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How to live a life of Zen in a modern world

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This article gives tips on how to live a life of Zen in a modern world. The author gives great insights on how this ancient philosophy can benefit you in your everyday life.

Serious students of Zen spend many years in rigorous training in monasteries. However, it is possible to take what we want from this way of life and use it to our advantage in today’s world. Our constant struggle to survive gets in the way of the harmony so necessary for our spirit in this mad whirlpool which is modern life.

Zen principles, in their absolute simplicity, may appear archaic, but surprisingly, they are modern in function and can have real meaning for us. Most of us could do with a little more tranquillity and peace our lives, and if that takes mindfulness and a little concentration, why not?

Here are tips highlighting how you can benefit by embracing a Zen philosophy within your busy daily life.

Deliberately being mindful

Mindfulness is being present in everything you do, concentrating on that task alone. Staying present keeps us in the moment and shuts out the jumble of thoughts which constantly attacks us. In this quiet present-moment space, we are open to receiving greater creative insights. This is the peaceful space of problem solving and lateral thinking.

  • Gently strive for simplicity, concentration and mindfulness in every activity.
  • Single task only – multi-tasking is not in the Zen vocabulary.
  • If you’re watching TV, just watch it, if you’re bathing, just bathe.
  • If you’re eating, just eat; eating while working is totally against Zen philosophy.
  • Do one task at a time, focus and be deliberate with it.

Giving yourself the hurry-up

Try to catch yourself when you are rushing. Rushing tasks is stressful and actually takes longer. How many times have you knocked things over, lost keys or tripped yourself up in some way when you have been stressed from rushing. Mundane tasks such as housework, laundry and meal preparation are best not done in a rushed and stressed state of mind. These tasks are not actually boring; they are the meditative time we all need.

Actions are best performed deliberately rather than rushed and random. This takes practice because we have become conditioned to rushing and doing tasks by the clock. The key is to allow yourself enough time between tasks so you can relax in the process of life. Why you ask? Slow and deliberate helps us stay present and remain focused on the task. This again leaves space for our minds to rest and enable creative insight – a huge bonus to every creative and non-creative person alike. And that helps us to solve problems too!

If all fails do it another time

To do the task completely is the way of Zen.

This means to complete each task before moving on to something else. It is best to move onto the next task when everything is tidied up and put away from the first task. For example, if you are making a sandwich, try to clean up the utensils used to make it and wipe down the bench before you commence eating. This allows you to focus completely on the next task which is of course eating your lunch.

If you are cleaning the car it is best to put the cleaning products and vacuum cleaner away before you even think about the next task. If for some reason you cannot complete the task and must move on to something else, clean up the unfinished task ready to tackle it another time.

Leaving time between tasks allows you to take a little longer with some jobs if you need to. This way, your day remains stress-free without worrying about running out of time for the next task.

The schedule of overcrowdedness

A Zen monk does not completely fill his days with tasks. In other words, he is not stressed out by the amount of work he has ahead of him each day.

He is not lazy – he rises early and has a day filled with work. He has a certain number of things he wants to do this day and no more. By doing less, he can concentrate and do the tasks more slowly. His goal is to be deliberate with his tasks, not to do as much as he can in the shortest time. He leaves space between tasks in case one task takes longer than he planned. That way, he doesn’t struggle with an overcrowded schedule. And why does he wish to be deliberate and mindful with his tasks? The answer is to free his restless mind from activity. By experiencing moments of restfulness in his mind, he escapes time. He is in a timeless, formless place conserving energy by not thinking. This frees up his energy to create other things.

The unrealised power of ritual

Zen monks have rituals or rites for many things they do including bathing, cleaning, meditating, etc. Creating rituals for yourself gives things a sense of importance. If something has a sense of importance it is worth doing slowly, deliberately and correctly. It deserves your entire attention.

Think hard and recognise the rituals you are already performing and pay attention to them. They are important to you even if you don’t realise it. Otherwise, why would they be done each day usually at the same time and in the same way? Rituals are sacred times and need to be treated as such.

A Zen monk likes to do things regularly so he designates time for them. He has a set time for eating, bathing, working, cleaning and so on. You can designate time for your various activities such as work, exercise, eating and quiet contemplation. If the task is an important one and is done regularly, it deserves to have a specific time designated for it.

Our daily activities

A Zen monk always makes time each day for sitting meditation called Zazen. This is one of the most important times in his day. By quietening his mind he remains present and this takes his focus off past and future thinking. Activities such as gardening, cycling, running, painting, knitting, housework, bathing, and walking are a luxuriously easy way to remain present. Ideally, the stilled mind doesn’t process – it just reflects like a mirror.

Christine Stoner is an accomplished artist and the creator of Zen School for Creative People. Her work is held in private collections in Australia and internationally. She also writes about Zen and creativity online and conducts workshops with this theme. Christine has a Diploma in Visual Arts is a teacher in Brisbane and is also a qualified yoga teacher and counsellor.

Christine may be contacted at christine@zenschool.com.au

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