Zen Professor

A Path to a More Fulfilling Life

Tag: Love

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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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.

For more information, see the Zen Bookstore.

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How to Eliminate Negative Thinking with Presence

Once, while on a walk observing the wildlife in the neighborhood, I was reminded of something written by Eckhart Tolle. The author suggested that humans are the only animals on the planet who know what negativity is. He stated, “The only animals that may occasionally experience something akin to negativity or show signs of neurotic behavior are those that live in close contact with humans and so link into the human mind and its insanity.” This is actually easy to witness when we watch people with their pets. Often times the pet takes on the same neurotic tendencies of their owner. It takes presence in mind and body to remove such tendencies.

Tolle also told of an experience he had while watching two ducks. The ducks were swimming toward one another and when they crossed paths they reared up and opened their wings and engaged in a brief tussle before moving on. The ducks then flapped their wings vigorously before settling back into swimming gracefully as if nothing had ever happened. The author related this to how we act as humans. We tend to hold it inside and build up tension rather than release it like the duck. Then, when we do release it later after it has had a chance to fester, we release it in unhealthy ways.

The Importance of Feeling Before Reacting

After recalling the story, I considered the importance of observing feelings before reacting. By observing the feeling we gain control of the mind. We start directing it rather than having it direct us. After all, how many times have we found ourselves analyzing things to death, only to recognize in the end that it was the simplest answer all along? The idea had already helped me to analyze my own thoughts and feelings more before acting on them.

I realized that if I could gain control of the mind by becoming aware of the feelings before it begins trying to explain them, then much emotional pain can be averted. Typically we hear information and react immediately to it. We start asking ourselves all sorts of questions about it. We start asking, “How does this sit with me?” Immediately, we begin to judge it. We want to know if it belongs in our life. We become accustomed to react with our psychological self before our authentic self even has a chance to observe it. This is what it means to re-act to something, and it leads to many errors, first mentally, then physically. We begin assuming things and making up scenarios in our heads. Before long, we have completed the entire story before even getting another person’s perspective, or our own!

The Art of Presence

To be present, we must continually be aware of our thoughts and feelings. When a powerful emotion, previously labeled as negative, arises, we can use it to snap back into Presence. It is the inner guide saying, “Be alert!” Then, after becoming very alert and present in the now, we can act from the place of the authentic self. When we accept what is, every moment becomes the best moment. It has to. It’s all there is!

We can practice being present, while at the same time, release any stored energy from previously unprocessed emotions. To do this, we must stop occasionally and ask ourselves, “How am I feeling right now?” As the feeling in the moment is recognized, we can adjust the thoughts accordingly. We can recognize when we are feeling ‘bad,’ and after centering the attention on the feeling and allowing it to pass, trace the feeling back to the thought that created it, and then intentionally change the thought.

Presence in Action

For example, let’s say that a man finds himself feeling depressed but he has no reason why. First he can sit for a moment and feel the feelings and begin asking himself where is it? Does it have a shape? Is it moving? He can simply turn all attention toward the feeling itself without attempting to trace it’s origin. Then, after fully processing the emotion, he can trace the feeling back to the thought that created it. It must be remembered, however, this is much easier to do after processing the emotion, because the mind will be much more transparent without the cloud of emotion coloring the lens of perception. Then, if the thought that led to the depressed state was that the man is alone and has nobody to love, he can change the thought. He can say to himself, “I am a being of light and have the capacity to love anyone, anywhere, anytime. I know that this love will be returned as the love in me is the same as the love in everyone.”

What the man chooses to say to himself matters not. The only thing that’s important is that it’s the opposite of the thought that created the unwanted feelings of depression. To be able to easily change the thought, we need only to meditate on the fact that we are not the thoughts and can choose to change them at will. Soon, we will come to believe this truth and it will become much easier to utilize the method of recognizing feelings, processing them, tracing the feeling to the thought, and then changing the thought to what is wanted.

We Must Not Lie to Ourselves

Of course it’s still important not to lie to ourselves. In having a negative experience, for example, we must not try and convince ourselves it was positive. We must consider what good may come from the experience. In this way, we are training the mind to look toward the positive and away from the negative aspects of life. This is what is meant by move toward the light. We need only continue moving toward the light of the authentic self and away from the darkness of the psychological self. After all, feelings are the Universe’s way of communicating with the authentic self to show what It truly is, whereas thoughts and emotions are Its way of showing what we are not. Therefore, what we must do is surrender to the guidance of the Universe.

Perhaps the greatest part of surrender and acceptance is that we must accept and forgive ourselves first. Only then can we learn to accept and forgive others. By so doing, we surrender to the Reality of All That Is and the only thing remaining is peace. Anyone can actually reach this place. All it takes is complete acceptance and forgiveness of everyone and everything. Those who reach this state are given the title of enlightened one.

Heaven and Hell are Here and Now

Many interpret the Bible to mean that heaven and hell are places we go after the death of the body. However, to me, Jesus was explaining how to experience heaven on earth. A person who is enlightened lives Jesus’ teachings, and will remain in a state of bliss, which is heaven on earth. In contrast, an individual who is trapped in his own mind and has committed atrocities against humanity is in hell now, in the present moment. Even if that person presents an image of one who is normal and happy, in his mind and body he is most likely torturing himself over what he has done. That is God’s wrath. It occurs within the human mind and continues “throughout eternity” because he carries it with him for the rest of his life.

This is where forgiveness comes in. Forgiveness can come to anyone for anything through awakening to the present moment. Once we realize the truth that God is in everything and everyone, and we truly are One in every sense of the word, the sins are forgiven and the mind and body are now free of the pain and suffering endured in the time before becoming awakened, allowing forgiveness to take place.

To learn more about presence see my book on the topic, which can be found here.

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Deeper Teachings From “The Lord’s Prayer”

The Lord’s Prayer is often interpreted literally. But I believe it is speaking to consciousness. When it states, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” it is directing our consciousness to center on the One (the Uniting Force of the Universe and everything within It) and ready It for the prayer. This is similar to meditation when we make the sound, “Ahhh…” What we are doing when making this sound is preparing the mind for communion with the Source Energy. It is considered the “sound of God” and when we center attention on this sound, not only are we hearing the sound of God (The Absolute, The One, Source Energy), we are feeling the vibrations of Source Energy, helping bring us into the present moment.

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How to Avoid Conflict and Resolve Issues

Once, when I was a teacher, I experienced valuable life lesson on how to avoid conflict, as I had a student test my resolve. The student, I’ll call “Laura,” had been tardy to class often and I had been following my standard protocol. However, on this day Laura took it to a new level. Never before had a student continued to be tardy after I had followed all the steps created to deter their late arrival, including a verbal warning, followed by a written warning, detention, and finally, office referral. Laura had already reached the referral stage and was still continuing to show up late, including on this particular day.

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Meditation, the Golden Rule & the Power of One

All “things” are connected through space, and are only divided by the perceived barriers in the physical realm. So, by meditating on the space we can go to a place where we feel part of something much bigger than the self.

It is helpful to remember that religious ideology is meant to show us how to transcend the ego and come from a place of pure awareness, which is the center of the Universe, and in each of us and every conscious being. Letting go of the ego – giving up the self – is the way to travel at the speed of life and follow the Universal flow. It is coming from a place of open acceptance and receiving, rather than a place of going and getting and achieving. Indeed, what is there to achieve outside the eyes of humanity?

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