by Lori Deschene
“The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” ~Robert M. Persig
We live in a fast-paced, achievement-oriented society. At the end of a busy, to-do-list-focused day, we often find ourselves mentally and physically exhausted and uncertain whether we’re actually moving in the right direction in “the pursuit of happiness.”
Perhaps this explains our fascination with all things Zen. It’s become a buzzword in pop culture, branding products that have little to do with peace and enlightenment—and oftentimes, represent ideas that are diametrically opposed.
Zen Dharma Teacher Rev. Lynn “Jnana” Sipe takes an interesting look at Zen in titles in print publications, on all topics from automobiles to music. Some notable titles include: “Engine Zen,” “The Zen of Contractor Relations,” and “Zen and the Art of Propane Safety.”
Then there’s the vast world of products branded with Zen: tea, candles, rakes, fans, stones, books, eye masks, pillows, fountains, wind chimes, bath products, incense, oils, home décor. All intended to soothe our harried minds. It’s ironic that their acquisition requires more doing and earning—and possibly more stress.
We reach for our wallet to buy little pieces of peace because we’re programmed to fix problems by doing. Sometimes doing itself is the problem.
Our minds are like little hamster wheels, desperate to reach some point down the road when things get easy, or things make sense. In all reality, we never get there.
There will never be a moment in time when everything feels done. When everything is certain. When there’s no pain or discomfort. Life is a constant juggling act of items in the inbox, people to please, feelings to process, tasks to complete, experiences to be had, problems to face.
And that’s a beautiful thing.
At any given time we have opportunities to learn, grow, change, and experience life. There’s no shortage of things to do in this world—new hobbies to try, challenges to take on at work, steps to take to strengthen relationships.
It’s all available to us at any time. They key to enjoying these undertakings is learning to completely stop in between. Stop thinking. Stop analyzing. Stop worrying. Stop planning. And simply do nothing for a while.
It’s one of the most difficult things to do in this world; it’s why fewer people meditate than buy little Zen fountains for their desks. But stillness is far more rewarding than the gratification of making an impulse purchase, and the fleeting moment of joy you feel when rippling water offsets the sound of your typing.
You don’t need a complicated plan to spend 5, 10, or even 60 minutes doing nothing. You just need commitment to that goal.
Find an uncluttered space where you won’t be distracted—preferably somewhere with minimal technology. Write down everything on your mind, and then move that paper to a different room. If it helps, put on some soothing music. Be sure you haven’t eaten and drank anything recently so your body doesn’t put a snag in your plans.
And then work at being still and clear-headed, starting with just a few moments. Inhale and exhale deeply, focusing solely on your breath. It may help to visualize your breath filling and draining from different parts of your body, starting with your feet and ending with your head.
If thoughts come into your head, simply notice them and let them go.
You will spend your whole life juggling different thoughts, jumping back and forth between true presence in the moment, and thought processes or feelings that pull you out. Make a goal today to spend at least a few moments in the former state. It will definitely change your day, and it just may change your life.
Do Happy. It’s something you’re due.