Transform Your Life

How to Transform Your Life with Conscious Living

How to Transform Your Life with Conscious Living via

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 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 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.

The Beginner's Guide to Zen Living: 10 Steps to Transforming Your Life with the Spirit of Zen

The Beginner's Guide to Zen Living (1)

One of the major intentions of my life is to live with the spirit of Zen.

That's the spirit with which I live my everyday life and the very spirit of Buddhaimonia.

I'm a firm believer that we all hold a certain intuitive wisdom within each of us, and it's that wisdom which hints at our naturally harmonious and interconnected nature.

It's also this wisdom which, if we so choose, can be used to bring this world together in greater peace and harmony.

And it's this intuitive wisdom which we share that is the very spirit of Zen.

Zen is a sect of Buddhism which focuses on the practice of meditation. But that's a very "textbook" response and hardly communicates the true spirit of Zen.

When it comes down to it, Zen has an individual "essence", an essence that speaks directly to us.

Why is this? Because Zen speaks that same language of intuitive wisdom that I mentioned a moment ago and which we all have deep within us.

We may not have practiced or studied Zen, meditation, or even be completely familiar with Zen, but the wisdom it speaks resonates with us because it's in line with the way we feel that we should live our lives.

So what does it mean to actually live with the spirit of Zen? My favorite explanation of this is in renowned Zen teacher and author Philip Kapleau's Introduction in Thich Nhat Hanh's book Zen Keys, where he describes Zen as a possible antidote to many of the problems of modern society:

"One obvious answer is- through Zen. Not necessarily Zen Buddhism but Zen in its broad sense of a one-pointed aware mind; of a disciplined life of simplicity and naturalness as against a contrived and artificial one; of a life compassionately concerned with our own and the world's welfare and not self-centered and aggressive. A life, in short, of harmony with the natural order of things and not in constant conflict with it."

In a way, this isn't Zen at all- Kapleau's describing life itself. This is the intuitive wisdom I speak of. To me, this is simply how we should all live:

  • With the energy of mindfulness - Fully aware, alive in each moment, with a single-pointed awareness. If we're cleaning, we're fully present for the act of cleaning; if we're with our loved ones, we're fully present for them; if we're relaxing at home, we're simply relaxing and not letting the events of the day or worries of the future cloud our mind and distract us.
  • Simply and naturally - Understanding that less is more and being aware of how this affects the state of our mind as well as accepting things fully as they come or "going with the flow of things" so to speak (among other things).
  • Compassionately and lovingly - Concerned for our own well-being as well as the well-being of all other beings together as one, ultimately understanding how we're all interconnected.

As Kapleau put it, this is about overall living in harmony with the natural way of things (and not creating friction).

Figuring out how to truly live with the spirit of Zen in my everyday life has been pretty difficult at times, but along the way I've learned quite a bit.

And it's been infinitely worth it, more so than anything else I've ever done in my life.

In this guide, I hope to impart some of that to you.


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10 Steps to Transforming Your Life Through Living with the Spirit of Zen

Below you'll find 10 steps to making Zen living (living with the spirit of Zen) a reality.

Some are straightforward, some are quick, and some are slow and will be more of a constant work-in-progress. But overall, if you put all of these strategies together, they'll make nothing short of a life changing impact throughout your entire life

Many of these tips will seem closely interlinked. That's on purpose. By being able to see clearly how one point leads into another you're able to see clearly the overarching effort involved in making this a reality.

Also, keep in mind that this isn't about perfection. Don't expect to get these all right the first time, or for them to all happen quickly (as mentioned above, some may and some may not). Your focus should simply be on making your best effort.

I hope some, or all, of these 10 steps can help you find the spirit of Zen in your own life.

  1. Simplify your daily activities down to the essentials
  2. Do a mind cleanse
  3. Reevaluate your dreams and goals
  4. Establish a daily routine for your life
  5. Establish a home meditation practice, but make practice simple and convenient (blend it in to everyday life)
  6. Identify the resistance and remove it (lean in to your problems, don't run from them)
  7. Become aware of dualistic thinking
  8. Live with the energy of mindfulness
  9. Do One Thing
  10. Respect and Appreciate Life

1. Simplify your daily activities down to the essentials

Before working on anything else, it's often most important just to clear away the unnecessary clutter, and that's exactly what these first 2 points are all about.

The first area to work on centers around your physical activity, so this is all about discovering what's unnecessary or unimportant, but which is still seemingly taking up your time, and then either removing them completely or reducing them as much as possible.

This has significance in literally every aspect of your life: personally, professionally, spiritually/religiously, and psychologically.

An important point:This first point is all about simplifying your mental activity by way of simplifying your physical activity (or physical world).

When it comes down to it, it's not about simplifying your physical life. Simplifying your physical life is only nice because of the fact that it simplifies the "mental clutter", not the physical.

That might not be so clear now, but think on it and you'll see that it's true.

How to do it:

So, how can you begin making this a reality? Simplifying you daily activities can seem like a huge task, and it can be if you go all out, but if you take it one step at a time you'll have created a hugely positive effect in very little time.

These are the most important categories to keep in mind when working on simplifying your life as a whole:

1. Finances - Remember when I said that this really comes down to simplifying mental activity? Almost nowhere is it clearer than when simplifying your finances.

This includes mostly how you spend and how you save.

2. Mental stimulation - This includes associations, T.V., the Internet, news (wherever you get it), books, audio, etc.

This is such a huge category that it's the entire 2nd of 10 steps, but also because it's really its own beast altogether (that's when we get much more directly mental rather than physical).

3. Material possessions - This is the most well-known of all "simplifying your life" tactics.

This one might not sound like it has much to do with our mental state of being, and it does have the least effect, but it still very much matters. Physical clutter in our homes and life overall can have a real effect on us and so tackling this is a worthwhile early venture in seeking to live the spirit of Zen.

4. Daily actions - The one area we've yet to cover is daily actions. This is one of the biggest and most important as it deals with everything you actually do physically all day long: go to the bank, go to work, what you do at work, run errands, visit friends and family, spend off-time, spend time with your loved ones, etc. Literally everything.

There is some overlap between this and #2, but again that's an important point to isolate because it's so important.

I've written a few articles which deal with this exact topic, even one taking you through a 30-day plan to simplifying your life in every aspect. Here they are:

  1. 30 Simple Steps to Simple Living in 30 Days: How to Simplify Your Life from Start to Finish in 30 Days
  2. 13 Simple Ways to Increase Productivity, Reduce Distractions and Have More Time for What’s Most Important
  3. The 10 Most Important Ways to Simplify Your Life

2. Do a mind cleanse

We often don't realize just how much outside stimuli affects the state of our minds.

It can fog our mind, distract us, completely detract and divert us altogether, as well as lead us to be more aggressive, fearful, and paranoid (among other things). It can have just about any and every effect on us possible.

This step is all about what's called "mental food", and it's extraordinarily important.

What do I mean by mental food? This includes everything from associations (people, relationships) and environments to forms of media such as video (T.V., YouTube, news sites), audio (radio, audiobooks, podcasts), and text (books, blogs, and essentially the Internet as a whole).*

*It's important to note that the Internet is included in every one of those categories, being that social networks are a big part of our associations and the environments we engage in as well as including all forms of media: video, audio, and text. Also, associations and media crisscross because we interact with others via video, audio, and text.

So then, what is a mind cleanse?

A mind cleanse is about taking each of those categories and purging (or reducing) the bad mental food to "cleanse" our minds.

How to do it:

When it comes down to it, for the majority of people, a mind cleanse includes tackling these 3 categories:

1. Associations (people) along with the environments you engage with people in - This is always the most difficult, but also the most powerful, of all the categories in this step. There's rarely an easy way to go about dealing with this but to realize the hard fact that if you continue to be around people who willfully bring you down, it's going to have a definitive effect on your life.

2. T.V. - A point of interest here is the nightly news, talk shows, sitcoms, soap operas, and advertisements in general.

3. The Internet - Again, this is a huge category. The most important points here are social networks (you could be positively spending your time there or not so positively, you'll have to find this out for yourself), news and gossip sites, and blogs.

A mind cleanse such as this can take time, or you can do it all within a week or two (usually, outside of associations unless you're in a position to just stop hanging out with the people in question), it's really up to you (some might need more time, it just depends on your situation).

The first time I did this was back in high school, and it had an extraordinary effect. What kind of an effect? Let me explain...

What you'll notice when you do this is you'll naturally turn "inward" more than you were before.

What I mean by that is, you'll be willing to sit down to read, meditate, and do other more nourishing activities far more often than you were before. It's almost as if you just gravitate towards these things more now than before, you'll almost be compelled to.

*An important note: This won't last forever- it will likely only be an initial feeling that will last a few weeks or even a few months. But as with anything, consistency is key. This is your opportunity to build new and better habits. If you can do this, that period after the mind cleanse will be that much more beneficial.

That leads me to the next point. So what do you replace this bad mental food with? Many things, such as:

1. Books - Preferably self-help of some kind (this doesn't have to be non-fiction either, it can be fiction. See: The Alchemist), although I'll strongly warn against consuming the wrong kind of self-help centered around making more money, becoming successful and powerful, and other ways we try to fill ourselves up falsely.

2. Audio - Audiobooks (same guidelines as with books above), podcasts (see books again), guided meditations, etc.

3. Positive TV programming - There's a lot out there, just have to make your best judgment.

4. Positive groups and environments - This is all about the people and emotions you're around on a regular basis. This can have a considerable effect on your life as a whole, but be equally difficult to find. This one may take time, but if you're always on the lookout you'll begin to see possibilities.

3. Reevaluate your dreams and goals

Most of us are striving towards something.

We have a dream or a goal and we want to achieve it, and we look forward to the way our life will be when we accomplish it.

In many ways, having a dream and a goal is just fine. But it's natural for us to become attached to it, to the point where we convince ourselves that we can't be happy until we get it.

This kind of attachment is very unhealthy, and unfortunately it's something that most of us have fallen for (I was no exception). This next step is about evaluating that very thing.

How to do it:

How do you evaluate your dreams and goals? This includes:

1. Evaluating why you want to achieve said dream or goal - Do you want it because you believe you'll find happiness? Or do you want it because you'll believe it's a worthwhile pursuit that will help others? Or simply something worth spending your time on?

2. Evaluating your daily actions with these dreams and goals in mind - How are your daily actions colored by these dreams and goals? Most importantly, is what you're doing to achieve your dream or goal sacrificing your well-being or the well-being of others?

3. Identifying the thoughts and ideas that exist within your mind in connection with these dreams and goals - An idea of this would be working off point #1, identifying that you want to achieve this goal because you believe you'll find happiness. That's an idea you hold in your mind in connection with the dream or goal.

This last point can take time to develop, and largely comes through developing your mindfulness and meditation practice (which we'll talk about in a bit), so just become aware of these thoughts and ideas as they arise when possible.

The overarching idea here is to begin identifying the harmful thought patterns you hold within your mind so that you can begin releasing them. This step is very important because it's so often this attachment to a dream or goal and the idea that, "I'll be happy when ____" that holds us back from realizing peace and happiness in the present moment.

*An important note: You won't be able to release this idea of "I'll be happy when ____" right away, nor is it required. Just begin to become aware of them, that will be enough right now.

4. Establish a daily routine for your life

Sometimes, we think that things like "order" and "structure" are boring and only slightly useful in some situations, when in fact when used in the right way they can be the breeding ground for much peace, joy, and freedom.

How? A daily routine, for instance, allows for a quieter mind because there's less to think about.

Ultimately, that's really what you want- less to think about = more enjoying the peace of the present moment.

In modern life, planning ahead and remembering certain things is necessary to a point, but by structuring things in the right way and pre-planning, we can remove much of that mental clutter that builds up as a result of our many everyday tasks, to-do's, and important events.

We're so afraid of forgetting what we have to do that we often feel the need to cycle those things repeatedly through our minds until the time comes to do them. The thing is, that cycle never ends because new things come up. So our minds are constantly cluttered with, "Remember this!", and "Remember that!"

By establishing a daily routine and some form of order to your life, you remove a lot of feeling that you need to do that. And as a result, you remove more mental clutter and give yourself more peace and quiet.

How to do it:

So, what should this daily routine look like? That's completely up to your own daily schedule and life as a whole.

To some degree, that will change day-by-day, but as long as you make your major daily (or weekly) activities routine than you'll have just about done your best.

Outside of that, for those activities that are irregular or one-time, I'd suggest keeping a simple to-do list.

Don't let this to-do list rule your life though, only use it to keep a few important points for that day (or group of days). I'd suggest keeping this list at no more than 3-5 things for the sake of simplicity and for keeping it from becoming its own monster (to-do lists are helpful, but only to a point).

I prefer Trello due to its simplicity (and it works across all devices), but you could use anything.

*Two more important points:

Having some form of structure, a daily routine namely, keeps you from wasting time. It improves your efficiency towards the task at hand because you act with more of your being in every moment. This is a very important part of Zen in itself as well, so they go together nicely.

On top of that, breaking that sense of order and structure from time to time can become a very liberating experience.

Zen monasteries have always been run with a sense of order and structure because they're perfectly aware of the benefits of it.

Zen priests don't run monasteries with a strong sense of order just because they feel like it- everything in Zen is calculated- they do it to create a breeding ground for those students to better realize greater awakening, and their true nature.

So use a sense of order and structure to liberate yourself in your own life by creating a daily routine, giving yourself more mental energy for what really matters.

5. Establish a home meditation practice, but make practice simple and convenient (blend it in to everyday life)

Meditation (zazen in Zen- meaning literally "sitting meditation" in Japanese) is obviously an important part of living the spirit of Zen, but with regards to doing so in your everyday life (modern life), this can't be done the same way a full-time Zen monk or student practices meditation.

Within this point there's really 2 important sub-steps:

1. Begin your home meditation practice

First and foremost, for those new to meditation, here's a few guides to get you started:

The Little Book of Mindfulness– Discover the power of mindfulness meditation in simple, straight-forward, and crystal clear language. You can get this free eBook by clicking here.

The Mindfulness Survival Guide– Learn 5 powerful meditative practices for overcoming life’s difficult challenges and living more mindfully. You can get this free guide by clicking here.

5 Tools to Help Start Your Home Meditation Practice– This is a guide all about teaching you both the basics of sitting meditation (instruction included along with the 5 tools) as well as the 5 tools you can use to help build your practice. A great beginner's guide.

2. Blend meditation into your everyday life (and make it a daily habit)

Once you've begun your meditation practice, you'll likely discover that it can be pretty difficult to stay consistent. That's where this next point comes into play.

First, because simply meditating isn't enough, focus on establishing meditation as a daily habit. But also, do it in a way that allows you to blend meditation into your everyday life.

Read this guide to establish meditation as a daily habit:

5 Steps to Making Meditation a Daily Habit

These are the only 5 steps you need do to make meditation into a daily habit. You can read the guide here.

This also happens when you bring the energy of mindfulness into your daily activities, which we'll talk about in a moment.

These 5 steps also help you to bring meditation into your daily life in a way that "blends" with it, but here's a few additional points to really make your practice as convenient as possible:

  • Meditate morning, afternoon, and night (even if only for a few minutes) to create powerful "anchors" that keep you grounded throughout each day. Early on, spreading out your meditation practice (even if you meditate for less time on each session) is a powerful way to support and encourage your practice. Ultimately, you're just trying to get used to sitting and to make the act of sitting in meditation become as comfortable as possible to you.
  • Place your cushion in a place you reside in often, a very common area you'll see regularly and be likely to encourage yourself to sit even if for only a few minutes at a time. This is the best example, outside of living with mindfulness, of blending meditation into your daily life.
  • Sometimes, meditate without a cushion (work with what you've got, don't restrict yourself). I work from home and help my wife put our two sons to nap. Well, my oldest son gets a little crazy sometimes, so I often find myself waiting on him to make sure he falls asleep and doesn't instead go berserk around the room before I go back to writing. While I wait, I sit in what's called the "seiza" position and meditate (this is essentially sitting on top of your lower legs and feet, to where your butt is sitting on to bottom of your feet), as I've found it very easy to sit in when I don't have my cushion near me. Sometimes, you just have to work with whatever you've got, and this is a great way to do just that. Remember, you can always meditate while sitting in a chair as well.

Overall, the idea here is to make sitting down to meditate simple and convenient to do. If you can do that, you've surmounted a great hurdle to living with the spirit of Zen in your everyday life.

Don't overlook the importance of meditation. It may by the 5th step, but it's one of, if not the, most important.

6. Identify the resistance and remove it (lean in to your problems, don't run from them)

The idea of resistance is something I've talked about before, and it's a very important part of Zen living.

What do I mean when I say resistance? I mean specifically:

Resistance:Fighting against reality and the true nature of things.

When I say fighting against, what do I mean? Ultimately, I mean accepting some things and not accepting others.

For example:

- A break up or divorce: When one person just won't let the other person go and continues to be tortured by the person's absence.

- Driving home from work: When we drive home from work with the expectation that we'll get home without a hitch, but end up running into traffic and becoming very annoyed and angered as a result. That expectation we're holding on to is driving us to anger, not the reality of things.

- Striving for greatness: Living your life wanting to "get it all" for yourself, constantly trying to bend and rearrange things to get what you want. Ultimately, you're doing this to be happy, but this isn't where true happiness lies. Because this isn't the way things work, where true happiness actually exists, you get sent down a path of bad habits and patterns that fight against the true nature of things, leading to pain and suffering for either you and/or other beings.

Ultimately, this is us clinging or attaching to certain ideas and expectations that just aren't true. And by clinging to these ideas and expectations we're resisting reality (or the true nature of things) and causing ourselves pain and suffering.

Another important point to note here is that, since we were little, many of us have been taught to distract ourselves from our problems as opposed to facing them.

This behavior stays with us to adulthood, and we end up living our lives doing everything we can to avoid our problems. We:

  • Eat
  • Drink
  • Smoke
  • Have sex
  • Play games
  • Surf online
  • Watch T.V.
  • Engage in groups that help justify our actions
  • And so much more...

...because we've been conditioned that the only way to get away from our problems is to drown them in patterns of bad behavior.

*A side note: Almost none of these behaviors are bad in-and-of-themselves, they're bad when used as a way to avoid our problems and difficulties.

But the reality is, you'll never overcome your problems and realize peace and happiness unless you summon the courage to face those problems and lean in to them.

This can be very difficult to do, but it's absolutely worth it.

How can you begin facing and leaning in to your problems instead of running from them?

Your mindfulness and meditation practice will help uncover these problems and challenges, so from there it's your job to simply lean in to them.

Simply accept the situation as it is fully and openly and allow yourself to feel any emotions that arise in conjunction with it.

Do this:When something arises or occurs, stop to follow your breath and be with it. Imagine yourself facing across from your perceived problem or challenge and accepting it fully with each in-breath and out-breath.

In this way, you can begin making friends with these perceived problems instead of running from them.

7. Become aware of dualistic thinking

All our lives, we were taught that there's "bad" and there's "good" and that these are very separate things. But this is very misleading.

This is because, without the bad, there would be no good.

You wouldn't have the capability to identify happiness if it weren't for your challenges and struggles.

These challenges and struggles should be appreciated, because they allow the opportunity for us to experience the beauty and joy that life has to offer.

If we can begin to remove this dualistic thinking and see that without the bad, without the challenges, there would be no good, no beauty or peace or joy, we can begin to can transform our relationship with those occurrences so that they no longer affect us the way that they once did.

And, going a bit deeper, much of what we identify as "bad", "annoying", etc. is only so because of the concept we hold in our minds.

Much of the suffering we feel exists because of:

Something happens -> Touches mind, Idea (or combination of ideas) triggered -> Creates suffering

It's when the event registers in our minds that we draw a judgment on it that leads us to react negatively to it. This is, again, something we've been taught since we were little ("This is bad." "That's good.").

This takes non-dualistic thinking to another level: preventative. This is all about living in a way that we simply don't draw judgment on anything and accept it full as it comes (remember the last step).

In this way, those things you once considered "bad" no longer affect you the same as they once did, and you can even oftentimes find joy in them.

This is closely connected to living without expectations, understanding that it's not the traffic which caused us to become angry, it was the expectation in our minds which triggered the anger when we encountered the traffic.

For now, this is something simply to become aware of. Just work on identifying this dualistic thinking and you'll begin to gain clarity about the way they affect your life.

8. Live with the energy of mindfulness

In many ways, mindfulness is an energy. It's very contagious. The more you practice, the more mindful you become throughout the rest of your life. In this way, mindfulness practice compounds on itself.

In Zen, this is all about taking the energy of your zazen (sitting meditation) practice into your daily life.

Zen monks for centuries have lived their practice partly with the intention of living every moment of their lives with mindfulness.

The first and clearest example of how this becomes possible is in their practice of walking meditation.

Zen monks often break from zazen practice to do what's called "kinhin" (literally "walking meditation" in Japanese). The idea is to bring the same energy you've developed in your zazen practice- that cultivated one-pointed awareness- into motion.

From here, Zen monks practice to live every moment of their lives- on the cushion and off- with this same spirit of one-pointed awareness, or mindfulness.

This works as a great practice to begin bringing the energy of mindfulness into your everyday life.

It's so important to live with mindfulness throughout your daily life, instead of just sitting to meditate for a few minutes 1-2 times a day.

Live with the spirit of greater awareness in daily activities, giving your full presence around loved ones, and with complete (but not exclusive, still open) attention during your work and you'll see the significant effect living with mindfulness has on every aspect of your life.

My second book, Zen for Everyday Life, is about teaching you exactly that. It's a valuable resource for further developing this step:

Zen for Everyday Life– Learn how to live with the energy of mindfulness throughout your everyday life. You can get the first 2 chapters free by clicking here.

9. Do One thing

This is a very simple step with a lot of significance.

Ready for it?

What's the one thing you're doing right now?

Give your full attention to that thing (and nothing else).

That's the practice of One Thing.

That's it...really. OK, let me break it down a little bit more for clarity sake:

Is it being with a person? Give your full presence to them.

Is it a physical task? Focus on the movement of your body and be fully present for the act of doing that thing.

This doesn't have to be difficult. Start off by picking one hour (say 7-8 P.M.- picking something random here) where you practice One Thing and then gradually expand your practice from there.

Afraid that you might fall behind in your planning and daily agenda if you do this too often? Then you really need this point.

And don't worry, start small with the 1-hour suggestion and bring this practice into your life slowly.

If you have kids, you could reserve one hour a day to being fully present for them.

If you like to clean, or just need to do it out of necessity, then you can do this while cleaning for one hour (or less) a day in the beginning.

As you can tell, your mindfulness practice and this are very similar (which is why this point follows the former), although the practice of One Thing isn't strictly mindfulness and can be practiced by itself.

The point is to get you accustomed to not having to feel like you have to multi-task and to begin becoming used to letting the things in your mind go for at least a short period during your daily life and doing things with a single-pointed mind.

As you let this practice and that of mindfulness bleed into your daily life you'll begin to realize a greater and greater level of peace and freedom.

10. Respect and appreciate life

In many ways, this is something you'll begin to cultivate on your own through following a number of the steps on this list. But this is still a very important point to mention on its own because a lot is included within it. This includes:

- Respecting and appreciating your own life and understanding your own impermanence (you only have so long to live, appreciate every moment of life).

- Understanding the precious nature of life and not purposely harming or hindering it unless necessary (using/wasting resources, not killing or abusing, etc.).

- Being aware of your interconnected nature, and as a result serving others in some way (there are many ways to do this, it's up to you- aiding physically or financially, teaching, inspiring, being an example).

In many ways, this point is all about living in harmony with the natural way of things, and all of existence.

It's about understanding your place, your relationship with other living and non-living things, and the fundamental truths of this world (impermanence, interconnectedness).

These are principles which we can all use to improve our appreciation for life, so it's really through understanding these truths that we can begin to cultivate that respect and appreciation for life in the first place.

Living in this way, every moment, every interaction, and every thing becomes beautiful and infinitely valuable.

You can see significance in something as simple as a tree or flower.

You can see absolute truth in the smile of a child.

And you can see great beauty and importance within yourself.

And in this way, you realize you never needed anything to be "filled up", because you were full all along.


Living Zen Spirit...Coming Soon

If you're interested in learning how to bring more authentic Zen spirit into your life, then you'll love my upcoming book Living Zen.

If you'd like to be notified when more information is available, as well as get some cool exclusive book bonuses from here until release, fill in your name and email below!


12 Pieces of Buddhist Wisdom That Will Transform Your Life

12 Pieces of Buddhist Wisdom That Will Transform Your Life

Get the FREE 12 Pieces of Buddhist Wisdom PDF Workbook Guide

Take 12 Pieces of Buddhist Wisdom on the go and get the workbook guide to begin putting into practice the 12 points in this post:


When I was little, my grandma had this little green Buddha statue.

It wasn't a statue of the original Buddha, but rather a statue of what's generally considered Maitreya, the "future" Buddha, usually represented as a hefty man sitting with his robe partly opened and often with beads around his neck. This particular statue was a pretty common image, one where his belly protruded out to reveal his belly button.

My grandma would always tell me, "Rub his tummy and you'll have good luck!" So naturally, as a kid, I rubbed his tummy every chance I got. I was supposed to rub his bellybutton specifically, as I remember trying to lay my finger on his tiny belly button and rub in a circle, despite the fact that the belly button was a fraction of a millimeter in diameter.

I, like many others in the West, grew up with a pretty distorted image of Buddhism. I thought the Buddha was a god, that it was just a bunch of charms and superstition for people trying to amass riches and other misguided pursuits, and I thought meditation was only for people who were interested in learning human levitation or something crazy like that.

But I also, like many others, had heard many a number of insightful Buddha quotes and sayings growing up that seemed to "pull" me in, and almost always ring a response like, "Exactly!" or, "That's so true!"

It's because of this that despite all my negative misconceptions, I continued to be interested in Buddhism growing up, until one day I actually picked up a book, stopped learning from the collective misconceptions of the Western consciousness, and began learning from the real thing.

Buddhism holds within it a treasure trove of wisdom, not to mention wisdom easily applicable in one's everyday life and by all people of various backgrounds, beliefs, and preferences.

Thich Nhat Hanh has said, "Buddhism is made up of all non-Buddhist elements." And this couldn't be truer. When it comes down to it, Buddhism is really just a collection of methods and ways of realizing the ultimate truths of this life, and the path to discovering true peace and happiness.

Whether Buddhist, a collector of universal wisdom, or just someone interested in finding practical ways to improve their life, this list presents 12 powerful and potentially transformative pieces of Buddhist wisdom which you can benefit from.

12 Pieces of Buddhist Wisdom That Will Transform Your Life

1. Live with compassion

Compassion is one of the most revered qualities in Buddhism and great compassion is a sign of a highly realized human being.

Compassion doesn't just help the world at large, and it isn't just about the fact that it's the right thing to do. Compassion, and seeking to understand those around you, can transform your life for a number of reasons.

First, self-compassion is altogether critical towards finding peace within yourself. By learning to forgive yourself and accepting that you're human you can heal deep wounds bring yourself back from difficult challenges.

Next, we can often be tortured because of the fact that we don't completely understand why people do certain things.

Compassion is understanding the basic goodness in all people and then seeking to discover that basic goodness in specific people. Because of this, it helps you from going through the often mental torture we experience because we don't understand the actions of others.

But even more than that, expressing compassion is the very act of connecting wholeheartedly with others, and simply connecting in this way can be a great source of joy for us.

The reasons for practicing compassion are numerous and powerful. Seek to live in a way that you treat everyone you meet as you would yourself. Once you begin trying to do this, it will seem altogether impossible. But keep at it, and you'll realize the full power of living with compassion.

2. Connect with others and nurture those connections

In Buddhism, a community of practitioners is called a "sangha". A sangha is a community of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen who practice together in peace towards the united "goal" of realizing greater awakening, not only for themselves but for all beings.

The sangha is a principle which much of the world can greatly benefit from. People come together in groups all the time, but it's usually for the purpose of creating monetary riches or obtaining substantial power and rarely towards the united goal of attaining peace, happiness, and realizing greater wisdom.

The principle of the sangha can be expressed in your own life in many ways. The sangha is ultimately just one way of looking at life, through the lens of the individual "expressions" of the totality.

By living in a way that you're fully aware of the power of connecting with others, whether it's one person or a group of 100, and seeking to nurture those relationships in the appropriate way, you can transform your life in ways that will pay dividends for years to come.

3. Wake up

One of the most powerful points on this list, the power of simply living in a way that you're fully awake to every moment of your life pretty much couldn't be exaggerated even if I tried.

Mindfulness, greater awareness, paying attention, whatever you want to call it- it changes every facet of your life and in every way. It's as simple as that.

Strive to live fully awake to each moment of your daily life and overcome your greatest personal struggles, find a great sense of peace and joy, and realize the greatest lessons life can teach you as a result of living fully awake to the present moment.

4. Live deeply

To live deeply, in a way that you become keenly aware of the precious nature of life, is to begin down the path of true peace and happiness.

Why? Because to live in this way is to gradually become aware of the true nature of the world. This will happen essentially in "sections" of the whole, such as realizing your interconnectedness (you begin to see how everything is connected to everything else) and impermanence (you begin to see how everything is ever-changing, constantly dying only to be reborn in another form).

These realizations are the bread and butter of Buddhism and all spiritual practice. These "sections of the whole" are fragments of the ultimate realization, ways for us to understand that which can't be fully understood in the traditional sense.

By living in a way that you seek to realize these various "qualities of the ultimate" you find greater and greater peace in realizing the natural way of things. This cultivates in us the ability to savor every moment of life, to find peace in even the most mundane activities, as well as the ability to transform your typically "negative" experiences into something altogether nourishing and healing.

5. Change yourself, change the world

Buddhists understand that you can hardly help another before you help yourself. But this isn't referring to you gaining power or riches before you can help others or living in a way that you ignore others.

This is mostly referring to the fact that because we're all interconnected, by you helping yourself you create an exponentially positive effect on the rest of the world.

If you want to make an impact on the world, don't falsely convince yourself that it's "you or them". You don't need to drag yourself through the mud to help those around you. If you do this, you'll greatly hamper your ability to create a positive impact.

At the deepest level of understanding, by making it about you this also makes it about them because you know there's no separating "you" and "them".

Take care of yourself and seek to be more than just a help, but an example of how to live for others to follow and you'll create waves of exponential possibility that inspires others to do the same.

6. Embrace death

Death is an often taboo topic in Western society. We do everything we can to not only avoid the subject but pretend that it doesn't even exist.

The reality is, this is really unfortunate and in no way helps us lead better lives. Becoming keenly aware of your own impermanence and deeply understanding the nature of death with regards to our interconnectedness are both things which can help us find great peace.

In Buddhism, students in many sects at one point or another "meditate on the corpse" as it were (a practice which is said to have originated at least as far back as the Buddha's lifetime).

This is literally what it sounds like. They meditate on the image of a corpse slowing decomposing and imagine that process through to its end, eventually resulting in a deep and profound realization about the true nature of death.

That might sound a little intense to you, but the truth is if you live your entire life acting as if you're never going to die or ignoring your own impermanence then you won't ever be able to find true peace within yourself.

You don't necessarily have to meditate on the image of a corpse, but simply opening up to yourself about death so that you're no longer shielding it from your mind (which you're likely doing unconsciously, as that's how most of us were brought up in the West) can begin to be a great source of peace and help you appreciate the many joys in your everyday life.

A true appreciation for life can never be fully realized until you come face-to-face with your own impermanence. But once you do this, the world opens up in a new and profound way.

7. Your food is (very) special

Meditation practice offers the ability to transform every experience in your everyday life, which I discuss in my forthcoming book Zen for Everyday Life, and food is one of those everyday experiences which is greatly transformed and often in very interesting and rewarding ways.

Buddhist meditative practice, particularly mindfulness and contemplation, helps you realize the precious nature of the food in front of you. Indeed, with how integral a part food plays in our lives, to transform our relationship with food is to transform a key aspect of our entire lives, both now and in the future.

By contemplating on the food in front of us, for example, we can come to realize the vast system of interconnectedness that is our life and how our food coming to be on our dinner plate as it is depended upon numerous elements coming together in a very specific way.

This helps us to deepen our relationship with food, cultivate a deep sense of gratitude before each meal, and learn to respect the delicate but ever-pressing balance that is life.

8. Understand the nature of giving

Giving is more than the act of giving Christmas and Birthday gifts, it's also about those gifts which we give each and every day which we don't typically see as gifts at all.

Buddhists hold a very deep understanding of the nature of giving, particularly in that life is a constant play between the act of giving and receiving. This doesn't just help us find peace in understanding the way of the world around us but it helps us realize the amazing gifts we all have within us that we can give others in every moment, such as our love, compassion, and presence.

9. Work to disarm the ego

The easiest way to sum up all "spiritual" practice is this: spirituality is the act of coming in touch with the ultimate reality or the ground of being, and as a result, spiritual practice is the act of overcoming those obstacles which keep us from realizing that.

The primary obstacle in our way? The ego.

To put it short and sweet, the reason the ego is the major obstacle in spiritual practice, or simply the practice of finding true peace and happiness (whatever you choose to call it, it's all the same), is because it's very function is to pull you away from the ground of your being by convincing you that you're this separate self.

The process of unraveling the ego can take time, as it's something which has been with us, intertwined with us, for years. But it's infinitely rewarding and altogether necessary if we want to realize our best life.

10. Remove the 3 poisons

Life is filled with vices, things which attempt to bind us to unwholesome ways of living and therefore do the very opposite of cultivating peace, joy, and greater realization in our lives. Among these, the 3 poisons are some of the most powerful. The 3 poisons are:

  1. Greed
  2. Hatred
  3. Delusion

Together, these 3 poisons are responsible for the majority of the pain and suffering we experience as a collective species. It's perfectly normal to be affected by each of these poisons throughout your life, so don't knock yourself for falling for them.

Instead, simply accept that they're something you're experiencing and begin working to remove them from your life. This can take time, but it's a key aspect on the path towards realizing true peace and happiness.

11. Right livelihood

We should all strive to work and make our living in a way that's more "conscious" or aware. This generally means not selling harmful items such as guns, drugs, and services that harm other people, but it goes deeper than that.

There's ultimately two aspects to this: making a living by doing something which doesn't inhibit your own ability to realize peace and making a living doing something which doesn't inhibit others ability to realize peace.

Facing this can lead to some interesting situations for some people, and as Thich Nhat Hanh has mentioned this is a collective effort as opposed to a solely personal one (the butcher isn't a butcher only because he decided to be, but because there is a demand from people for meat to be neatly packaged and made available for them to be purchased from supermarkets), but you should strive to do your best.

Following the teaching on right livelihood can help you realize the harmful effect that your own work is having on you and therefore coming up with a solution can result in a largely positive shift in your life as a whole. Only you can decide if a change needs to happen, though.

Whatever the case, seek to make a living doing something that promotes the peace and happiness of yourself and those around you as much as possible.

12. Realize non-attachment

This is a difficult point to put into so few words, but a profound one I felt would be greatly beneficial to mention nonetheless.

To realize non-attachment in a Buddhist sense doesn't mean to abandon your friends and family and live alone for the rest of your life, never truly living again just so that you don't become attached to these desires.

Non-attachment refers to living in a way that you exist in the natural flow of life and generally living a typical modern life, building a family, working, etc., while simultaneously not being attached to any of these things. It simply means to live in a way that you've become aware of and accepted the impermanence of all things in this life and live in a way that you're ever aware of this fact.

It's perfectly normal for a Zen student in Japan, once having completed his training, to actually de-robe and go "back into the world" so to speak. This is because, once they've reached this level of realization, they see the beauty in all things and are compelled to live fully absorbed in all the beauty and wonders of this life. From this point on, they can truly "live life to the fullest", while not clinging to any of these things.

Keep in mind, this doesn't mean that you stop feeling emotions. On the contrary, these emotions are welcomed and expected and fully experienced with mindfulness in the moment of their impact. But this is simply the natural course of things.

Once these emotions subside, though, and when we have no mental formations or obstructions to block our path, a natural healing process takes place that heals the wound and allows us to continue on living in peace and joy instead of dragging us down into darkness.

Strive to live free, fully aware of the wonders of life and in the very midst of all of those wonders, while not clinging to any of it. To do this is to realize the greatest joy life has to offer. ________________________________________

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