10 Quick Examples of Zen Living

Half Asleep in the Buddha Hall

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Half Asleep in the Buddha Hall,
a guide to using Zen principles to re-create your life.

1. one thing at a time

get your life together

Multitasking is impossible. Watch yourself when you attempt it. What you are actually doing is turning your attention from one thing to another, to another, rapidly. And, because changing your focus takes energy, nothing gets your full attention.

Experiment: watch your favourite tv show and have a conversation at the same time.

Zen living: Do one thing at a time. Full focus, to a pre-determined point of completion. Big projects require that you break them into bite-sized pieces, and finish a segment. Then shift attention. For most things, ‘chop wood, carry water.’ Do the task at hand with full attention.

2. speak for yourself


The only authentic pronoun is ‘I.’ All I can reliably talk about is what I am thinking, feeling, and doing.

Example: think about something you might consider a ‘we’ thing. “We’re going to play ball.” Well, maybe a bunch of people are each, individually, playing ball, but there is no ‘we,’ period. Nor can you say anything reliably about another person. “I know what you are thinking,” is impossible. I only, at best, am aware that I think I know what you are thinking.

Zen living: Speak only for yourself, by using “I think…”, “I imagine…”, “The story I’m telling myself…”, etc. Own your experience, and share it, as it’s all you can ever know.

For more hints on how to have an excellent relationship, read this article!

3. choose

up_down.jpgI want ’em up… no… down!

You may be able to play around in your head, and come up with millions of options, but (see point 1) you can never enact more than one thing at once. Thus, creating a million options is enacting a single thing - the act of imagining many options. Therefore, choosing to think of options as opposed to picking one and doing it is a choice.

Experiment: See if you can find anything you do (think, feel, interpret, etc.) that you are not freely choosing. Once you get this, you’ll quickly stop messing with yourself, and ‘simply choose.’

Zen living: choose one thing, commit to it, and see it through. If you do not like the result (this is important!) choose something else, and try that. Stop doing what does not work!

4. Be grateful


Everything is One, and everything is connected. Nothing exists as a singularity, on its own, apart from something else, and everything comes from something else.

Experiment: Think about the stuff around you, and see connections. For example, I’m presently eating a salad with tuna fish. Apart from Dar, who made the salad for me, imagine the countless people involved in making that salad possible — farmers, fishers, packers, pickers, etc.

Zen living: Be grateful. You wouldn’t last long if not for the people and ‘stuff’ that surrounds you — the air, water, land, etc. Call this to mind as you engage with the stuff of life, say ‘thanks,’ and really mean it.

5. No duality


Of course, stuff happens that we know ought not to happen. It is a real, and crazy world out there. That being said, labels are inherently useless. No good, no bad, no right, no wrong. It’s all ‘as it is.’ What is, is, and what is required is not a lecture but an action.

Experiment: This is an exercise in consciousness. If you are attracted to something, move forward and embrace it. Try it out, and see what happens. If repelled, move away, and act forcefully against it.

Zen living: No duality. Know that judging is something you’ll do until you die, but you can notice and stop your mind for a moment, and then act in keeping with your feelings, interpretations, and intentions. Most say, “Isn’t it awful” and do nothing. Instead, say, “It is what it is,” act, and move on.

6. Detach

Attachments are silly, and based upon the idea that I can grasp someone or something, and by the act of grasping, keep it the same, or ‘just keep it.’ A friend wrote: “I don’t want the fantasy to end!” Guess what: it already has ended, and had to end, because nothing is static — all is in motion — all is change.

Experiment: Create a list of all of the things, by force of will, that you have kept ‘exactly the same.’ Is a list a list if there are no items on it?

Zen living: Detach. Let go. Hold loosely. When you attempt to grasp someone or some thing, you are actually trying to hold on to, and freeze, the past. To do this requires that you exit the moment, and go into your head, and play with memories. Memories aren’t real. Real is here and now.

7. pay attention

Be Here Now. It’s the only way to actually have a life. Mooning over the past or living in the future “…then I’ll be happy…” is a sure fire way to get into trouble. You snooze, you lose.

Experiment: In Zen monasteries, a bell is rung at irregular intervals. The monks stop, and contemplate their level of ‘presence’ when the bell rang. Find a way to do the same — perhaps set a timer, and see where your attention was when it goes off.

Zen living: Pay attention. As you find yourself drifting off into thoughts and plans, plots and dreams, have a breath and bring yourself back to now. Interesting, real stuff is happening, and can only be appreciated by bringing yourself into the This Endless Moment. And what does it say about you if your fantasy life is more chargy and fun than your ‘real life?’

8. Make contact

Being present by definition is a reaching out and embracing of life, and then a letting go. In this way, my hands are empty and prepared for the next embrace.

Think: Most people live in an invisible bubble, designed to keep ‘bad stuff’ out and ‘good stuff’ my private property. Yet, it is only when I let down my ‘shields’ that I can interact with the moment.

Zen living: Make contact as you imbibe life. Take it in, touch it, caress it, set it free. Be passionate about your engagement with what you encounter, never wavering in your ‘present moment’ focus.

9. Don’t do it, be it

Zen living and being is not a game of, “look at my new skill set!” One guy couldn’t figure out how to make time to meditate. I suggested he think of his entire life as meditation. Different focus, different direction.

Zen living: Don’t do it, be it. Live life as an action that encompasses your being or essence. This is tricky to language, but it’s about a full, purposeful commitment to a way of being that includes thought, feeling and action. Take the other 9 points and see them as focusing points as to what such being might look like, as you enact yourself in the here and now.

10. Celebrate

Indeed, you are unique, just like everyone else. Your uniqueness is contained in the gifts you possess and your willingness to empty yourself as you share ‘your song.’ Most are so fearful of being laughed at that they hold their unique song in. How sad.

Zen living: Celebrate. Dance in the rain, sing your soul, shout your art, be your being. You are the only ‘you’ that will ever exist on this planet. Be yourself, and see with clear eyes. Your smile will set the world aflame.

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

12 thoughts on “10 Quick Examples of Zen Living”

  1. Wayne, thank you for the wise article. I recently got engaged and was content. When I told my parents they were upset and said my partner had no prospects and no money. Three months later and I’m still engaged but I keep thinking about it. I dont know how to cure the duality of marry/don’t marry.

    • There\‘s an old rule that \“people in love\” aren\‘t open to hearing counter advice.
      That you\‘re thinking about it means you might be open to exploring.
      So, I\‘d suggest you take an afternoon and write a short story that is: It\‘s 5 years from now, I\‘m married, and have x kids (if you\‘re planning on kids)
      My husband is doing what he has always done, earns what he always earns, and is approaching life the same, identical way.

      Then, : this is how I think and feel about life moving on, and him not changing.

      If you\‘re OK with a \“worst case scenario\” like this one, OK. If you assume he ought to have gotten over himself — I\‘d have a look at your choice of partner.
      Hope that helps.
      Warmly, Wayne

  2. Great list. I like the inclusion of “speak for yourself.” So often, in meditation practice, I feel I need to detach from the self, the I, all my stories (which is good too), but that means I forget to own and live my own experience. Thanks.

  3. Thank you so much. I was a big time christian mostly because i was brought up these way and I had been feeling hollow. Lying to my family that I truly in my soul did not want to be a christian. Recently I told my family my secret and as I feared I was and am being treated differently. I was hopeless and lost till I read what you have written. Reading this I understood that I am truthfully the only one that can make myself happy. Thank you so much you have given me a light to look at in my deepest sorrow. Thank you so much, Diana M.

    • Hi Diana,
      Yes, there are times when being honest can hurt, and the key is to know when being honest hurts less than telling the truth as you know it.
      Ultimately, as you’ve discovered, the only way to find ourselves is to be willing to look deeply, and accept ourselves as we are. From there, anything is possible. But the raw material we work with is always “us.”
      Keep going, keep exploring. And as questions arise, feel free to drop me an e‑mail.

    • Yes, one thing and one thing. Makes one appreciative of the moment and the “other.”
      Mindfulness is what happens when we stop working and simply be!

  4. wayne,
    Great article. In my Spiritual search I have come across many people and TejGuru Tej parkhiji has made it simple and all that is necessary is to listen to the truth and it has the ability to transform. He gets the people to experience the state and gives the understanding through that experience. All spiritual trainings are imparted free of Charge in Pune, India. He has wriiten quite a few books and some have been translated into English. And based on the lectures I have heard and the experience I had Tejparkhiji lives in that space where there is no ego. His lectures are also full of Humor and he makes people laugh along with him while giving this great understanding.

    • Hi Ganesh,
      Glad you liked the article, and thanks for the link. I had a look at the site and found much of interest. I’ll be returning to have another look.
      I appreciate your willingness to share this with us!
      Warmly, Wayne


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