Learning more about Zen practice was one of my New Year’s resolutions for 2017. And now the year’s almost over, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on how I’ve been able to adopt, maintain, and fully be one with this way of understanding and interacting with my day-to-day experiences.
So here are four ways (and a few extras) I stay Zen in my daily life:
1. Meditate (whenever, wherever)
As I mentioned in my previous post (“4 ways I stay happy and healthy on a budget”), meditation has been a great way to keep up with my mental and emotional maintenance. I started out by using the apps Calm and Buddhify to guide me through different practices, according to how I’m feeling or how my day is going (anxious, overwhelmed, waiting for a response).
However, over time, both apps trained me to be able to meditate anywhere and at any time. Now I use sensory cues to snap me out of my thick haze of thoughts and bring me back to the crispness of the present moment.
For example, on my commute home, I’ll simply notice the sun’s golden rays illuminating the streetcar tracks ahead. I don’t assign it a story or a judgement. I simply notice that at this moment in time, this is what I’m seeing, and stay with it for as many breaths as I can. Then when I find myself drifting off into unrelated thoughts, I’ll look around for something else to notice and stay with that for a few more breaths. You can do this with sights, sounds, smells — whatever.
To me, this is meditation at its simplest: notice → breathe → move on. You don’t need to critique yourself on how long you breathe before your mind wanders. You don’t need to ask yourself if you’re doing it right. But if you do, acknowledge that, then move on. Be kind to yourself in these moments. Just simply notice, breathe, and move on.
2. Let go (especially when shit gets hard)
If you take the above process (notice → breathe → move on) a step further, you can apply it to daily events in your life, whether you’re experiencing joy or disappointment.
The point is to treat each moment as a moment — nothing more, nothing less. And if you allow yourself to take on the position as a mere observer of these moments — like watching a steady stream of water pass in front of you — you’ll dwell less on the past, stress less about the future, and have a clearer sense of how to react in the present and learn to let go of what might be holding you back from doing so.
Spiritual teacher Ram Dass says, “Everything changes once we identify with being the witness to the story rather than the actor in it.”
When I started doing this, it became clear to me that I had to undo a lifetime of being a control freak. Because sometimes (in my case, it was all the time) what holds you back is your own desire for control. A Buddhist proverb says, “You only lose what you cling to.”
Funny enough, that only started making sense to me when put into the context of Star Wars (sometimes I wonder if Star Wars is my primary language?). I commented on this realization in an Instagram post:
What’s an unexpected life lesson you’ve learned recently? Over the last month, I’ve realized there’s a greater sense of control that comes from not trying to control everything. Being a control freak used to be a characteristic I owned in an attempt to manage my anxiety — I’d justify my actions by saying “this is how I am and it works for me because it brings results.” But sometimes it doesn’t bring results. Sometimes certainty comes with recklessness. And sometimes you have to recognize when a characteristic becomes a flaw — especially when it affects people you care about. “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose,” Yoda told Anakin Skywalker. But Anakin was like, “Nah, bro, I’m good.” And look how that turned out. He tried to save his wife but ended up killing her AND losing his legs. I mean, yes, he turned into a pretty iconic villain but that’s not really living your best life, is it? Lol ✌️ So calm down, take a breather, and realize the power of doing nothing. It might save you from turning to the Dark Side. . . . . . . ? Photo by @thegwb_ #longpost #realtalk #lifelesson #lifestyle #lifestyleblogger #ootd #lechateau #summeroutfit #floral #styleblogger #fashionblogger #torontoblogger #canadianblogger #nikon #nikond750 #50mm #50mm14
Relating Anakin Skywalker’s storyline to my own made it easier to see that gripping so tightly to a desired outcome is the most detrimental thing to that outcome.
3. Take small doses of Zen (via Twitter)
I’ve never been one to indulge in a motivational quote; I think I’ve always associated the act of sharing them with a lack of originality. But now I’ve changed that association, and I try to find subtle Zen teachings within them. Whenever I see new tweets from the handful of Zen accounts I follow on Twitter, I treat them like just another sensory cue to bring me back to the present moment.
At first I asked, “How could these Zen snippets of 280 characters or less know exactly what I need to read in that moment?” But that’s the thing. These doses of wisdom could be applied to virtually any aspect of your life because every unique experience is just a collection of moments with an assigned story — stories assigned by you. At the end of the day, even though our experiences may be different, we all experience things the same way: event happens → we assign it a positive or negative judgement → we react.
But these tweets serve as a reminder to go back to that process we talked about earlier: notice → breathe → move on. The act of stripping away the stories we assign to our experiences neutralizes them, makes them easier to respond to, and liberates us from their narratives.
Here are some of my favourite Zen tweets from the last few months:
Zen is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake . . . — Peter Matthiessen pic.twitter.com/jk8XBFAYEM
— Zen Proverbs (@ZenProverbs) September 6, 2017
To define “your” life is to limit it, & to limit it is to create false beliefs which become the source of all dissatisfaction. BrianThompson
— Zen Proverbs (@ZenProverbs) September 16, 2017
Stress is caused by being here but wanting to be there. — Eckhart Tolle
— Zen Proverbs (@ZenProverbs) October 3, 2017
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” ~ Max Planck #mindfulness
— Everyday Mindfulness (@mindfuleveryday) October 8, 2017
“Thinking will not overcome fear..” ~ W. Clement Stone #mindfulness
— Everyday Mindfulness (@mindfuleveryday) October 20, 2017
“Time is not a line, but a series of now-points.” — Taisen Deshimaru
— Zen Proverbs (@ZenProverbs) October 25, 2017
And here’s a list of the Zen-related accounts I follow on Twitter:
4. Patience sucks (but is so worth it)
Siiiiiiiiiigh. Patience. I could write a whole blog post on patience. In fact, I totally will in the new year. But for now, here’s a quick summary:
Being impatient was something I always struggled with, but without knowing it. And, to be fully honest, the old me would’ve assigned that realization as “negative” and would’ve gone so far to say my impatience had ruined my happiness and wasted my time at certain points of my life. But we don’t do that thing anymore, right? Assigning judgement to past experiences? That’s sooo last year.
But over the last six months, I can confidently say the decision to be a more patient person has changed my life dramatically. Everything I have to be grateful for has come as a result of trying, every day, to think and act more slowly and steadily. Just like Tera Sinube said in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, “The value of moving slowly is that one can always clearly see the way ahead.” In fact, I might even take that a step further and say that seeing the way ahead is irrelevant. All you need to see is where you are now in order to decide which way to go.
However, I will say that moving slowly has definitely helped me see the benefit of letting things unfold organically. And it’s my newfound patience that makes me excited about the unknown instead of fearing it.
— Calm (@calm) November 9, 2017
Assorted bonus things
Here are some other miscellaneous things that help me stay Zen on a daily basis:
- Essential oils — I drop these into my Saje ultrasonic diffusers (one in the bedroom and one in my workspace) to either help calm or invigorate me. My favourite scents are eucalyptus, lavender, and wild orange. The next one I wanna try is sweet almond!
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck — This is a great book by Mark Manson that is often described as a modern approach to Zen teachings. Start here if you’re new to studying Zen and are open to a shift in your personal value system!
- zen habits — This blog by Leo Babauta was one of my first exposures to Zen. I like the way he identifies common things that hold us back and how we can overcome them. Sometimes giving our struggles a name helps take their power away. For me, that struggle was “attachments” and Leo has a great post on how to let go of them.
“There’s movement in the stillness…”
To close this post, I quickly want to acknowledge one of my favourite bands, Dear Rouge. It may not have been their intention, but the Canadian synth-rock band’s song “Black To Gold” resonates with the way I like to practice Zen. It was the song’s title and lyrics that inspired me to turn this gold-heeled outfit post into a post about staying Zen.
But if you just came for the fashion, here’s a gallery of more outfit shots. Details below!
- Light blue dress — Runway Luxe
- Navy blue waterfall coat — M Boutique
- Suede ankle boots with gold heels — Zara
- Fold-over crossbody bag — Tory Burch
Photos by: Yoni M2K Visuals
Thanks for reading! What has your own Zen journey been like? Let’s have a chat in the comments section below!