“Buddha in the Classroom: Zen Wisdom to Inspire Teachers” is Donna Quesada’s debut book. On the verge of total burnout, Donna Quesada began her twelfth year of teaching with little patience and even less enthusiasm for her career. This work follows her journey as she overcomes apathy and rediscovers the wonderment of teaching through Zen guidance that is destined to inspire every reader. Filled with humorous stories and fun anecdotes, you can now be a student in Quesada’s undeniably insightful classroom! Thanks to Mystic Journey Bookstore for sharing this book release with us.
Donna (http://www.donnaquesada.com/) kindly shared with us an excerpt (Chapter 6: The Math Major—Touchiness) of her book Buddha in the Classroom; Zen Wisdom to Inspire Teachers:
Listen with your eyes, and see with your ears, Zen says.
It sounds like topsy-turvy Zen talk, until you consider how complex human beings are, and how important it is to listen—to really listen. Listen with your whole being. We are not the same as when we were children; our ten million life-experiences have sketched themselves onto our beings, leaving their traces as habits and tendencies, sculpting us into who we are, even as we continue to transform. We often don’t understand why we do certain things, so it is less likely still that others, even those close to us, will be able to fathom our behavior.
But, perhaps, if we could be more generous in our willingness to perceive, if we could see with our ears and listen with our eyes, it would reduce the misunderstandings that wedge us apart in a fog of suspicion and resentment.
When we feel criticized, our defense mechanisms spring into action. But it is the small mind, better known as the ego, that worries about approval. When this fearful little self starts to shout, compassion is impossible, since compassion requires a big-enough mind with which to see, and a big-enough heart with which to receive. Without this spirit of openness, there is no communication. There is only attachment to one’s perspective.
The great Indian yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, once spoke about the problem of touchiness. It is the corollary of an untamed ego, resulting in an inferiority complex. It rightly mirrors the Buddhist teachings on the problem of the ego, as Buddha himself was a Raja yogi, steeped in the same timeless Indian wisdom that Paramahansa Yogananda, Gandhi’s spiritual teacher, brought to the West less than a century ago.
Touchiness is the tendency to be oversensitive and to feel easily offended. The wise yogi referred to it as a nervous habit that can only destroy peace, as we rise to defend ourselves in various ways each time we feel hurt. Some people brood silently, while others bite back with harsh words and counterattacks. This is the root of most arguments and misunderstandings between people, no matter what kind of relationship they share. Buddha was concerned with the problem of human suffering, and touchiness creates abundant suffering within oneself and in others. The touchy person, feeling wronged, suffers inner torment while making the supposed offender suffer in return.
She also shared an excerpt of Chapter 7: Grading Papers—There Is No Beginning and No End
We’re rushing to our deaths, Zen says.
We go through life forever trying to get to ten. We look to the clock with great expectations, forever asking, even as grown-ups, if we’re there yet. We humor the children when they ask, but we ask too, in our own rushed ways, in all the days of our lives, and in everything we do, forever rushing to the end. The end of what? If this continues throughout every activity, throughout the rest of our lives, the only end in sight is death.
As an experiment, catch yourself the next time you find yourself thinking in terms of quantity. It might be the day’s errands, or the pile of bills, or, like me, the talking stack of papers on your desk. Simply notice the feeling of urgency and the tendency to rush through them. Notice, also, the inclination to shrink back. Although they seem like opposite tendencies, both come from the same feeling of aversion, and serve only to keep us out of touch with the actual task. We’re taken aback by the enormity of what we’ve created in our minds, so we say, I’m just going to plow through it and get it done, or, It’s too overwhelming and I don’t know where to start. See them both as nothing more than habits that come from our skewed way of envisioning time.
Both responses pull us out of the freshness of direct experience. They both bind us to the fantasy of a task rather than the reality of it, warping our sense of what is really required. Wasting energy on head trips is exhausting, and we do it to ourselves. A task is done in steps, because reality is made up of steps, infinitely divided flashes of time that are too small to measure. We come to life and our energy soars when we join that moment, rather than standing separate from it—when we rise to the occasion rather than sink into the pit of resistance. When we join the moment, we join time. We are time.
Ultra distance runner Pam Reed understands this. When running superhuman distances that require her to continue on for three days straight, with no sleep or breaks of any kind, she tells herself she only has to get to the next pole, to the next marker, right there. She keeps herself from getting vacuumed up into the enormity of the distance and ends up at the final mark by employing these little tricks—which are less like tricks than they are reminders of reality itself.
Time is an abstraction that stops and stares right back at us as soon as we separate ourselves from it. To be separated from time is to watch it. It’s a shy child that can’t play naturally, and acts awkwardly when we watch, but as soon as we look away and rejoin our conversations, she continues to play naturally. Time flows when we stop watching it. Staring at the clock is to resist reality. I don’t like this situation—can’t this clock move any faster! Like Pam Reed, we need only put one foot in front of the other, and take a step, right here and now.
“But,” you may ask, “does this mean that Zen, with all its talk of the now, scoffs at imagination?” We have all been taught as kids to be imaginative; artists have been taught to be imaginative. It’s not for nothing that we celebrate the gift and splendor of imagination. But like all good tools, it has its place. After all, the creative process itself unfolds in real time.
Think of the jazz improv artist responding to the musical banter among her fellow players onstage. Aside from whatever training they’ve done in advance, as soon as the curtain opens, they move into unknown territory together, creating something new each time by remaining in a state of undivided presence. They let go of their ideas and preconceptions of how it should be, how they thought it was going to be, and how other musicians have done it in the past. They let go of their agendas and simply move together in the flow, with the faith that comes from experience, trusting in their own abilities as artists, and in each other.
It may help the sports star, too, to envision his plays in advance, but if he doesn’t remain in a state of absolute presence when the time comes to execute the play, he’ll miss the ball. He plays the real game in real time.
Imagination, like intellectualization, is put away when it has done its job. The imaginative vision provides a palette of possibilities, which are then actualized in a state of presence, and ironically, with the willingness to let go of the expectations of the vision. To paraphrase my Zen teacher, there’s nothing wrong with imagination, so long as it hasn’t got you by the nose.