I love practical advice that you can immediately apply to your life. And Zen, a school of Mahayana Buddhism, is full of practical wisdom.
When I tell my friends, colleagues, and people I work with that I like reading about Zen Buddhism, they often make remarks like: “When are you going to grow your hair, walk around bare feet, and talk about yoga all day?”
That’s the hipster way of life. Not the Zen way.
What is Zen, actually? To be honest, I don’t know. It’s not a religion, belief, or piece of knowledge.
I started reading more about Zen when I learned that legendary basketball coach Phil Jackson is very into Zen and used the concepts to coach Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant.
And especially Kobe, a person who I have immense respect for, embraced Zen principles. When I found out about that, I wanted to learn more about Zen.
Phil Jackson also mentions a Zen quote in his book Eleven Rings (which is about the championship runs of the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers):
“Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” — Wu Li
My interpretation is that no matter what happens in your life; you must keep doing your task. I live by that philosophy too. You can replace enlightenment with any life goal. Nothing changes once you achieve something. You still have to do what you’re meant to do.
Over the past few years, I’ve read more about Zen and everything that’s related to it. What I’ve found is that it’s not a smart thing to get hung up on definitions, movements, and groups. Buddhism, Taoism, Zen — they share many of the same ideas. To be honest, I also don’t care what is what and who invented certain ideas. I’ll leave that to the pseudo intellectualists of this world.
All I know is that many of the Zen teachings are very useful for living a peaceful and happy life. So I’ve made a list of 5 Zen lessons I’ve found practical and easily applicable to modern-day life. Here we go.
1. Find Your Meditation Technique
The most important part of a Zen monk’s life is meditation. I’ve tried sitting meditation in the past. It’s not for me.
So I’ve turned running and strength training into my meditation. The most important thing about meditation is this: Practice being in the moment.
I’ve found it doesn’t matter what type of activity you use. Sitting meditation, yoga, running, strength training — you can MAKE it work for you. Make sure you’re one with your body, clear your mind, and do it regularly.
One note: Meditation doesn’t work when you try to do six thousand things at the same time. I’ve recently learned to do one thing at a time.
I’ve stopped doing things like listening to audiobooks and podcasts when you’re working on something important, or when you’re exercising.
Ever since I quit that type of multitasking behavior, my workouts have improved drastically. These days, I completely focus on the task at hand: Running, lifting weights, my muscles, the way I breathe, etc. I still like to listen to music because that easily moves to the background. You don’t have to focus on it.
2. Enjoy The Moment
This quote from Thích Nhất Hạnh, a Vietnamese Zen Monk, says it all:
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves — slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”
Look, you don’t have to do groundbreaking things to live a meaningful life. You don’t need to be the youngest person to climb Everest. Actually, you don’t need to be the first person who does anything.
Just makes sure you enjoy most moments of your day. I say most because you’re probably way too busy to enjoy every moment. That’s not realistic unless you’re a Monk. But stopping for a few seconds a day, and enjoying the moment, that’s something everyone can do. No excuses.
3. Happiness Is Closer Than You Think
We often look at outside sources for happiness: Travel, a new job, moving to a different city or county, a new partner, more experiences, etc. But if you’re unhappy now, you will probably be an unhappy person with new experiences.
A quote from the Japanese Zen Master Dogen explains it well:
“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”
Don’t look for happiness in other places. Find it right where you are. Once you become happy, it’s easier to stay happy.
4. Focus On The Process
Zen Monks and Masters don’t care about results. They focus on habits, rituals, and processes that support the Zen way of living.
Too often, we stare blindly on the results we want to achieve that we forget why we do something in the first place.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with trying to achieve things. You don’t have to give up everything and move to a monastery.
But make sure you develop habits and rituals that support what you’re trying to achieve in life. When you focus on the process, the outcome will follow automatically.
5. Zen Believes The Meaning Of Life Is To Be Alive
Alan Watts was a British philosopher who was introduced to Zen in 1936 when he attended a conference where D. T. Suzuki spoke. Suzuki, a Japanese author, singlehandedly influenced the spreading of Zen in the West.
And ever since that moment, Watts (21 years old at the time) was fascinated with Zen. He wrote many books. One of the most popular books is Way of Zen. Watts also built a large following in the West. And I have to say that I like his work a lot.
Especially his perspective on the meaning of life. He said:
“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”
This sounds obvious, but I’m going to say it anyway: Instead of thinking, spend your life living. Make yourself useful, solve problems, add value, and most importantly: Enjoy it.
Don’t rush life. Before you know, it will all be over. To me, that’s the true Zen way of living.