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Lions Roar : July 2018
whom Jeff had been particularly awful to, say she was “so proud” of him. I admired her grace, but for some reason, it also aggravated me. I didn’t want her to accept his apology so easily. Later in the evening, Jeff took me aside and told me he was sorry if he’d ever hurt my feel- ings. I told him I appreciated the apology, but it was unneces- sary—I barely remembered any of it. But the truth is that the apology made me feel small, as if the fact that I still cared about this ancient junk just meant that Jeff continued to have an unreasonable, embarrassing amount of power over me. A couple times since then when we’ve gotten together, he’s brought up the conversations he had at our reunion. “I was surprised that anyone knew as much as they did about what I’d been up to,” Jeff says to me one day in the small library inside the Dharma Bum Temple. “I didn’t expect they would care.” “But of course they care,” I tell him. And then I think to myself that if they’re anything like me, they’ve been paying too close attention to his story over the past few years, hoping that learning about the path he chose might help them glean some kind of understanding about themselves. The next time I see Jeff, he shares a memory he’s ashamed of. When we were fifteen, he and some other boys roughed up a kid, someone we’d all known since we were little. They pushed and shoved him around, laughing at him in front of a bunch of other kids. Recently, he came in to the temple, briefly, just to look around. He and Jeff had a light, friendly chat—almost as if there were no awkward history between them. At the time, Jeff didn’t think too much of it. But after further consideration, he has another take. “I understand why he came in to see me,” Jeff says. “So he could see that me being mean to him wasn’t about his worth; it was about mine. It wasn’t him; it was me.” JEFF SPENDS A LOT of his time these days with young people, going into high schools to talk about the benefits of meditation. He says kids fifteen to eighteen are his favorite to work with. Because they’re dealing with new stress and com- plexity in their lives, they have so much to gain by learning to focus and improve their emotional well-being. He tells me about a recent visit to a school just a few miles north of where we grew up. From the floor of the auditorium, Jeff spoke to a large group of students about anger and his experiences discov- ering meditation. Jeff is a natural when it comes to public speaking, and he’s had tons of practice. The kids listened attentively. Soon, he noticed a boy sitting off to the side, slightly apart from the rest of the group. Something about him felt familiar. “Just the look in his eye, the body language,” Jeff says. “I could tell he was angry and really suffering.” Jeff shifted his focus, making frequent eye contact with the boy as he spoke to the gathering. He felt like he might be able to help with whatever the kid was going through—and maybe save some of the people in the boy’s life from being affected by his acting out. “All of a sudden, I had this memory from when I was in school,” Jeff says. “I could see myself going up and tearing out these plants that one of my teachers had in the front of her classroom. For no good reason—just to get a reaction.” After the talk, the boy stayed behind and approached Jeff for a one-on-one. “You kept looking at me,” the boy said hesitantly. “And I felt like you were looking right into my head.” “I know exactly who you are,” Jeff laughed. “Because I am you.” JEFF AND I HANG OUT AGAIN, this time in San Francisco, where I live with my wife and son. As usual, our discussion eventually leads back to the old days. I tell him that I recently realized I’ve been avoiding talking to him about one important thing: the effect he had on me when we were growing up. I’d After a year at a monastery in Taiwan, Zlotnik founded the Dharma Bum Temple in San Diego. Teaching meditation in high schools, he told an angry boy, “I know who you are, because I am you.” PHOTOSCOURTESYOFJEFFZLOTNICK LION’S ROAR | JULY 2018 46