Before enlightenment chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. ~ Wu Li Click To Tweet
I am a Zen Master and like many before me I have chosen to write words of wisdom in an effort to encourage others to follow a similar path. I admit being a Zen Master is not something everyone aspires to be, but if you want to become more like a Zen Master or a Zen Monk then I have some helpful tips for you. Tips that if followed can very well change your life and make you a happier person.
Why might you want to follow these tips? Maybe you find great inspiration in the way zen monks try to live their lives. Maybe you want a life that is more stress free, and embraces the simplicity of our lives, the careful concentration and mindfulness of every activity, the calm and peace they find in their days. Maybe that is something you want in your life too.
Who among us can’t use a little more concentration, tranquility, and mindfulness in our lives? Zen monks for hundreds of years have devoted their lives to being present and mindful in everything they do, to be dedicated and to serve others. If you can gain just a fraction of that tranquility and concentration in your own life, isn’t it worth it?
You probably don’t want to become an actual Zen monk however, but you can live your life in a more Zen-like manner by following a few simple rules that will make your life less stressful.
Zen is not mysticism or magic. It isn’t even a religion, it is more of a philosophy / concentration method. You don’t need to be religious to practice Zen.
You don’t need to be a martial artist or a monk either. It is not going to allow you to walk on water or perform legendary feats of martial arts. If you believe that then you’ve been watching too many movies. If you are going to follow any of the tips listed below then you should dispel any misconceptions you have about what Zen is and continue reading with a blank slate, as if you have never even heard the word Zen before.
ZEN TIP #1
Follow the Zen proverb: “When walking, walk. When eating, eat.” Do one thing at a time. This rule will be familiar to people who may have been practicing zen principles for a long time already. Single-task, don’t multi-task.
Multi-tasking is too distracting and you lose your ability to concentrate and work quickly/efficiently. When you’re pouring water, just pour water. When you’re eating, just eat. When you’re bathing, just bathe. Don’t try to pour water, eat and bathe at the same time.
ZEN TIP #2
Do everything slowly and deliberately, with complete concentration. If you do one task at a time, you may attempt to rush that task. Instead, take your time, and move slowly.
Make your actions deliberate, not rushed and/or random. It takes practice, but doing a task slowly helps you focus on the task and you will surely make fewer mistakes.
ZEN TIP #3
Do it completely. Put your mind completely on the task and avoid distractions. Don’t move on to the next task until you are finished what you are doing. If, for whatever reason, you have no choice but to move on to something else (eg. You are working outside and run out of daylight), try to at least put away the unfinished task and clean / tidy up after yourself.
Example: If you prepare a meal, don’t start eating it until you’ve put away the stuff you used to prepare the meal, wiped down the counter, and washed the dishes used for preparation. Then you are done with that task, and can focus more completely on the next task, which is eating.
ZEN TIP #4
Remember the popular adage “Less is More.” Do less. A real Zen monk doesn’t lead a lazy life: they wake early and have a day filled with work – some of which you may consider to be boring chores like cleaning. However, they don’t have an unending task list either.
They will eventually run out of chores that need doing as there is only so much gardening, cooking, cleaning and eating a person can do in a day. There will be certain things they are going to do today, and no more than that. By doing less each day, you can do those things more slowly, more completely and with significantly more concentration.
Furthermore, you won’t feel stressed about your tasks because if you spend 1 hour gardening, 1 hour cooking, 1 hour cleaning and 1 hour leisurely eating, add in 8 hours for sleep and you have 12 hours left in the day to relax / do work for your boss.
If you fill your day with too many tasks, you will be rushing from one thing to the next without stopping to think about what you are currently doing and the level of quality you are putting into the tasks.
ZEN TIP #5
Put space between different tasks. Related to the “Do less” rule above, but this tip is more a way of managing your schedule so that you always have extra time to complete each task. Don’t schedule things close together.
Instead, leave room between things in your schedule so you can relax between each task. That gives you a more relaxed schedule you can easily stick to, and leaves space in case one task takes longer than you planned or if there is unforeseen distractions (eg. important phone calls).
ZEN TIP #6
Develop rituals for different times of the day. Zen monks have rituals for many things they do, from eating to cleaning to meditation. Having a ritual gives something a sense of importance, because if it’s important enough to have a ritual, it’s important enough to be given your entire attention, and to be done slowly and correctly.
You don’t have to learn any of the actual Zen monk rituals! You create your own rituals, for exercising, for the preparation of food, for eating, for cleaning, for what you need to do before you go to work, for what you do when you wake up in the morning and before you go to bed. eg. Listening to a specific CD of songs while exercising might be your personal ritual.
ZEN TIP #7
Designate specific times for certain things. There are certain times of the day that a Zen monk designates for certain activities. A time for bathing, a time for work, a time for cleaning, a time for eating. This ensures that those things get done regularly and on a schedule.
Designate time for your own activities, whether that be work or pleasure or even napping. If it’s important enough that you think it should be done regularly, designate a specific time for it.
ZEN TIP #8
Devote time to sitting and just thinking, without music, television or other distractions. Sitting meditation (zazen) is one of the most important parts of a Zen monk’s day. Each day, there is a specific time designated just for sitting and thinking.
For a monk this meditation time is really practice for learning to be thinking in the present. You can devote time for sitting meditation and/or thinking about any number of things you feel are important. Try to practice being in the moment.
ZEN TIP #9
Smile and serve others willingly. Zen monks spend part of their day in service to others, not because they are forced to, but because they choose to. They might be helping other monks in the monastery or people in the outside world. They might be writing inspirational poetry or even essays on how to live life according to Zen principles.
Don’t try to take credit or thanks for it either. If possible, do it anonymously. Helping people teaches you humility, and ensures that your life is not for your own selfish purposes, but devoted to others around you.
If you are a parent, it’s likely you already spend at least some time in service to the children in your household, and non-parents may already do this too, doing things for their siblings, parents, friends, coworkers or people in their community.
Smiling and being kind to others is a great way to improve the lives of those around you. If you are unsure what to do, consider volunteering for charity work.
ZEN TIP #10
Make cleaning and cooking become meditation time. Like the zazen meditation mentioned above, cooking and cleaning are two of the most exalted parts of a Zen monk’s day. They are simple tasks, but they are both great ways to practice mindfulness to what you are doing so you can learn to avoid distractions.
They also make great rituals that can be performed every day. If cooking and cleaning seem like boring chores to you, try doing them as a form of meditation. Put your entire mind into those tasks, learn to concentrate fully on them, and do them slowly and completely. It could change your entire day (and leave you with a cleaner home).
ZEN TIP #11
Think about what is necessary. There is little in a Zen monk’s life that is not necessary. Having more shoes, trendy clothing, the latest gadgets, junk food or an iPhone doesn’t really matter to a monk. It is even possible they don’t even have a refrigerator or air conditioner. Although I admit many monks in Asia have satellite TV just so they can watch soccer games, that is the extent of their frivolities.
A typical monk has basic clothing, basic shelter, basic utensils, basic tools, and the most basic food (often simple, vegetarian meals consisting usually of rice, miso soup, vegetables, and pickled vegetables). Now, of course, you aren’t going to give up everything in your life that you enjoy. Not even monks do that.
But if you try to think about necessities first it will serve as a reminder that there is much in our lives that are not necessary and you don’t really need. Some things may even be necessary for your happiness or your children’s happiness. Knowing what is important and necessary is therefore something you have to learn and be mindful of.
ZEN TIP #12
Live simply. If something isn’t necessary for your health or happiness, you can probably live without it. Cutting out such things will help you to live simply and to rid your life of things that are both unnecessary and stressful.
Unessential things that are more annoying than useful can be tossed out or sold, making room for the essential things that are actually important to your health and happiness.
Those things might be family photos, writing, reading, yoga, exercise, and even your collection of baseball cards you’ve had since you were a kid.
Nobody is saying you have to throw out your comic books if those things make you happy. But you should be willing to rid yourself of old clothes that you never wear, books you have no intention of reading, and anything that’s more of a nuisance than its worth.
Source: “12 Essential Rules to Live More Like a Zen Master“, from zenkarma.org, by The Anonymous Zen Master