Tag Archives: teacher

A practical lesson in the garden

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After having passed my test, Wolfgang invited me to stay at his place in Germany for the weekend so that he could begin sharing his experiences with me. I was very excited, and this excitement was perhaps boosted by the fact that I had just obtained my master’s degree and was completely free from responsibilities and duties: free to fully focus on my personal development.

The weekend itself was wonderful and I have a number of great memories of it. There is one situation in particular that I want to share in this article. My understanding of spirituality had been, unbeknown to me, completely theoretical before this transpired, and the situation kick-started my movement towards becoming very practical about spirituality.

Wolfgang’s house has a relatively spacious garden surrounding it. He has built many nice things in that garden, such as a small bathhouse and a meditation place built around a fire pit where a handful of people can sit together (in fact, I was initiated by him at that meditation place in that weekend!).

One of the activities that Wolfgang did with me was gardening. He was giving me instructions to observe and feel which parts of the plants and trees were suffering or dying and to prune those parts. He also gave me some instructions to collect all dead plants and branches on different stacks, and to throw these stacks away later.

While I was doing my work, he had gone back inside the house to spend some time with his wife. After about an hour or two he said from inside the house: “Ilyaz, dinner is ready!” I happily went inside to have the meal. After we had eaten, I made myself comfortable, retreated to my room and did some resting and reading.

The next morning, when I came down, Wolfgang said with a semi-stern voice: “Come stand next to me at the window and see the mess you’ve created.” I was not quite sure what he was talking about, but when I reached there he showed me that there were a number of stacks with dead plants and flowers that I had forgotten to throw away! They were still lying there in his garden! There was no anger in him, but it was clear to me that he wanted me to know that there was something quite significant to learn from this.

Then he said: “The mess in the garden is a reflection of the mess in your mind. Be practical.”

This is how I learned my first lesson about the relationship between our mind (internal states) and our surroundings (external reality). The lesson itself was so practical that I simply cannot forget it. It has been a great help to me, and I have been turning increasingly practical ever since.

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A test of willingness

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As I mentioned in the previous article, Wolfgang (my teacher) told me that he would teach me but I would have to show him that I’m sincere first. I would have to show my sincerity by ‘passing a test’.

I have met people who have the impression that it is unfair to test an aspiring student before teaching her, but this impression comes from the understanding that it is the teacher who ‘transforms’ the student. My experience however is that for any kind of learning we have to make efforts ourselves. A teacher can only inspire, demonstrate and give advice. A simple example: If we want to learn how to play the guitar, we will have to play the notes ourselves. If we don’t want to play a single note, we can at the very best only learn at a superficial level (conceptual) and not at a deeper, more profound level (experiential).

I want to relate a story about a young man I have met during my time in Taiwan. I had given a guest lecture at a university in Taipei City and a student approached me after the lecture. I don’t remember what the exact subject was, but it had something to do with the inner dimensions of live. This student told me that he really wanted to me to teach him more about what I had spoken about. I did not commit myself to doing anything yet, but we exchanged contact details and would keep in touch.

Over the course of the next couple of days I started receiving emails from this young man in which he stressed that it is very important to him to learn more from me and that he would also like me to teach at his student organization. Even though teaching and sharing is one of my great passions, I was not able to commit myself to spending time with him because I had a slightly disturbed feeling about it all. It was my impression that he was talking a lot about what he would like me to do for him, and not much about what he would like to do for him.

Even though Elly was against it, I decided to give him a test. I went against the advice of my wife because I have learned to trust my feelings: they always have something important to say.

I learned from Wolfgang that in order to test the willingness of a person properly, it is important to test that person on a subject that is (slightly) difficult for him. I had the impression with this person that money (greed) is a difficult subject for him, so I told him: “I will ask for a financial compensation for our work and time together. I realise that you are a student, so I will only ask you to give me what you feel comfortable with. Any amount you feel comfortable with, is fine.”

The answer I got from him was very surprising to me, but also very relieving: “It’s very kind of you to want to work with me, but I do not think it is on my priority list right now.” And I have never heard of this young man since!

So back to me and my test. When I don’t feel well (emotionally), I gain weight fast (for reference: at one point I was almost 80kg and I have a height of only 1m65). As mentioned in the previous article, when I met Wolfgang I wasn’t in a happy state of mind so I was overweight. The assignment he gave me was to lose 10 kilograms in 3 months time and to contact him after I have reached the goal.

My motivation to reach the goal was high because I was so excited about the possibility of working with Wolfgang. It became easy for me to lose the 10 kilograms, and I don’t see them coming back again.

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A special meeting

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From time to time I come across people who want to know how to identify if somebody is the right teacher for them. With that topic in mind, I want to share how my first meeting with Wolfgang (my teacher) went. This was truly one of the most significant moments of my life, but before I can describe it I believe a little bit of contextual information is in place.

When I reflect back on my early youth, I can say that I was born in a family of ‘seekers’. I remember quite clearly that my father was always studying either some religious texts or some scientific articles, and that my mother often had fundamental questions and doubts about religion; and this was well before they were introduced to spirituality.

It’s my guess that this atmosphere of looking for meaning and answers in life is why I felt a great attraction towards spirituality in my early teens. For about ten years (from the age of 12 to 22) I was slowly, but rather unsystematically, studying spiritual philosophies. I sometimes think of this period as a long flirt. I was reading some books, watching some recordings of discourses, listening to discussions and even attending workshops on spirituality, but it never became an integrated part of my life.

That changed when I broke up with my ex-girlfriend. That break-up strongly awakened the desire in me to be free from mental suffering and to be truly happy. Barely one or two months later I met Wolfgang.

My parents had organised a gathering at their house on that day. Swami Veda and Amit Goswami were going to enter into a dialogue with each other on, as I recall, the relationship between the findings of quantum physics and of spirituality. Several people were going to attend this meeting, among which Wolfgang.

When Wolfgang entered my parents’ home my mother introduced him to me. I somehow became a lot more alert and aware of everything when we were introduced to each other. What stands out to me now is how clearly I am able to remember those first 30 or so seconds of our introduction, and what I find interesting is that Wolfgang remembers them quite clearly as well. I remember where we shook hands, how we shook hands and what we said to each other. One peculiar thing is that I somehow managed to, in my very first sentence to him, blurt out that it would be great if I could learn from him. I was not wanting to learn from him before we had met, but it is the first thing I said when we did meet.

Of course, I wanted to speak with him some more, but he was quite busy that evening and I did not really get a chance. In hindsight that was a good thing, because if I would have been speaking I probably would have missed a clear sign that he was the right teacher for me: Whenever I sat down on the chair next to him, while waiting to say something to him, my mind would go blank. And that ‘blankness’ would be there for as long as I would sit next to him; when I got up before having said anything to him my mind became active again. I cannot explain why it happened like this (and to be honest, I also do not find it interesting to know), but it was something I could clearly observe.

Finally, at the very end of the evening, I had a chance to talk to him. He told me that he was willing to teach me, but I would have to pass a test first. I will speak about that test in my next article.

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