Zen and the Art of Everything. Writing a blog post? Designing the Macintosh computer (Steve Jobs reference)? Sure, why not! The idea for this post was concieved while sitting in dense DC traffic a few weeks back. You may be familiar with the book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig. It is about a motorcycle trip that a father and son take and essentially uses motorcycle repair as a metaphor for the different facets of life. For me, that day (like so many others), traffic was causing an enormous amount of stress. In trying to eliminate that stress, I thought to myself comically, ZEN AND THE ART OF SITTING IN TRAFFIC! I started laughing. How silly? I honestly have somewhat limited knowledge (trying to learn more) about actual Zen Buddhism (I did take a college course on Buddhism, but we were not exactly meditating). Is there really a way to be calm and happy sitting in traffic? If the Buddha himself were in my car with me, would he be just as jolly and calm as he is often depicted, cruising at a cool 2 MPH while a chorus of asshole drivers lay on their horns in perfect harmony? Hard to believe but after all, he is the Buddha, right? In continuing this thought process, I began thinking about stress reduction in general as a way to prevent myself from becoming too stressed out about the things that I cannot change– such as traffic. How? Cue to the Buddhist Monk who stoically and condescendingly mutters “mindfulness.”
Mindfulness, focusing on the here and now. This concept is something that I have become more familiar with through focused meditation with the aid of various websites and podcasts such as Mindfulness-10 Minute Exercise Podcast. Practicing mindfulness has proven to be very effective in reducing overall stress levels, and the idea is to continue practicing it outside of actual meditation. The skill takes practice and you can even take a free course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). So in that moment, I decided that I was going to make the conscious effort to tackle stress by incorporating mindfulness, outside of meditation, into everything that I do. Cue the title, Zen and the Art of Everything. Our time on this earth is limited and while we know that we are destined to die, we surely do not know when. Therefore shouldn’t we make the effort to be mindful in absolutely everything that we do in that exact moment? Shouldn’t we stop concerning ourselves with the things that we have no control over? Yes, duh! Remember the What Would Jesus do bands that everyone used to have on? In similar fashion, I figured I would just add Zen and the Art of whatever I am doing to remind myself to be mindful in that activity or moment.
Here is what this looks like in a few examples:
Zen and the Art of Eating/Drinking: For starters, slow down when eating. The only prize (disregard when competitive eating) for eating too fast is indigestion and bloating from intermittent gasps of air. Also, whenever we drink, we should enjoy it as part of our meal and not as a tool to allow ourselves to eat faster. This is all done while thinking about what we are eating and how it benefits our bodies. Click here to delve deeper into Mindful eating.
Zen and the Art of Walking: Unless you are in a wheelchair (zen and the art of using a wheelchair then applies) you walk a lot. Walking is one constant action that we as humans partake in each and every single day. Mindful walking is a great opportunity to reconnect with ourselves physically. Mindful walking can give us the chance to check in with our bodies to see if anything is off (balance, pain, act.) Mindful walking is also a great way to actively reduce stress with physical and mental action. To learn how mindful walking is done, walk this way!
Zen and the Art of Sleeping: The idea here is to use mindfulness to get ready for bed. We can all agree that reducing stress before bed is key to ensuring that we will not fall victim to insomnia. 5-10 minutes of meditation before bed has proven to work well in reducing stress. While in bed, try breathing exercises to lower your heart rate. One of the most popular is the 4-7-8 technique. Each person is unique so you have to find what works best for you. For additional help in getting sleepy and letting go of the day, try:
- No electronics starting an hour before bed (preferably 2 hours).
- Hot drink comprised of 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and one tablespoon of honey dissolved in 1 cup of water. Check out this article as to why this works as a sleep potion!
Zen and the Art of Waking Up in the Morning: The alarm clock goes off! What do you do next? Snooze? Pop up? The transition from sleeping to awakening is critical in our day and a time that should be held in high regard. In the initial moments following waking up, we need to be mindful of how we feel. We need to allow ourselves 5 minutes (minimum) to sit up in bed and do nothing beyond thinking about our physical and mental self and ensuring that we are okay to start the day. Use this time to initiate a daylong state of mindfulness and ever-present living in the now. Remember, any one day could be your last.
Zen and the Art of Bathing: Water is the key to life. Be mindful of that. Most people bathe every day whether it be a shower or bath. I would say that the majority of adults, in some way, look forward to this time. We see it as a time to get clean, get warm (or cold) and to refresh ourselves altogether. I have personally always thought of showering as a positive time to wind down, reflect or to be creative on top of getting clean. This can be taken a step farther with respect to mindfulness. Instead of focusing on the day ahead, focus on the moment, especially when anticipating a stressful day. Think about the water temperature and how it feels. Realize how your body reacts as the water makes contact. It is one of the few times a day that a wide range of nerve signals are being activated at once. Additionally, for the past few years, I have been taking cold or partially cold (winter is tough) showers. It is a great jumpstart to the day and the benefits are many!
Zen and the Art of Human Interaction: Mindful interaction! We can all get better at this. Mindful interaction means putting down our electronics, actively listening to those around us and embracing empathy whether we are interacting with those we know or complete strangers. Do it for yourself and do it for those around you. Humans are social beings and the nicer you are to others, the nicer they will be to you. Kindness is contagious and making it a habit inevitably leads to a greater state of happiness. (Cue Ebenezer Scrooge to confirm this claim). As an exercise, make promise to yourself to never forget a person’s name the first time you meet them from this moment on. We forget names because we are not being mindful of the moment and we were never really listening during introduction.
So, while incorporating the idea of Zen into sitting in traffic may be difficult, the idea is to reduce as much daily stress as possible by being in a constant state of the present– being mindful. Again, this is something that indeed takes practice as we are wired to worry about the past, present and future, all at once. Unfortunately, we cannot change the past nor predict the future. The only thing we can directly impact is the now, the present, and by focusing on the now, we can more directly impact our future and limit or eliminate altogether the negatives that soon create our past. I thank you for reading this far and welcome any and all to participate and share any experiences or techniques for living a more mindful life.