Zen is a term that describes a feeling of peace, oneness, and enlightenment. It also describes a type of Buddhism in which meditation is used to stay present and non-judgmental. Zen is practiced diligently over a lifetime. Monk and teacher Shunryu Suzuki describes the practice by saying, “Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.”
One can start to infuse their life with more zen by slowing down–though this isn't so easy to do in the hustle and bustle of modern life. Imagine your day as a movie: Where, in all that rush and activity, can you push pause or slow down the frame? Figuring that out is the first step in finding more zen. Here are 10 ideas for how to choose stillness amid the chaos.
1. Close your eyes.
Anytime you want, you can stop and pull the blinds shut and turn your gaze inward. When you do this, you are looking into the beautiful stillness of your inner world, and it is the first step toward becoming more at peace.
2. Count to 10.
You can almost hear an authority figure's voice when you read this one, can’t you? When faced with a stressful moment, stop and count to 10. It worked when you were little, and it works now. Adding deep ujjayi breaths (an ancient yoga breathing method to help calm the mind) to your counting can help make it even more effective.
3. Take deep breaths with a mantra.
First, find your breath. Don’t move so fast that you take it for granted. Notice it. Find moments in your day when you can breathe while taking note. And if you can, add let and go to the breath. Pull a big inhale in through your nose, filling up your belly from the bottom of you all the way up to the top of you. Say to yourself let. Then exhale the breath out your nose from top to bottom, saying to yourself go. Repeating this mindful breathing with a mantra increases your focus and contributes to a feeling of balance and grounding.
4. Do something silly.
As we get older, we tend to do fewer silly things and we smile and belly-laugh less often. Let's change that: Have a spontaneous dance party in your undies tomorrow morning. Skip instead of walking. Do something that helps you find joy each day. Laughing is good medicine; happiness is the place where zen lives.
5. Walk or bike instead of driving.
When was the last time you took a walk instead of driving? Or grabbed your bicycle and headed out for your morning coffee? In addition to stimulating your heart a bit and creating an opportunity for deep, fresh breaths, these activities can help you slow down and become more mindful of your surroundings.
6. Curate your morning routine.
Finding some “you time” in those quiet early hours can set the tone for your entire day. Set your alarm a bit early one day a week and give yourself a good dose of “you time” with a longer morning routine. You can use this time to journal, meditate, work out—anything that gets your day started on the right note.
7. Take a five-minute pause (dhyana).
Meditation can happen in just a few minutes, and those few minutes can be life-changing. Set aside five minutes each day to do a mini-meditation session. Sit in a comfortable seated position; close your eyes; begin taking deep, full breaths in and out through your nose; close your eyes; and breathe. Observe your thoughts without putting too much weight on them—imagine they are cars driving on the freeway and you're watching them pass from the sidewalk.
To keep careful tabs on the time without an alarm, grab a mala (string of beads) and use it to count the breaths and stay focused.
8. Set reminders for “NOW.”
We move so, so fast with so, so many appointments and meetings and responsibilities. Put a daily reminder in your calendar to help you stop and notice “NOW.” Add a beautiful photo, a theme song, or just a little quote to your reminder so that when it pops up, you know it’s your reminder to savor the exact place you are in at that moment.
9. Let go.
Holding on to anything (really, anything) means you aren’t present and wide open. Practice letting go in small ways, like journaling on the things you'd like to leave behind you and imagining them being locked in those pages once you close the book.
10. Choose zen.
“Think. Say. Do.” Every action is first a thought. Every thought has an intention. Set a clear and positive intention to “find zen” in your everyday life. Think it, say it, and do it.
In a perfect world, there would be fewer external issues that demand our attention and shake our sense of calm. But chaos makes life interesting—and developing a zen ability to weather the storms is a valuable, life-affirming practice.