Founder and Guiding Teacher, Barbara Brodsky
Introduction to Barbara and Aaron (7/11/2008, Berkeley, CA)
Barbara: I'd like to begin by telling you a little about myself. I've always been on a spiritual search, but had never thought about channeling, spirits, past lives and so forth. I was looking for what life is about, probably the same kinds of questions many of you have asked. I’ve been practicing meditation since the mid-’50s. In the ’50s and ’60s I came to meditation as a Quaker. I am a member of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting. So my practice was more reflection and prayer, but it soon became clear to me that I needed to get into a more quiet place. I had never formally met the dharma but the practice simply evolved into a choiceless awareness practice, at first with the breath and then really just present with whatever object presented itself and moving into very deep spaces.
Quakerism had felt like a spiritual home to me for many years, but even there I wasn't able to find the answers I sought. So I was looking for something; I didn’t know really what I was looking for. I was very happy in my life, happily married, pregnant with my first child. I had work I loved. I was a sculptor, I taught sculpture at University of Michigan and was successful at my work. Had worked at large galleries and museums and exhibits around the country. It just seemed, there’s got to be something more. What am I missing?
Then, just after my first son was born, I lost my hearing. This was traumatic. It wasn’t just my hearing that was lost; because it affected the nerves in my middle ear, it affected my balance. I spent several months literally being unable to walk, lurching like a toddler holding onto furniture. I was very dizzy for about six weeks, I couldn’t even focus my eyes for people to communicate with me with written words.
So, I was really cut off from human communication. There was so much fear and anger. Why me? Why did this happen to me? My mother came and helped take care of the baby. We got through those first six weeks until I was able, literally, to crawl down to his room and pull myself up and lift him out of his crib and sit on the floor and nurse him. That was about all I could manage, change his diapers sitting on the floor. No balance.
I felt totally cut off from the world. It was like sitting outside a glass window watching people talking to each other, and I was on the outside. My deepest meditation experiences told me that nothing is separate, and here I was experiencing this horrendous feeling of separation. So much anger came up. If I went out with a few friends, and one simply holding the menu, “Are you getting the tomato soup or vegetable soup?” “What are they saying?!” So much grasping came up, so much fear.
I worked with it in all the skillful ways one might. I learned how to lip-read. Fingerspelling as you see L doing is just the alphabet (fingerspelling) a, b, c, d, people, spell, the, first, letter, of, each, word. That gives me a clue, because so many words sound alike. I don’t know if you could see it from across the room but watch my mouth with the sounds p, b, m and t, d, n: pay, bay, may; toe, doe, no. Only one-third of the sounds in the English language are visible, so it’s guesswork at best, so the fingerspelling gives me a way to get the first letter so I can get the words kind of all in place. And sometimes I make pretty ludicrous mistakes, but part of this is the learning to laugh at myself and not take myself too seriously.
So I saw a therapist for a while and we both agreed that my grief and anger were appropriate. I was functioning well in my life. There was just this anger. And there was an increasing sense of isolation despite the fact that most of my friends learned to fingerspell and one-on-one communication was fine. I almost started to see it as an existential issue, the need to get past this whole idea of separate, which my deepest meditation told me is not real anyhow, that nothing is separate.
Some years went by. I coped with my life and the way I coped, really, was to shut off a lot of my feelings—to shut off my anger, to shut off my fear, sadness. But I was in a downhill spin. My work was still good. I had two more children. I was very happily married. Last month my husband and I just celebrated our 40th anniversary. I had wonderful friends. But there was still fear, tension and isolation. So I was suffering and I felt like the cause of my suffering was my deafness. If only the deafness wasn’t there, we could go back to how things were, everything would be perfect.
Finally, one day I prayed for help. I just said, “I cannot do this myself; I need help.” I had no idea what kind of help I was expecting; it certainly was not for a discarnate entity to appear in my living room! I had no frame of reference for this, really no information about channeling. I had read that such existed and I had not even really considered, is it real or not. It didn’t concern me; it was just something out there.
The next morning I was meditating in my living room and as soon as I sat there was a strong feeling of energy. Do you know the feeling when your back is to a door and you feel somebody walking into the room without hearing their footsteps? Coming very quietly but you can feel the energy. It was a very strong energy, and I could see him. He had a very high forehead, Biblical-looking features, long white hair and white beard, radiating white light.
It startled me! I said, “Who are you?” He said, “You asked for help!” I had. This wasn’t what I expected. I got up, and went into the kitchen for a cup of tea. I figured there are two alternatives—either I’m hallucinating or this is real. At some level I knew that I wasn’t hallucinating but I almost wished I WAS hallucinating because the alternative, that it was real, seemed more than I could deal with at the moment.
I came back in. I sat. And there just was a loving feeling about this energy, which was still there. Three days went by. I just sat, did my meditation practice in silence. There was no pressure of any sort from him; he just sat there with me. Finally I was ready to say, “Okay, you said you’re here to help me—how are you going to help?” He said, “You’re suffering. Let’s start there. Let’s look at the nature of the suffering.”
We went through a very intense two months. I had three young children. I would get up early in the morning, like at 4 a.m., and meditate for a few hours, get them up and send them off to school. I had just installed a big outdoor piece of sculpture and my studio was empty. I had no work that was pressing. I had enough money in my pocket not to need to work for a couple of months. I just spent all day until the children came home from school working with Aaron. So in the morning I did a silent meditation and then after the children went off to school, we talked. It would be alternating talking and meditation, talking and meditation; he led me on, step by step.
The biggest insight was that he pointed out that the hearing loss was just hearing loss, which of course is a big thing, but all the stories of, I’m abandoned, I’m cut off, poor me, what will happen to me, these were stories that the mind was making up. I know a couple of you have been dealing with cancer. The cancer is cancer. It’s real. It’s something you need to deal with, it’s part of your everyday reality. And yet all the stories—Will I survive? What will I have to go through? What will people think? What will I need to do?—there are so many stories that go through the mind. And we get so tense about, “Can I do this? Will I be safe? What will happen to me?” And this is not the direct experience of the illness. So the direct experience was simply not hearing.
So he talked to me about hearing. Ear touching an object, contact, consciousness, hearing consciousness. Sometimes pleasant, sometimes unpleasant. But if there’s no ear organ, there’s no hearing consciousness. He explained that this is all that was happening, and the rest were all the stories I was building upon this. So, the sense organ touches the object, contact, and with contact, consciousness arises. Feeling, pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Perception of what the object is. These all come together. And then if there’s an unpleasant experience, we shift into aversion. If it’s a pleasant experience, we shift into grasping.
He explained step by step how this was happening for me. That in the moment of not hearing I was then making the projection, “I should hear”—grasping, expectations of hearing, and that this is where the suffering was. What would it be like if not hearing was simply not hearing?
As we worked with this, this became very clear, how much I was escaping the experience of not hearing by going off into the stories of, “I’m cut off, I’m alone, why me, it’s not fair,” and so forth. The more I was able to stay with not hearing just as not hearing, I won’t say the easier it became but the less struggle was there. In an inverse way, also the more sadness but it was a wholesome shift. I realized somewhere in that period that I had never allowed myself really to grieve for the deafness. I felt, “I have to cope.” And if I cope, I just have to suppress the feelings, suppress the fears. So learning to open my heart and just be present with things as they were. The sadness was just sadness. Not hearing was not hearing. And there was no more grasping.
Three months turned everything around. At the end of two months I got a flyer in the mail for a weekend workshop in North Carolina. Some of you have probably read this man’s work, Stephen Levine. He writes some very beautiful books about healing and presence. First I said, “No way!” Aaron would never push me into anything. He said, “It’s your choice. Think about it.”
The idea of sitting in a room with 100 people and listening for three days to something I can’t hear, of being faced that directly with my deafness, was overwhelming. But I realized I was ready and needed to do it. I wrote to Stephen and I said, “I want to come to your workshop. I’m deaf. I’m not coming to hear it; I’m coming to NOT hear it.” And he understood exactly what I meant. He said, “Come on down.” They sat me in the front row and now and then he would just smile at me. His wife Ondrea was meditating and she said, “If it gets too intense, just focus on me and meditate with me.” And I sat there and didn’t hear.
The first day there was grasping, no surprise. “I’ve got to hear this; I’ve got to hear this.” And Aaron kept saying, “He’s not saying anything you haven’t read in his books or reflected on in your own meditation. There’s nothing new. Relax.” The second day there was much more mindfulness with the grasping. By the third day, the miracle was not that I was hearing but that there was just somebody up on the platform speaking and somebody in the audience not hearing. And there were no stories. I realized there’s still sadness not to hear, but all of the emotional flak that’s come along with this is gone. There was no craving. Things were just as they were.
Clearly the work wasn’t finished. I came home and said to Aaron, “What next?” Up until then, he had not been teaching much about Vipassana. He had told me that in his final lifetime in the 1500s he was a meditation master in Thailand, and that he taught from that perspective. But he said, don’t get caught up in Buddhism or any kind of -ism, just do the practice.
So in the beginning he wouldn’t tell me, “This is Buddhism.” I said, “What is Vipassana?” He said, “You don’t need to know, just be with your breath. Be with the objects that arise. Watch them arising and passing away.” He didn’t want to label anything. But finally at this point he said, “Okay, it’s time to start looking deeper into Buddhism.” He asked me to read the sutra on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and it made sense.
Soon after this, friends seeing the differences in me began to ask me if they could talk to Aaron. I guess so—how? Aaron said to me, “Just listen to my thoughts and just say what you hear me say.” So at first he was not incorporating in my body but did what we call conscious channeling. First he gave just yes and no answers and then eventually fuller answers. And somebody said to me, “You’re channeling.” What’s channeling?
I had some confusion at this point—was it real? Was I making it up? But he had so much insight into things that I knew nothing about, knew things about people that I had no way to know, and was helpful to people. So this was a big shift in my life. I was a sculptor and I was teaching sculpture at the University of Michigan. And after 20 years as a sculptor, I was successful. I had worked in big galleries and exhibitions around the country. I was doing work I loved. I had no intention of doing something else, but clearly the universe had other plans for me. Aaron never said, “You should do this,” he simply said, “If you want to do this, I’ll speak through you. It’s up to you.”
My friends were also asking me if I would teach them more about the meditation I was doing. People saw the changes in me. So I started teaching, at that point just in a small way. I also started to teach the meditation practice I had been doing for years, in my living room in small groups. It seemed to go along with what he was teaching. I’ve been teaching now as guiding teacher of Deep Spring Center for about 20 years.
Basically, after that summer, I never went back into my sculpture studio. This may seem odd after so many years of developing myself as a sculptor, but it was clear to me, this is what I need to be doing with my life.
So this is what I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. It’s been wonderful. I literally travel around the world, sometimes meeting in living rooms like this with groups like you, 10 to 20 people, or in large auditoriums with 100 or 200 people. We’ve done this in Tokyo, in Mexico, so not just in the U.S. but many places. And it gives me so much joy because wherever I go people are asking the same questions, looking at the same issues. It really comes down to who am I? Why am I here? How do I live my life with love? And this is the heart of what Aaron teaches.
He tells us in the 1500s he was a Buddhist meditation master in Thailand. That was his final incarnation, and that he found liberation, the end of karma that would bring him back into a new cycle of being. But he also says he’s been in many cultures, many races, male and female, different skin colors, different religions. That there’s no one path; it’s just a waking up. Whatever path we commit ourselves to will take us. The issue is to commit ourselves to wake up. By waking up I mean to really know who we are and why we came, which is within all of our capacities to understand.
I always felt that I would hear again despite the fact that it would seem impossible. The nerves from the ear to the brain are gone. Many opportunities were put in front of me. This healer, that healer, people who wanted to pay for my trip to this or that place. Nothing felt right to me.
Then in ’02 I got an odd email from somebody I didn’t know whose mailing list I had crept onto somehow, just synchronicity. It was about her trip to John of God. I had never heard of John of God. I read her email. Her story was interesting. I opened the Friends of the Casa site, and saw this picture of Joao and there was such a strong resonance, and I knew immediately this is where I need to go. Then the next step was how to get there because I couldn’t even find Abadiânia on a map! Where is this place? My husband was very reluctant. You’re going to someplace in central Brazil that’s not on a map?! Finally one of my sons offered to go with me and two students decided to accompany me, so we went down there. It was a very powerful trip.
One of the things I asked the entities aside from the healing of the deafness was to help me become a clearer medium and not be so exhausted at the end of channeling sessions. They said to me, “You’re working with two different frequencies on the body, your lower frequency and Aaron’s very high frequency, trying to be in the body simultaneously. You’ve got to work first to bring up the vibrational frequency of the body. Then you’ve got to get out of the body.” And they gave me various exercises involving toning, chanting, working with colors, different exercises. But also, “You’ve got to get out of the body before Aaron comes in,” and they taught me how to do that. So the shift came at that point to Aaron incorporating in the body, which does work much better. I’m very grateful to them.
I’ve had some amazing experiences there. In 2004 I was in a bad surfing accident. I wasn’t standing up on a surfboard, I didn’t have the balance for that, but I was lying down on a short surfboard, riding waves, and a big wave caught me wrong and dumped me down to the bottom of the ocean. I was knocked unconscious, near-death experience. Many broken bones, broken ribs, back injuries. Almost as I hit I felt the entities holding my neck. Somehow my neck wasn’t broken but bones in my face were broken. I lost the vision in one eye. And the bleeding caused very bad vision in the other eye, so suddenly I was not only deaf but blind and deaf. This eye was 20/400 vision which is legally blind. The other eye was 20/100, very limited vision. Needless to say, it was very scary.
I had learned something finally the first time around and I didn’t get into all those stories, there was just the experience of not seeing and that was enough; hard, scary. So I came down to the Casa with this lack of vision. I left a month later. The blind eye went from that 20/400 to 20/100, which is workable vision, and the other eye went from 20/100 to 20/20. I still have 20/20 vision in this eye. So not only did this help enormously for my life, that I was no longer blind and deaf (though I still have low vision in this eye and I can’t see the details of faces) but I can see the colors and know many people. It’s usable vision. But the more important thing is it gave me faith because they said, “You will hear.” Yeah, I will hear, but okay, if they can help me with this, then I can trust them. If they say I will hear then I will hear. And I have no doubts about that now.
During my visit in ’07, I heard thunder for the first time in 35 years. I was sitting in the Current Room and suddenly there was a noise and I realized it was thunder. I went out dancing in the rain. Since then I’ve been hearing quite a lot. I don’t hear voices yet but I’m hearing things like car doors closing; even when I’m driving, hearing if a truck passes me, the noise from that. Hearing even softer sounds.
There was one day this year at the Casa when I was talking with somebody, two of us having a dialogue and one of the group was sitting behind me and she started laughing and I turned around! And she gave me a big smile and she said, “You heard me!” I could not say consciously that I heard her, but I know at some level I heard her because I turned around instantly when she started laughing.
One of the entities gave me very specific instructions for a set of tuning forks a few years ago, exactly what frequency. And I just sound them each day (chanting) “Om …” and then the other ear. There are tuning forks that match the frequency of each chakra but also they’re teaching my body to hear. They said to me your hearing will be different but full hearing. So they’re training the body to hear.
So for about three years I’ve been doing this as a daily practice, spending half an hour or so just tuning with the tuning forks. And I’m told by people with good hearing tone that I’m in tune, that I’m really able to hear these and sing them in tune, which is quite amazing. So I can feel how the whole body is learning to hear.
This year in the Current Room on my last day there was loud music playing. I was sitting meditating and I suddenly started to feel a rhythm—bum, bum-pa-bum, bum-pa-bum-bum-bum—and tuned to it. And I felt, I’m imagining it. But the more I sat there the more I knew I wasn’t imagining it. And when the session ended I turned to the person next to me and asked, what was the music? Was it similar to this at the end? And sang what I felt I had heard—“Yes.”
So it’s coming, it’s coming. And I know now I will hear. It will take as long as it takes. So I’ve really let go of grasping at it, just relaxing and letting it be as it is. And it helped my balance. This year when I came with my walking sticks that I often used to balance, the entity said, “Get rid of those!” And I said, “I’ll fall over!” He said, “No you won’t, you only think you will!” So I walked for a week without the walking sticks. And I came back the next week and he said, “Now ride a bicycle.” I rode a bike all over town for two weeks, something I have not done for over 30 years! So it’s all coming back.
We are happy to consider a private meeting with you.
We do not do “readings” in the conventional sense. Aaron does not predict the future or tell you what to do. The choices are yours. Most people who meet with us are ongoing meditation students or have met us at retreats and workshops. We meet in person, by phone, zoom or skype. Aaron does what we call “spiritual counseling,” helping people to better understand their life issues and how understand them as catalyst for growth. He will never tell people what they should do, just help them to understand the spiritual basis for the issues or confusion.
With this in mind, most often we work with ongoing students with whom we may meet once or twice a month or even two or three times a year. Many of such people are either in classes, or people who attend meditation retreats and workshops with me around the US. However, when time permits, we will very occasionally meet with someone as a one time meeting, especially someone with sincere questions and willingness and inner resources to work on themselves.
If you wish such a meeting, please email me back with some background about your spiritual and meditation practice, your present situation and how you feel we may be of help. Meanwhile, please see our web site at deepspring.org for more information and to access the extensive archives from Aaron. You can type in a term like “depression” or “grief” and choose from many talks Aaron has given on the topic, and also among his books.
If our work interests you overall, many people who want more time with me and Aaron and to deepen in meditation come to our annual retreat in mid-October; information is on the DSC website, deepspring.org/programs/ as are other retreats across the U.S., especially in Seattle and in NC (all on Zoom this fall). People often enroll in ongoing classes, which are available long distance via Zoom. There is also the opportunity to join in the open nights with Aaron and workshops too, via audio or video conference call, all listed on the web site. Questions can be asked at these evenings.
Please let me know if I can be of further help.
Spiritual counseling with Aaron: Such meetings are around 1 hour (Aaron doesn’t work by the clock). These meetings are offered without set fee, but with a sliding scale suggested, $100 for low income, $200- middle income, $300 high income. This is just a suggestion, made because so many people asked for such a guideline. An audio file of our meeting can be emailed to you. Such meetings may be one-time or ongoing. Many people choose to meet with us regularly while working with ongoing life issues and in relationships. Couples counseling is also offered. Meetings are available in person or by telephone or skype.
Before our meeting, please send an e-mail with relevant life information and the basic questions you have. We’ll use this material just as a starting point.
Meditation interviews are with Barbara unless Aaron has a specific suggestion about your practice. This meeting is focused on your meditation practice. Of course life issues touch our practice, but in a meditation interview we don’t go into past lives or consider life issues in depth but work on how to work with such issues in meditation. The meeting will be about 1/2 hour and is offered completely on a dana (free-will donation) basis.