Nine Powerful Life Lessons From Studying with a Monk

By Robert Piper

monk-300x267When 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.


It Might Get Worse, Before It Gets Better

“I have lived with several Zen masters -- all of them cats.”  Eckhart Tolle

“I have lived with several Zen masters — all of them cats.”
Eckhart Tolle

Our higher mind is split between listening to our ego and our Divine self, and is always choosing which side to listen to. When a person meditates, the ego realizes that the person is no longer listening to It and will use attack methods to get the person’s attention. The ego may induce fear, old grievances, anger, anxiety, random thoughts, etc., switching from one to another in an effort to force the person to pay attention to the ego’s concerns instead of their Divine self.

Because of the ego’s attacks, you may initially find meditation difficult
During meditation, you may remember old events or feel deep-seated, negative emotions. You may become fearful or angry when these arise, but keep in mind this is an opportunity for healing (although it might not feel like it). Each unwanted emotion or thought that comes to your attention is an opportunity to release it through forgiveness. With each release, the veil becomes thinner and your connection to the Spirit becomes stronger. For more on releasing unwanted thoughts and emotions, read Meditation Techniques.

Another common frustration is feeling that nothing is happening when you meditate. I assure you that just by trying, you are achieving something. I spent months meditating before I felt the ‘connection’ to the Divine. Suddenly I knew why so many people touted the benefits of meditating! For a brief moment, I “lost” myself in the golden rays of love. It felt wonderful and still does!

Through meditation, you will:

  • Realize that the ego’s negative thoughts are not true
  • Train your mind to listen to your divine self instead of the ego
  • Quiet your mind and feel peaceful
  • Reduce fear, anger, anxiety and other unwanted emotions through recognition and release (forgiveness)
  • Let the love of the Divine flow through you, which energizes and restores your mind and body

Freedom of the Mind

When we use the spiritual to accommodate the physical, we have lost our correct perspective. The physical should be the tool for finding our spiritual selves.

Freedom is often a goal we want. We desire freedom from financial concerns and pain, such as anger, anxiety, depression, etc. We believe that once the body’s concerns are taken care of, we will feel free. But those who have achieved fame, fortune and health, realized that this is not true. It’s in the mind where happiness, joy, love and true freedom is found. The mind is not your brain, but rather a spiritual conciousness which is the gateway to your true self.

Finding freedom for the mind will eventually lead you on a spiritual journey towards love and a strong connection between the Creator and all of humanity — and away from fear, pain and loneliness.

Freedom is achieved by:

  • Connecting to our Creator, through methods such as prayer, meditation, shamanic journeying, yoga, etc.
  • Forgiving others and ourselves
  • Understanding that this life is a temporary awareness and a complete distortion of our true spiritual selves
  • Learning that we are loved completely by our Creator and are able to share that love
  • Knowing that we have the power of our Creator, since we are created in his image. We are not weak and held hostage by this world.
  • Learning to follow the Spirit’s guidance on a daily basis. We can begin to make the correct decisions for our lives when we follow the Spirit’s lead, instead of following our own perspective which is often incorrect and limited.

Freedom is found by following the Spirit’s guidance, but we often believe this means we will lose our worldly possessions. The Spirit is not concerned about taking away something from you — whether you are rich or poor is not important. The Spirit only uses physical means as a tool to help you find freedom.

We are eternal spirits, so our concerns about this temporary physical realm are misguided. The Spirit will make sure that you have what you need. It only asks that you allow It to lead the way. When you no longer worry about having your needs met, you can be free at last!

Blessed journeys!

Three Life-changing Meditation Techniques

Below are details of three meditation techniques that I recommend frequently to people. I learned these techniques from the lesson plans in the A Course in Miracles book. These meditations are useful for strengthening your connection to the Spirit, removing unwanted thoughts and releasing emotional burdens. I use the ‘Connecting to the Divine Energy’ meditation on a daily basis and the other two as needed.

‘Connecting to the Divine Energy’ Meditation
The amount of time you spend is not important. It’s the connection to the Divine Energy that matters. Even if you haven’t connected to the Divine Energy before, you can do this!

To begin, sit quietly and let your mind go blank (if you have a problem doing this, try the “Releasing Unwanted Thoughts Meditation” technique below first). Breathe deeply while envisioning the Divine Energy entering your crown chakra (top of head), letting your breath carry the Divine Energy through your spine. Feel yourself being open and receptive to the Divine Energy. When you release your breath, envision it rising over your chakras and out your mouth. This facilitates a complete “circuit,” allowing the energy to flow through your body. Continue to slowly breath in and out. The results can differ from person to person and even day to day, so be open to the sensation. You may feel love or peace, or you may simply forget about your body and ‘lose’ yourself for an instant in the Divine Energy. Again, it’s not about the measure of time, but rather simply connecting to the Divine Energy. This technique can have an extreme effect on your life, especially when practiced daily.

Although the connection to the Divine Energy can occur the first time you try it, it may take days or even months to feel the connection. Don’t give up too soon! Every time you try, you are making progress, and eventually, you’ll feel the connection.

‘Giving It to the Spirit’
You can use this technique when ever you feel overwhelmed by an unwanted emotion or simply not at peace. You can give your unwanted emotion, such as fear, anxiety, depression, anger, etc. to the Spirit by saying, “I give this to you,” either silently or out loud. The unwanted emotion is soon replaced by a sense of love and peace. The transformation takes place immediately or within a short amount of time. Each time you feel an unwanted emotion offer it to the Spirit. You may have to offer it several times (this is because you may have difficulty letting go of the unwanted emotion—not due to the Spirit’s inability to transform it).

The first time I tried this technique was when my family and I moved to North Carolina. Me and my husband were looking for jobs, but it was just before the holidays and during the 2008 recession, so we weren’t getting any interviews or calls. One day, after the stress of moving to a new state with no income became overwhelming, I felt I was about to have my first anxiety attack. Before the feeling became overwhelming, I decided to give this burden to Spirit. I felt an immediate warmth enter my body. The fear was gone within a few seconds!

It was a confirmation to me that the Spirit is always available to help and does love us. I now find myself releasing ALL unwanted emotions, even ‘small’ ones such as irritation and impatience, as they occur. This has made a tremendous difference in the quality of my life.

Releasing Unwanted Thoughts Meditation (Great for abundance!)
You can use this meditation when you have thoughts that keep interrupting your meditation.

First, sit and relax. Let your mind go blank. When a thought comes to your mind, acknowledge it and then release it. If it is a thought that causes unwanted emotion or distress, you should give it to the Spirit (see the technique above) by saying “I give this to you.” It is very important that once an unwanted emotion is recognized that it is released to the Spirit, otherwise, you will reinforce the thought and keep it.

Continue doing this until the thoughts stop coming. You can then continue with the ‘Connecting to the Spirit’ meditation technique described above.

The first time I used this technique was after an offer on a house fell through. This was on top of all the other things “going wrong” in my life, and I wondered what beliefs were limiting me from accepting the Universal abundance that is available to all of us. I spent the entire morning releasing everything that came to my mind–some from childhood and teen years right up to the present. Sometimes I had to release what I had done to others. It became a major lesson in forgiveness. But what shocked me the most was the unexpected effects this technique had on me. A few days later, the deal on the house came back and I had an offer for a job that I hadn’t applied for (and it paid well). It’s amazing what happens when we release the barriers to the Divine Energy!

These techniques can have many positive effects and you will eventually begin to ‘hear’ the Spirit’s voice, which can help guide your life. You will feel love on a daily basis and know that you are not traveling this life alone.

NOTE: Some people have expressed a concern that they felt worse during meditation, so I wrote another post , It Might Get Worse, Before It Gets Better, which helps explains this.