Teachers in Our Midst
John Ptacek

In search of inner peace some of us head off to an ashram, a spiritual retreat center where a teacher facilitates physical and emotional healing. Within the serene confines of an ashram, visitors gain deeper insights into their existence and learn to live in harmony with their fellow human beings.

When an ashram stay ends, the real challenge begins. Putting newly discovered insights into practice within the realm of day-to-day living is easier said than done. The chasm between theory and practice is immense. It
s like the difference between practicing telling your boss off in front of your bathroom mirror and actually doing it in your bosss office. It is only in the mirror of our relationships with others that we get a true picture of who we are, as opposed to who we imagine ourselves to be.

If your schedule or bank account prevents you from booking a stay at an ashram, there
s another place you can go to find inner peace. Here, spiritual teachers abound and learning sessions fit in nicely with your work schedule.

Actually, they exactly match your work schedule.

m talking about your 9 to 5 ashram:  your workplace.  It might not have the mystical aura of a formal ashram, but it has all the elements youll need to put you in touch with your inner self.

Who are your spiritual teachers? The people who drive you nuts every day. The people whose behavior is so offensive that you think about them long after you leave work each day. The people you blame for your rising anxiety, your foul moods and your broken sleep patterns. These are the teachers who can point you toward the root of your suffering, the teachers whose lessons you must ultimately absorb if you want to find inner peace.

To convert your workplace into an ashram, you simply need to come to work every day with a new focus. You need to develop what a spiritual teacher might refer to as a third eye. Instead of focusing on how others act, you develop an awareness of how you react.

Rather than contemplate what a lazy slob your coworker is, what a dictator your boss is, or what an empty suit your president is, you contemplate how your personal judgments of those sharing your work space are the real reasons behind your emotional meltdowns. Instead of shaking your fist at their behavior, imagine your hand clutching a mirror that reflects an image of your angry face. It is the expression of a person who has yet to look inside and observe that unhappiness is completely self-inflicted.

Until you grasp this truth, your workplace will continue to be a combat zone. You will continue to think that the behavior of your colleagues must change in order for you to be happy, and theres no chance of that happening. None. They are who they are, and their personalities aren't going to change just because you want them to. Making your happiness conditional on the behavior of others is a doomed strategy. But then, you know this better than anyone.

So what can you do? How can you step out of this pattern of judgment that sends your blood pressure soaring every day and creates a toxic atmosphere for those unlucky enough to work anywhere near you? The mechanics behind the meditation process offer a way out.

At its base, meditation is simply developing an awareness of your thoughts, which are the real culprits behind your unhappiness. By watching your thoughts, you detach yourself from them. You watch them pass by as you would a stream of cars from the side of a highway. Whereas before it felt as if you were stuck in traffic, now you are removed from the action. Another part of you has come into play, a dimension of awareness that is just as much a part of you as your thoughts. Your thoughts continue to move under their own power, but you remain still. It is in this stillness that you will experience inner peace.

At an ashram they might give a name to this witnessing dimension, but you don't have to call it anything. Simply to understand that there is more to you than the endless stream of thoughts parading through your mind is a subtle but game-changing insight. Why? Because you are no longer relying on thought as an antidote to your anxiety. Thinking is what got you into this mess, and more thinking isnt going to get you out of it not for long, anyway.

The stress-reduction strategies you conceived at 3:00 AM while you stared at the cracks in your bedroom ceiling haven
t worked because you were seeking answers in the same dimension that created them thought. But by stepping out of thought into a dimension of awareness, by becoming a studious observer of your thoughts, you will have the means to find the peace that has so far eluded you.

Changing the way you think will not lead you to inner peace; instead, you must change your relationship with thought. As you come to know yourself as thought
s witness, the sliver of space separating you and your thoughts will grow into a gap, and eventually it will seem as if you are watching them from across a football field. In this state you may leave work pondering whats for dinner rather than whats wrong with the boneheads you are forced to work with every day. This will be a good day for you. And it will be an especially good day for the boneheads whove had to put up with you.

* * * * *

About John:  My life has been enriched by the teachings of great spiritual leaders. My essays attempt to demystify these sometimes perplexing teachings so that more may be exposed to their wisdom. They appear on my website, On Second Thought, johnptacek.com.

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"But what if I make a mistake?" Will asked.

Gilan threw back his head and laughed. "A mistake? One mistake?
You should be so lucky. You'll make dozens! I made four or five on
my first day alone! Of course you'll make mistakes. Just don't make
any of them twice. If you do mess things up, don't try to hide it.
Don't try to rationalize it. Recognize it and admit it and learn
from it. We never stop learning, none of us."

John Flanagan
Erak's Ransom



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We do not learn only from great minds; we learn from everyone, if only
we observe and inquire.  I received my greatest lesson in aesthetics
from an old man in an Athenian taverna.  Night after night he sat
alone at the same table, drinking his wine with precisely the same
movements.  I finally asked him why he did this, and he said, "Young man,
I first look at my glass to please my eyes, then I take it in my hand to
please my hand, than I bring it to my nose to please my nostrils, and I am
just about to bring it to my lips when I hear a small voice in my ears,
'How about me?'  So I tap my glass on the table before I
drink from it.  I thus please all five senses."

C.A. Doxiadis