It happened to me today.
As a teacher of meditation in schools, I was teaching a one-day retreat to 20 11-year-olds about identifying their talents and qualities.
I asked the students, ‘Imagine you are a single tree standing in a forest. What does that tree look like, and what characteristics does it have?” I asked.
The students were eagerly drawing their unique trees on their activity sheets. As I watched them work, I was amazed. One student was drawing, with great skill, a stump of a tree with the trunk and trunk cut out, leaving only the roots. I asked him why he had drawn it this way. He told me a story that was far too negative and bleak for an 11-year-old to tell.
‘I don’t have any talent, I don’t want to do anything, I’m never going to grow up, because I don’t have anything, so that’s why I’m representing myself with a tree that’s been cut down.’
‘I think you’re good at drawing, intelligent, and handsome.
‘That’s because you don’t know me, I’m uneducated and useless.
Who had trapped this child in such a negative mindset? I was so sad and worried that I tried my best to teach the child how to meditate and encouraged him that he can do it, but a two-hour special session was too short a time to change his mind, or maybe my efforts were timid
When I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about that child’s face and artwork. I felt sorry for that child who thought he was worthless. I wish that child, who was taller and smarter than his peers and could complete the quizzes in class the fastest, could live a life free of negativity.
A nice car or house. A job that makes a lot of money. A child who does well in school. A husband who only loves me. I don’t have any of these things but have peace of mind and freedom through meditation. Perhaps the reason why the child I met today broke my heart was because he was so much like my past self.
My past self never appreciated what I had, always envied those who were better off than me, and hated myself. To me, happiness meant graduating from a good university, getting a good job, making good money, and having my parents’ approval and full support. I always wanted a husband who was competent and loved only me, and children who were obedient and did well in school.
I was so focused on these material things that I didn’t take care of the most important thing: myself. I didn’t have peace in my heart. I didn’t take the time to reflect and think about my life, I was always worried about what my family, friends, and co-workers were saying and doing around me, and I was living on the fly every day.
Then I came across meditation, and as I reflected on myself and let go of the negative thoughts that I was repeating thousands of times a day, I developed a desire to help free others who, like me, were trapped in the prison of their thoughts. I developed compassion to help others who were less fortunate.
To help children like the student I met today, I will continue my studies; if there is a more competent teacher than me, I will learn from him; I will open my heart more and reach out to him; if I can help others be happy, even if it takes effort and sacrifice, I will try a little harder.
For me, happiness is being happy with people.