It's now New Years as of the day I'm writing this, and throughout much of the world, people are making resolutions to change or improve some aspect of their life.
Most of us make simple resolutions like "eat healthy", "get in shape", or "get my finances in order". The fact that these goals lack any detail or a specific plan for accomplishment aside, the biggest problem with making resolutions or setting goals in this way is that they don't seek to handle the real issue from the source.
What is the real issue? It always originates from the mind. What that actually means varies from person to person, but it's always some form of resistance to the present moment- to reality and our life as it is. This doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't seek to change our physical (or outward) circumstances, but this does mean that before doing so we need to get our "mental house" in order. Without having done this, we're moving in the dark, never really knowing if we're taking one step forward, sideways, or backward (or if we really even care to move at all).
It's mindfulness practice and the ability to look deeply into our everyday experiences which allow us to see with clarity, and that clarity brings greater freedom and a sense of meaning where there was once a lack-there-of. That feeling of "voidness", of something being missing, disappears and we're left feeling whole and fulfilled doing and experiencing even the simplest of things.
Truthfully, I've found this to be the single most difficult effort I've ever made in my life. But, I've also benefitted more from dedicating myself to living more mindfully and fully in this moment, the present moment, than anything else in my life by far as well.
And the great thing is, we all have it in us. No matter who you are you can make an effort to live more mindfully, more fully in the present moment. And while it can be a difficult effort, the reality is you don't need to live 24 hours a day in mindfulness. Even living your life 5% or 10% more mindful will make a tremendous difference in your life in so many different ways.
Last week on the Zen for Everyday Life podcast, I talked about how to make mindfulness a way of life through my 7 keys for living more mindfully. Those are the keys I've found through my own practice and experimentation to be most critical in making a more mindful life a reality.
But there's more to living fully and freely in the present moment than just being mindful. When you become mindful you often come face-to-face with resistance and are still posed with certain critical questions and issues which can be hard to surmount. These issues will keep you from realizing the fullness and freedom which living mindfully can bring you.
To help with that here are 9 essential keys I've found to living more fully and freely in the present moment.
9 Essential Keys to Living More Fully and Freely in Everyday Life
Below you'll find what I've discovered to be 9 essential keys to living both with greater freedom as well as with greater meaning and fulfillment in everyday life.
These points vary widely and many are lifelong efforts, but they all have a simple and to-the-point quality to them which makes them easy to understand and begin to apply in your everyday life.
I hope these 9 essential keys help serve you in your effort to live a more free and meaningful life.
1. Open yourself fully to this moment
"The pain that you create now is always some form of nonacceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is."
- Eckhart Tolle
Resistance is a principle I've talked about before on the blog. It's been described many ways before, but I prefer resistance because it gives you what I feel is an accurate visual of what the real effort, or thing happening, is in each moment.
We're resisting what is, to put it simply. There's really nothing more to it. But of course, that's hardly enough explanation to know how to actually apply this in your own life.
To better understand this and see clearly how you can apply it in your own life, I'll give some personal examples.
In episode number five of the Zen for Everyday Life podcast, How Mindfulness Helps Us Overcome Difficult Everyday Challenges, I talked about how before my first son was born I experienced paralyzing anxiety due to my money troubles.
Any time I'd think about my money troubles I'd go into a sort of shock and freeze up completely. This wasn't just stressful and a source of anxiety, but it was the most unproductive thing I could possibly do to actually get out of my situation in the first place.
It took some time, but after a while, I was able to step away from the issue and separate myself from it due to the clarity I had found through my meditation and mindfulness practice. At times, I still experienced challenges due to a lack of money, but it no longer affected me the way that it once did.
Ultimately, this was because my mindfulness practice didn't allow me to run from my issue. It forced me to face up to it and observe it more closely and at length. And after a while, that paralyzing and anxiety-causing quality to it just dropped away as I gained more and more clarity.
Another clear example from my own life is when I found out I was going to be a father...for the third time. I talked about it in Zen and the Art of Adapting to Life's Curveballs. That post stands as one of my personal favorites and a favorite of many of the Buddhaimonia community at the time it was published.
In the post, I talked about how I initially resisted the idea of being a father for the third time and found myself feeling resentment and anger towards the unborn child. Luckily, this is after I had been practicing for some time, and quickly shifted my mindset to one of appreciation, understanding, and love and welcomed the child with open arms.
Letting go of the resistance I had felt opened up a new possibility- that of this new child being a source of joy and meaning for me and my family (which my little girl absolutely became).
There are many ways this can manifest as the garden of our consciousness holds many seeds- seeds of anger, resentment, fear, jealousy, and more. But it all comes down to the same one thing- resistance to the present moment.
It will take time before you can spot this resistance yourself, but over time, you'll be able to see it more clearly. Furthermore, with dedication to your practice, you'll begin to let go of it and live with greater peace and freedom.
2. Live harmoniously
“As a bee gathering nectar does not harm or disturb the color & fragrance of the flower; so do the wise move through the world.”
Mindfulness gives us unrivaled access to our own thoughts, words, and actions and the intentions which lie hidden beneath them. Because of this, with time, we can begin to see that what we think, say, and do has a real effect on not just ourselves but the word around us.
This can mean many things, but it all comes down to one central idea: to live harmoniously with the world around us. Whether that's with other people, animals, plants, or the Earth and life itself in a general sense, to live harmoniously with these various parts of life is to water seeds of peace, freedom, and meaning within ourselves.
This is something I've found has come about as a natural byproduct of my practice combined with opening myself up to the natural world, two things which go together like peanut butter and jelly (and I really like peanut butter and jelly).
But don't make the mistake of thinking that this is restricted to what we call nature and nothing else. Try not to draw imaginary lines, or at least, notice where you have drawn them.
Nature, people, animals, thoughts, words, actions- everything is connected. To live harmoniously is to live in a way that you don't disturb the natural order of things. Much is included within that, but if you remember that basic tenet it's easy to keep from being led astray.
To keep this natural order is to keep the peace, both within your mind and in the world outside. This point runs pretty deep, but for now, I think it's important to leave it at that.
3. Stop searching for meaning outside yourself
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
- Alan Watts
There's a deep current that runs throughout this world, but most of us have become unconnected to it. That current is love, but unfortunately, most of us have floated off into a place of fear, lack, or as I often refer to it: the feeling that "something" is missing.
We search for meaning outside ourselves in many different ways:
- We seek to feel "complete" through intimate relationships.
- We seek to feel fulfilled through big accomplishments.
- We seek to feel loved through sex.
- And we seek to feel content through harmful, unhealthy, or generally neutral repetitive activities (this takes shape in many ways).
Whatever it is, it's all towards the same purpose of making ourselves feel "full", to fill that sense of voidness within us and, unknowingly, get back to the current of love. Unfortunately, most of us go about it the wrong way and end up hurting ourselves more than anything else.
To make this a reality, more is necessary than just mindfulness, although mindfulness can help us to cultivate positive qualities such as compassion and understanding, the foundations of love.
Stop searching for meaning outside of yourself. Stop thinking you need something outside of yourself, even "the one" (for the record, I believe an intimate relationship can be very nourishing and a beautiful addition to life. Something to look forward to for sure, but like so many other enjoyable things, in no way necessary for peace or happiness).
Along with your mindfulness practice, the resources below can help you to begin cultivating more understanding, compassion, and finally love in your life:
- Cultivating compassion and understanding: Healing Through Understanding: How a Simple Meditation Can Transform Your Mind and How You Relate to Others
- Culivating love: How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
- Understanding the power of love: Love is the Way: The Universal Path to Peace, Happiness, and Enlightenment
- Seeing through the illusion of intimate love: 3 Ways Intimate Love Keeps Us from Peace and Happiness and How to Transcend Through Self-Love
When you begin to work on this, you'll find that this empty feeling you had was never really there. You were full along, you had just lost the current.
4. Shift from "me" to "us"
"Only keep the question, 'What is the best way of helping other people?'"
- Seung Sahn
This isn't an easy effort for anyone, but some cultures have an easier time with this than others. It just so happens, if you live in the West, this is particularly more difficult.
In the West, more so than in some parts of the East, the ego is a stamp of our individuality, without which we'd wither away and become like drones. But this is a misunderstanding more than anything else.
The shift from "me" to "us" coincides with the shift from fear (or lack) to love in the last point. It's an altogether opening up of our state of mind to a place where all things are precious and beautiful and equal.
It doesn't mean we lose ourselves or our sense of identity, it simply means we gain a clearer understanding. A clearer understanding of our interconnectedness and interbeing nature.
Our mindfulness practice helps us begin to make this shift, most particularly the practice of deep sitting meditation, as do certain exercises which the Buddha suggested in his many talks, among those the practice of loving-kindness meditation which I linked to in the last point.
5. See your interbeing nature
“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”
- Thich Nhat Hanh
Moving on from the last point, realizing the interbeing nature of all things is about the same idea of "awakening from our illusion of separateness" as Thich Nhat Hanh refers to it in the quote above.
You can practice this simply and easily within your everyday life (it's one of my personal favorite exercises). Specifically, through Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh's practice of looking deeply. Here's how to practice it:
- Pick an object. This could be a flower, tree, a piece of food, or even a person (although that's a bit of an advanced form of the practice). Whatever it is, pick one object and focus on that.
- Work backwards. Take a flower for instance. Start with where you got it- the store, flower shop, outside in your garden, at the park or wherever. Then imagine, or find out if you don’t know, how it got to the flower shop, how it was transported, how it was maintained for freshness, how it was cared for and picked, and how it grew from a seed in the ground into a flower. Lastly, think about the soil and all the things that make up the soil that would eventually provide the seed the nutrients to grow into the flower as it sits in front of you now.
- Realize interbeing. Lastly, think of how if you were to take away even one of those elements: the grower, the garden, the soil, the seed, or the facility that packaged and delivered it, the flower would cease to exist.
This is a simple and easy meditation which you can do on just about anything, you just may have to stop to do a little searching to find out exactly where that thing comes from. But that can be an exciting and insightful exercise in itself (and something easily done nowadays with the internet).
After practicing this a few times on a few different objects, do this on yourself and see the many different conditions which you do and have depended on to exist as you are today and see that even we don't escape this great truth of impermanence.
6. Don't waste this life - Realize the impermanent nature of all things
“Great is the matter of birth and death. All is impermanent, quickly passing. Wake up! Wake up, each one! Don’t waste this life.”
- Dogen Zenji
The above quote from Zen master Dogen clearly exemplifies the importance of this point. Because of the impermanent nature of all things, we, as well as everything around us has a finite amount of time available to us in this life.
It's because of this that we shouldn't waste a single moment of it. To be mindful, fully present for this moment is to be fully alive and making the most of each moment available to us. This is the power of mindfulness. The power to truly live fully in each moment.
With mindfulness and the practice of looking deeply (see the last point), we can see into the impermanent nature of things and cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for our lives and the little moments.
Smelling a flower, touching a tree, being with a loved one. In each of these moments, we can see clearly the impermanent nature of all things- both the moment and the things- and fully appreciate it for all its beauty. Get out there and live mindfully and more deeply and cultivate that sense of appreciation for yourself.
7. Decide what's important to you, simplify your life, and give yourself to those things
"Since there is never a time when worldly activities come to an end, limit your activities."
You can only give your time and attention to so many things. As I mentioned in the last point, we have a finite amount of time in this life and in each individual moment, so you need to:
- Decide what's important to you
- Simplify your life (cut down on the nonessentials)
- And give yourself to those important things
It's only in doing this that you'll be able to live a full life, one where you felt that you gave it your all and attained the peace you were searching for.
Simplicity may only be a container- the practice of mindful living, looking and seeing deeply, and cultivating love being the contents- but without the container, we'd have no effective capacity to create the right environment for peace and freedom to arise in the first place.
This can be something as simple as cutting down on your physical possessions, which have the ability to crowd our life and distract us. But more importantly, it includes things such as limiting your commitments and responsibilities, both of which crowd our mental activity.
For more information on how to make this a reality, see ZfEL podcast episode #5: How to Cleanse the Mind and Create an Environment Conducive to Greater Peace and Freedom.
8. Be fully of this moment
"Treat every moment as your last. It is not preparation for something else.”
- Shunryu Suzuki
Shunryu Suzuki has two of my favorite quotes pertaining to this point, the second is this:
"You should not have any remains after you do something. But this does not mean to forget all about it. In order not to leave any traces, when you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire.
You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do."
To be fully of this moment means to give your full being to this moment. It means you leave nothing on the table, reserve no part of yourself, hold nothing back and regret nothing. You act as one unstoppable force in that moment.
The way most of us live our lives, we're usually doing something now in preparation for something later. In each moment, we're more concentrated on the next moment than we are the present moment. Because of this, in a very real way we're never fully present to our lives and almost always living in our heads half asleep.
To live mindfully, deeply, fully engaged in this moment is to let go of the future and be fully of this moment- the present moment.
It doesn't necessarily mean you cease planning for the future, as some planning is necessary. How would a monk or nun get anything done at a monastery (and there's a lot to get done) if he or she never planned anything? So some degree of planning is necessary, but the focus should be on living fully in the present moment.
The most important things to pay attention to are fear of the future and aversion to the present. Fear of the future makes us either focus constantly on planning for the future and avoiding the present or mindlessly distracting ourselves and doing neither. Aversion to the present makes us hate being present and rather constantly planning to improve things or daydreaming in the future.
This can take time as future moments are always trying to pull us along. But with practice, we can begin to more clearly see when we're acting mindfully and when we're just eating our future plans.
9. Know that the sacred is ordinary, the ordinary is sacred
"If you live the sacred and despise the ordinary, you are still bobbing in the ocean of delusion.”
- Linji Yixuan
I left this point for last because I feel that it's one of the most important points on this list.
So many search for meaning and purpose through a type of spiritual practice which is so far removed from their everyday lives that they begin to feel as though their daily lives are empty and devoid of any real meaning and that it's only through their separate practice in which they can be "filled up".
Unfortunately, this is just another form of confusion. To live in this way is to be utterly confused about what life, reality, and spirituality (all of the above) is and is about.
This is unfortunate because a true understanding leads to seeing clearly that everything in this world is precious and beautiful. This misunderstanding keeps you from experiencing the beauty that exists all around you at all times.
And in many cases, it keeps you from realizing the interbeing nature of all things, which despite a supposedly deep spiritual practice keeps us acting hostile and defensive towards the world around us. The opposite of what's necessary for peace to occur.
Also unfortunate is that while I can clearly convey the importance of realizing this point, I can't tell you anything that will help you realize it immediately. That's because it must be experienced first-hand, through a daily practice of mindfulness and deep looking.
You need to dedicate yourself to living deeply and mindfully in each and every moment. And even if you fail at this 95% of the time, that 5% where you're successful will radically transform your everyday experiences and cultivate a greater sense of peace, freedom, and meaning in your life for as long as you continue to practice.
So my best advice? Get out there and live mindfully. Look deeply into your everyday experiences. Into the flowers outside your window, into the food that you eat, and into the people you meet.
Make this a priority in your life and give your best effort. It may take time, but it will be enough.
For more information on making mindfulness a way of life, check out ZfEL podcast episode #6: How to Make Mindfulness a Way of Life: 7 Keys to Living a More Mindful Life.
This Moment: How to Live Fully and Freely in the Present Moment
This post covered many of the central points of my latest book, This Moment, and I couldn't be more excited to bring it to you.
Living simply, mindfully, naturally, and with great love. Those are the 4 core principles of the book and they together cover what I believe to be the most important efforts in life.
Whether it's peace, happiness, freedom, or meaning, these 4 principles, and the many sub-topics within them, encompass a complete moment-to-moment guide to living a deeply nourishing, easeful, and joy-filled life even amidst the most difficult everyday challenges.
To get more information and purchase a copy, click below: