Friday, August 14, 2009

10 Ways to Have a Zen-Like Day

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” — Thich Nhat Hanh

Eknath Easwaran is a spiritual teacher whose method is a practical approach that fits naturally into any faith, philosophy, or lifestyle, enabling us to bring universal ideals into daily life. He talks about slowing down, taking time for the important things, and living in the present. The following 10 ways to have a zen-like day were taken from his writing:

Slow Down Your Mind

Eknath Easwaran uses the analogy of driving a car in his book, “Take Your Time”, to describe 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.

He 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 listening to our thoughts, slowing down our pace of life, learning to prioritize, doing one thing at a time, and through reflective practices such as yoga, tai chi, meditation, and so on.

Train Your Attention to be Fully in the Present

When your mind is rehashing the past and recycling old resentments, or worrying about the future, it’s ill equipped to handle the challenges of the moment. Learn to remain focused completely on the present.

Take Time for Relationships

Relationships are usually the first casualty when your life speeds up and you’re overbooked. Especially when it comes to children, slow down and move at their rhythm, instead of expecting them to scurry to keep up with yours. Get back into the habit of sitting together with your family at meal times and eat at a leisurely pace.

Transmit Serenity to Others

In my article “Five Joyous Tips for Being Happy” I talk about a study that has shown that happiness is indeed contagious. As Eknath Easwaran points out, pressure is contagious as well, but so is goodwill. One person slowing down and not putting others under pressure helps everyone else to relax. Choose to be the person that remains calm when everyone else is rushing about, setting an example for others to relax as well.

Get Up Earlier

If you start your day in a state of hurry you’ll carry that feeling with you throughout the rest of the day. We rush through breakfast, run out the door, sit in traffic tapping our hand against the steering wheel impatiently and muttering, “Come on, I’m late, where’d you learn to drive?” at other drivers under our breath, and arrive at our morning’s destination frazzled and disheveled. You can avoid the morning rush by getting up earlier.

Take Steps to Put an End to Information Overload

Stop trying to be on top of it all. You can’t read everything, you can’t be constantly aware of the latest breaking news or fad, and you can’t absorb every bit of information that is thrown at you. Accept that. You have to make choices: decide what information is really important to you and discard everything else.

Leo Babauta from describes the following process for putting an end to the email avalanche:

  • The first step is to reduce the flow of e-mails coming in: take action to stop nonessential e-mails from getting to your in-box. For example, unsubscribe from newsletters that don’t really interest you and post your e-mail policies on your blog or web site.
  • The second step is to deal effectively with the flow of emails that comes in. He advises to stop checking your emails constantly; instead, check it at regular periods.
  • The third step is to stop dealing with the same e-mail over and over again: make a decision, take action, and move on. That is, delete, file, forward, write a short reply, or add to your to-do list.

Don’t Crowd Your Day

Sit down and make a list of all the activities that fill up your days: all of the associations you belong to, all of the activities you’re signed up for, and all of the commitments you’ve made to others. Now take a red pencil and cross out everything that is not necessary or beneficial to you.

After doing this you’ll find that you have more time to do the things that are really important to you and more time to spend 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 meditation and quiet contemplation. Keep sight of the most important things each day.

Master the Art of Concentration

Give your attention to one thing at a time; complete concentration is genius. Again, Eknath Easwaran uses the analogy of a car: imagine that you get into your car and start driving north toward your house; then, all of a sudden, the car turns left and starts heading toward the supermarket; then it makes another sudden turn and starts headings toward your sister’s house; then . . . you get the picture. When it comes to our attention we often have as little control over it as we had over that car.

Follow Buddha’s advice: whatever you’re doing, do it mindfully.

Repeat a Mantra

By repeating a mantra–such as “Rama”, “Peace”, “All is well”, or anything else that works for you–you’re applying a break to the mind. When the mind begins to race off with thoughts of worry, frustration, fear, or anger, we can effectively slow it down by repeating our mantra.

In addition, repeating a mantra can help you to focus. I once read of a monk who taught his students to repeat in their heads the tasks they were engaged in at the moment. So if they were walking they would repeat: “walking, walking, walking”; if they were doing the dishes they would repeat: “doing the dishes, doing the dishes, doing the dishes”; and so on.

Keep in Mind That It is Not Necessary to Lead a Frantic Life to Accomplish Many Things

Eknath Easwaran uses the example of Ghandi, who accomplished more than most people in history, and yet always looked relaxed. What could be more ambitious than filling our schedule with the things that are most important to us, spending more time with those we love, and living life at our own pace instead of trying to keep up with others?


I’d like to conclude this post with the following words by Eknath Easwaran:

“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 give you time for relationships.”

Bonus: For more zen-like advice, visit my new squidoo lens: Leo Babauta.