Zen Lightning

January 31, 2008

Lighting can jolt our reality

Lightning strikes in a moment with force and sound.  Then it is over and there is no way to hold on to it.

What is the source of lightning?  Where does it come from?  Why does it jump from clouds?  A meteorologist can give an answer.  “It’s due to a combination of air currents in the clouds, ice particle colliding, and temperature changes.”  Sounds reasonable—but it does not get to the crux of the matter.  It is just an explanation.  But still we listen to the words and repeat them often enough to believe them to be the fact.  The words don’t reveal where the lightning comes from, or even what it is.   The fact is that no one knows where lightning comes from.

Our life is like this.  We shine brightly for the moment.  We can have stories about where we come from, whether it is the birth of an individual or the birth of the universe.  But these words are just explanations also.  Again, no one knows.  We just say it.  We are just here.

But we have been given the gift to be born humans—to have the capability to raise questions that go directly to our nature–Who am I?  Why? What? 

But more, we are fortunate to have the time and opportunity to explore, not explain, these questions.  The time is now.  The opportunity is our practice.  Zazen, quieting the mind and bringing attention back to the moment, is at the heart of the practice.  This practice begins to loosen the attachment to words and explanations.  It allows us to raise the energy needed for transformation and to have an active insight into our nature.

Active insight expresses itself directly and usefully in all of our activities — work, taking care of others, cleaning, eating.

This is the opportunity and time.  It is ours to make the most of it.

Working Smart—Strategies for Difficult Exams

January 17, 2008

Most students give away a half a letter grade by not showing all that they know on tests, particularly those requiring problem solving skills.  It’s worth a few minutes to improve the strategy to do well.  Here are some suggestions.

Just pick one or two that is appropriate for you to keep in mind.

Take a deep breath before beginning in order to calm your mind. Racing forward in the first few minutes can lead to careless errors that are difficult to identify and correct.

Preview the test before you answer anything. This gets you thinking about the material. Make sure to note the point value of each question. Quickly estimate how much time you should allow for each section according to the point value. This preview should only take a minute or two.

Read the directions Never assume that you know what the directions say.

Underline with a pencil what you are asked to do. This will force you to focus on the answer.

Keep track of the time and progress during the test.

Answer the easy questions first. This will give you the confidence and momentum to get through the rest of the test. You are sure these answers are correct.

Go back to the difficult questions. While looking over the test and doing the easy questions, your subconscious mind will have been working on the answers to the harder ones. For problems with multiple parts (i.e. a, b,c,d), and use the earlier sections for hints to solve the later parts.

Answer all questions.  

Avoid careless errorsThink before you start writing.  When the writing starts on the wrong track, it is very difficult and time consuming to rethink the problem and start over.

Review the test carefully, especially the easy questions.

Use all of the time allotted for the test.

Show all your work (especially when partial credit is awarded) and write as legibly as possible.

Strategies for working on quantitative problems are outlined in Effective Quantitative Problem Solving Methods