Q, but I don’t understand the question. But subjective and objective are never dual. Subjective is the internalization that is always changing. Objective is the presence that can see things as they are. When you bring them together, you have the flexibility to hold space for the constant change, and center in joyful presence of impermanence.

I think this is a topic we’ll need to address more at the intensive, looking at different areas of confusion about duality and non-duality. I will be happy to answer questions.

I see that it’s after 9 o’clock and, I know, late for many of you, so perhaps time to stop here. I know you have questions, and I will cherish your questions at the intensive. Please feel free, dare I say to email them to me? We’re going to trust that this will resolve itself quickly. A new computer, downloaded setup, email working again—we will trust.

My blessings and love to you all, and thank you for being with us tonight. Please do look at this on the website. Tana will have it up and available for you to watch and listen to as soon as possible. And then if you have questions, do email them, and be patient. We’ll get to them when we have a computer to answer.

Thank you, good night… (Aaron returns the body to Barbara)

Barbara: This is Barbara. I love you all. I can’t wait to see you all in a month, and to be together. It’s going to be a beautiful experience. Thank you, and good night.