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.
- Simplify your daily activities down to the essentials
- Do a mind cleanse
- Reevaluate your dreams and goals
- Establish a daily routine for your life
- Establish a home meditation practice, but make practice simple and convenient (blend it in to everyday life)
- Identify the resistance and remove it (lean in to your problems, don't run from them)
- Become aware of dualistic thinking
- Live with the energy of mindfulness
- Do One Thing
- 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:
- 30 Simple Steps to Simple Living in 30 Days: How to Simplify Your Life from Start to Finish in 30 Days
- 13 Simple Ways to Increase Productivity, Reduce Distractions and Have More Time for What’s Most Important
- 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: