Self Help

When Things Don't Go Your Way Zen Wisdom for Difficult Times - Haemin Sunim

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Matheus Puppe

· 18 min read

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Here is a summary of the key points in the passage:

  • The passage describes a time in the author’s life when things didn’t go his way and he faced difficulties.

  • Despite being a Zen teacher, the author struggled with a fear of abandonment stemming from childhood. He would feel anxious if plans were canceled or friends didn’t respond quickly.

  • The author appeared on a TV show documenting his daily life as a monk. This led to some criticism online about him not following the monastic ideal of non-possession due to living with his parents.

  • A senior monk also publicly criticized the author on Facebook, denouncing him as a “parasite” and “entertainer.” Many online joined in criticizing him.

  • This experience triggered the author’s deep-seated fear of abandonment as life seemingly gave him what he had always feared - people turning against him.

  • The passage explores how even spiritual teachers can face personal psychological suffering and challenges, and encourages sitting with difficult emotions rather than avoiding them.

In summary, it describes a difficult time when the author faced public criticism and personal fears were triggered, despite his years of Zen practice and spiritual teachings.

The passage describes the author’s experience of going through a difficult period after facing betrayal and feeling deserted by people who had previously supported him. As the founder of a “School of Broken Hearts,” he found himself in need of healing.

Originally, he had naively imagined spirituality as perfect moral behavior without negative emotions. However, he learned that true spiritual growth involves accepting all parts of oneself, including darker emotions. During this low point, he at first pretended to feel better than he did, but chose to openly embrace his difficult feelings to process them.

He allowed himself to fully feel emotions like rage, grief, and sorrow over time. This led him to confront a deep-seated fear of abandonment from childhood trauma of becoming separated from his mother in a market. Connecting with his inner frightened child helped him integrate this part of himself he had long suppressed.

Overall, the passage is about the author’s journey of honestly facing and working through very difficult emotions, which helped him gain deeper self-understanding and healing during a time of personal crisis and setback on his spiritual path. It emphasizes the importance of acceptance and processing of all aspects of one’s inner experience.

Based on the passages provided, some key things that the author appears afraid to share are:

  • Deep inner experiences of peace, stillness, and connection with the world. Several passages touch on enlightenment, intimacy with the world, and a disappearance of separate self. These seem to indicate personal spiritual experiences.

  • Vulnerabilities and wounds. One passage talks about examining wounds and discovering light, implying a reluctance to openly share painful personal experiences.

  • Full acceptance of oneself and situations. Repeated themes of self-acceptance, accepting things as they are, welcoming discomfort, and not resisting what is. Fully embracing these principles may involve sharing struggles with acceptance.

  • Letting go of desires and attachments. Discussions of grasping, longing for something else, and mental restlessness suggest fears around releasing desires and attachments.

So in summary, the author seems reluctant to openly share profound spiritual experiences, vulnerabilities, struggles with acceptance, and the process of letting go inside. There is an emphasis on peace, stillness, and non-resistance that could involve fears of being too revealing about one’s inner world and challenges.

Here are the key points from the passages:

  • The passages encourage avoiding needless heartaches and wasted efforts, and finding peace in the natural flow of life.

  • When struggling, our psychological resistance to a situation, not the situation itself, causes pain. We can ease this resistance by imagining the situation as our choice and part of our growth.

  • Accepting ourselves makes us more open to change. Until then, we remain defensive and resist feedback.

  • Acceptance doesn’t mean excusing bad behavior, but letting go of wishes to change the past and inviting peace.

  • Letting go means letting things be with compassion, allowing them to come and go naturally.

  • As long as we chase things, we remain unfulfilled. Cultivating contentment with what we have enables pursuing only true desires.

  • Our intense attachments and obsessive thinking, not others’ inherent qualities, can make them appear unique.

  • Gratitude can transform days, jobs and opportunities into blessings. Taking a “gratitude pill” daily shields us from negative emotions.

  • Changing our mental environment instantly happens by shifting to positive thoughts and dwelling on good feelings.

  • Having desirable thoughts as if achieved attracts them rather than chasing them, shortcutting fulfillment.

  • According to Buddhism, psychology equals cosmology - a loving mind experiences heaven, an angry one experiences hell. Both are created and experienced by the mind.

  • The author recalls being devastated after not getting a tenure-track teaching position they interviewed for and really wanted. They felt personally rejected and doubted their abilities.

  • However, through continued job searching and interviewing, they realized interviews are a skill that improves with practice. They also came to understand rejection is less about one’s qualifications and more about the unique preferences and biases of the selection committee.

  • The key lessons are not to take rejection personally, as people have their own tastes and history shaping their preferences, and one is not diminished by rejection from a single person or opportunity. Remaining confident in one’s abilities and recognizing there are many potential matches helps deal with the pain of rejection.

This passage reflects on life experiences with relationships, rejections, and losses. Some key points:

  • Don’t take rejections personally, as people make choices based on their own circumstances. Stay patient and keep pursuing your goals.

  • Surround yourself with supportive friends and family after facing rejections to feel validated and appreciated. Talking about difficulties can help alleviate negative emotions.

  • Reflect on rejections as learning opportunities to grow, rather than viewing yourself as unlikable. Keep applying lessons learned from past experiences.

  • Losing loved ones through death is inevitable but still surprising. Honor losses with an open heart by connecting with others who share grief.

  • When caring for aging parents, remember they also sacrificed for you as children. Maintain respectful boundaries so obligations don’t turn to resentment.

  • Dividing inheritances can damage family relationships if not handled wisely. Deceased parents would want their children on good terms, not estranged due to greed.

  • Maintaining compassion and love for others, without hatred, protects the heart from harm in this uncertain world.

So in summary, the passage offers advice on navigating relationships, rejections, loss and grief with patience, learning from experiences, and maintaining caring connections with others.

  • The passage describes the living situation of the author and their friend Jason after they decided to be roommates while pursuing their doctoral studies at Princeton.

  • At first, they became close friends and enjoyed living together. However, over time small disagreements and differences in personalities and habits began causing tension.

  • For example, they had differing views on politics and would argue passionately. Living so closely together made it hard to get space when needed.

  • Other issues included having separate rice cookers and not eating meals together due to different preferences.

  • Their friendship deteriorated to the point of yelling at each other over a small incident of the author throwing out a manual by mistake.

  • The experience served as a mirror for the author to see their own selfish tendencies and flaws. It was a difficult period of self-reflection and realization about relationships.

  • The summary emphasizes the challenges of living with friends or partners due to lack of personal space, need for open communication, compromising routines, and respectfully addressing issues as they arise.

  • As a child, the author would feel sad and jealous after visiting his wealthy uncle’s luxurious apartment, which was in stark contrast to his own family’s small rented home.

  • He envied the things his cousins had like toys, fancy home decor, and opportunities like piano lessons. This made him feel insignificant and develop an inferiority complex.

  • At a family birthday party, the author accidentally broke a toy belonging to his cousin while playing with it. When questioned about it, he lied and threw the broken part away instead of admitting fault.

  • When confronted, he felt a confusing mixture of emotions like sadness, fear, hatred, jealousy and anger. He cried uncontrollably, struggling with feelings of having been wronged somehow due to the disparity in his vs his cousin’s privileged lives.

  • These childhood experiences left a deep sense of resentment towards his parents and complex about living with little, compared to his wealthy uncle’s family. It speaks to the profound psychological impact of socioeconomic differences experienced as a child.

  • The concept of “small but certain happiness” is gaining popularity in South Korea as an alternative to “YOLO.” It emphasizes finding joy in simple everyday pleasures rather than focusing only on major life goals and achievements.

  • Examples of small happy moments include drinking coffee, feeling the sun, spending time with pets. Appreciating such little things regularly can enhance one’s happiness more than chasing distant dreams.

  • The author finds small happiness in listening to radio programs, sitting in the park, browsing bookshops, and spending time with close friends. Enjoying nature, music, books and quality social connections provide regular happiness.

  • Appreciating rather than owning things like natural beauty, children’s laughter, embraces from loved ones can be sources of happiness if one learns to slow down and value life’s simple gifts.

  • What we focus our attention on shapes our mental state. Choosing to notice spring flowers or music over dwelling on problems uplifts the mind. Regular small happy experiences cultivate tranquility and gratitude.

  • The passage describes the author’s personal place of refuge called a querencia, which is Mihwang Temple located on the southern tip of the Korean peninsula. It is a sanctuary where one can rest and recover from the fatigue of life.

  • Mihwang Temple and its surrounding natural beauty, like the Dharma Mountains and sunsets, help quiet the mind and soften hardened hearts. Simply being in such a place is restorative.

  • The temple’s abbot Kumgang Sunim and staff are warm and welcoming, greeting every visitor sincerely. Their kindness contributes to the healing atmosphere.

  • The author encountered experienced European travelers at the temple, indicative of its appeal beyond local Koreans. The temple-grown food is simple yet delicious and healthy.

  • Overall, Mihwang Temple provides a refuge for the author where its natural beauty, kind people, and peaceful environment allow one to regain strength when worn down by life’s challenges. It is a cherished personal querencia.

  • Things may feel difficult when we’re burned out, exhausted, and feeling like we have no control over our lives. It’s hard to find motivation and positivity in that state.

  • Taking a break, even just for an afternoon, can help refresh the mind and spirit. Going somewhere new in nature, trying new experiences, and opening up to others can recharge us.

  • Visiting beautiful, spiritual places like temples can speed up the process of healing and self-discovery. The natural surroundings, warm hospitality, and opportunity for reflection help ease worries and reconnect us to our true selves.

  • Small acts of kindness, even when focused on our own problems, can paradoxically help us through mysterious ways. Performing kindness strengthens our connections to others and taps into our inherent happiness.

  • Finding purpose and meaning comes more from serving others than pursuing personal gain. Our existence feels meaningful when we’ve helped someone through our life.

  • Happiness is a journey, not a destination. It’s found in growth and realizing our potential, not fleeting pleasures. Maintaining a student mindset and learning keeps us feeling young at heart.

  • Appreciating each present moment brings more happiness than fixation on future conditions. Relaxing without seeking is when we become happy, not from attaining desires. Focusing on basics and small tasks leads to prosperity.

  • The passage discusses why people feel lonely even when surrounded by others like family members, friends, colleagues. According to psychologist Carl Rogers, it is because people are afraid of being judged or rejected if they show their true selves.

  • To avoid criticism or hurt, people hide their true feelings and interact on a superficial level instead of making deep connections. This leads to feelings of loneliness.

  • Psychological barriers are often created in childhood if parents do not accept children unconditionally and judge their thoughts/behaviors. Children learn to suppress their own feelings to please parents.

  • As adults, people have difficulty opening up to family as they expect judgment. It’s easier to open up to friends who were not part of one’s upbringing.

  • True acceptance from family without judgment would allow people to freely express themselves without fear. This helps one realize their potential and handle failure well by taking responsibility.

  • Even if one did not experience parental acceptance, it’s never too late to build good relationships with accepting/supportive people like friends or counselors. This helps feel more comfortable with oneself.

So in summary, the passage discusses the psychology behind feelings of loneliness even among others, and how unconditional acceptance can help overcome barriers to deep connections.

  • The passages discuss the relationship between technology, communication, loneliness, and human connection.

  • Texting has become a more convenient form of communication compared to phone calls, as it allows asynchronous interactions and doesn’t disrupt other activities. However, increased texting and virtual connections may paradoxically lead to more loneliness.

  • The psychologist Sherry Turkle coined the term “alone together” to describe how although we are physically together, people often have their attention focused on their personal devices rather than engaging face-to-face.

  • Parents may interact with their phones instead of their children. Meetings and social gatherings also see people checking phones instead of fully engaging with each other in person.

  • While technology connects us virtually, it may undermine real human connection and interaction. This ironic situation of being constantly connected yet feeling lonely is worth examining further. Interpreting events and having the power to react constructively is emphasized as well.

  • rkle asserts that online communication like texting is fundamentally different from real conversation as it lacks non-verbal communication cues like facial expressions and tone of voice. This makes it harder to perceive if one has hurt or distressed the other person. Additionally, one can easily block or ignore a conversation online if they get uncomfortable.

  • Smartphone usage has made people feel anxious when alone without their phone, as if they are vulnerable without it. Checking messages constantly makes it difficult to tolerate not having an internet connection or a friend not responding for a while.

  • Meeting in person requires more effort to arrange and costs more time and energy compared to casual online communication. This is why people prefer chatting online even if they feel lonely. Breaking up via text is also more convenient than face-to-face.

  • However, face-to-face interaction allows for deeper understanding and bonding that can’t be replicated online. Experiencing vulnerability with someone and witnessing their reaction is only possible in real conversations.

  • To overcome new forms of loneliness, one needs to be willing to inconvenience themselves by arranging real meetups with friends and practicing “smartphone detox” to enjoy solo time without devices. Comfort with both alone time and social interaction can lead to greater peace.

  • The author was inspired by a poem about having the courage to admit “I can’t do it.” For many years, the author pursued an academic career as a professor because it was expected, not because it aligned with their personal desires.

  • As a professor, the focus was on scholarly outputs like publications and grants, rather than teaching. The author realized they did not have an aptitude for this type of career.

  • Leaving academia to open a nonprofit organization called the School for Broken Hearts was met with concern from others. In retrospect, it proved to be the right decision, as the school has expanded and helped thousands of students.

  • Having control over one’s path and choices, rather than conforming to expectations, is important for happiness. The courage to admit “I can’t do it” and try a new direction allows one to discover better fit. The author now advises struggling students facing uncertainty to consider whether their current path is truly right for them.

  • Failing an exam in the past may have ended up being the best thing that happened, as it set you on a different and better path in life. What seems like a failure at the time can turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

  • Even if you feel lost after a failure, you should have the courage to explore your own path and interests rather than someone else’s expectations. Find your own direction in life.

  • When things don’t go as planned, take time to reflect inwardly and gain new insights. Use this as motivation to try again in a more promising direction. Failures often pave the way for future success.

  • The experiences and knowledge gained from attempts that didn’t work out can still be useful later on, even if you “failed” at the time. You may end up being grateful for those experiences.

  • Keep moving forward with courage, seeing failures and setbacks as learning experiences. Success is a continuous process, so don’t give up.

So in summary, the key message is that perceived failures can end up benefiting you in the long run if you gain insight from them and use them as opportunities to grow and explore new directions aligned with your own interests and passions.

The passage discusses the concepts of the “me of me” and the “me of others” - the inner self that we keep private vs. the self that we present to others. It argues that while youth is often spent focused solely on the “me of others” to please family, we eventually find freedom and independence as we age to listen more to the “inner me.”

Later in life, the author has become less concerned with how others see them. They emphasize finding a balance between the “me of me” and “me of others” - not being controlled by others’ views, but also maintaining relationships. Living fully as one’s authentic self gets easier with age and experience setting boundaries.

The passage continues by sharing advice the author would give to younger versions of themselves at different stages of life. The overall theme is to take it easy, have confidence in yourself, pursue your passions, seek growth opportunities, invest in meaningful relationships, and appreciate each moment. Don’t get too attached to short-term successes or stick only to familiar situations and comfort zones.

  • Remember to give back and help those in need. Focus on contributing to others through charitable acts.

  • Instead of being fearful, aim to become strong and resilient through life experiences. Gain wisdom from challenges and use it to create positive change in the world. Focus on personal growth and helping others.

  • To restore estranged relationships, first listen mindfully to your own suffering to understand it. Then listen attentively to others to understand their pain without judgment. Realize that your pains are interconnected, not separate.

  • When living with others, don’t insist on your own ways. Adjust to harmonize together. Resolve to work more than others to maintain peace of mind. Accept given situations positively rather than dwelling on dissatisfaction.

The summaries emphasize the importance of mindfulness, understanding different perspectives, contributing to others, and harmoniously cooperating when living or working with a group through compromise and positive thinking.

  • Living in a monastery room with other monks has benefits like ensuring lights are turned on before services, learning announcements, and keeping the room neat and clean through shared responsibility.

  • During meditation retreats, the author tries to focus solely on his meditation practice and not get involved in others’ affairs or see faults in others. He reflects on returning to his original resolve to become enlightened.

  • Several quotes discuss living in community, the different types of individuals, forgiveness, understanding others’ perspectives, and not being overly preoccupied with being right.

  • Additional quotes touch on topics like persuading others, dealing with feelings of superiority/inferiority, not judging others based on preconceived ideas, a monk’s role in society, dealing with anger, observing distressed thoughts, and the peaceful empty space of the mind.

  • In discovering the true self, sitting quietly allows noticing thoughts and feelings arising and passing away in the mind. The shapeless tranquil silence between thoughts is often overlooked but holds insight into one’s true nature.

Here is a summary of the story:

  • There was a cute little fish named Roundy who lived in the Pacific Ocean. He had a rounder head than the other fish, so he was called “Roundy.”

  • From a young age, Roundy was less interested in finding food or popularity like other fish. His interest was in meeting the “Ocean”, a great and holy being his grandfather had told him about.

  • Roundy’s grandfather raised him and told him the Ocean had given life to all creation. The Ocean provided nourishment for all living beings and accepted everyone equally without discrimination.

  • The Ocean was kind, benevolent, and never boasted about himself or showed preference for one over another.

  • Roundy’s lifelong goal was to meet this Ocean being his grandfather had described.

So in summary, it introduces Roundy the curious fish who was told by his grandfather about a mystical being called the Ocean that created all life. Roundy sets out to meet this Ocean figure his grandfather described.

Roundy is a young fish who longs to meet the great Ocean, which all fish revere and pray to. The Ocean is said to love even difficult fish like Uncle Shark and Auntie Lobster. Few fish have actually seen the Ocean.

To meet the Ocean, one must undertake an arduous journey through the dark and terrifying Cave of Death. Most fish cannot conceive of making this journey due to its difficulty. Roundy decides to go despite his grandfather’s worry.

In the pitch black cave, Roundy’s fear fades and he experiences peaceful silence. After an indeterminate amount of time, he sees a pinprick of light and swims toward it, expecting to finally meet the Ocean. However, he realizes the Ocean’s presence was with him the whole time in the silence of the cave.

When Roundy emerges, he sees the familiar sight of fish schools but also perceives the Ocean within and around him. He understands the journey was not to find a physical being, but to discover the Ocean’s presence within. From then on, Roundy lives gratefully knowing the Ocean is always with him.

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About Matheus Puppe