“Zen is not some fancy, special art of living. Our teaching is just to live, always in reality, in its exact sense”. Shunryu Suzuki
I find great inspiration in the way monks live their lives. They demonstrate a peace and calm in everything they do.
No doubt becoming a monk may not be high on your list of things to do, yet you probably wouldn’t mind a little bit of that Zen calm in your life.
So how can we live more like a Zen monk without all the monastic rituals?
In other words, what Zen monk like practices can we adopt amid the various responsibilities and challenges we have every day?
There’s a variety of simple little Zen monk things we can incorporate into our daily life that will make a big difference to how you feel throughout our day.
Here are 6 ideas worth trying:
1. Single-tasking, not Multi-tasking.
There is a Zen proverb which says: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” What this means is we need to focus our attention on doing only one thing at a time.
Zen monks live in a way that they’re totally and completely focused on the task at hand. A key aspect of that is to simply do one thing at a time. Whatever demands your presence, you’re there for it fully.
When you’re pouring water, just pour water. When you’re eating, just eat.
Try and resist the typical urge to try and get a few things done all at once. When you feel the urge to switch to other tasks, pause, breathe, and pull yourself back.
It’s that simple!
Don’t move on to the next task until you’re finished.
This isn’t an inflexible, all or nothing concentration. Rather, it is a soft persistent concentration on the present moment. You’re being here; awake to your life, in every moment. And that’s really what this is all about.
Making the commitment to live your life in a way that you do that one thing that’s most important in each moment means to live with greater clarity and perform more effectively at everything you do.
2. Do each Task Slowly with Present Moment Purpose.
Many people are so anxious about living the future that they forget to live the present, which ironically is the only time that we truly have.
Learn to take your time. Move slowly. Make your actions unhurried. It takes time and practice to master this new habit, nevertheless it worth the effort.
Slowing down is a conscious choice, and not always an easy one. But it leads to a greater appreciation for life and a greater level of happiness.
If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, frantic or like you’re always rushing from one thing to the next, learning how to slow down may be just what you need.
When we intentionally slow down our days and our life, it helps us become more present and mindful in our days.
A good example is to consciously choose to drive slower. Don’t get caught up in that rush to get somewhere. Loosen your grip on the steering wheel of life and enjoy the ride.
3. Let Go of Those Things which are keeping you from Peace and Happiness.
Throughout our lives, we are constantly resisting the natural flow of the way things are.
This is best summed up by a quote by Wayne Dyer. He said: “Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.”
Resistance creates friction which keeps us from peace.
This is how most of us live our lives. We don’t notice that it’s our resistance which is causing suffering in our lives.
We could choose to think about all the things we wished were different, but all that does is make us unhappy. That type of thinking certainly doesn’t facilitate the clarity of mind and heart required for changing anything.
By cultivating awareness around the resistance that blocks us we learn to let go and move forward in a positive way.
Removing the resistance in our lives allows us to live with greater ease and freedom. In this way, we open up a clear path to living a more peaceful calmer life.
4. Schedule Daily Activities.
Zen monks have routine. They have designated times for activities. They prioritise tasks from the moment they rise to the time they go to bed. It gives them a structure to get things done.
We can all elect time for our own activities. It could be cleaning, exercise, meditation, what we do before you start our workday, or what we do when you wake up and before you go to bed.
It’s important to regularly schedule a time for each activity we value.
That sense of routine and order has a big impact on how well the day flows without creating unnecessary stress.
Without a sense of order we just aimlessly amble from one task to another. We end up wasting precious time. This causes frustration and unnecessary chaos in our lives.
We end up being pushed and pulled in all manner of directions by our chaotic habitual ways of doing things.
A structured approach to life gives us control, intent and direction. We know exactly what we are striving to achieve and how to go about it.
5. Dedicate Time to Practicing Being Present.
One of the most important parts of being a Zen monk is daily meditation. Every day, they allocate time to sit and watch their inner world. This helps them to develop present moment mindfulness and inner calm.
Meditation maybe a commitment that challenges many; however there are other ways to that allow us to build our mindful awareness around the present moment each day.
One way is to take advantage of red lights when we are commuting in traffic. This is a perfect opportunity to calm the mind and practice being present by solely focusing on your breathing.
Another great idea is to learn to detach from our phone in those moments of idleness.
When we find ourselves riding the elevator, waiting for the lift, or in the line at the bank or supermarket resist the urge to reach for the mobile phone. Use the idle time to just tap into your senses and connect with your surroundings. Notice what you can see, hear and feel. Practice being present.
To live simply means to rid ourselves of all those things that are both unnecessary and unessential.
We all tend to accumulate more and more stuff as we get older. What is deemed necessary or essential to the quality of our lives will vary between each and every one of us.
There is no law dictating what should or shouldn’t be essential. Yet it’s important for us to reflect and strongly consider what makes our list.
The monastic way of living for any Zen monk is crafted in such a way that only the essentials remain: physical nourishment, a place to rest, a community, and the practice.
They don’t have a closet full of shoes, or the latest trendy clothes, or the latest devices such as smart TV, or iPod.
Their way of living may sound extreme to many. Nonetheless, what is important is the concept.
By removing those things we do not need on a daily basis we free ourselves from unnecessary burdens. We do not need to waste time and energy worrying about things that place a weight on us holding us back.
But where do you start?
How do you decide what’s essential and non-essential?
The best place to start is to question if the item or thing is ever used or ever holds any purpose. If it’s never used, or holds no purpose, it needs to go.
By removing that which is useless and distracting gives us more time for what matters most.
Take away message
I hope you find these 6 ways to be calmer like a Zen monk useful.
The practice is where we truly begin to make changes to our lives. The practice is where we find greater peace, happiness, and the ability to better navigate our daily challenges.
Maybe start easy by adopting 1 or 2 of the practices to try over a period of time.
Let us know what worked for!