Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originates from China but is mostly known in the West in the form that was developed in Japan.
Trying to understand Zen as a philosophy is usually connected to very abstract ways of thinking, and this can sometimes make people over-complicate, which is exactly the opposite of what Zen practitioners would want to achieve. To put it simply, Zen is often associated with a method called “Maintaining the one without wavering”. In this case, the one is the nature of the mind, also equated with Buddha-nature. This means that a practitioner turns the attention from the objects of experience to the nature of the mind, the perceiving subject itself, and this practice requires no preparation or moral prerequisites.
So, a practice that comes out of this kind of approach is one that always requires you to be present in the moment. Whatever you are doing, you should be focused on it, without any excess thoughts or worries. The point is to approach any activity as if it has a purpose in itself and to do it in such a focused and dedicated way as if any daily activity that we do is an art form. If you do that, anything you do can be a form of meditation. A practice that relieves you of stress and helps your body and mind to rest.
In the over-cluttered world of today, filled with noise and stress, this kind of approach can be extremely helpful. Especially because it doesn’t require years of studying or special preparation. You can easily apply Zen principles to anything you do, and transform that activity into a form of meditation that helps you live a less stressful and more focused, mindful life.
Steps That Can Help You Live a Zen Lifestyle
This sounds easy, but it is also completely at odds with the modern way of life that tells you to always work and do more. It is far more important to be fully present when you engage in an activity than to mindlessly try to completely exhaust yourself by overworking.
You need to slow down, take breaks, and reserve the time for yourself during which you do nothing.
Prepare the Night Before
It is very important how you start a day. In turn, this also means it is important how you end the previous day.
If you start a day by waking up at the last minute and rush through your morning routine and have to run out of your house, this means that the rest of your day can be colored by this initial stress – a presence of unconscious stress can follow you throughout the whole day.
To avoid this, decide before you go to sleep that your next day will be calm and without stress. Plan your steps, and make some preparations that will make your breakfast and morning routine a relaxed meditative experience. Whatever you do, always make enough time for you to just sit and breathe – even if it’s only for a few minutes.
Single-Task and Pay Attention
Try to live in accord with the Zen proverb “When eating, eat. When walking, walk”. This means that you should not try to do as many things at the same time as you can. On the contrary, do only one thing at a time, but focus completely on it.
For example, try to get rid of all social media distractions when you eat or drive. Clear your mind and enjoy the activity itself. In such a way you will practice and will be able to apply this skill to a variety of activities. It is proven that this skill improves productivity.
When you get rid of all distractions, you can pay closer attention and notice many details that you were previously unaware of.
Activities That Can Help You Develop a Zen Lifestyle
The steps we covered should be applied to anything you do. But some activities are especially good for practicing those steps. These activities can help you find your center, to be more mindful and present for the rest of your day.
Having a Zen Garden, also known as a Japanese rock garden, is a wonderful way to practice a Zen lifestyle. This kind of garden usually consists of quite a small space – it is a kind of a miniature stylized landscape. This is perfect for a modern way of life, you don’t require a lot of space, and this also means less work, but more focus on the small details.
You can carefully arrange rocks, moss, pruned trees, water features, and bushes. Not only that, you can even introduce tropical varieties in your backyard (for more information please visit Jim’s Mowing). You can transform this small space into a wonderful garden that will be the area for meditative work, and synonymous with peace and quiet in your life.
This is a more traditional activity that could be interesting to those who want to go deeper into Zen and more fully immerse themselves into Japanese culture.
The Japanese tea ceremony is very much influenced by Zen Buddhism and over time it evolved into a highly codified ceremony. Zen monks discovered matcha – a powdered green tea – in the 9th century and brought it from China to Japan in the 12th century. For the monks, tea was closely associated with meditation. And, gradually, they developed a practice around it – a very precise and codified ritual, completely marked by Zen principles of asceticism and austerity.
Keeping a Journal
From an ancient ritual, we turn to a very modern activity at the end, but one that can be done in a very Zen way: the art of keeping a journal.
When you think about it, it’s probably obvious how this practice can be in accord with everything we wrote in this article so far. Keeping a journal every day will keep your mind calm – you can review your day in a very careful way, which is extremely helpful in planning your activities and also being much more aware of your daily activities and what they mean.
There is no wrong way to do it, and even if you write for only 5 minutes per day, it can have a great effect on your life.
Zen lifestyle is connected to ancient philosophies and practices. But, paradoxically, its emphasis on simplifying makes it not only a very welcome antidote to the toxicities of modern life, but it also makes it a set of easily adaptable and appliable skills – and in that way, Zen has a very modern side to it.
Whether you apply it to gardening or writing a journal, or you simply try to focus more on your daily activities like eating or driving, you can easily find a way to make Zen techniques a part of your life.