Zen Professor

A Path to a More Fulfilling Life

Category: Transcending the Ego (page 1 of 4)

Forgiveness Is Key to Letting Go of Pain

The other day the phrase to error is human, to forgive is divine came to mind. Indeed, everyone makes mistakes. But only those who are ready and able to let go of the pain are able to forgive. Forgiveness is a Divine act. And we must get the ego out of the way in order to truly do it. But we can use the ego itself to be free of it. This is where the phrase fake it till you make it comes in.

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Inner Conflict Is Present at Birth: A Quiet Mind Helps Resolve It

Did you know we are born with inner conflict? It begins in infancy and occurs between the primitive infant and his or her inherited psychological pathways. In the East the general ideology describes this energetic tension as karma.

Many people believe we are born as a blank slate. This is especially true in the West. Although it is true that our psyche is heavily conditioned during infancy and youth, it is not true that our energetic body is bare and unresponsive. All one needs do to see this is observe the vastly different temperaments of infants, before they have a chance to be conditioned by their care takers. In other words, our souls enter this life experience with a pre-established energy pattern. Gary Zukav wrote:

“When you understand…that the experiences of your life are necessary to the balancing of the energy of  your soul, you are free to not react to them personally, to not create more negative karma for your soul.”

The word “soul” is often misunderstood because it is such an esoteric term. It is our inner being, our core self, and we cannot perceive it with the five-sensory personality that experiences the physical plane of existence. But we can “feel” the pulls of our soul. This is where intuition comes in.

The Power of Intuition

I’m sure everyone has experienced intuitive moments at some point in their life. But that is no guarantee they have chosen to follow it. It’s the part of us that somehow “knows” what to do and what not to do. It is our soul attempting to guide our personality to make choices that lead to learning while incarnate here on Earth. This is how the soul evolves.

Our “soul” is the conscious intelligence that attracts energy in the form of atoms and molecules which give shape to our physical body. When we fail to recognize the energy of our inner being the conscious intelligence (or “Light”) is unable to shine through. Then we operate on the earth plane from the limited ego. In turn, we fail to hear the soul speaking to us through intuition. The personality comes from the place of fear because it knows it will die when the body ceases to exist. The inner being comes from a place of love because it knows it will never die. Which place do you choose to come from?

Learn to Quiet the Mind

This is where meditation comes into play. When we take time to quiet the mind and body we can learn to hear the messages of the soul through the intuitive processes. This doesn’t necessarily mean we must sit quietly with our legs crossed and eyes closed, trying to concentrate on the breath. Although this is how meditation is often depicted it is not the only way to quiet the mind. We can also go for a walk in the woods and listen to the sounds of nature. Or we can sit by a lake and become mesmerized by the stillness of the water. Or we can merely take a mindful walk around our neighborhood.

The point is there are as many ways to quiet the mind and body as there are people on earth. This is where our differing personalities come in. The personality of each individual pulls him or her to follow the promptings of the soul. But one can only be guided by intuition by learning how to follow feelings as well as thoughts. However, if one fails to recognize the promptings of the soul out of a belief that the individual personality is all there is, then he or she reacts to life experience from a place of fear. In this case, negative karma is created that the soul must then eventually become free of. 

As we develop our mind and body this inner conflict is either dealt with or buried deep in our subconscious. If it is repressed it will cause us to act in ways that can mystify us. Have you ever heard your mind say something like, what was I thinking!? Or, why did I do that? 

Opportunities to Face Inner Conflict 

Throughout our lives we encounter experiences that offer us the opportunity to face these inner conflicts. For example, we might have an interaction with someone close to us that causes an emotional outburst. If we blame the other person for our inner conflict we will simply reinforce the limited belief system that was instilled during child rearing. However, if we can sit with the emotional reaction without acting on it, and without blaming the other, then we can process the energy that was present at birth and conditioned as we grew up. In turn, we can free ourselves from both the inherited karma and that which was acquired early in life. 

The key to all of this, as with so many other things in life, is presence. It is crucial to learn to be still and present in the moment, especially during tumultuous times. When we practice presence in simple situations, such as waiting in line at the market, or driving or riding in a vehicle, then we will be better prepared to act from that place in times that it is most needed, such as during an intense interaction with another individual. 

To practice presence in simple situations just notice when the mind begins thinking about past or future. For example, when waiting in line you might start thinking about everything that needs to be done after you leave. In that moment, say to yourself “thinking.” Then wait and notice what the mind does next. You will be pointing out to yourself that you are aware your mind is somewhere other than the here and now.

The Power of Presence 

When this practice becomes consistent you will train your mind to give more attention to the silence between the thoughts. As you continue this simple practice you will change the baseline attention from being lost in thought to being present in the now. Being wrapped up with past and future thinking is where suffering occurs. Being in the now is where peace is found. 

One thing I would like to add is that I am not saying that thinking is bad or unhealthy. I am saying that there is a time and place for everything, including thinking. We can set aside a time to plan for the future without taking away from what we are doing in the moment. We can do the same with reflecting on past experience. This is where journaling can help. 

Self Reflection is Crucial 

I recommend setting up a time to write about anything that bothered you during the day. Notice whether you are pushing the blame or owning your inner disturbance. Write about what needs to be done to create the kind of future you would like to experience. Here it is crucial to keep all attention on what is wanted and how it can be achieved, without giving attention to the potential roadblocks. In turn, all your vital life energy will be directed toward what you aspire to, rather than what is not desired. 

In short, give more attention to the feelings in your body than to the thoughts in your head. Find ways, through your own personal exploration, that helps calm your inner being, such as meditation, going on walks, spending time in nature, playing a musical instrument, etc. The more your mind and body is calm the more you will hear the promptings of your soul. We have a choice. We can either take control of our own mind, or allow it to be conditioned by others. I prefer to have control of the wheel that steers my life. How about you?

For more of Jeffry’s writings please the the Zen Professor Book Store.

Self Development Isn’t Always Easy

The process of self development can be a slow, tedious experience. Other times it can happen in leaps and bounds. The most powerful meditation I have ever experienced occurred a little less than a year ago. First, I had a short but nice meditation. Then, I went on an hour long walk. I connected with Father Sun twice while I contemplated my personal sun ray. When I got home I decided to meditate again. I was laying on my back with my hands crossed over my chest, but soon I felt the desire to put my arms out by my side and totally surrender. I thought of Jesus and felt energy in my ajna chakra, or third eye. Then I thought of Paramahansa Yogananda and felt energy in the middle chakras. Finally, I thought of the Buddha and felt energy in the muladhara, or root chakra.

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Give Up the Need to Be in Control to Find Peace

When we let go of the need to be in control we find peace. We can simply surrender and let the Universe be in control. It is anyway, whether we resist it or not. Consider that we are living on a giant rock which is, in it’s core, molten lava, spinning through space at thousands of miles per hour and reliant on the energy from the sun millions of miles away. Still, we believe we are in control. The only thing we control is how we react to life. This doesn’t mean we can’t ask for what we want; it simply means we must be okay with the answer no. It also helps to give up the desire for things to be different than they are.

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Shadow of Self and Why It Matters

There are two selves we often read about in literature describing the nature of self. First there is the psychological or egoic self, signified by a small s, as in “self.” The other is the Authentic Self or Higher Self, represented by a big S, as in “Self.” It is the light of awareness that arises from the Authentic Self. And it is the darkness of the shadow that is cast by the ego.

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Thought Moves Energy, Attracts Friends, and Influences Aging

Thought is more powerful than most people realize. The mind has the ability to stir energy, cause us to attract or repel others, and inspire us to move toward or away from drama. We can even use thought to slow the aging process.

One of the most fundamental scientific laws is energy is neither created nor destroyed, it merely changes form. Energy moves, that is part of universal law. Our thoughts and beliefs affect the movement of energy. If we think negative thoughts, energy in the body is stirred and we begin to experience negative emotions. If we are near others they will feel this energy whether they become consciously aware of it or not. That is why we can walk into a room immediately after an argument and feel the negative energy in that room. If we remain unaware of this effect, the downward spiraling energy can pull the energy in our body down with it.

Why People Are Drawn to Drama

We feel a desire to leave the room when people are arguing because it protects us from getting wrapped up in the negative energy patterns. When our energy does not match it, we feel tension. That tension produces the desire to leave. In contrast, if our energy does match the downward spiraling energy of those who are arguing, we most likely would feel no tension and therefore, have no desire to leave. We may actually derive pleasure from watching others argue in this way because it matches our own energy level. This is why people are drawn to drama and gossip. In order to change the pattern, we must change our environment by choosing to be around people who have upward flowing energy.

It all starts with the self. The way to get the energy to flow upward in the self is to continue to direct the attention to life giving thoughts. Thoughts of love, connection, growth, and development, are all life giving thoughts, creating upward spiraling energy in the body. Thoughts of hate, separation, decay, and destruction are all life taking thoughts, creating downward spiraling energy. It doesn’t take much to determine which feels better.

How We Choose Our Friends

Once we create the habit of thinking only life giving thoughts, and the energy consistently moves upward in the body, we begin desiring to be around only those who think similarly, because they match our energy and it feels better to be around them. This is how we choose our friends. We are drawn to people who think like us because our energy blends harmoniously with theirs, irrespective of whether that energy flows upward or downward. This is where the idea of collective consciousness comes in. If we allow our energy to flow in the same direction as a particular group of individuals, we take on the energy of that group, and along with it, the beliefs and actions that sustain it.

However, if we do not resonate with the energy of the group, we feel a tension that leads to the desire to separate from them. If the group does not allow its members to leave freely, then conflict is the result, and the individual suffers. The group however thrives, because it is maintained by downward flowing energy. It must be, for only downward flowing energy would lead a group of individuals to feel the desire to suppress the wishes of others. If large groups of people wish to leave, the conflict can quickly escalate into war.

How We Age Prematurely

When a person is under a great deal of stress for a long period of time, their body looks like it has aged at a much faster rate than those who remain at peace. And more than look like it, physically, it has aged more. People who are under stress for a long duration of time suffer from many physical ailments, such as less resistance to disease, ulcers, headaches, heart disease, and higher rates of cancer. The list is endless. Downward spiraling thoughts lead to physical degeneration.

On the other hand, those who do not suffer from stress are much healthier physically. Not only do they have a higher resistance to disease, their bodies actually look healthier. Their skin has better color and is more smooth and supple. They have better muscle tone and walk more upright. Everything about them appears to be healthier. Their chronological age might be the same as those who are more sickly, but their biological age is no where near the same.

Movement of Energy Affects Aging

This is where belief comes in. We, as part of the collective human consciousness, believe so profoundly that the human body can only survive about a hundred years that it comes to pass. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. According to the ancient literature, people used to live seven hundred years and more. It may be that the collective consciousness of humanity was much different in those times. Indeed, it was much different in many philosophical and religious beliefs so it must have been with regards to ideas of aging as well. Perhaps they really did live that long because they knew they could. Further, perhaps they only lived that long because there was no desire to live longer.

Importantly, it’s about both thought and belief. If thoughts go in the direction that we have lived a full life and there is nothing more to experience, then our energy will move in that direction, and the desire to continue going on experiencing life will wane. Soon, the body will respond in kind and cease to support the energy that had sustained it up to that point.

It Can Be Observed in Life

This effect can be observed in those who retire from a long career and have no idea what to do with the rest of their lives. They have no desire to continue experiencing life because they believe there is nothing else for them to do. Before long, the body picks up on these cues and begins to break down and soon the person dies. The same phenomenon has been witnessed in those who lose a loved one. They have no desire to live without the individual and the body quickly expires.

I witnessed this happen with my grandparents. My grandfather died of cancer and my grandmother died not long after. She seemed so healthy before he died. But her husband was her life and when he was gone, so was her desire to go on experiencing it. 

I don’t know if this means we could go on living forever if we only desired it to be so, and we always directed our attention to life giving thoughts. But it does mean we can live happier, healthier, longer lives by doing so. And that’s certainly enough for me!

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Notice Perceptions to Eliminate Judgment

I remember reading something about how people become kindred spirits when they feel empowered by you. Once, a friend described feeling that way from talking to me. She suggested it was because she felt as though I did not judge her. And I never did judge her. I decided I would tap into the reason and make it part of my daily experience. Not that I viewed myself as a judgmental person. I did not. However, it is easy to find ourselves questioning choices people make in very subtle ways, such as what they are wearing, or the things that they say or do. However, I don’t recall there being even a trace of judgement with my friend.

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The Flowering of Human Consciousness

The level of our consciousness is determined by how much we are influenced by the psychological conditioning of our ego. The more we recognize this mental conditioning and act independent of it, the higher our level of conscious awareness. In turn, we will be able to act from our authentic self, rather than from the place of the fearful ego.

Years ago I woke up from a dream that could be considered quite disturbing. However, I was surprised to find that I was not gripped with fear, as would typically be the case in a dream such as that. In the dream, I went to a party where many friends and family had gathered. My former wife, her parents, and my daughter were all there. My brothers and sisters and close friends were there as well. There were also several strangers present who seemed to be friends of my former wife. Near the end of the dream another friend and his wife showed up. I greeted them both with a warm hug and everything seemed to be going well.

Out of nowhere my former father-law suggested I go. He said, “You are making people really uncomfortable and you should leave.” I was shocked! I had no idea why he would say that. As I questioned him, the exchange became heated. Soon, many others were chiming in and they all seemed to be supporting my former father in-law. Then my former mother in law came over and joined in. She was adamant about how strange I was acting but she was being vague with her observations and I couldn’t figure out what she was trying to say.

Consoled By Friends

Next, an unfamiliar woman approached and was much more specific. She said I was using strange words and discussing weird concepts. Everyone seemed to be turning on me. All except for a couple close friends and my older brother, whom were all attempting to console me. For some reason, my former wife seemed to be the least judgmental and condemning of anyone.

After talking to the small group that was supporting me, I began making my way through the house, attempting to decide if it would indeed be best for me to leave. Everywhere I turned complete strangers told me how weird I was acting. One man that was more belligerent than most screamed at me and told me I was a freak. The man pushed me up against the wall and I punched him in the face as hard as I could, sending blood splattering on the adjacent wall. Then another man grabbed me from behind. I flipped the man over my shoulder and threw him hard on the ground, creating a thud from the floor and a loud crack from the man’s back. Soon others began attacking me from all angles and I became engulfed in a sea of people who were hitting, punching, and kicking me.

A Dream in a Dream

I used all my might and broke free from the group and started heading for the door. As I was about to leave, another stranger accosted me. We became engaged and were about to fight as well when the stranger put me in a dream like state. So now, I was in a dream in a dream!

In the dream I was shown hellish sights. I saw visions of people on racks being tortured by demons. I saw victims of accidents with mangled bodies and limbs torn from their torsos. I saw bodies stacked on top of one another as if they were nothing more than a pile of manikins in the back room of a department store. A hazy cloud loomed blood red as if there were a curtain placed in front of my face, veiling me from a clear picture of the gruesome scene.

Hellish Dream Produces No Fear

Suddenly I awoke from both dreams. Although the nature of the dreams would have typically evoked fear, this one did not and I tried to go back to sleep and pick up the dream where it left off. This demonstrated to me that I was not fearful, as I would never have been interested in returning to a dream such as this in the past. However, this dream was different and I knew it. I felt there was a message to be received and I didn’t want to miss it.

I was not able to go back to sleep that morning so I went down stairs and began to contemplate the meaning of the dream. I believed the reason I wasn’t fearful was due to the fact I was looking at it from the perspective of a witness, rather than as an actual participant. I did feel a part of it, as if it was happening to me, but I also felt a part of myself watching it happen, like it was happening to someone else.

Dream Characters: Different Parts of Personality

It seemed to me that this perspective was inspired by my desire to eliminate the ego from my life. It was as if my past ego was fighting for survival. To me, all of the people confronting me were representative of different parts of my personality and they did not like this “new person” I had become. They wanted to get rid of the new me because I was making them uncomfortable. Therefore, the fighting was between the new personality I was creating for myself and all of my old personalities that I was attempting to let go of. Out of the sheer desire of survival, these parts of my personality were fighting back.

One aspect of the dream that really stood out was that even though most of the people in the dream were saying the same thing, I refused to believe any of it. Another aspect that stood out was that I verbally sparred with many, but only physically fought with strangers. Although it was close to becoming physical with family members, it never came to blows. Perhaps these parts of my personality were closer to my true nature, or the authentic self that I so often talk about. It could be that the “strangers” were the parts of my personality that I most wanted to rid myself of, such as Jeff the worrier and Jeff the control freak.

The Symbolism of a Flower and Consciousness

Then I noticed something quite startling. I looked toward the window in the dining room and my eyes came upon a bouquet of flowers sitting on the window seal. The flowers had died over a week ago and I simply hadn’t gotten around to throwing them out. However, now there was one large white flower standing out amongst the dried carcasses of the rest of the tribe. To me, this lone flower was a symbolic representation of the “new” self that was emerging from the carnage of the “old” self that was gradually being shed. It was as if the Universe was confirming my take on the dream that it was a figurative representation of the ego trying desperately to survive.

When I gazed at the flower I immediately thought, That’s the new life that’s beginning to blossom, the flowering of human consciousness, the life of my authentic self. I got up to investigate the flower closer, as if the mind couldn’t believe it had really happened. Sure enough, right in the center of the old decaying flowers was a single fresh bloom sprouting out, stretching just beyond the reach of the dead.

Symbolism Is No Mere Coincidence

I was certain that, like so many other of the symbolic messages I had been receiving, this too would be considered to be a coincidence by most people. However, I knew that it was more. Too many messages such as this had been sent my way and there was no way that I could believe they all happened by chance. I could even hear my own ego telling me it was a coincidence, but I chose not to listen to it, as I had already discounted the voice of the psychological self, knowing its propensity to error.

I now heard the voice of the psychological self more clearly and accepted it for what it was. It was as if the mind, the logical part of it at least, was attempting to reason with the self. However, the authentic self was one step ahead of the ego. I went over to check the calendar, knowing that I had purchased the flowers on Valentine’s Day as a gift for my daughter. When I checked the calendar I saw that Valentine’s Day was over three weeks ago! Although it was not impossible for one flower to survive that long while all others died, it still added credence to the idea that it was a message from the Universe confirming my analysis of the dream.

There was another, more profound aspect that stood out about the message from the Universe. The flower was not only a fresh bloom, but was also pure white. This added to the symbolism of the message as white represents something that is wholesome and new. It seemed to exemplify the freeing of the authentic self as the psychological self died around it. And much like the blooming of a flower, consciousness has been rising ever since.

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When the Student is Ready, the Teacher Will Appear

There are many times our teacher appears in the most unexpected ways. It is up to us, as the student, to be ready to learn when that occurs. When we are open to gain new insight, there are no limits to our potential for personal growth, as we will be in a place to transcend the limiting nature of the ego.

Years ago, when I was in the middle of teaching a class, I looked over and noticed a student (I will call “Laura”) wasn’t doing anything, so I asked her to get started on her work. She immediately threw her hands in the air, threw her head back, and took on a contorted facial expression that seemed to scream, “Not again!”

I took offense to it and said, “Never mind. You can get your stuff together and go to the office instead.”

Laura replied, “It’s okay, I’m getting to work.”

She actually conceded and yet my response was, “I’m not changing what I said.”

I worked hard at maintaining my composure as Laura stormed out of the room saying, “Sorry for offending you by raising my hands in the air,” in a very sarcastic tone.

Our Thoughts Create Our Experience

Upon reflection, I could see how I may have created the entire confrontation. As I was preparing to talk to Laura the thought occurred to me, Here we go again, still not working! In spite of the thought I was certain I did not project the frustration in my voice. However, Laura seemed to pick up on my feelings as her physical reaction expressed exactly what I was thinking, and the look on her face seemed to say, “What again?”

Next, after she conceded, I could have accepted it and ended the entire episode diplomatically. However, I was thinking, I must set an example for the entire class. I cannot have students acting so blatantly disrespectful in my classroom. Then, the student seemed to act on that thought as well. By storming out of the room and making the sarcastic “apology,” she seemed to be saying, “Well, if I have to go down I am bringing the teacher with me!” And in a sense, she did just that. By muttering her words on the way out she may have instilled a little doubt in the minds of the other students. They might then have thoughts such as, Did the teacher go too far? Or, he sure is being overly sensitive!

I had a strong impulse to explain the entire process to the students and turn it into a class discussion about how we might influence others. That way I could explain myself in case there were some doubters. However, I chose to say nothing. After contemplating the decision later, I realized I might have used the situation, and the doubt, to my advantage. Indeed, if the students were thinking I was being overly sensitive they may also have been thinking, Man I don’t want to mess up in this class! He will just kick me out.

It is Human Nature to Test Limits

This line of reasoning is why teachers often use specific consequences, such as removing disruptive students. It tends to set an example for others. Those teachers who have a higher tolerance for disruptive behavior are sure to cause themselves more grief in the future. It seems to be human nature to test limits. We do this from the time we are very young as a means of learning and gaining understanding of our environment, as any parent has observed. Students commonly test the boundaries of teachers, and those who fail to set clear expectations and do not follow through with consequences will quickly lose control of the class. As a result, very little learning can take place.

The next period I decided to go out of my way and insure this class would go better. I went to the door and shook hands with all the students as they entered the room, as a means of making a connection. And indeed, the 7th period class was much more focused and well behaved than the previous day. Not that they were out of control the day before, but they certainly were not as productive as I would have liked. On this day however, they were all quiet and focused on the lesson throughout the entire period.

At the end of the day I contemplated both classes and how the events of the one may have influenced the experience of the other. Had my decision to shake the hands of the students upon entering made that big of difference? Suddenly, it occurred to me the difference in classes may have come from shaking hands and making a connection with each of them, or it might have been because word got out after I kicked the student out of the previous class. In my experience as a teacher, that certainly has happened. Teachers develop a reputation for how much they will tolerate and students act accordingly. Two students are in both 6th and 7th period. It is possible, even likely, they talked to other students between periods and the entire class was being especially careful that day.

We Have Influence on Our Environment

I wasn’t sure whether the change in behavior had to do with making connections or from fear of being the next “victim,” but I suspected it was likely a combination of the two. Irrespective of the motive of the students, the entire experience was a powerful reminder of how much influence we have on our environment. The behavior from this particular student was out of character. Oftentimes she failed to work without reminders, but she never had reacted so vehemently to my promptings. I thought to myself, It was as if she was reading my mind!

Before leaving school that day I opened an email from a current student and immediately forgot all about what had occurred in class that day. The email reminded me of a previous experience and elicited a powerful emotional response. I felt extremely agitated as memories arose of another student (I will call Andy) who was also on an individual educational plan, or I.E.P. The memory was vivid. I had been working with Andy for several months. At the end of the semester Andy’s father emailed the principal, claiming that I was not following the I.E.P established by the school. This action alone annoyed me, as I wondered why the parent had not contacted me first about the issue.

Although it stated on the plan that the student was responsible to take the initiative in speaking to the teacher, he had failed to do so. However, the parent felt the student’s needs were not being met. The principal sided with the parent and told me he was going to make a note of it on my yearly evaluation. I felt unsupported by the principal and backstabbed by the parent. It had been a difficult memory to let go of. Based on the feelings I was having in association with the memory of the event, I had yet to let it go completely.

Experiences Will Be Provided to Shed Ego

Then other memories came to mind, causing the emotional reaction to grow; too many parents making too many excuses for their children’s behavior. None of these memories had anything to do with the student who sent the email and I knew it. Obviously, however, the body didn’t know it because it reacted to the mind combining the experiences and created a powerful physical reaction as a result. In this situation, the mind took previous information, attached it to the agitated feeling, and connected it with the new student, and voila, a new judgment was formed. I realized immediately I was now judging this student based on the previous experiences.

If we react to an emotion before giving ourselves a chance to process it, we tend to misinterpret it and believe it is coming from the present moment. However, if we can notice the feeling before the mind gets involved, stay with it while it courses through our body, and keep the mind from becoming engaged, then we can trace the feeling back to the memory that created it. I was experiencing exactly that, and there I was, using the information to avoid displacing previously experienced emotions to the student who was currently emailing me.

By taking on this practice, we can eliminate judgment all together. It is not as difficult as one might think. There is a definite moment during the emotional episode in which a memory appears. All we must do is observe the feeling long enough to “see” this memory. Once discovered, the energy that arises with the memory can be released. After being fully released, it is gone forever and can never again influence the individual’s actions in the same way. This is true liberation. The more we process the pent up emotions the more we can release them. In turn, the more energy we free up to experience the now.

A Student of Life Sees Beyond the Ego

The entire experience reminded me of a story I heard about a student named Irene who gave a boy a bloody nose. There were two staff members present when the event occurred, a teacher and a playground supervisor. The teacher looked at the supervisor and said, “You take care of the bloody nose and I will take care of Irene.”

As the supervisor looked on, the teacher took Irene’s hands lovingly in hers and said, “Are you alright?”

Irene’s hard expression disappeared and tears welled up in her eyes. She was unaccustomed to being shown that kind of unconditional love.

Irene went through an incredible transformation that day. She began helping other children to communicate in loving ways, whereas before, she had been filled with anger and either acted in a mode of attack or defense. At the time, I thought to himself, It is my intention to remember this story and see people as emotionally hurting rather than see them as bad.

On that day I was the student, and the teacher did appear, in the form of a high school girl. From that day forward I have viewed others differently. I now see that everyone is doing the best they can given the experience they have had. In turn, I see beyond the ego in others and into their authentic self, the one who wants connection and love. Everyone wants that. It is up to us to look beyond the egoic behavior and love the being inside.

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The Direction of Attention Creates Our Inner Reality

There is a Zen story that depicts how the direction of attention creates our inner reality. Once there was a man who had so many children living in his farmhouse he could take it no longer. He finally decided to go see a Zen master and ask for his advice. The man went to the master and said, “Wise one, I am at my wits end. There are so many children living in my house that I can’t find a moment’s peace. What shall I do?”

The master replied, “Invite your mother and father in-law to come live with you.”

The man was surprised by the response, but he believed in the wisdom of the master and he didn’t know what else to do. So, reluctantly, he invited is wife’s parents to come live with them. However, the house became even more crowded and he and his in-laws disagreed on how to raise the children so the man felt more stress, not less. He went back to the master and told him of his dilemma.

When the man asked for advice as to what to do next the master replied, “Invite your children’s aunts and uncles to come live with you as well.”

Again the man could not see the logic but he followed the advice anyway, hoping the wisdom of the master went beyond his own recognition. However, rather than helping the man to find peace, he felt more stress than ever and again he went back to the master for advice. He said, “Master, I have followed your advice and brought in my wife’s relatives and there is less space than ever. I can’t get a moment’s peace. What shall I do?”

After putting his hand to his chin and pondering it for a moment the master replied, “Bring in all the animals from the farm.”

The man thought that sounded crazy but he still believed in the wisdom of the master and followed his advice. A short while later the man returned to the master more exasperated than ever before. He said, “Good Master, I have followed your advice to the letter and things continue to worsen. I have invited my wife’s parents to live with us. I have invited her brothers and sisters and all their children. I have brought in all the animals from the farm. There is no longer any room in the house for anyone or anything else. I am at a loss as to what to do. What do you suggest?”

Without hesitating the master said, “Remove all the animals and ask your in-laws to leave.”

So, the man did as the master had suggested. First he went home and he removed all the animals from the house. He then asked the aunts and uncles to take their children and leave. Then he asked his mother and father in-law to leave. Suddenly, the house seemed so big and spacious that the noise of the children was like music to the man’s ears. He had finally found his peace.

Turn Attention Toward the Space That Unites

The moral of the story is obvious when we look at it from the perspective of perception. Before meeting with the master, the man’s attention was going toward the noise and behaviors of the children. His attention was not on the space but on the objects of the space. However, once he had a different point of reference, he changed the direction of his attention from the objects to the space. Suddenly, there seemed to be much more space than before and peace was to be found there.

The message behind this story appears to be two-fold. First, the direction of attention creates our inner reality. Second, we must focus on both what is and what is not in order to get the entire picture of our current situation. A wonderful poem that illustrates this idea can be found in the Toa Te Ching in which Lao Tzu wrote:

We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel; But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel depends. We turn clay to make a vessel, But it is on the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the vessel depends. We pierce doors and windows to make a house, And it is on these spaces where there is nothing that the usefulness of the house depends. Therefore, just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognize the usefulness of what is not.

See the Entire Picture

Lao Tzu is reminding us of the importance of seeing the entire picture. The moment we get pigeonholed into looking at life in bits and pieces, the more we support, in our subconscious beliefs, the idea that life is full of random chaotic events. However, when we zoom out and see the big picture, it becomes clear that life is far different than this. Everything is intimately connected to everything else. Nothing happens independently. It is merely the mind’s tendency to pull out sections of reality and evaluate its meaning in a reductionalistic fashion. When this is done information is lost. In turn, our understanding of the object of perception becomes limited.

The Bible often refers to this idea when it suggests to “meditate on God” or on “God’s word.” The problem comes when one assumes “God” to be an external source of energy. I don’t think it can be overstated that our interpretation of what “God” is is imperative to our understanding of the concepts being discussed. How good could advice be if we choose to only listen to a portion of it? For example, if we are told to invest our money into real estate, and we choose to invest but we invest in the stock market and lose all our money, did listening to a portion of the advice help us?

For some practical advise in using present moment awareness to find peace, see my book: Peace: The Art of Mindfulness to Eliminate Stress.

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