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9 Powerful Life Lessons From Studying with a Monk

by Robert Piper

When I was 18 years old, I suffered from anxiety and stomach problems. A compassionate physician and practicing Buddhist referred me to a Taoist monk who specialized in meditation and martial arts. I ended up healing myself of anxiety and stomach issues by doing meditation, and went on a great journey of self-discovery.

Here are 9 lessons I learned while studying with a monk:

1. Keep trying until you get it right.

The most important life lesson I learned was trying something three times (maybe even four times) before you stop trying and move on. Also, this monk taught me that, even after multiple tries, you should work on different angles to approach things that are difficult.

If you keep trying, you’ll eventually get where you’re going.

2. The answer to your question is inside of you.

As part of the original monastery training, a monk didn’t answer direct questions from a student unless it was a well thought-out question. A Chinese proverb says, “Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself.”

Some forms of Zen Buddhism use a very similar style of training. An old saying (by Taoist monks) goes like this: “In making a four corner table, the teacher shows the student how to make one corner. It’s the student’s job to figure out how to make the other three.”

They did this because they were preparing a student to deal effectively with problems in the real world.

I traveled to South Korea one time, and I found it fascinating how much you have to rely on your intuition when you don’t speak the native language of a country. I remember one instance, I had trouble explaining to the cab driver where my hotel was, and he didn’t speak English. So I had to get out of the cab and ask several people until I could find someone to tell the cab driver in Korean how to get to my hotel.

In life, whenever we try new things, we have to go into new places with only a small amount of information. The real world doesn’t give us all the answers. The greatest teacher is inside of us.

3. Real wisdom in life comes from doing something and failing.

Prior to starting meditation, I used to get upset when I’d try something and fail.

I’ve been in sales since I was sixteen. I remember going to work and getting so angry with myself because I didn’t get a sale. If I ever got rejected, I’d get upset with myself, and I’d want to quit my job. But I just keep failing over and over—until I became good at it.

I remember, when I first started doing meditation, I ran into several problems. For example, at first it was difficult to calm down; but if you stick with it, its gets easier and easier. I tried for only a few minutes, and then every day, I added more time onto my meditation.

When we struggle, we learn about ourselves and what we need to do to become stronger.

4. When you start to do meditation you recognize the egotistical mind.

Everything in the ego’s world is the result of comparing. I compared myself to other salesmen and would blame myself because I wasn’t making as much money as them.

When I started doing meditation, I began to build separation from this egoistical mind, which is consistently making these comparisons. A lot of us try something and get rejected, so we give up. Even worse, we blame ourselves for a long time and get depressed. When I started to do meditation, I began to identify my ego and was able to build separation from it.

That’s what happens when we meditate: We separate from the part of ourselves that dwells on comparisons, and start learning to live a life that isn’t driven by our egos.

5. We must be both compassionate and resilient.

The monk wouldn’t meet with me to train unless I called him a minimum of three times. I hated this part. I used to call and call and he would never answer. But this is how life is. How many times do you have to call or email someone to get something done in the real world? It’s usually several times.

Most of us blame ourselves when we try once to do something and fail. At the time, I hated this part of the training, but now I think it was the most important life lesson.

There’s a Taoist proverb that says, “Cotton on the outside, steel on the inside.”

It reminds us to be compassionate, but not weak.

6. Patience is a virtue.

The monk always made me wait—and I dreaded this.

For example, when I got to his house to train, he’d make me wait for a minimum of a half-hour, sometimes longer. We’d go out to dinner on Friday nights and he’d show up at the restaurant an hour late.

He’d tell me to meet him at a particular restaurant at 7:00. I’d get there and find out that he wasn’t there. So I’d usually be sitting in the restaurant by myself fumbling with my phone, acting like I was texting someone, while worrying about what everyone at the restaurant was thinking about me.

Keep in mind, it’s not like I could call him; I don’t think the guy ever turned his cell phone on. Then he’d show up at about 8:15 and act like nothing happened.

His first question was always, “How’s your mother and father?” (Of course in my head I’m thinking, “What do you mean, ‘How’s my mother and father?’ I just waited here for an hour and fifteen minutes.”)

But after a few years of this, it never bothered me; and not only that, it spread to every area of my life. Because of this training, I can honestly say that I very rarely get upset about anything. I never get agitated anymore when I have to wait in a long line or when someone cuts me off on the highway.

Patience is the gift of inner calm.

7. Detach from your ego.

At first, it’s hard to sit at a restaurant by yourself. You’re constantly worrying, thinking that people probably think you’re a loser because you’re sitting by yourself. But the reality is, you will never be happy if you care about what people think you!

Prior to starting meditation, I’d get upset over just about anything. Now, nothing really bothers me. Recently, I was in the airport and there was a several hour delay on my flight. I just used that time to do meditation. Ten years ago, I would have become extremely upset. An airplane delay would have ruined my day.

When you let go of your ego needs, it’s easier to accept and even benefit from whatever comes at you.

8. In Taoism, they say, “No self, No enemy.”

It’s the enemy within that causes all of our fears, worries, and insecurities. If you come to terms with this enemy within, it will impact every area of your life. It’s the identification with the “self/ego” that causes all of life’s problems.

How many times do we not go for something because of fear? Think about all the fears that we have conjured up in our minds that stop us from being truly happy. If you can conquer the enemy within yourself, you won’t have an enemy outside yourself.

9. Happiness come from within, and also comes from outside.

I learned this from observing the Buddhist Physician I met. He used to do meditation in his office before he would interact with his patients. He was one of the happiest and most compassionate people I’ve ever met.

By creating happiness inside, he was able to increase that emotional state by spreading it to others.

We must cultivate happiness from within, and work to spread it around to everyone we interact with. The monk used say, “Everyone has a purpose or a mission in life.”

We have to find happiness within, and also find our purpose on the outside.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Piper is a meditation instructor & the creator of monkinthecity.com. He studied with a Taoist monk for 9 ½ years & traveled to Asia & Australia in search of other meditation teachers. Robert is currently writing a book on meditation to make it more accessible for stress relief, health & happiness.

 

Finding the Blessings in Difficult Situations

By John Morton, D.S.S

Have you ever had a moment when you realized that everything in your life is a blessing? Even the most challenging situations are blessings too?   Have you ever considered that you are the blessings in your challenges?

Everything in our lives is presented to us in some way as a blessing, including the nature of ourselves. When we choose to love, accept, and cooperate with whatever is presented to us, then we are relating to everything as blessings.

What is a blessing? For me, blessings mean greater good.  Goodness already exists within you and me, in everyone, and in the world around us.  Goodness is a given.  It is who we are.

Along with the goodness present now is greater good yet to become.  So we always have an opportunity to realize the greater good, to realize the blessings that already are. It can be a turning point in your life when you decide, “My life is going to be about the greater good, about finding the blessings.” It’s simply a matter of how you choose to look at each situation and yourself.

I refer to ten blessings identified by John-Roger, D.S.S. — loving, caring, sharing, health, wealth, happiness, prosperity, abundance, riches and touching.  All these blessings, every single one and many more that relate to them, are present all the time. As we become more aware of the blessings, we then allow the blessings to manifest.  That’s because the source of the blessings is always present.

It doesn’t matter to me what you call your source.  You can call it God, Holy Spirit, Higher Power, Inner Master or whatever you like.  The source of the blessings is an eternally loving presence within you that goes by all kinds of names.  It breathes with you and walks with you.  It already knows all about you and loves and adores you as you are.  Everyone has this eternally loving source within them, including you.

You can realize the blessings when you accept, enjoy, and appreciate all the conditions in your life as somehow part of the great perfection on your path of awareness of who you truly are.  So it’s up to each one of us to choose.  It’s our choice to become more aware of the blessings that come from that loving source.

By accepting that the conditions in my life right now are perfect for me, I am choosing to trust that the blessings already are.  Rather than thinking, “Oh, I made a big mistake,” or “This cannot be on my path,” or “This cannot be a blessing,” I see each experience as adding to me and my learning and growth.  So I choose to accept that everything in my life is presented to me from my source for my greater good.

I’m not saying you have to like everything that you experience.  I don’t like everything I experience. However, I’m suggesting that no matter what happens, something in each experience has value and often great value for us, more than we might first consider.  So I encourage you not to draw your first conclusion about a situation or challenge.  Be open as much as you can. The greater blessings are often something that we don’t initially see.

When I see challenges in this world that appear to defy the greater good or deny the blessings, I consider they are just ways of testing us to see if we will trust even more than we already have.  At times, choosing the blessings can take tremendous courage, clarity and conviction.  We may be called upon to be patient and endure more than we imagined we could.  When we do, we can then discover our strength more fully and completely.  We can find a greater love than we knew possible.  With confidence and trust, we can then look to every challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow and know our goodness even more.

Whenever a challenge is presented to us so we can choose to learn to be more loving and caring, to be more accepting and compassionate, to forgive more fully and completely. Perhaps we are simply learning to know we are the blessings, the ones already present regardless of conditions and the ones coming forward as we are patient and enduring with looking for the blessings.

How do we find the blessings?  Through our trust in that eternally loving source by staying open to seeing the greater good.  So when we are faced with any challenge, we can ask within to realize and be more aware of the blessings.  In my experience, when I ask my source to help me understand and realize what is for the greater good, I am shown the blessings.

I find that the deepest, most meaningful aspects of my life are ones that may first appear to be ordinary and inconsequential. Maybe I realize what a blessing it is to have shoes on my feet and clothes on my back.  Perhaps I’m aware that I have people who I care about and who care about me.   Sometimes it’s as simple and as vital as, “I’m alive. I’m breathing.  I’m here.”

The blessings already are, so take this moment to look for the good and seek the greater good yet to become.

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Love Study: Brain Reacts To Heartbreak Same As Physical Pain

Love hurts, and that is not just a saying for the broken hearted. Heartbreak is a very strange distress. It is exquisitely painful, and yet we cannot find an injury on our body. New research finds that when you reminisce about the one that got away, the brain actually triggers sensations that you also feel in times of “real” physical pain, making heartbreak truly, physically painful to add to the emotional distress it sometimes causes.

Heartbreak is like one big emotional pain but it also seems to spark off hundreds of other emotions. We hate the feeling of heartbreak, and yet we find ourselves compelled to go over and over memories, ideas or fantasies which make the feeling worse.

Edward E. Smith, director of cognitive neuroscience at Columbia University explains:

“This tells us how serious rejection can be sometimes. When people are saying ‘I really feel in pain about this breakup,’ you don’t want to trivialize it and dismiss it by saying ‘It’s all in your mind.’ Our ultimate goal is to see what kind of therapeutic approach might be useful in relieving the pain of rejection. From everyday experience, rejection seems to be one of the most painful things we experience. It seems the feelings of rejection can be sustained even longer than being angry.”

Forty people analyzed from New York City and all of whom felt “intensely rejected,” took part in the study. While participants were told to look at photos, including photos of their friends (they were directed to think positive thoughts about them), and photos of their exes (they were directed to think about their breakup), their brains were scanned for changes in activity. The participants also underwent brain scans as they felt pain on their forearms similar to the feeling of holding a hot cup of coffee in comparison. Several of the same areas of the brain became active when the participants felt either physical pain or emotional pain.

The research shows that rejection appears to be in a class by itself in terms of its similarity to physical pain. Future research could examine how emotional pain due to rejection affects how people feel physical pain.

Here are some tips that may help you get over the pain:

  • Breathe. All you can do is survive this first and difficult day. Take one day at a time. Give yourself permission to mourn. Call in sick at work, sleep all day, eat too much ice cream, sob.
  • Congratulate yourself for being human: It is only when you open yourself to love that your heart can break. Develop and repeat a helpful mantra to get you through the initial shock and pain, such as “This too shall pass” or “I will survive.”
  • Reach out to a close friend or family member. It helps to share your thoughts with others. Watch a movie to distract yourself. Choose a comedy that has cheered you up in the past. Or watch a movie that’s guaranteed to make you sob–it may surprise you how good that feels.
  • Surround yourself with friends. This may mean reaching out to people you fell out of touch with during the relationship. Make lists to help you regain your confidence and identity: a list of your friends, of things you like, of what you want to accomplish in the next decade. Spoil yourself: Get a new hairstyle, have a spa day or go shopping. Resist the urge to call your ex.
  • Assess the experience. Have you learned anything about yourself? Does the experience make you more empathetic to others who’ve suffered a hardship? Begin an activity that will fill your time, distract your mind and rebuild your confidence. Train for a marathon, take up yoga or learn a new language. Resist the urge to call your ex. Volunteer your time at a local homeless shelter, soup kitchen or tutoring center. It will take your mind off your own woes and keep your suffering in perspective.
  • Force yourself to go on dates. You’ll be surprised to discover that your heart can still flutter over someone. It’s part of the healing process.
  • Consult a psychiatrist if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, such as lack of appetite, insomnia or too much sleeping, low self-esteem, and an inability to concentrate or carry out routine tasks. Ask a friend or physician to recommend one who is experienced in treating depression.
  • Remember that healing is a process that takes time. Expect waves of sadness, anger, guilt or fear even after you think you are over it. Give your heart time to heal.
  • Compartmentalize the experience in your memory: “My heart was broken once. It really hurt and I’m glad it’s over.”

As one popular quote goes, “Love is like falling down… in the end you’re left hurt, scarred, and with a memory of it forever.”

www.healingpowerhour.com

10 Ways To Deal With Negative or Difficult People

by Lori Deschene

I love her to death, but it’s draining to talk to her.

Every time I call this friend of mine, I know what I’m in for: a half-hour rant about everything that’s difficult, miserable or unfair.

Sometimes she focuses on the people she feels have wronged her and other times she explores the general hopelessness of life. She never calls to see how I’m doing, and she rarely listens to what’s going on in my life for more than a minute before shifting the focus back to herself.

I tell myself I call because I care, but sometimes I wonder if I have ulterior motives–to pump up my ego offering good advice, or even to feel better about my own reality.

I’m no saint, and if there’s one thing I know well, we only do things repeatedly if we believe there’s something in it for us. Even if that something is just to feel needed.

I thought about this the other day when a reader wrote to me with an interesting question: “How do you offer compassion to someone who doesn’t seem to deserve it?”

While I believe everyone deserves compassion, I understand what we meant after reading more. She went on to describe her offensive, sexist, racist boss who emotionally exhausts everyone around him. He sounds a lot more hateful than my friend, who is, sadly, just terribly depressed.

But these people have one thing in common: boundless negative energy that ends up affecting everyone around them.

So today I started thinking about how we interact with negative or difficult people. People who seem chronically critical, belligerent, indignant, angry, or just plain rude.

When someone repeatedly drains everyone around them, how do you maintain a sense of compassion without getting sucked into their doom? And how do you act in a way that doesn’t reinforce their negativity–and maybe even helps them?

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1. Resist the urge to judge or assume.

It’s hard to offer someone compassion when you assume you have them pegged. He’s a jerk. She’s a malcontent. He’s an–insert other choice noun. Even if it seems unlikely someone will wake up one day and act differently we have to remember it is possible.

When you think negative thoughts, it comes out in your body language. Someone prone to negativity may feel all too tempted to mirror that. Try coming at them with the positive mindset you wish they had. Expect the best in them. You never know when you might be pleasantly surprised.

2. Dig deeper, but stay out of the hole.

It’s always easier to offer someone compassion if you try to understand where they’re coming from. But that can’t completely justify bad behavior. If you show negative people you support their choice to behave badly, you give them no real incentive to make a change (which they may actually want deep down).

It may help to repeat this in your head when you deal with them: “I understand your pain. But I’m most helpful if I don’t feed into it.” This might help you approach them with both kindness and firmness so they don’t bring you down with them.

3. Maintain a positive boundary.

Some people might tell you to visualize a bright white light around you to maintain a positive space when other people enter it with negativity. This doesn’t actually work for me because I respond better to ideas in words than visualizations. So I tell myself this, “I can only control the positive space I create around myself.”

Then when I interact with this person, I try to do two things, in this order of importance:

  • Protect the positive space around me. When their negativity is too strong to protect it, I need to walk away.
  • Help them feel more positive, not act more positive–which is more likely to create the desired result.

4. Disarm their negativity, even if just for now.

This goes back to the ideas I mentioned above. I know my depressed friend will rant about life’s injustices as long as I let her. Part of me feels tempted to play amateur psychiatrist–get her talking, and then try to help her reframe situations into a more positive light.

Then I remind myself I can’t change her whole way of being in one phone call. She has to want that. I also can’t listen for hours on end, as I’ve done in the past. But I can listen compassionately for a short while and then help her focus on something positive right now, in this moment. I can ask about her upcoming birthday. I can remind her it’s a beautiful day for a walk. Don’t try to solve or fix them. Just aim to help them now.

5. Temper your emotional response.

Negative people often gravitate toward others who react strongly–people who easily offer compassionate or get outraged, or offended. I suspect this gives them a little light in the darkness of their inner world–a sense that they’re not floating alone in their own anger or sadness.

People remember and learn from what you do more than what you say. If you feed into the situation with emotions, you’ll teach them they can depend on you for a reaction. It’s tough not to react because we’re human, but it’s worth practicing.

Once you’ve offered a compassionate ear for as long as you can, respond as calmly as possible with a simple line of fact. If you’re dealing with a rude or angry person, you may want to change the subject to something unrelated: “Dancing with the Stars is on tonight. Planning to watch it?”

6. Question what you’re getting out of it.

Like I mentioned above, we often get something out of relationships with negative people. Get real honest with yourself: have you fallen into a caretaker role because it makes you feel needed? Have you maintained the relationship so you can gossip about this person in a holier-than-thou way with others? Do you have some sort of stake in keeping the things the way they are?

Questioning yourself helps you change the way you respond–which is really all you can control. You can’t make someone think, feel, or act differently. You can be as kind as possible or as combative as possible, and still not change reality for someone else. All you can control is whatyou think and do–and then do your best to help them without hurting yourself.

7. Remember the numbers.

Research shows that people with negative attitudes have significantly higher rates of stress and disease. Someone’s mental state plays a huge role in their physical health. If someone’s making life difficult for people around them, you can be sure they’re doing worse for themselves.

What a sad reality. That someone has so much pain inside them they have to act out just to feel some sense of relief–even if that relief comes from getting a rise out of people. When you remember how much a difficult person is suffering, it’s easier to stay focused on minimizing negativity, as opposed to defending yourself.

8. Don’t take it personally–but know sometimes it is personal.

Conventional wisdom suggests that you should never take things personally when you deal with a negative person. I think it’s a little more complicated than that. You can’t write off everything someone says about you just because the person is insensitive or tactless. Even an abrasive person may have a valid point. Try to weigh their comments with a willingness to learn.

Accept that you don’t deserve the excessive emotions in someone’s tone, but weigh their ideas with a willingness to learn. Some of the most useful lessons I’ve learned came from people I wished weren’t right.

9. Act instead of just reacting.

Oftentimes we wait until someone gets angry or depressed before we try to buoy their spirits. If you know someone who seems to deal with difficult thoughts or feelings often (as demonstrated in their behavior) don’t wait for a situation to help them create positive feelings.

Give them a compliment for something they did well. Remind them of a moment when they were happy–as in “Remember when you scored that touchdown during the company picnic? That was awesome!” You’re more apt to want to boost them up when they haven’t brought you down. This may help mitigate that later, and also give them a little relief from their pain.

10. Maintain the right relationship based on reality as it is.

With my friend, I’m always wishing she could be more positive. I consistently put myself in situations where I feel bad because I want to help, because I want her to be happy. I’ve recently realized the best I can do is accept her as she is, let her know I believe in her ability to be happy, and then give her space to make the choice.

That means gently bringing our conversation to a close after I’ve made an effort to help. Or cutting short a night out if I’ve done all I can and it’s draining me. Hopefully she’ll want to change some day. Until then, all I can do is love her, while loving myself enough to take care of my needs. Which often means putting them first.

I’ve learned you can’t always saved the world. But you can make the world a better place by working on yourself–by becoming self-aware, tapping into your compassion, and protecting your positive space. You may even help negative people by fostering a sense of peace within yourself that their negativity can’t pierce.

www.healingpowerhour.com