Zen Habits: The Art of Living

holsteemanifestoI lay awake in bed last night thinking about our impending road trip to California, and what life will be like at Ratna Ling. As cool as it seems, I began to worry. My head filled with “What if”. And once you start down that path, it’s only a matter of time before you say the four little words that will destroy your self-confidence. What am I doing? 

I’ve said it more times than I can remember. I’ve said it on a plane to London, and I’ve said it on a bus to Mexico. What am I doing? Who does this? Is packing up all of my belongings and moving to a new place (sight unseen) a good idea? You bet it is. It’s a leap of faith. I’ve been packing up and moving for the past twelve years. At first it was out of situational necessity – for a job, divorce. I moved because I “had to”. Now? I move out of curiosity, and a sense of adventure. I’m learning how to live.

Learning begins with a clean slate. Only when you start with no preconceived ideas can you open your mind to a new intention. That means getting rid of past baggage. That means getting rid of old opinions and making room for new ones. Being curious with an open mind needs to replace the need to be right and secure. Being mindful and in the present moment needs to replace lamenting the past, and wondering about the future. The art of living is letting go of control.

The only time I find myself stressed out is when I stop living. I stress out when life starts feeling like work, when worry and doubt take hold and take charge. Here is how I remind myself (daily) to practice the art of living.

  • Gratitude. I try to look at my life, even the crappy parts, and be grateful. Life is filled with a lot of awesome and amazing stuff. Why not focus on that and be grateful? Isn’t that better than complaining? You bet it is.
  • You are the sum of your own choices. My personal mantra is: You always have a choice. The choices might not be pleasing, but you still hold the power to choose. You can look at where ever you are – right now – and know that you are there because of your own choices. This enables you to take responsibility for all of your choices, both good and bad. Sure things like getting sick, or breaking your foot might not be your fault (or your choice), but how you respond IS. Only you can decide to play the victim, or be the hero of your own life.
  • Fear is okay. Taking risks is part of life. If you are not risking, you are not living – you are merely subsisting. Sometimes life presents us with joy and fear at the same time. We just need to learn that fear is okay, and work through it. Fear shouldn’t stop you from trying new things, taking risks, and living your life. Embrace the possibility of failure and the world is your oyster. Fear failure and you’ll never do anything.
  • Stay in the moment. This is hard. Last night I wasn’t living in the moment. I succumbed to wondering about the future, and that wonder soon turned to worry. Worry doesn’t get you anywhere. No matter how well I plan, mistakes can and will happen. Most of my life is beyond my control. The only thing I can do is stay in the NOW. Meditation helps with this. Stop. Close your eyes. Open them and focus on what is around you, and don’t let your mind wander. Do this for one minute and you’ll be back in the present.
  • Relationships matter. Nurture the relationships that nurture you. Let go of the ones that drain you. A nurturing friendship allows for miles in-between, mistakes, advice, and forgiveness. It needs these things. A good relationship doesn’t deal in being right or wrong. A good relationship doesn’t involve judgement, or having things your way. A good relationship isn’t petty or gossipy. If you have relationships (friends, family, spouse, partner…) that are draining your energy or just making you unhappy – then end it. Life is too short to put energy into people who are keeping you back.
  • Let go. To learn the art of living, that’s all you need to do. Let go. Let go of judgement. Let go of fear. Let go expectations. Let go of needing to be heard and of needing to be right. Just let go. Let go of fear of judgement and failure. Let go of being afraid of the unknown. Let go of comparing yourself to others, and let go of doubt. Let go of distractions, time suckers and complaints. When you loosen your grip on these things, living your life as an art form becomes easier.

The art of living is a practice, a lifestyle. You do it everyday moment by moment. It’s a constant practice of letting go and focusing on the now. You fall down, you get back up. You don’t beat yourself up over mistakes, you take it as it comes. The art of living is knowing how to get up again, gracefully.

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