Zen Habits: New Year, New Now

94150-live-in-the-now-gif-Waynes-Wor-dW2TI am not the type of person who dwells in the past. I don’t hold on to my successes or failures as badges of honour or disgrace. I just try to keep moving forward. The end of the year is always a tempting time to look back and take stock of where you are and what you’ve done. And that’s fine I guess, as long as you don’t dwell on it. Looking at what you have done is not the same as doing something. I like to look forward.

Choosing to live in the past only robs you of today. I know that sounds all “New Age”, but it isn’t. It’s really simple. The ONLY important moment is the present moment. You cannot undo the past, and you certainly cannot mold the future, therefore the only thing that truly matters is…NOW!

The idea here is to enjoy the moment. I could easily do a recount of my year and look back at all I’ve done and seen. It was a huge year and I did a lot. But looking back does nothing. Instead I want to enjoy the fruits of my labors, which is the now. I’m here in beautiful Seattle with my fella. I have a great job and I’m pretty happy. My right now is pretty great, and it would be a shame for me to waste it by looking back, or worrying about the future. A life lived in perpetual planning is not really a life. I’ve known people plan for futures that they were nowhere near to achieving. Why live a fantasy life in your head when you could live your real life instead? Hey, that rhymed!

Where ever you are in this coming year, I challenge you to live in the moment. Enjoy yourself where ever you are. Sure, you might get sick or have to do things that are not enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fully appreciate the small moments a day holds. Sights, sounds, smells, emotions even triumphs and tragedies, all of these things are worth noticing and living through. When I am having a bad day, I ask myself How can I enjoy this? Just asking the question has a calming effect and grounds me in the now.

You only have one shot at each day so try to make the most of it. Don’t dwell on the past – good or bad. Don’t worry about the future, it is coming no matter what you do. There will always be unknowns, and for me the unknown is the fun part. I guess good ol’ Sophocles said it best, “Tomorrow is tomorrow. Future cares have future cures, And we must mind today.”

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Zen Habits: Work/Life Balance

WorkLifeBalance3Yesterday at work I read a passage in a book I was returning to the shelves of the Business section. I tend to glance at the titles in this section or roll my eyes as I flip through the pages. For me, most of what is in Business books is just common sense. They try to market to specific types of people (Type A anyone?) by claiming to have the answer to all of your important questions. It is not unlike the Diet book business. Each new book claims to have the right answer for losing weight, but you’ll only have the answer if you read the book. I’ll save you some money – eat right, eat smaller and exercise. No book necessary. The same goes for business. If you need to read a chapter explaining how to return emails (to your boss, coworker, team…) then you are kind of dumb. But there are plenty of people who think I’m dumb, so I guess we’re even.

The book I glanced at was by a young (twenty-seven years old) entrepreneur who claimed to have the keys to success for todays ever-changing world. Or something like that. She knows what she’s talking about. You can tell from the smart yet chic suit she wears on the cover. She’s also standing outside on a corner like she’s going to hail a cab. I guess thats supposed to let us know she’s a Big City Business Woman and we can trust her. Anyway, I opened to a page about work/life balance. Or rather how the idea of such a thing is a figment of your imagination. Like the Easter bunny. Okay she didn’t make that analogy but she should have. She writes that her generation strives for work life integration. To not work an eight-hour day and then go home and forget about it. She says that work and life are the same. The. Same.

I threw up a little in my mouth. But I kept reading.

She contends that for women, the balance of a home life and a work life doesn’t exist. Something has to give. Women cannot balance a successful career and be a wife and or mother, girlfriend, whatever… without giving up something, or saying “No” to opportunities. Um… No shit! Who says “Yes!” to everything? I guess realizing that at age twenty-seven is alright, but did you need to devote a chapter in your book to it? The trick is saying yes to the right things for you and your priorities. If your priorities are career driven, then say yes to things that will help your career. If your priorities are family, travel or whatever else, then say yes to the things that help that vision. Taking short cuts isn’t the answer.

woman-entrepreneurThe lady entrepreneur continues to write about how she has integrated her work life with her life life by getting  a nanny, ordering groceries on-line and having them delivered, and hiring someone to walk her dog for her. I put the book down. That is not achieving balance. That isn’t even integrating. That’s just delegating. Nice try. But I ain’t buyin’ it.

Success and fulfillment are different for everyone. Many people gauge their success by how well they get paid, their title at work, or their position. Others by how their life looks from the outside. Do you have the right things? If you have the right things people will think you are successful. It seems to me that the author of that book thinks this way. Money, fame and power are what matters. What people think matters. You can claim to have it together, but when you are living your life by proxy, I don’t believe you. Bringing your work home with you is fine if you are single and live alone, but it’s just cruel if you live with other people. Or cats. Nobody wants to be around the person who is constantly checking their iphone, constantly talking about work, or is obviously not present when you try to have a non work related conversation.

Eckhart Tolle says, “Neither failure or success has the power to change your inner state of being.” The most successful people I know do not look at failure as failure and success as success. They do not let outcomes change their state of beingYou can see if goals are being accomplished or not, but that shouldn’t have any effect on your inner state. Telling women to delegate their lives away isn’t the answer. We should make time to walk the dog or pick the kids up from school. We should be capable and willing to buy food for ourselves in a store or market. When we disconnect from our lives to the extent that we buy our food from a touch screen and have it left on our doorstep we’ve gone too far. When the nanny picks up the kids from school, feeds them dinner and you simply kiss them good night, you’ve gone too far. Perhaps we need to look at our priorities a little.

For me, being happy at work and at home meant changing my perception of the world around me. There was no other answer. The truly successful, whether a CEO, a lawyer, a bookseller, or a stay at home mom, are the people who create a life full of joy and accomplishment. These people are not controlled by environment or opinion. Truly successful people are self-reliant, they know where they are going in life.  Even if outward appearances do not agree. They choose where to focus their energy and their thoughts. Tolle also says that pleasure is something you get from the outside and joy comes from within. I think success is finding joy. Who cares what you do for a living if you’ve discovered joy within yourself? I try to remember every day, that looking for happiness is the antithesis of happiness. It helps. And it makes me happy.

Zen Habits: Life In-Between

roads-divergingNo matter what stage of life you are in, there are questions. You might be wondering, “What’s next?” or “What do I do now?” or even, “Is this it?” Maybe you just finished a big home project, or maybe, like me, you are in-between everything. I am so often in transition that it has become almost comfortable. Almost. I’ve been on the road since December 29, 2013 – that’s well over a month. I have a plan in place, but it’s a slow-moving, low-income, loose plan. It’s tough to be in-between a home and a job at the same time. Figuring out how to live in the “In-between” is difficult when you have money. It’s almost impossible when you don’t.

I’m in a unique position. I’m kind of stalled. My plan got derailed (as plans often do) and now I am left twisting in the wind. My fella and I had planned on heading to Seattle in June when we were finished at Buddhist Camp. I hadn’t planned on leaving early, but I did leave early. That means a new plan. I have feelers out in Seattle and folks willing to give us a place to flop, but jumping into the unknown with no money isn’t easy. It’s not impossible, just not easy. I have to look at this as an opportunity for us to be fighters; to look within ourselves and find that strength that we always knew was there. But after months of digging deep, who knows how much is left.

Transitions give us strength and builds real character. We discover who we are and what we want from life. We let go of our preconceptions and see clearly, maybe for the first time.

Each time I have found myself in a time of transition I try to seize the opportunities that life throws at me. I’m trying to enjoy the surprises that each day brings and accept all that life throws my way. Life is just one big experiment and there are no correct answers. There is only what you do, and what you choose not to do. All I can do is be fully present in the life I have chosen and take advantage of each stage, even the in-between ones. I have patience and I won’t let doubt get the better of me. I’m on a journey and I plan on enjoying every moment of it.

Hopefully one day in the not to distant future, my sweetheart and I will be able to look back on this In-Between time fondly and say, “Hell yeah! We nailed it!” I don’t know what’s next, but I do know I’m ready, willing, and able to kick its ass.

Zen Habits: Questions to Ask Yourself at Year’s End

four-seasonsThe end of the year is nigh. That means people the world over will be looking back and taking stock of what they managed to do and not do in the past year. In the past I have used this blog to reflect on what I’ve done, and look forward to the year to come. This year is no different, but a lot easier since I took stock of my life mid year. I knew I wasn’t happy where I was and waiting isn’t really my style. So I asked myself some important questions and took action. The result is that 2014 is going to be an exciting year for me.

Even if you are totally content with your life and happy with where you are (both physically and mentally), it won’t hurt to look at these questions and see where your life is out of balance. I answered most of these questions last year and it showed me quite vividly that I was unhappy. Sure it was my first year in America in almost seven years, but reverse culture shock isn’t to blame for everything. I quickly saw that Austin wasn’t good for me. Most (if not all) of my unhappiness stemmed from living in a place I found stifling to my independence and growth. Once I figured that out, the rest was fun and easy. I developed an escape plan that commences in three weeks. It’s not enough to know what the problems are, you have to be proactive in your own life in order to create change.

  1. Where in my life do I feel stuck?
  2. What am I most proud of in this last year?
  3. Am I passionate about my job, or career?
  4. What have I learned this year?
  5. What have I been an example of?
  6. How have I been open minded?
  7. What new experiences, people or places did I experience?
  8. How did I express myself creatively?
  9. What projects did I start? Did I complete them, or procrastinate?
  10. Did I get in my own way and make excuses?
  11. In what ways can I restructure my time?
  12. How have I been a good and supportive friend/lover?
  13. Have I been unfair to anyone?
  14. Who do I need to forgive in order to move forward?
  15. What (or who) do I need to let go of?
  16. What old habits am I ready to get rid of forever?
  17. What habits would I like to integrate into my life?
  18. Am I healthy in mind, body and spirit?
  19. What do my finances say about my life?
  20. Am I spending my free time in healthy and productive ways?

Zen Habits: Adulthood

url“I am convinced that most people do not grow up…We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias.” – Maya Angelou

I have been told my entire life to grow-up and be an adult. I did all the things I thought grown-ups did. I got a boring jobs working for boring corporations. I got married. I had dinner parties. I settled down. But I guess I did it wrong because people kept telling me to “grow up”. It was confusing to me because I thought I was grown up. Looking back I see that I was doing just fine. I was just stuck trying to live someone else’s idea of a “grown up” life.

For me, being an adult has been a gradual process. And I have fought it kicking and screaming the entire way. Okay, not really, but I never bought into the picture of what adulthood looked like. I never really wanted to be a home owner or have the same job for twenty years, or have kids. No one ever told me that there are many different pictures of what adulthood looks like. Not all grown-ups are married. Not all grown-ups have kids. Not all adults go to college, or work a 9-5 job, or own a home, or stay in one place their whole lives.

One of the first signs of adulthood I noticed in myself was realizing that no job or person was beneath me. It came early for me. I’ve had to work since I was about twelve years old, and I’ve had some super unglamorous jobs: Domino’s Pizza phone girl, waitress, cocktail waitress, tour guide, teacher and karaoke host in Prague. These are just a few of the not so glamorous jobs I’ve had. I realized fairly young that working a not so sexy job isn’t the worst thing in the world. Being broke and calling mom and dad for money is. I know how to manage my finances, however small they are.

Real adults are able to let go of bitterness and resentment. We don’t hold on to the past, or wear our bitterness like a badge honor. We don’t hold grudges. Adults are able to take life as it comes without tossing blame onto others. We make mistakes and we cop to them. We don’t expect others to always listen to us, and we know when to keep our mouths shut. Sometimes, your advice isn’t wanted. And that’s okay. Adults know how to respond to life rather than react to it. Adults can say ‘NO’ to their boss, or partner, or friends without fear of repercussion or guilt. Adults know that time and energy are not mutually exclusive.

Being a grown up isn’t about what kind of job you have, or who you know. It’s about facing reality head on. I bet you know a few people who live in a hypothetical world. They imagine that people are always judging them, and always thinking the worst of them. That thought turns into an assumption, and that assumption becomes your ‘truth’. It’s nuts to live that way. What a waste of time!

An adult doesn’t care what people think about her, and she certainly doesn’t sit around thinking about the people who think she’s a loser. And trust me, there are people out there that think you are a loser. I promise, there are people who don’t like you. And that’s okay! Heck, just this morning I got a lovely comment on my blog that said “Fuck You” about eight different times and called me an asshole. Did I cry and wonder why this person is so mean? Nope. I even posted the comment. (It’s on the ABOUT ME PAGE comment section. Look for Shaggy6913)  Then I laughed that folks in Austin are still pissy over something I wrote over a year ago, and simultaneously proving my point about how warm and welcoming they are. Grow up.

Personally, I think the best way to cultivate maturity is to invest in relationships with different types of people. Surrounding yourself with people your same age, same political views, likes and dislikes will only stint your growth. We all need peers, and people who will help us down the road, and knowing people both younger and older than you can be your ticket to understanding yourself. When you invest in people younger than yourself, it’ll help them grow and help you mature. I have friends who are nineteen, and I have friends who are fifty. Age doesn’t matter to me. What matters is the kind of person you are.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you want the world to treat you like an adult, start acting like one. I’m not saying “Get a real job!” or “Stop going out and partying!” I’m saying, treat others with respect and compassion. Don’t think your opinion is the right one, or the only one. Be open-minded and practice by meeting new and different people. Be in charge of your finances and take care of yourself and the people who care about you. Enjoy life, travel often and If people still tell you to grow up, just smile and say thanks. That’s what I do.

I like my life.

Zen Habits: How to Stick to Your Path When Nobody Gets It

photo: Alicia Brooks

photo: Alicia Brooks

If you had asked me at twenty-seven years old what my life plan is, I would have laughed at you. I didn’t have a plan. I knew what I was supposed to do. I knew what society, my friends and family expected of me, and I tried doing it. I got married. I got a job in an office. I made money. I was miserable, but I was doing what I was supposed to do. If you had told me that instead I’d divorce my husband and move to the Czech Republic, and spend the next seven years traveling the world and wind up at a Buddhist Center in Northern California, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.

But somewhere in the midst of living the life I thought I was supposed to live, I realized I wasn’t happy. Or rather I was forced to realize I wasn’t happy. Looking back I feel like I was too dumb or too scared to see I wasn’t living my life the way I wanted. I was living the life other people wanted to me to live. But, my relationships were failing, my career was less than fulfilling, I was miserable.

I was checking off all of the boxes (Job? Check! Married? Check!) but it didn’t make me happy. I realized what I wanted from life wasn’t what most people wanted. I wanted a life of adventure, freedom, love, and learning. Staying in one place for twenty years, working in an office every day was not what I wanted from life.

Of course, living a life of freedom and adventure, love and learning isn’t enough. I still needed and wanted an amazing partner, enough money for what I need, and to live in a place that fuels my creativity. And why the hell not? Why settle down in a life that doesn’t fit?

But explaining your life goals and dreams to family and friends isn’t always easy. Most people don’t understand. When you live your life in an unusual way – traveling, living abroad, volunteering, not having babies, starting your own business – it makes people uncomfortable. It’s just too risky for stable minded people. They don’t understand it. They fear it, and you. They might even be envious of you. And that’s okay. Just take it in stride.

The trick is to not let all of that fear and doubt rub off on you. The last thing you need is to start doubting yourself. So how do you keep living your life the way YOU want? Here are some tips to help you figure that out.

  1. Give people the tools to educate themselves. We spend a lot of our time explaining ourselves to people. We try to explain why we are moving to Europe, or why we have decided to change careers. We struggle to make people understand our POV, and explain (over and over) what we are after. Well, stop. It won’t work. You can talk ’til you’re blue in the face, but it won’t change anyones mind. The best idea is to give friends and family the tools to educate themselves. I have sent my friends and family as much information about Ratna Ling as I possibly can. That’s all I can do. It’s up to them to read it, and ask me questions. I can’t force them to accept my choices, but I can make it their responsibility to educate themselves about it. I can’t have a meaningful dialogue about my life choices with someone who can’t take the time to educate themselves about it.
  2. Find a community of like-minded people. It’s a lot easier to live your dream when you have a group of people around you who “get it”. Start limiting your time with people who don’t understand what you are doing.
  3. Commit to your lifestyle in thought and action. Start a routine that includes yoga and meditation. Make time for the things which are important to you. Whether it’s writing, painting, exercising, singing… make it a part of your daily practice. Making creativity and inner connection a part of your daily ritual will help you in making it a part of your life.
  4. Allow yourself the freedom to change, even if nobody else will. I’m not the same person I was at sixteen. I’m not even the same person I was at twenty-six. Thank goodness! I should hope that we all grow and change over time. I don’t have the same priorities I did in my twenties, and that’s okay with me. I’m GLAD that getting wasted and dancing the night away isn’t my main goal in life. It was fun while it lasted, but that ain’t me anymore. But, people are comfortable with the YOU they first met. It fits into their idea of who you are, and that fits into their life. When your life shifts and your priorities change, it forces other people to change their idea of you. That makes some people uncomfortable. Don’t let that stop you from growing and changing. If your friends and family are having trouble adjusting to your new lifestyle, job, or home – that’s a THEM problem. Not a YOU problem. You just go on being awesome.
  5. Stay strong. You know deep down inside that you are a badass. You know that you are doing what’s right for you. Seeking the approval of others is an uphill battle that you’ll eventually lose. Do the best you can, every day. Don’t beat yourself up when you don’t. The only persons happiness that you are responsible for is your own.

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.

Zen Habits: Transitions

mountain-roadAs I write this, I have no home of my own. I have no keys to a flat or mail box, no address, and no roots. It won’t be this way forever, but for the time being this is my life. Untethered. Right now is a funny time. Most people would call it a “transition period”, or an “in-between” state. I’m trying to look at it as a sabbatical without pay. However I choose to think of it, it is a weird position to be in.

Our society rewards work and demonizes leisure. Whether it’s an out of work slob watching TV all day, or a privileged rich dude who doesn’t have to work, we think less of him. It’s kind of a bummer. Personally, I think highly of people who are smart and creative enough to figure out ways of avoiding work, or working less. Working for the man full time isn’t my idea of living life. And I certainly don’t want to wait until I “retire” to start kicking ass and traveling. So I’m doing the things I want to do an I’m doing them now.

The downside to being untethered is transitioning. I’ll be in a state of transition until mid January when I arrive at Ratna Ling. Once there we can settle in for six months. I’ve lived through many transitions and it gets easier each time. Transitions happen to everyone at some point or another. The key is to accept it and work with it, not against it. You can thrive through periods of uncertainty, no work, and lots and lots of free time. Remember: Beginnings are born out of endings.

  1. Create a routine. Don’t sleep ’til noon and watch game shows all day. This will rot your brain and rob you of ambition. Set your alarm, wake up and have morning coffee. Workout. Read. Go to the store. Cook at home. Set aside time for emails and Facebook so you are not spending all day doing nothing. Take time for yourself and be creative. You might not have this much free time again for a while.
  2. Get done what you can. Now. We won’t be in Seattle until June or July of 2014. That doesn’t mean I should wait until then to start looking for a place to live or for a job. I have already updated my CV and I already got an interview. I have our route to California mapped out (including gas cost) and we are making reservations for campsites. Waiting ti the last minute when you don’t have to is dumb.
  3. Don’t look back. Looking back is a temptation best left alone. It’s easy to look back at where you came from with nostalgia or longing. I try not to watch movies set in Prague because I don’t want to go through the pain of missing it. Instead, I keep my eyes focused on the present and what is to come. I left Prague in search of adventure and new experiences – things that I was not having there. Even the magic of living in Prague becomes common place after seven years. As much as I miss my friends – my family – in Prague, I needed to leave. As Yoda said, “Always in motion is the future.”

What Do You Do?

you-are-more-than-what-you-doHow many times have you been asked “What do you do?” How many times have you asked it? I made a personal rule for myself a long time ago: Never ask someone what they do. Why? I don’t give a shit what you do for a living.

On the surface it seems like a perfectly harmless question, an icebreaker to get conversation moving along. People answer this question with a pre-made, canned answer they can repeat at will without even thinking about it. Easy answers to stupid questions. Let me clue you in – No one cares if you are the Senior Manager at Whereeverthefuck. Good for you. We all have a job. We are all cogs in the machine just like everyone else. Mostly. Even if you have a fantastic job that you love going to, I certainly hope that your life has more to it than your job.

People do many things throughout the day.We drive, cook, clean, shop, play games, all sorts of interesting things… so why focus on work? I’d rather talk about anything than my job – or yours. Is talking about work really the best way to get to know someone? A job is a means to an end, a necessity for living in society, but It doesn’t have to define who you are. Asking, “What do you do?” is a euphemism  for, “So, how much do you make?” Your socioeconomic status isn’t fodder for parties. It is your own private business.

These days when I encounter that question, I answer as honestly as possible. The conversation goes like this:

“So, what do you do?”

“Lately I have been really into sketching and drawing. I have a blog and I’m getting ready to volunteer at a Buddhist work study program. Should be cool. What are you into?”

People are usually taken aback with that answer. They didn’t get what they were looking for, and now the ball is in their court. Now they have to think – repeating your job title and duties is easy, telling a stranger about your interests actually requires thought. I pursue my dreams and my passions every day. I’d rather discuss the exciting, fun, interesting things I do than talk about my job. If you want to know how I make money, then you should ask that question. But you won’t. Because deep down you know it isn’t any of your business in the first place.

Here are some questions you can ask instead:

What are you reading? Seen any good movies lately? What did you think of congress shutting down? Don’t you just love kittens? How do you feel about the last season of Breaking Bad? Where can you get good Phó around here?

You get the picture. If you are really interested in someone look past their paycheck. Look for clues to their real passions and interests. You might find you have a few things in common, and you might even make a new friend.

Zen Living: 6 Ways to Live a Creative Life

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Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up”. Sometimes “being creative” sounds like a task or chore, like the dishes or laundry. Sometimes artistic expression and life itself feel like they are at odds with each other. We juggle work, life, relationships, hobbies; and often our pursuit of a creative life gets shoved aside. The trick is to make creativity part of your daily life. Like Picasso said, kids are all artists. They make art every day and they don’t judge their work. They are just naturally creative. But so are you. Here’s how to rekindle that creative side and keep the proverbial fire stoked.

  1. Find your own space. Virginia Woolf famously said that in order to create, a woman must have money and a room of one’s own. Although times have changed and women are not in the same struggle of patriarchy as Virginia was, the idea still holds water. Having personal freedom is necessary in order to live a creative life. You need a place where it feels safe to create, a place of your own. Whether you convert your basement into a studio, or use a public park or garden – make the place yours. Choose a place that is inspiring to you. Some people find nature inspiring, others find a desk in a quite place is all they need. Finding your own space can be as simple as having a notebook or sketchbook where you can safely put down your thoughts and ideas. Daily.
  2. Say NO more often. A lot of us would have plenty of time to nurture our creative side if we simply stop saying yes to every event and favor that comes our way. It isn’t your job to make sure the rest of the world is happy. It is your job to make sure YOU are happy. The rest will flow from there. Start making time for yourself by saying no to invitations and projects that don’t interest you. Say NO to feeling guilty or disappointing others. Find your way back to making time for the one person in the world who your time will truly benefit: Yourself.
  3. Create ritual or routine. I write and/or draw every day. Sometimes I do both. I also read (a book) every day. Take joy in the doing and start to focus less on the finished product. While getting mounds of adoration for a finished project might feel great, the idea is to make the process of creativity part of your daily life. Focus on the doing. Focus on the moment. How do you feel when you are painting? How does it make you feel when you start writing a new chapter? Good right? You can have that feeling every single day if you just give yourself the time and space to do it.
  4. Be bold. Living a creative life is all about taking risks and seeing what happens. New thoughts or ideas can be intimidating, but don’t run scared. Dive in head first and see what happens. The worst you will do is make a mistake. The best you will do is create something new. Your new creation might not be perfect, but it isn’t supposed to be. Chasing perfection is the opposite of being bold. Draw something that scares you. Write a poem. Taking creative risks is the key to unlocking new territory. Your creativity will mature and grow as you evolve into the artist you were meant to be.
  5. Have fun! Creating is supposed to be fun. If it isn’t, then maybe you are doing it wrong. Do only what appeals to you and don’t bother with what doesn’t. There are no rules, no right way of being creative -it should be fun – whatever it is. Don’t let your inner editor inside your creative space. There is a time and place for editing, but that place is not your safe place. Let your guard down, have fun, and create. Nobody will see it, taste it, read it – unless you invite them to do so. The only person judging you is you.
  6. Understand Balance. Our modern world encourages multiplicity rather than simplicity. Each day we are offered opportunities to do more, see more, and try new things. You must evaluate your life and and find which areas you are willing to downsize in order to focus on your creativity. It sounds a little scary, but it doesn’t have to be. I know I am not happy when I trade my creative time for other endeavors. When I go a few days without writing or drawing I begin to feel a nagging or tugging from deep inside. I know what that means. I don’t write to be read. I don’t draw or paint so that I may have my art reviewed. I do it because it keeps me sane, and it is part of my life. Creativity is as much a part of my daily life as breathing. My life is fuller and richer since I allowed myself the time and space to life a creative life.