A zen-like day is intentional, full of tranquility, and joyful.
When you’re feeling harried and overwhelmed because you have a million things to do, and it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done, it’s likely that you’ll conclude that the solution is to go faster. In addition, you’ll probably start looking for strategies and hacks you can apply that will allow you to get more done.
However, the solution to overwhelm is just the opposite: you should go slower and do less. In other words, what you need to do is look for ways to make your day more zen.
Zen is a form of Buddhism, and its essence is experiencing life directly. In the West, Zen is often synonymous with simplicity, mindfulness, and calm. I think these are things we can could all use more of, don’t you? If so, below you’ll find 10 ways to make your day more zen.
Take a deep breath and read on.
1. Prepare the Night Before.
You should prepare for your zen-like day the night before. Although sometimes it’s difficult to identify what is zen, it’s easy to notice what is not zen. Here are some things that are definitely not zen:
- Waking up late and then rushing to get ready so you can run out the door (holding a bagel and coffee in one hand, and a crumpled jacket and your briefcase in the other).
- A schedule that is filled to the brim with tasks and commitments.
- A disorganized and cluttered desk.
If you get things ready the night before, you can do the following:
- Get up early enough to get ready for your zen day in a calm and leisurely way.
- Go through the items on your schedule and make sure that you’re not crowding your day (there’s more on this below).
- Take some time to declutter and organize your desk, so that it’s clean and tidy when you sit down to work the next day.
In addition, before going to sleep, set the intent that the next day will be peaceful and calm. You can make your day more zen by setting things up the night before.
2. Don’t Crowd Your Day.
As I stated in the previous point, a crowded day is not zen. In order to make your day zen, take out your schedule for the day, grab a pen, and do the following:
- Identify the most important thing that needs to get done that day.
- Decide what other two or three important items you’ll work on once you’re done with the most important one.
- Set aside some time in the afternoon to get smaller stuff done.
- Cancel any meetings, appointments and commitments that are nonessential.
- Delegate all tasks that someone else should be doing.
After doing this you’ll find that you have more time to do the things that are really important to you, including spending more time with those you love. In addition, you’ll have time to do things for yourself such as exercising and finding time each day to spend in quiet contemplation.
Keep sight of the most important things each day. Make your day more zen by getting the important things done, and discarding the rest.
3. Practice Zazen.
Zazen is the form of meditation practice at the heart of Zen. I’ve already written previously about the many benefits of meditation, as well as how to do it. Now, there’s an additional reason to meditate: to add zen to your life.
In their book, Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters, the authors—Bernie Glassman and Rick Fields—write the following:
“When talking about zazen, I like to use the metaphor of the moon on the lake. Our thoughts and emotions are like the ripples and waves that disturb the reflective surface of the lake, so that we can’t see the moon. Of course, the moon is always there, even if we can’t see it, and it’s also important to see the ripples. But we also need to see the moon clearly to know it’s there. So, in meditation, when we let the ripples of our thoughts and the waves of our emotions settle, it’s as if we have cleared the lake so that the moon can appear.”
Starting your day with even a few minutes of meditation will go a long way toward making your day run more smoothly.
4. Slow Down Your Mind.
Eknath Easwaran was one of the 20th century’s great spiritual teachers. His translations of the Indian spiritual classics–The Bhagavad Gita, The Upanishads, and The Dhammapada— are the best-selling editions in the United States.
In his book, Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World, Easwaran uses the analogy of driving a car to explain what happens when your mind speeds up. He explains that when you’re driving and you’re going too fast, you can’t control the car.
In the same way, when your mind is racing you can’t pay proper attention to what is going on around you, heed warning signs, and make the right judgment calls. Easwaran adds that there is nothing more disobedient than an untrained mind, and there is nothing more obedient than a trained mind.
We can train our minds to slow down by doing all of the following:
- Listening to our thoughts.
- Slowing down our pace of life.
- Doing one thing at a time.
- Adopting reflective practices such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong.
As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh once put it: “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” Make your day more zen by stepping on the brakes instead of the accelerator.
5. Master the Art of Concentration.
Easwaran–who was mentioned in the point above–advises that we give our attention to one thing at a time. He indicates that complete concentration is genius. Again, Easwaran uses the analogy of a car.
Imagine that you get into your car and you start driving north toward your house. Then, all of a sudden, you do the following:
- You turn left and start heading toward the supermarket.
- Then, you make another sudden turn and start heading toward your sister’s house.
- Mid-way to your sister’s house, you remember that you need to pick up the dry cleaning. You take a sharp right and start driving toward the dry cleaners.
- Then . . . you get the picture.
When it comes to our attention, we often behave as if we were driving the car above. Take control of the car–that is, of your mind–by mastering the art of concentration. You do this by doing one thing at a time and by becoming more mindful. There’s more on mindfulness below.
6. Practice Mindfulness
One of the main principles of Zen is mindfulness. Look at the following quote from the book Zen Keys: A Guide to Zen Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh:
“I remember a short conversation between the Buddha and a philosopher of his time.
‘I have heard that Buddhism is a doctrine of enlightenment. What is your method? What do you practice every day?’
‘We walk, we eat, we wash ourselves, we sit down.’
‘What is so special about that? Everyone walks, eats, washes, sits down. . .’
‘Sir, when we walk, we are aware that we are walking; when we eat, we are aware that we are eating. . . When others walk, eat, wash, or sit down, they are generally not aware of what they are doing.’
In Buddhism, mindfulness is the key. Mindfulness is the energy that sheds light on all things and all activities, producing the power of concentration, bringing forth deep insight and awakening. Mindfulness is at the base of all Buddhist practice.”
Make your day more zen by being mindful. You can get started with these mindfulness exercises.
7. Transmit Serenity to Others.
Social contagion refers to the propensity for behaviors exhibited by one person to be copied by others who are in the vicinity of the original actor. If a person walks into a room full of people and starts acting in a way that shows that they’re angry and stressed, it’s highly likely that others in the room will soon start exhibiting similar behavior.
But the opposite is also true. One person slowing down, showing goodwill, and demonstrating tranquility helps everyone around them to relax. On your zen-like day, choose to be the person who remains calm when everyone else is rushing about, and set an example for others to relax as well.
8. Repeat a Mantra.
It’s already been stated that, in order to make your day more zen, you need to slow down your mind. A great way to do this is by repeating a mantra.
Your mantra can be “Ram Nam”–Mahatma Ghandi’s mantra–, “Peace”, “All is well”, or anything else that works for you. When your mind begins to race off with thoughts of worry, frustration, fear, or anger, slow it down by repeating your mantra.
In addition, your mantra can be the activity you’re currently engaged in. So, if you’re walking, your mantra would be “walking, walking, walking. . .”; if you’re cleaning up around the house your mantra would be “cleaning, cleaning, cleaning. . .”; and so on.
9. Create Space Between.
When you’re planning out your schedule for the day, make your day more zen by leaving some space between tasks and appointments. Use those spaces to do things like the following:
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
- Smile and think of one thing you’re grateful for.
- Walk around.
- Sit out in the sun for a little while.
Scatter spaces throughout your day and use those spaces to simply be.
10. Keep A Zen Attitude.
A zen attitude is knowing that there’s no need to rush. For this point we’re going to refer to Easwaran’s wisdom one last time.
Easwaran uses the example of Ghandi to make the point that it’s not necessary to lead a frantic life in order to accomplish great things. He points out that Ghandi accomplished more than most people in history, and yet he always looked relaxed.
What could be more ambitious than filling your schedule with the things that are most important to you, spending more time with those you love, and living life at your own pace instead of trying to keep up with others?
Look at the following:
“A slower life . . . is more effective, more artistic, much richer than a life lived as a race against the clock. It gives you time to pause, to think, to reflect, to decide, to weigh pros and cons. It gives you time for relationships.” — Eknath Easwaran
Throughout your day of zen, remember to keep a zen attitude.
Make your life more zen by prioritizing, concentrating, being more mindful, and following the other tips and strategies explained above. Live your best life by adding zen to your day.