Someone asked a Zen Master, “How do you practice Zen?”
The master said, “When you are hungry, eat; when you are tired, sleep.”
“Isn’t that what everyone does anyway?”
The master replied, “No, No. Most people entertain a thousand desires when they eat and scheme over a thousand plans when they sleep.” (Buddhist Story)
Centuries later, the above quote is as applicable as ever. Simplicity has always been considered to be the key to a fulfilled life. Despite that, simplicity is nowadays not being considered worthy of pursuing. Our lives have become more complicated and stressful than anyone could have imagined even a decade ago.
But is it possible to achieve a state of Zen nowadays and become a 21st century Samurai? Can one be successful and still maintain peace of mind?
We live in an age of constant distraction – our phones have become smart enough to take total control of our lives. Social media, commercial advertisements, 24/7 availability for jobs, home entertainment systems and the like outperform each other in order to take over every second of our lives.
In return, we have less and less time to do what we actually need – the need to wind down. To turn off our brains and give it time to relax and rejuvenate from a stressful day. Simultaneously, our physical activity levels have plummeted and we are slowly turning to the type of humans you would see in scientific fiction movies from a decade ago.
So let me ask you the same question which the scholar asked his master – aren’t we eating when hungry and sleeping when tired?
How often do we have business lunches or dinner events where the last thing we do is actually just eat – do we really enjoy the taste of the individual ingredients that make up our meal? Do we chew each bite twenty times to take advantage of the wonderful taste and make it easier for our body to digest the food? If you answered “always” to the above, you’re certainly among a small diminishing minority and should be proud of yourself.
More than 99% of us living in western countries devour our food without thinking about it at all. In fact we’re actually busy talking through our business lunch. Even if we’re eating alone, we are never “only” eating – we think about the next meeting, the mannerless child at the other table, our own children, our finances, our partner.
This is not only applicable to eating, but is equally valid for sleeping, talking, walking, even if we relax.
What can we do to break out of this cycle?
Although we tend to blame the environment, society, or other external factors in general, we should actually start with the person in the mirror. Awareness is the first and foremost step towards a little more zen in our lives.
To simplify our lives, we first need to understand the following:
It’s not about having what you want, but about wanting what you have!
As long as we believe that happiness is correlated to owning material things, we will have a hard time breaking out.
The zen masters of ancient times had figured that out a long time ago, but somehow this wisdom got lost in between. But in order to want what we have, we need to declutter our lIves.
We need to stop postponing things and start enjoying he moment. Why wait until the kids have left in order to enjoy life with your partner? Why wait until retirement to go on that trip you’ve been dreaming about for so long? What if you don’t live to see that day?
But we don’t need to ccompletely change our lives before sunrise tomorrow, small incremental steps will help us to reach our end-goal. You may be asking yourself what those small steps are – well, how about this:
When you’re hungry, eat; when you’re tired, sleep!