Everyday Life

10 Essential Keys to Mindful Living

10 Essential Keys to Mindful Living

More than anything else, my focus for this year is to live a more mindful life.

Ultimately, mindful living is a simple task: do more things with mindfulness. There's nothing more to it. But, just because something is simple doesn't mean that it's easy. It's anything but that.

I talk about this from time to time, but to live even a little more mindfully creates a significant difference in the quality of your everyday life. If you can to get to a point where you're living even 5% of your life mindfully, you'll likely see a complete transformation of your daily life from stressed, anxious, and discontent to calm, peaceful, and happy.

But even that 5% can be very difficult to achieve, especially considering the adverse conditions of the modern world which mostly come in the form of myriad distractions to our mindfulness practice and general effort to live less mindlessly and more awake to ourselves in each moment.

There are many intangibles, and one or two tangible factors, which I've found to be essential to the overall practice of mindful living.

Mindful living comes with a laundry list of significant benefits. But, really, when it gets down to it, it's all about being happier and more at peace.

And that's what mindfulness allows us to do, to wake up to our lives and live intentionally, taking the reigns and living consciously as opposed to being swayed this way and that by our conditioning and habitual patterns. These patterns run very deep, and they affect everything that we do, so mindfulness practice is essential to realizing true peace and happiness.

I hope these 10 essential keys to mindful living help you live a more mindful life, filled with greater peace, happiness, and the skillfulness to navigate life's challenges.

10 Essential Keys for Mindful Living

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1. Prioritize mindful living

This is one of those points I mention time and time again because it really is that important.

What does it mean to prioritize your practice of mindful living? In a nutshell, this refers to treating it with a certain level of importance.

Oftentimes, we make a decision to do something, such as workout regularly, and end up falling off of our goal because we didn't treat it with the same level of importance as the other things in our life.

The reality is, each of the activities and responsibilities which make up our life exist on a scale. Depending on the importance of the activity, it may rest higher or lower on this scale.

When we add something new to this scale, unless we consciously make the effort to do the opposite, it gets placed at the bottom and is therefore much more likely to get pushed aside for other things.

By prioritizing your practice of mindful living, you're saying, "This is something important to me. I value my well-being, and this is an important key in my effort to take care of myself and live a happier and more peaceful life. This is as important as anything else."

You can learn more about important intangible factors such as this, and a step-by-step in-depth mindful living program, by checking out my book Zen for Everyday Life.

2. Harness motivation

Motivation is one of those things which can either help or hurt you, and it all comes down to whether or not you've been able to identify what your true motivation is in the first place.

Why do you practice? Why do you push your practice aside? Gaining clarity about this allows you to change the script and replace it with something more compelling towards your practice and away from those things which are less beneficial. Oftentimes, just being really clear about why exactly you practice and how those other things are less beneficial is enough to truly harness motivation towards supporting your mindfulness practice.

Oftentimes, just being really clear about why exactly you practice and how those other things are less beneficial is enough to truly harness motivation towards supporting your mindfulness practice.

By identifying your motivation to practice, as well as your motivation to brush off practice and put it aside for other things, you can construct your daily life in a way that promotes your practice and demotes other activities which are less beneficial. For this reason, understanding your motivation can be an important tool in making mindful living more habitual.

Interestingly enough, it's mindfulness which allows us to bring clarity to these motivating factors, so if you know how to practice mindfulness you already have the key to "activating" this asset to your practice so to speak.

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3. Have patience

This is one of those points that's definitely easier said than done, but simply becoming aware of it is often very helpful.

The reality is that most of us approach our mindfulness practice with the expectation to gain or feel something by some certain amount of time, and when we don't arrive there in the amount of time we originally expected, we end up discouraging ourselves from the very practice which is supposed to help us.

Meditation and mindfulness practice move along their own timetables. And sure, the more dedicated our practice the more we can affect this, but we still have no way of making accurate expectations.

No matter how hard we practice, we still never know how long something is going to take. We don't know when something or other will happen, so we must be patient and allow it to unfold as it will.

This can be difficult at first, but ultimately it helps us quite a bit because it begins to train us in the art of letting go and living naturally, allowing things to unfold as they will. And this will be a beneficial skill for the rest of our lives.

4. Open yourself fully to the practice of making friends with yourself

Meditation and mindfulness practice, in many ways, is the practice of making friends with yourself. By this, I mean learning about yourself intimately and training yourself to become your friend as opposed to your critical enemy, something almost all of us can relate to being at least at some point in our lives.

Most of us are ruled by an internal dialogue that is mean and hurtful and very damaging to our self-esteem and mental well-being. This internal dialogue is one of the primary things which our practice of mindful living allows us to work through, slowly identifying the footprint of the critical ego and allowing us to fully accept and heal these wounds with compassion and loving-kindness one-by-one.

By opening yourself to the process, and practice, of making friends with yourself, you're proclaiming that you're ready to face every part of yourself, even the deepest and darkest parts. It won't be easy either way, but by identifying ahead of time that this will be a part of your mindful living practice

It won't be easy either way, but by identifying ahead of time that this will be a part of your mindful living practice and accepting that fact you open the gateway to a much more easeful path through the process of making friends with yourself and finding peace with this internal dialogue.

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5. Consume mindfully

As important as anything else is creating an environment conducive to mindful living (and peace and happiness), and one of the major ways to do that is through mindful consumption.

Mindful consumption is the practice of reviewing your life and identifying which are harmful and which are helpful factors, then rearranging your life in a way that promotes your well-being. This includes everything from the people you choose to surround yourself with to your habits with electronic devices such as your smartphone and T.V.

If you expect to create a strong mindful living practice without working through some of these areas which may be continually harming your well-being, you'll just detract from your practice and keep hurting yourself in the long run.

It's important to create an environment that is conducive to not just a more mindful life but greater peace and happiness in general. After all, isn't that the point? If something in our life doesn't promote our physical or mental well-being or that of our loved ones, it probably needs to go.

Ultimately, you'll be the judge of this, but by making this a priority, you'll put yourself in a position to live an overall healthier and more mindful life.

Learn more about mindful consumption and creating an environment conducive to greater peace and happiness here: ZfEL Episode #3.

6. Practice easeful discipline

Discipline is as important in a daily mindfulness and meditation practice as in anything else in life, but it's important to go about it the right way.

Don't approach your mindfulness practice from the perspective of an athlete or someone trying to push themselves to their limit. Mindfulness practice, and navigating the challenges of everyday life in general, needs to be done in an easeful and joyful way.

Your practice should, typically, be very enjoyable and feel very easy. This isn't a hard or fast rule, though. Sometimes, meditation and mindfulness practice can be quite difficult.

Both require us to face the darkest parts of ourselves, and as a result, sometimes our meditation and mindfulness practice can be quite difficult. But, in general, your practice should be enjoyable and refreshing.

Depending on the challenges you bring to your practice, this may be difficult for you. But know that this is more a state of mind to bring to your practice and something to remind yourself of from time to time more than anything else, so it can be developed over time.

7. Cultivate loving-kindness

As I just mentioned, mindfulness practice can be difficult. Both to make a way of life, a more habitual activity, and simply the practice in itself at times when we're forced to face uncomfortable parts of ourselves.

For this reason, the quality of loving-kindness is absolutely essential. With loving-kindness, we change from being overly critical and harmful to ourselves to being kind and compassionate when we experience these dark patches. It's this kindness and compassion which transforms everything and they're essential parts of a successful meditation practice of any kind, including mindfulness.

It's this kindness and compassion which transforms everything and they're essential parts of a successful meditation practice of any kind, including mindfulness.

You can learn more about the role loving-kindness plays in mindfulness practice by listening to ZfEL episode #16: How to Heal the Wounds in Our Heart with Mindfulness and Loving-Kindness.

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8. Find a mindful community

A community is one of those things which you can get away without having if you really need to, but which without you'll be greatly hindering your ability to stay consistent, create a thriving practice, and even just to stick to the practice in the first place.

A community of like-minded individuals, even one you only get to meet once every 2-4 weeks, is priceless and will not only help you stick to your practice but will help you develop your practice further in less time (that's not the point, but still worth mentioning).

Without a community of other mindful practitioners, you're alone in your practice and have no one which you can communicate with regarding your challenges.

Even simply for this reason it's highly valuable, but there's also an accountability factor which makes a community a powerful tool in helping develop your mindfulness practice into a daily habit (or, in other words, a way of life).

There are many ways to go about finding a community, including simply searching Google for mindfulness meditation classes in your area, but here are a few links to certain practice groups which you may find helpful:

  1. Wake Up – Get Involved!
  2. The Mindfulness Bell – Sangha Directory
  3. Shambhala Directory
  4. Plumline: Plum Village Google+ Digital Groups

9. Create a Zen space at home

A Zen space is my fancy term for a dedicated meditation space. This is the one real tangible item on this list, but it's no less important than anything else.

To create a dedicated meditation space in your home, a space which you've decided as being a place for meditation and mindfulness and nothing else, is a sign of having prioritized your practice.

A space such as this encourages your practice because it creates a place you can go to find peace at any time of day (provided you're at home). It's a dedicated place with all potential distractions removed. This encourages your meditation and mindfulness practice on multiple levels.

If you'd like to learn more about creating a Zen space, read How to Create a Zen Space.

And for more information on creating a home meditation practice:

  1. Read: 5 Tools to Help You Start Your Home Meditation Practice
  2. Listen: How to Create a Home Meditation Practice

10. Follow the path of least resistance

The path of least resistance is a simple principle which I've used time and time again to help me develop and strengthen both my home meditation practice and my daily practice of mindful living.

The basic idea is this: we naturally do the thing which is easiest to do at any given moment, unless we make an intentional push to act in some other way. Which is difficult, if not impossible, to do consistently.

So what do you do? Are we just destined to push aside our meditation practice for the siren song of the lazy boy and primetime T.V.? Is it always going to be an uphill battle against the habit of mindlessness? Not if you utilize this knowledge.

The path of least resistance has different applications whether we're talking about sitting meditation practice or the overall practice of mindful living, but in all cases the same general idea applies: make it as easy to practice as possible and more difficult to do those other things which distract you from your practice. Or, in other words, encourage an environment conducive to mindfulness and discourage mindless activities.

Learn more about the path of least resistance: 5 Steps to Making Meditation a Daily Habit.

The Complete Moment-to-Moment Guide to Mindful Living

Years ago, the practice of mindfulness changed my life dramatically. I went from being stressed out and disconnected from the world around me to being more at peace and present in my day-to-day life.

Much of this post was adapted from my second book, Zen for Everyday Life, which is the most complete moment-to-moment mindfulness practice guide I've written to date. I provide freely dozens of posts, guides, and podcast episodes here for you which can be used to begin, progress, and further deepen a daily mindfulness practice like what was discussed in this post (which you're welcome to explore). However, Zen for Everyday Life thoughtfully organizes much of it into one place in a clear and simple way for you to implement effectively.

If you're interested in effectively bringing more mindfulness into your daily life to relieve stress, realize greater peace, and become more present in your day-to-day life, then Zen for Everyday Life will guide you.

Free Guided Meditations for Greater Peace and Clarity

Free Guided Meditations

Sometimes, I wonder what the Buddha would have thought about guided meditations.

I think he would have approved of them as useful tools for the beginner learning the ways of meditation, or even for someone experienced that's simply going through a difficult challenge and needs a voice to guide them to a place of greater calmness and clarity of mind.

In any case, more than anything else, it matters what you think. What you feel. What works for you. And that's why I, and why so many others, enjoy guided meditations.

Guided meditations are more than just words on a page (as much as I enjoy writing). The sound of the teacher or speaker in your ear guiding you through the meditation is the closest thing to having a real teacher right there with you as you can get without actually having one there.

My podcast, Zen for Everyday Life, features two weekly episodes. One is a talk discussing similar topics like those I discuss on the blog. The second is a free guided meditation on everything from classic mindfulness meditation forms such as the Zen form of zazen, to loving-kindness, to Thich Nhat Hanh's practice of Going Home, as well as new and unique free guided meditations that I've created such as Healing Through Understanding and Just Being.

Below is a neatly compiled list of the best free guided meditations from the Zen for Everyday Life podcast. Check back here regularly for new guided meditations.

Free Guided Meditations for Greater Peace and Clarity

*Click the corresponding link to go to the guided meditation page. Right click the big yellow download button and click "Save file as..." to download the file to your computer or simply hit Play to listen on the page.

  1. Breath As Life - The basic mindfulness practice of mindful breathing. This is a 1-click free download separate from the podcast. Nothing, not even an email, is required to download this. All you need to do is click the link. Enjoy.
  2. Going Home - This guided mindfulness meditation is on Thich Nhat Hanh's classic mindful breathing practice. This is the simplest of practices and is really what mindful breathing is all about- going home to yourself with mindfulness.
  3. Zazen (Zen sitting meditation) - This a guided meditation for the classic Zen form of mindfulness meditation. It's basically mindful breathing in a very free manner (as opposed to Vipassana, which is more active).
  4. Minful Refresh - This is a guided morning meditation for starting your day off fresh each day with a simple mindfulness practice. This, to date, is one of the most popular guided meditations I've done and a personal favorite.
  5. Just Being - Just Being is very close to the Zen practice of "just sitting" or shikantaza. It's the practice of accepting everything openly as it is with mindfulness and just being in this moment. Another community + personal favorite.
  6. Healing Through Understanding - This is a very active guided meditation and it's all about opening the mind after a difficult conflict with another person.
  7. A Mindful WelcomeA Mindful Welcome is about the fundamental shift from “hostile enemy” to “welcoming friend” we must make to begin the path of healing emotionally.
  8. Mindful Wisdom (@42:16 in the episode)- Mindful Wisdom is a moment-to-moment mindfulness and contemplative practice I created for unlocking your own intuitive wisdom. What would the Buddha do?
  9. Mindfulness of Body (@40:10 in the episode) - The traditional mindfulness of body meditation.
  10. Loving-Kindness - Loving-kindness meditation is the traditional Buddhist meditation practice of cultivating positive feelings and well-wishes for all beings.
  11. Mindful Walking / Walking Meditation (Formal Practice) - The formal practice of walking meditation typically done immediately following a session of sitting meditation in many Buddhist circles.
  12. Mindful Cleaning - A powerful mindfulness practice that takes a typically boring and mundane activity and turns it into something nourishing and delightful.
  13. Mindful Driving - A powerful mindfulness practice for turning a typically mindless autopilot activity into an opportunity for peace and mindfulness. 
  14. Mindful Breathing (Basic Mindfulness Meditation) - The fundamental practice of mindful breathing. When you hear “mindfulness meditation” (which typically refers to the secular practice of mindfulness) this is the practice that’s being referred to.
  15. Mindful Walking (Informal Everyday Practice) - The “everyday” informal practice of mindful walking. 
  16. Mindful Eating - If you’re looking for a way to live your everyday life more mindfully and even meditatively, this is a great practice which serves as one of the core mindfulness exercises.
  17. Being in Your Meditation Space - A special guided meditation from my course Meditation for Everyday Life which is designed to help you "settle" into your designated meditation space and cultivate it into a place of solace.
  18. Mindful Smiling - This guided meditation is all about using the power of intention and the natural effect of smiling with mindfulness.
  19. Rise with the Sun (a Guided Morning Meditation) - Rise with the Sun is about taking inventory before the day gets started so that you’re on solid ground and can handle the challenges of your day with more poise and clarity.

And remember to subscribe to the Zen for Everyday Life podcast for new weekly talks & guided meditations:

9 Essential Keys to Living More Fully and Freely in the Present Moment

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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.

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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 podcastHow 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.

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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.”

- Buddha

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.

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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:

  1. Cultivating compassion and understanding: Healing Through Understanding: How a Simple Meditation Can Transform Your Mind and How You Relate to Others
  2. Culivating love: How to Practice Loving-Kindness Meditation
  3. Understanding the power of love: Love is the Way: The Universal Path to Peace, Happiness, and Enlightenment
  4. 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.

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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.

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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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.

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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."

- Atisa

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:

  1. Decide what's important to you
  2. Simplify your life (cut down on the nonessentials)
  3. 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.

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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.

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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.

And for a complete guide to both making mindfulness a way of life as well as looking deeply, my first full-length book Zen for Everyday Life is available for purchase here.

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:

How to Transform Your Life with Conscious Living

How to Transform Your Life with Conscious Living via Buddhaimonia.com

What is Conscious Living?

Conscious living is about waking up. More than just mindful living, it's about being conscious of what you consume with your senses and of the effect it has on you.

If you understand that first sentence deeply than the rest of this section is unnecessary. But, it can be very difficult to understand what conscious living is in the beginning without further explanation.

Conscious living is about appreciating yourself as well as everything around you through seeing and acting with greater clarity.

It goes beyond the traditional understanding of self-development, clears up the illusory and confusing separation of self-development and spirituality and introduces the concept of you not as a separate person but as interconnected to all other people and things.

To understand what I mean by that and to know how you should approach conscious living, I need to explain something first.

Mindfulness is the very practice of living peace itself. When practicing mindfulness, we touch the world around us deeply. This can bring us great happiness.

But when practicing mindfulness we also see very deeply into the things with which we're interacting with, which is the reason mindfulness is the basis for awakening. This is because mindfulness develops in us the power of concentration. Through the power of concentration we can receive insight and see into the true nature of things.

Take an orange for example. When practicing mindfulness while eating an orange we may see into the true nature of the orange. What does that mean? We see, or realize, that the orange is made up of completely non-orange elements.

We see the orange tree with which the orange came from. We see the rain water that helped the orange tree, and therefore the orange, grow. Because of the rain we see the clouds, we also see the sun and the

soil from which the orange tree grew from. You can see the farmer that grew the orange and you can also see the pesticides it was treated with along the way, among other things.

So you see that the orange is made up of many different things. Everything affects the orange or contributes to its growth or death and the orange will then go on to do the same.

In The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh explains:

Everything is related to everything else. Your well-being and the well-being of your family are essential elements in bringing about the well-being of your business or of any organization where you work. Finding ways to protect yourself and promote your own well-being is the most basic investment you can make. This will have an impact on your family and work environment, but first of all it will result in an improvement in the quality of your own life.

This is the very basis of conscious living. And you don't have to receive any sort of special insight to see this. By simply becoming aware of the interconnected nature of all things (called the concept of interbeing by Thich Nhat Hanh, the most fitting term in my opinion) you'll begin to see the effect other things have on you and the effect you have on other things.

You can then make the choice to consume more of the things that feed your mind and body, whether it's a certain type of food, a TV show or some sort of relationship, or reduce or even eliminate your consumption of those things that don't (or negatively affect it). Conscious living has two steps:

2 Steps to Conscious Living and the Garden of Your Mind

  1. Awareness. That is, becoming fully aware of the complete effect that all things consumed by your senses has on your well-being and on the world around you.
  2. Consumption. Next, consuming wisely based on that knowledge: eliminating, reducing and avoiding those things which don't serve you and the world around you and adding and promoting those things which do.

Conscious living includes a huge variety of things. Really, if you think about it, conscious living has to do with everything you do every single day.

Conscious living includes a number of things you might not yet have associated with having an affect on your well-being. It includes not only the obvious things such as what we eat and drink but also what we watch, read and listen to. All of these things affect you in various different ways.

Think of yourself as a plant. Depending on how much sun, water and other nutrients you absorb you'll either grow or wilt. You need to absorb various nutrients on a regular basis. You can't just do it every once in a while and you can't just get water with no sunlight. You need to cover all of the below categories in order to fully master your life- to perform at your best and to be your happiest, healthiest and most energetic self.

One last note about conscious living: it doesn't mean simply feed yourself good things and avoid the bad. Conscious living is about looking deeply into everything that you do, as I mentioned earlier, and really seeing into the true nature of things. It's about getting the complete and fully educated picture.

Then, using that insight to make the conscious decision to consume more or less of that thing based on the effect it has on you. Make no assumptions in conscious living and let your daily mindfulness practice and regular practice of seeing deeply guide you.

Don't just eat more vegetables because other people tell you to, really do your research and look into why you should eat vegetables. What do they do to your body? What do the various vitamins and minerals do that exist in each vegetable? Conscious living is about making conscious decisions, not just taking conventional wisdom at face value.

This is also helpful because by knowing why you do something you'll have a stronger drive to keep doing it as opposed to if you did something that someone else simply suggested you do, even if you desire the result it will give you. 

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Why You Should Live More Consciously

The happiest and most successful people in the world practice conscious living, whether they call it that or not. In fact, the road to happiness and success in anything is often paved with gradual steps towards a more and more conscious lifestyle.

And by success, I mean true success. Not success at the expense of ourselves or others. That isn't what conscious living is about nor what real success is. I mean success that positively contributes and connects with as many people as possible, positive use of any power and influence you have and all the while keeping your loved ones, your health and your practice of inner peace and happiness first.

So, why live more consciously? By practicing conscious living you can become:

  • Happier
  • Healthier
  • More peaceful
  • More energetic
  • More focused
  • More compassionate
  • You'll also be more likely to have like-minded people in your life who will support and encourage you as well as help contribute with you along the way.
  • And you'll also make your loved ones more of all of those things as a byproduct of them associating with you.

Unfortunately though, many of us are closer to the other side of the spectrum. We live unconsciously. As I wrote in 7 Ways Zen Buddhism Can Change Your Life:

We talk about people behind their backs negatively, complain about our day at work when we’re home or about home when we’re at work. We watch reality shows filled with nothing but people fighting and insulting one another for entertainment. We read articles and blogs about Hollywood drama and partake in bashing our politicians and government officials instead of trying to create that positive change ourselves.

The teachings of Buddhism emphasize simplifying one's life. What this means in Buddhist terms is to weed out distractions and negative influences such as the ones I just mentioned which can make it difficult to follow the way to inner peace and happiness. This stands true no matter what you believe.

Until you weed out these distractions and negative influences you can never hope to find true peace or happiness. And by the way, you'll also have difficulty finding true success in anything as well.

The reality is that neither you nor I have the ability to avoid being affected by this, no matter how strong we think we are. Everything around us, especially those things we regularly consume, effect us and in a very concrete way. You need to take steps to reduce the pull of negative seeds in your life and to water the good ones.

How to Live More Consciously

Listed below are the 9 major areas of conscious living. These are the major things which you should become mindful of in your everyday life and educate yourself on to make your own decisions based on your life.

Also, keep in mind that mostly the same things apply for all of us, but, there are exceptions. Remember not to take anything at face value and do your own research on yourself. Really examine your life closely and make a conscious decision.

And don't worry about being perfect. Perfection is just an idea, it doesn't exist in the real world and hanging on to an idea of perfection won't help you.

Like all other efforts that have to do with improving your life, it takes time and you'll invariably get some things wrong at first. Just make your best effort and you'll quickly see the change that living more consciously has on our lives.

Lastly, I know each point is pretty big, so I'd suggest picking two of these points at a time that go well together (mindful eating and drinking for instance) and working on those first. Later you can come back and work on another group.

1. Eating 2. Drinking 3. Healing and Medicating 4. Purchasing 5. Watching 6. Reading 7. Connecting 8. Conversing 9. Loving

5 Powerful Ways Mindful Eating Will Transform Your Relationship With Food

1. Eating

Mindful eating has become a popular subject since the spread of mindfulness over the past decade. What is mindful eating? To put it simply, it's eating in mindfulness. Being fully present for the act of eating that piece of fruit or whatever it is that you're eating

But conscious eating is about more than just eating mindfully. Like everything else on this list, it's also about being conscious of what you're putting into your body in the first place. Remember the orange?

Conscious eating is about knowing how the food you put into your body will affect you. By practicing conscious eating you'll not only control your eating and improve your digestion, but by being careful of what you put into your body you'll become healthier and can increase your energy levels substantially.

At my "peak", I was eating McDonald's on an almost daily basis. This peak lasted almost two years. When I started to get back into the martial arts I began gradually working on my diet. I worked on sections of my diet at a time, never pushing myself too hard. The most noticeable change was in my energy levels.

It's hard to describe without sounding like I'm exaggerating, but I wake up on average 4-5 hours earlier than I did back then, go to bed at roughly the same time, have two kids now and get far more done in a given day. And this isn't all because of my diet, but that's been a huge contributing factor. Real change is a marathon, not a sprint. It's been nearly 7 years now since I've had any McDonald's.

2. Drinking

What you put into your body really does make a difference. In fact, some of the most significant improvements to your health and vitality can be made via changing what you drink. There's a few beverages worth mentioning, namely: water, soda/juice, and alcohol. Of all those, water is critically important for your body.

I've followed Mercola.com for most of my health related advice for some time now. I've followed a lot of websites for health advice and few have been as helpful and thorough as Dr. Mercola's website. He had this to say in his article "The Case Against Drinking 6-8 Glasses of Water a Day":

It is my strong belief that the single most powerful intervention the majority of Americans can make for their physical health would be to stop drinking all sodas and juices and replace them with health promoting pure water.

He goes on to say that:

If you get the fluid/water replacement issue right, then you have made one of the most important and powerful steps you can in taking control of your health.

Soda and juice is paired together because the same culprits exist within both: artificial sweeteners and sugar. Artificial sweeteners especially, but sugar itself is bad in excess quantities as well. Our society consumes massive amounts of sugar and it's a huge contributing factor to the ever-increasing rate of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Lastly, alcohol. Even casual drinking over the course of years can wreak havoc on your liver, damage your brain and it does you no real good. Not to mention, you or someone you care about and spend time with could have the potential for alcoholism and not even know it, which could lead to much worse things.

You'll find that with a healthy spiritual practice intoxicating yourself for a little fun stops being so attractive. You'll realize the only reason you ever did it was either out of peer pressure or to temporarily numb some sort of internal pain.

3. Healing and Medicating

Healing might not seem like something that would be associated with conscious living, but when you consider that the majority of us rush to consume either over-the-counter or prescription drugs anytime something is remotely wrong with us then you'll see that how you react to pain and illness (whether minor or major) is an important part of conscious living.

In The Art of Power, Thich Nhat Hanh speaks about how we've forgotten our bodies natural healing ability:

When an animal in the forest gets seriously wounded, it knows exactly what to do. It looks for a secluded spot and just lies down for several days, not concerned with eating. It has wisdom. Only when the wound has healed does the animal return to foraging or hunting for food.

We once had this kind of wisdom, but now we have lost our capacity to rest. We panic every time we experience something uncomfortable in our body. We rush to the doctor to get a prescription for all kinds of medicine because we don’t realize that just allowing our body to rest is often the best method of healing.

"Thay", as his students lovingly refer to him as (pronounced 'tie'), suggests using mindfulness to speed up the healing process. How do you practice mindful healing? Mindful healing is simply mindfulness of body.

To do this, you can focus your complete awareness on the affected area, or, on your entire body as a whole. To practice mindfulness of your entire body, start with your head or your toes and stay in mindfulness as you go slowly through each area of your body. When you get to an area of your body causing you trouble, take a few extra moments and give extra attention and love to that area.

Unfortunately most people, at least in the U.S., choose drugs over natural healing.

There's a lot of different over-the-counter and prescription drugs out there and the number is growing every day. I'm sure you've seen the commercials where it's the same beautifully perfect day in every single commercial followed by what sounds like an insane list of side effects.

Drug companies bring in billions of dollars every year, and with money, comes greed. I'm not saying everyone associated with a big pharmaceutical company has fallen to greed and every medication a cash pull. But I am saying that the cases are prevalent enough that you need to be careful and educate yourself about what medication you consume.

Do your research, be aware of all the possibilities, stay mindful of the signals your body is sending you, introduce yourself to natural healing remedies, and practice mindful healing. It's in your hands to be mindful and to make a more educated and ultimately conscious choice.

4. Purchasing

If conscious living is about being mindful of what you absorb through your senses, and we're talking about mastering your life through conscious living, then conscious purchasing is an important point to consider because it effects many of the other categories here.

Conscious purchasing is about being mindful of the impact which something you buy will have on you, on others, on the planet and of the purpose for which you're purchasing it. For the first reason conscious watching, reading, eating and drinking as well as loving and parenting in some cases are all directly connected to this.

The second reason I need to explain a bit further. Being mindful of the purpose for which you purchase something is about being mindful to not clutter your life with needless or useless things. This can eventually have a number of negative impacts on you and those around you, so it's important to consider just for this one reason alone.

I'd suggest starting out here slowly. When you go to buy or acquire something just start by asking yourself these two questions: 1.) Do I really need this? 2.) Will this positively or negatively affect me and/or others around me? Maybe both? This can be a whole lifestyle change in itself, so take it one step at a time and stay true yourself in the process.

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5. Watching

By conscious watching I'm referring exclusively to watching TV, movies and videos on the internet. This one is pretty straightforward. Things to be mindful of here are your total daily screen time (TV, phone, desktop, any other sort of screen), how many hours a day you're sitting and what kinds of things you're watching.

You probably already know that staring at a screen for long hours each day isn't exactly good for you but more than ever you need to be mindful of how much screen time you're clocking every day because of how difficult it is to get away from them. We use screens for everything from work to play nowadays.

Chances are you need to cut down on your screen time. An easy exercise to do is to pay attention to how often you check your email and social accounts throughout your day and to cut each down to once or twice a day if possible. Really stop to think about the things you do on your phone especially the things that are just time wasters and seek to cut them off or minimize them.

You probably work and communicate off of your phone and desktop though and generally do nothing but waste time watching TV- so it's an easier target.

If you're an avid screen-watcher then do this experiment: cut your TV by half or a third and immediately start doing something positive with that time like reading a book, going for walks outside or meditating. See how you feel. Pay close attention to your mood, energy level and ability to focus on whatever task is at hand during this period and for the weeks afterwards.

You also need to becareful of how many hours a day you're sitting down as this can be dangerous for your health. Some of the best ways to counteract this are, aside from watching so much TV, to start standing at regular intervals in your day to stretch for a moment and to buy a standing desk for work.

Lastly, be mindful of the effect that shows with not-so-good themes and advertisements can have on your state of mind. It's possible that some are unaffected by this, as research seems mixed, but you need to pay close attention to this regardless. In any case, these things don't feed your mind or contribute to anything positive so they should be minimized.

Now, I'm not telling you to stop watching your favorite show. You don't need to take it that far. But what I am saying is to become mindful of the effect that the things you consume have on you and simply to minimize the bad.

As with every category here, take it slow. At first you can just focus on cutting down your screen time and reserving it only for the things you need and like most. Preferably, things that actually teach you something new.

6. Reading

People love reading about gossip and drama. If they didn't, those magazines with all those bogus celebrity stories on the news stands of grocery stores wouldn't still be there decades after their inception. When they told you in elementary school that reading is good, they didn't mean stuff like that.

Conscious reading means being mindful of the effect that whatever you're reading will have on you and choosing those things that grow your mind or maintain your well-being over those that don't.

That means staying away from gossip, drama and most other negative forms of writing be it a physical publication or a blog, magazine or news source online. It also means that when you do read it should be something that feeds your mind.

Keep in mind that you can't, and shouldn't, stay away from all negative news. I keep up with world news. I think it's important to do so. But man...it can be difficult at times. Read through one week's worth of headlines and your general enthusiasm for the world as a whole will usually drop a few points.

But this is our world, the real world. And it's not all pretty. There's a lot of beauty, but there's a lot of chaos as well. It's important to know what's going on not just in a general sense but so that we can help our brothers and sisters in any way possible. If you live in the U.S. or another well-off nation you tend lead a sheltered life unaware of the hardships of other nations. So it's important to educate yourself.

Conscious reading and conscious living as a whole isn't just about consuming good things. It's about seeing reality as it is. To see with clarity. That means, as we've spoken about throughout this article, that you realize the effect the things you consume have on you and can therefore make a better choice for the sake of your well-being and the well-being of the world around you.

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7. Connecting

This is about connecting with people online, primarily via social networks and texting, but also anywhere else people communicate at a distance. Conscious connecting means that you're careful who you spend time connecting with online and what conversations you take part in. It also means though that you watch how much time you spend on your phone or computer in the first place.

Much of the same principles from mindful conversing apply here, except it's much easier to connect online then it is in person. The act of typing your response to something makes it far more difficult to respond to something in anger.

The internet has connected the world like never before, and it's been mostly good, but not all good. Ever read Yahoo! comments? If you have, you know exactly what I mean. Skip the rest of this paragraph. Seriously though, people are FAR more likely and willing to say hurtful things over the internet than they are in person. People will say things over the internet that they would never say in person.

Be very careful who you choose to connect with over the internet. Even if you think negative comments will have no effect on you. We each have the seeds of every emotion from anger to joy in us and what comes to the surface is simply what we choose to water and what we choose to neglect. Choose not to water the seeds of anger, fear, and other limiting beliefs and emotions.

Also, as difficult as I know that it is, don't be disappointed or angry with these people. Just know that it's a deep-seeded anger, resentment or ignorance being projected outward. Understand this and you can continue to show compassion towards them. Consciously, or mindfully, connecting also means that you seek to cultivate compassion towards anyone you connect with.

8. Conversing

Unlike conscious connecting, conscious conversing deals exclusively with face-to-face contact. What I really want to talk about here is, like with connecting, being careful about who you talk to on a regular basis. In other words, your associations.

The people you associate, or communicate, with face-to-face are the most powerful people in your life and some of the most powerful forces in your life period. I can't stress this more. It's so important to keep company with positive and compassionate people. It really does effect everything you do.

By keeping as many positive associations and as few negative ones in your life you'll not only be happier and more at peace, you'll be far more likely to become successful in anything you do. By being mindful of your associations you'll be able to decide which ones are and aren't positive associations.

OK, that sounds great. But in real life, as opposed to online, it can be much more difficult to be choosy about who you speak or spend time with. You might even live with someone who isn't the greatest association. This can be really difficult.

Trust me, I know how it is. I've lived with people who were pretty bad associations as well. In these situations, you need to meditate on the person in hopes of cultivating compassion and understanding towards them otherwise you'll be bothered by them everyday.

But on top of that, you don't want to hang around them any longer than you have to. You can't change someone else for them, that person has to want to change themselves. And if they just don't want to change their ways, you need to get out on your own.

This isn't always possible, I understand. But you can find peace regardless. In fact, it's through these struggles that you will grow to appreciate your practice of mindfulness and mindful living even more.

Conscious conversing is also about how you respond when you're actually talking to someone. This is mindful speech and mindful listening. That argument with your spouse, talking about that project at work with your team where one person is being difficult and meeting with a friend to have fun only to have him or her start to spill about their recent struggles. These are all opportunities for mindful conversing, not only to be mindful of how being around them affects you but of how you respond to them.

9. Loving

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Conscious loving is about being fully present to our loved ones. It's about paying attention to our loved one's needs and listening deeply to them.

Why is it on this list? Because conscious, or mindful, loving is mindfulness of how you spend, or consume, your time with your loved ones (in other words, realizing your priorities). It's about realizing how precious your loved ones are and in so giving your full attention to them while in their presence. It's also an extension of mindful conversing.

Mindfulness is the basis for a healthy relationship of any kind. By practicing conscious loving you'll notice your relationships begin to flourish. Try this next time you get in a fight with someone you love:

_______, I love you and I care far more about you than what we're arguing about. I don't care who's right and who's wrong. I love you and I know we can work this out together. Let's do this together, so we can be happy.

This helps bring any argument into perspective. You'll notice when doing this it sort of personifies the argument and makes it an outside force- an adversary. It then allows you and your loved one to see the situation clearly and helps handle the problem.

How does conscious loving towards others help you master your own life? First and foremost, it'll make you (and your loved ones) happier on many levels.

By not just improving the quality of your relationships, by allowing them to altogether thrive, you'll transform every challenge from a possible argument into an opportunity to strengthen your relationship and grow closer. You'll notice your loved ones following your lead and expressing compassion more often than anger, and when anger is expressed your, and their, ability to quell it will improve.

And this strengthening of your relationships will make everything in life easier. Your job, home life, life challenges of any shape and size. Our relationships are possibly the single most powerful factor in our success in anything. So practicing mindful loving is one of the most powerful points on this list.

Additional Resources

There are many ways to start with conscious living, and so much included within it, so I've provided a variety of resources below which are designed to either help you develop mindfulness as a daily practice (what I believe to be the central and most important effort in conscious living), simplify your life, or better examine your life as a whole:

  1. What is Mindfulness? A Guide to Mindfulness Meditation
  2. 11 Ways to Be More Like a Zen Monk
  3. My 2015 Mindful Living Integrity Report
  4. 30 Simple Steps to Simple Living in 30 Days: How to Simplify Your Life from Start to Finish in 30 Days
  5. The 10 Most Important Ways to Simplify Your Life

The Important Thing

Remember, conscious living includes your entire life, so it's a huge topic. Don't become overwhelmed with all the various different places you can live more mindfully and consciously and get confused about where to start first.

Just remember what is the important thing: to wake up. To live mindfully and to really take the time to educate yourself and become conscious to the world around you.

Be aware of your interconnected nature (our interbeing) and how one thing affects many things and how many things affect one thing. This is the way things are, so by living your life in a way that you become more conscious of this layered relationship you put yourself in a position to experience greater mental and physical health.

However you choose to live your life, what's really important is that you live mindfully and consciously. Wake up to your life in the present moment and realize that every small action makes waves like ripples in a pond.

11 Ways to Be More Like a Zen Monk

Photo credit:  thegardenofzen.com

Photo credit: thegardenofzen.com

Recently, I read a story about the state of decline of Zen Buddhism in Japan and of the rapid closure of Zen monasteries all around the country. Most of the current generation has become completely detached from that aspect of their beautiful history, and as a result, the support that these monasteries so heavily depend on has diminished.

Because of this, not only are Zen monasteries closing down by the handful, but there’s a struggle to find qualified priests to maintain those monasteries that remain open. Due to my deep appreciation of Zen, this was undoubtedly painful to hear. We in the U.S. have just begun to explore and be transformed by the vast wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings, and so many have been positively affected by the beauty and boundless wisdom of “the heart of Buddhism”, as it’s sometimes called, in Zen so it's an odd state of events.

This traveling of wisdom around the globe has happened countless times in history. It’s simply the way that the truth moves, as the late mystic Osho (the man whom the Dalai Lama considered a Buddha) once explained in detail (see Meditations on Zen).

As times change, countries change, people change, values shift, and cultures either move from waking up to falling back asleep or vice-a-versa. It’s an ever-flowing process, not necessarily built upon moving towards what’s right or away from what’s wrong, but always the natural flow of things. Each time this has happened Zen has been transmitted to a new group of people, from the Buddha's lineage of disciples down to Bodhidharma, to Bodhidharma first coming from India to China, then from China to Japan, and now Japan to the U.S. which began as a visit to the U.S. from Japanese Zen priest Soyen Shaku in 1893.

And just as it's travelled from one place to another, each time the format for practice has evolved (often multiple times). Zen, Buddhism, and spiritual practice in a general sense in the U.S., while blossoming is still finding it's place in many ways.

In Japan, Zen practice started out as a traditional monastic system where you became a monk or nun and lived in the monastery for either most of or the rest of your life. Then later, the monastery took a sort of university format where they were more students living temporarily as monks or nuns working towards graduation, wherein most would go on to lead normal lives, than life-long monastics.

In the U.S., we have more meditation centers than we do monasteries (although they also do exist in good number as well) and practitioners are more lay (which essentially means they're not monks or nuns and lead normal lives with jobs, relationships, etc.) than full-time monastics, and yet the intent to practice seriously is still very much there. It's a very different format, one which better reflects the U.S. as a whole.

In thinking about all this, I contemplated on what the essential points of Zen practice, and of an effective spiritual practice, were. Forget monastic, lay, monk or nun or not monk or nun, etc. Ultimately, that's not what's important. That's never been what was important, or else Zen practice never would have been able to shift and change like it has while still retaining its essence.

What are the essential keys to Zen practice, the keys which make up the very spirit of Zen practice? How can we live more like a Zen monk or nun without becoming a monastic? In other words, how can we be more like a Zen monk or nun in our everyday life, amid the various responsibilities and challenges we have? And in what way do we need to design our lives to effectively pursue a healthy spiritual practice?

The reality is, at least in the 21st century, most of us aren't interested in becoming monks or nuns, or even necessarily in calling ourselves Buddhist, spiritual, or any other label (not that they mean anything anyway). But we are very much interested in the practice.

The practice is where we truly begin changing our lives. The practice is where we find greater peace, happiness, and the ability to better navigate our daily challenges. The practice is what really matters, not the labels. And most importantly, it's in that practice that we learn to express our authentic selves. ______________________________________

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11 Ways to Be More Like a Zen Monk

The below 11 points are some of the most important points I've distilled from that contemplation. Keep in mind, I'm not a Zen monk and am not speaking with regards to experience as one. Rather, I'm speaking from the place of my own practice, making my way living a typical daily life while trying to live true to my practice, and what I've witnessed to be the real essence of Zen practice itself.

You'll likely notice pretty quickly how universal these points are. That's because, as opposed to being some religion or philosophy which holds to a set of ideas, Zen is empty of a defining set of ideas or beliefs. Zen is a practice, it's also the very expression, or living, of the realization of that great wisdom which we all intuitively know exists within and around us. Zen is expressed in many spiritual and religious traditions all around the world, just under a different name. This is because the truth has no name, it's universal. It is it and can never be anything else.

I hope you find these 11 ways to be more like a Zen monk useful in your own life in pursuit of greater wisdom, deeper joy, and more boundless peace.

1. Do one thing

This is the simplest and most straightforward point on this list, and in a lot of ways it symbolizes a key aspect of the spirit of Zen, so I thought it would be a good point to start with.

"Do one thing" is exactly what it sounds like: it's single tasking. Zen monks live in a way that they're totally and completely focused on the task at hand, and a key aspect of that is to simply do one thing- whatever it is that you're doing in that moment. Whatever demands your presence, you're there for it fully.

Of course, there's times in our life where things aren't so black-and-white, but the point is to make the commitment to do so in every moment.

Multi-tasking has not only been proven to be ineffective, it's actually damaging. Making the commitment to live your life in a way that you do the one thing that's most important in each moment means to live with greater clarity and perform more effectively at everything you do.

It also promotes greater concentration and mindfulness, two key aspects of active Zen training itself closely connected with this point.

Photo credit:  Paul Davis

Photo credit: Paul Davis

2. Do each thing with all of your being

“When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.”

– Shunryu Suzuki

To do something with every ounce of your being means to live with mindfulness and concentration in every moment. It means to be totally and completely focused on that one thing with every inch of yourself.

This doesn't just mean to do one thing as I just mentioned, it also means to be totally concentrated on that thing. But really it's being totally concentrated and mindful of this moment.

You don't open a door while forcefully pushing away any thoughts or outside sounds that arise, you open the door with all of your being, while still being openly mindful of whatever arises within that moment.

This isn't a hard, vein-popping, concentration. This is a soft but persistent concentration on the present moment. You're being here, awake to your life, in every moment. And that's really what this is all about.

This point is closely tied with Zen's emphasis on sitting meditation, which I'll mention later, but it's the greater effort of bringing that same single-pointed awareness and mindfulness from the meditation cushion into your everyday life.

Nothing special is necessary to begin living your life in this way though. To live in each moment, doing each thing, with all of your being and to the best of your ability, makes a significant and concrete difference in the quality of your day-to-day experience.

The benefits of living in this way are too long to mention, but suffice it to say that it's the most important effort of all. Mostly important to remember is it's the key effort in each moment, the heart of daily practice as a Zen monk or nun, while most of the other points while significant are either things to keep in mind from time to time, establish once, or keep tabs on regularly.

My second book, Zen for Everyday Life, helps you make most notably the mindfulness aspect of this a reality. You can check it out here: Zen for Everyday Life: How to Find Peace and Happiness in the Chaos of Everyday Life.

3. Work diligently to let go of hang ups and nurture true well-being

This point has two parts really: work diligently and let go of hang ups/nurture your well-being.

First, Zen monk's work diligently to realize satori, or awakening. This is considered the supreme effort, achievement, or realization in all of life. And being so keenly aware of one's own impermanence, the precious nature of this one life that we're given, they work day and night to realize this complete awakening for themselves so that they can go beyond hang ups (or attachments), let go, and realize true peace.

Being diligent in one's efforts is very important because all we have is this life. Whether you believe there's something after this or not, all we know for sure is that we have this life. And this life is here and gone in an instant. Time flies, and before we know it, we're gone. For that reason, you should work diligently to realize true peace and happiness.

That ideal life will look different depending on the person, but the idea is the same: we only have a short time to enjoy this life, so we shouldn't waste a minute.

The second aspect to this point is the major effort of this life, and that's to let go of those things which are keeping us from peace and happiness so that we can realize a clear path to living peacefully and joyfully.

Throughout our lives, we resist the natural way of things. It's our job to find that resistance (whether it's an attachment to something we like or aversion to something we don't like) so that we can remove the friction in our lives and life with greater ease and freedom. In this way, we open up a clear path to living peacefully.

This is easier said than done, and is a pretty large topic in itself, but you can start here for more information:

  1. The Beginner's Guide to Letting Go
  2. Zen and the Art of Adapting to Life's Curveballs

4. Simplify your life down to the essentials

By the time we're adults, we've generally amassed quite a lot of things in our lives which are either useless or relatively unimportant (both material possessions and non-material things). The monastic way of life (for any spiritual tradition really) is designed so that only the essentials remain: physical nourishment, a place to rest, a community, and the practice.

Now, this might be a little extreme and even unnecessary to most, but the idea is what's most important. The idea is to remove everything in your life that isn't essential. Essential to what? Essential to your well-being and the well-being of others.

But where do you begin? How do you decide what's essential and non-essential? The best place to start is to ask yourself if the item or thing is ever used or ever holds any purpose. If it's never used, or holds no purpose, those are the first and most obvious things to go.

From there it gets more difficult, but the question to ask is simple: does this thing help contribute to the well-being of myself and those around me? If the answer is no, or even maybe (suggesting it's really not essential), then the likelihood is it not only doesn't serve a purpose but often gets in the way of allowing those things that really matter to shine in your life.

You can also go in the opposite direction by asking yourself:

If I had to live with only a handful of things, what would they be?

Again not just material possessions but non-material things in activities, responsibilities, etc. This question can help distill your life down to it's essence. As an example, when I asked myself that question, I got this:

  • My family
  • My practice
  • Buddhaimonia / my work
  • Laptop computer (strictly for Buddhaimonia / my work)
  • Smartphone (strictly for family communication)
  • My home
  • Physical nourishment
  • Basic set of clothes (few pairs of pants, shirts, one pair of shoes, socks, a jacket)

It might be beneficial to ask yourself that question a few times too, because sometimes you'll put down things you think are essential, but upon closer examination you realize they really aren't. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll want to give it up, but in any case it will give you clarity.

From here, you can work backwards and look at your life. What exists in it now which wasn't included in this list? Why didn't you include it? Can you give it up? Should you? Would you have more time to focus on what's important if you gave it up?

Zen practice as a whole, as we talked about earlier, is very concentrated and intentional. In living the life of a Zen monk, all fluff is removed and only the essentials remain. This can truly help improve our life in meaningful ways, helping to remove that which is useless and potentially distracting and giving us more time for what matters most.

Photo credit:  Paul Davis

Photo credit: Paul Davis

5. Monitor mental nutriment

If simplifying your life down to the essentials is about removing those unnecessary things from our lives so that we can focus on what matters, limiting and monitoring mental nutriment is about specifically identifying those things which are bad for us and actively working to remove them.

By mental nutriment, I'm referring to those various types of "food" which we ingest on an everyday basis. But I'm not just referring to food for our physical body, I'm also referring to mental food: T.V., social media, the rest of the internet, reading, personal associations, etc. Really anything which we ingest through one of the sense organs is included here because it affects our well-being in a very real way.

Most importantly, this is about identifying any sources of poison, or unwholesome seeds, which are affecting us on a regular basis and working to either remove or minimize them and replace them with wholesome seeds.

If it's T.V., either removing T.V. or reducing your T.V. time down to your favorite 2-3 shows. If it's social media, reducing the amount of hours you check Facebook, or whatever it is, in a given day and making it more difficult for you to check it in the first place (deleting the app on your phone so that you have to walk over to your computer, for instance). And if it's the people you're around, considering changing your associations if possible.

You'll know what these things are for you, so it really just depends on your life. But one thing is for certain: each and every one of these things affects our state of mind in a very real way. We should work consistently to keep these things in check so that we can better nourish our mind for peace and joy as opposed to fear and anger.

6. Establish order

This is about living with a sense of order or structure, something that’s very important for training as a Zen monk.

What’s the purpose? In a very real way, it’s order which gives us true freedom. Many of us are afraid of order, of structure, but this is generally due to a misunderstanding.

Think about it this way: what if you could free up an entire hour each day for yourself if you just took the time to establish a daily schedule and stuck to it with discipline? What if this was a real possibility? Isn't this more freedom as opposed to working all day long on work + home responsibilities?

Also, it's by setting up this sense of order that we can occasionally break away, and this can be very liberating. Without a sense of order, we not only wander aimlessly and waste our precious time, but can can't create the right environment for freedom to arise.

To live half-asleep, unconscious to so much of what we do (even though our bodies are doing it), is the opposite of true freedom. Living in this way, we're being pushed and pulled by our habitual patterns and being directed by the winds of life.

To live our lives in a way that we structure our days and live with a sense of order is to live with freedom because we're living intentionally. To live intentionally is to live mindfully, knowing that you're placing one foot forward. If you live like this, you're taking that step. To take that step mindfully, to know you're taking that step and to do it consciously, is true freedom. And it's order which helps us live in this way.

7. Live as if you’re going to die

Photo credit:  Paul Davis

Photo credit: Paul Davis

"Throughout this life, you can never be certain of living long enough to take another breath.”

- Zen master Huang Po

To live as if you're going to die is to live in a way that you're aware of your own impermanence and the impermanence of all things.

Most of us live in a way that we ignore and even push away any thought of our own end, and the end of our loved ones, going to great lengths to either bottle it down or avoid it.

But this is a great mistake, because to live completely aware of our own impermanence can be a great source of joy. By living in this way, we appreciate life so much more and are constantly reminded of the precious nature of this life that we're living.

It can be difficult to face the fact of our own impermanence, and often much more difficult to face the fact of the impermanence of every one and every thing around us. But it's a fact which we must learn to face if we ever hope to live our life fully without regret.

By pushing through those difficult feelings we can in fact realize a deeper and more vibrant life. A life richer than anything we ever imagined.

Check out episode #2 of the Zen for Everyday Life podcast for a simple practice you can do each day to begin working on this very point: How to Live As if You're Going to Die.

8. Express yourself artistically

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Zen is very closely connected with the arts. It's very common for a Zen monk to take up some form of artistic expression such as calligraphy, poetry (haiku), or even chanoyu, the Japanese "way of tea" which originated from the Zen tradition and which is a very artistic ritual in itself.

As I mention in my "simple tea meditation" guide:

The Japanese tea ceremony can be summed up by the Zen phrase “ichi-go ichi-e”, which means “one time, one meeting”. The phrase is meant to remind us of the beauty and uniqueness of the present moment and that life is transient or ever-changing and impermanent.

Why is art such an important part of Zen practice? It's not so much that it's important than it is prevalent due to its effectiveness at showing us ourselves and allowing us to express ourselves fully and honestly.

When we express ourselves artistically, freely and spontaneously, we're allowing all that we are to come forth. Our hesitations, resistance, doubt, anger, fear, and everything else comes pouring out from us fully. To express yourself in this way, knowing this, makes this type of open expression a very purifying process.

In this way, expressing yourself becomes a very effective and very enjoyable form of meditation.

And when those things don't 'get in the way'? When we act in that instant with our complete being? With a single brush stroke we can express our true boundless nature.

It doesn't matter how you express yourself, just that you give yourself a regular avenue with which to do so, so find something that fits you and your life and make it a regular (weekly, or more) practice and see how when you practice expressing yourself that fear, anger, and judgment ("that was horrible", "I'm a horrible artist", "I'm not good enough", "I can't do this") often get in the way of us expressing our authentic selves.

Continue practicing and work to get to a point where you can act in any given moment in a way that you don't get in your own way, that you express yourself without holding back. This is what it means to express yourself fully and authentically through art.

I've yet to write a guide to this topic on the blog (a good idea for the future though!), so here's a few resources for delving into this more:

  1. Alok, Zen Calligraphy
  2. John Daido Loori - The Zen of Creativity

9. Live the Buddha’s middle way

The Buddha's 'middle way' is a principle which essentially refers to the fact that in all things in life we shouldn't remain in the extreme either way. We should live in the 'middle way' of things.

It's difficult to fully express the importance of this principle because it's so prevalent. It literally has to do with our entire lives. Let's take a typical everyday example.

Work and family are typically considered the two major parts of our life. They're distinctly different and encompass essentially all of our combined time on any given day, or at least the vast majority of it outside of sleep.

So, when talking about the balance between work and family life, what's best?

  1. Working all the time
  2. Not working at all
  3. A balance between work and spending time with family

Assuming, like most of us, that you're not in a position to quit your day job/source of income, #3 is the right answer. If you work all the time, your well-being and the well-being of your loved ones will suffer without your presence. But if you don't work, you won't be able to support yourself.

It's that same sort of idea with many things in life. When referring to the Buddha's 8-Fold Path, Right Speech and Right Action are great examples as well.

Should we speak negatively to someone? Of course not. But on the flip side, should we completely refrain from saying something that can help someone just so as to not potentially insult or hurt them? The most important thing is to be helpful and approach the situation with a sense of compassion and love, and sometimes this requires being straight with someone.

With Right Action, there's many things we enjoy doing which could become a problem if we do them too often. We may enjoy playing video games, but if we play them day and night our health and relationships will suffer.

We shouldn't be quiet about important issues, we should speak up and express our opinion. But we also shouldn't try to force others to go along with what we believe either, that's not right. In all cases, the Buddha's principle of the middle way is the right practice. The Buddha's middle way leads to a balanced life free from excess and conflict.

Photo credit:  Paul Davis

Photo credit: Paul Davis

10. Practice Zazen diligently

“Zazen is an activity that is an extension of the universe. Zazen is not the life of an individual, it’s the universe that’s breathing.”

- Zen master Dogen Zenji

This is arguably the single most important point on this entire list. Most would go as far as to say that without this it’s impossible to practice Zen, as this is in fact the heart of Zen practice.

Zazen is just the Japanese working for “sitting/seated meditation” and it was carried over to English when Zen travelled from Japan to the West. But Zazen is its own specific style of meditation, so don’t think it just refers to any form of sitting meditation.

Also, it's not to be (although can very easily be) confused with the very similar Vipassana meditation practice, which is also based primarily on mindfulness but which involves actively naming and identifying that which is noticed with one’s awareness, as opposed to Zazen where these things are simply acknowledged and allowed to float by as if a passing cloud in the sky.

For those of you who have followed me for some time, zazen is the basic meditation instruction I typically give in my various posts, guides, and books (New to meditation or mindfulness? Start here).

Most points on this list are general guidelines which will look differently for different people. This is the only point on this list that's essentially a direct suggestion, although keep in mind that I have no intention of comparing forms of meditation or pronouncing one better than another, here I'm simply referring to the importance of daily meditation in general.

The most important point here is just to establish a daily meditation practice, whatever form works out best for you.

11. Serve others

"Only keep the question, 'What is the best way of helping other people?'"

- Zen master Seung Sahn

It's an integral part of everyday Zen monastic practice to serve either the monastic or surrounding community in some way.

This could include cooking or cleaning inside the monastery, cleaning and keeping up the outside depending on the location, or some other form of service for the local community outside the monastery or for the global community at large.

Any true and effective spiritual practice will gradually cultivate in you great compassion for all beings, and it's through this compassion which the desire to serve is born.

It's sometimes misunderstood that Zen monasteries, and the Zen monks and nuns that live and have lived there, close themselves off from society and just practice zazen all day long. A core part of many Zen monasteries daily life is daily service in the spirit of mindfulness, love, and great compassion.

This is something you can express in your own life quite easily through countless different ways. The most important way to serve? To carry yourself within the things you already do in your everyday life in a way that expresses these qualities of mindfulness, love, and compassion.

Practice kindness with strangers and compassion with everyone you interact with. And every action you take, be aware of the global community and the way in which we're intrinsically interconnected.

In a more outward way, we can take time to serve others through our life's work and in our "off-time". This is a big subject that involves big decisions, but just in the way that it's a big decision that shouldn't be taken lightly, your life is a matter of great importance and what you do for 8+ hours a day, or for the hours of off-time you get each week, over the course of your entire life, shouldn't be taken lightly either.

Living in a way that you're aware of the impermanence of all things as well as of the way that everything is interconnected naturally cultivates the desire to serve. And conveniently enough, it's that service which contributes most heavily to our happiness in life.

However you choose to serve, know that it's a two-way street. You're not serving others, you're simply serving. By serving others, you're serving yourself. And by serving yourself in an honest and authentic spiritual sense, you're serving others as well.

Whatever your life looks like, know that to live a little bit more like a Zen monk or nun and to realize the greater peace, joy, and improved ability to navigate the crests and troughs of life isn't outside your reach. Express the essence of living like a Zen monk or nun by following these 11 points in your everyday life.

Note: Thanks to Paul Davis for the beautiful photos from Thich Nhat Hanh's Plum Village, Blue Cliff, and Magnolia Grove monasteries.