A lifestyle change is no small thing. All of us develop habits based on the choices we make. But if the habits that make up your lifestyle no longer seem to be working for you, then it may be time to consider changing your lifestyle. For instance, if your lifestyle includes the habit of avoiding difficulties, our consumer culture can provide you with endless diversions such as TV, computers, internet, food, sex, drugs, alcohol, work or shopping. While avoiding your problems in this way may give you some temporary relief the longer term consequence will be increased stress and anxiety. You'll find yourself living from one crisis to the next, and this kind of lifestyle can easily lead to addiction, compulsive-obsessive patterns, depression or even illness. A Zen-inspired lifestyle is built on a foundation of mindfulness meditation. The cultivation of mindfulness in your daily life helps you learn how to discern what is important and what is not. Because of this quality of awareness, you are able to develop a lifestyle that is more proactive and less reactive. Because you spend more of your time focused on what is important you naturally become more effective and empowered in many areas of your daily life. Such a lifestyle is characterized by openness, empathy and clarity.
Without the discipline and practice of mindfulness awareness, it is very hard to live in this way because it requires real courage, fearlessness and emotional strength to remain open, compassionate and clear in the face of uncertainty and unpredictable circumstances. Mindfulness meditation is the foundation for this kind of lifestyle because it supports you in developing more constructive habits that can lead to long term happiness and satisfaction.
But to be honest, this is not easy to do. It requires hard work, discipline and commitment. You have to practice meditation regularly to live a Zen-inspired lifestyle. That's the bad news. The good news is that you can do this; anyone can do this because a Zen-inspired lifestyle can be practiced and lived by anyone regardless of religion, culture or beliefs.
Openness Openness begins with yourself. It begins by learning to be receptive. This is a proactive mindset that encourages you to take full responsibility for your life, acknowledging and learning from your mistakes. Res-sponsibility means the ability to respond. No matter how difficult the situation, your freedom exists in your capacity to choose how to respond to that situation. It you are proactive, you are in charge of the choices you make. But nature loves a vacuum, so if you aren't actively taking responsibility for the choices you make, chances are, someone else or some other circumstance is making them for you.
Not being open is to be closed. When you are closed you can always find an excuse for yourself, and blaming others for your problems is also very convenient. Closed people are more reactive and spend more of their time worrying about external events that are beyond their control. If you do this in your own life, it's easy to begin feeling like a victim. In many ways, your life is out of control, because energy you devote to all those things outside your control gives them power over the rest of your life. This is a bad habit because if you continue in this manner you'll begin to pay an enormous price in terms of your personal dignity, self worth, health and happiness.
Living an open, Zen-inspired life teaches you how to be brave and courageous about your own experiences, how to keep them company in a way that is loving and kind, and how to transform negative difficulties into rich opportunities for growth and learning.
Empathy Empathy is supported by being open hearted. Mindfulness meditation teaches you how to embrace the full range of your humanity without disowning your power or seeing yourself as a victim. Since you can experience kindness and empathy for your own difficult experiences, you begin to be able to do the same towards others. It takes emotional strength to put yourself in other peoples' shoes. To do this effectively, you really need to make a radical shift from seeking to be understood to first seeking to understand others. This is critical life skill because it helps you remain connected with people who are important to you. It helps you learn how to remain connected to people when strong disagreements arise. Empathy is so important to living a good life because it's the basis upon which all genuine trust is built and maintained in our interpersonal relationships.
A study at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research recently found that college students today are less empathetic than in the past. They found a whopping 40% reduction in levels of empathy from students in the 1980s to the 1990s. While the study did not claim to know why this was so, we might guess that learning to win at all costs promotes a style of living that doesn't value strong interpersonal relationships.
The benefit of living a Zen-inspired lifestyle is enriched relationships that result from the growing trust and confidence people place in you. You are able to grow your circle of friends and draw on their resources because your lifestyle is spent investing in their emotional well-being as well as your own.
Clarity Mindfulness meditation helps support increased clarity in your life and an increased ability to discern what is important and what is not. This kind of discernment is critical to living an empowered and effective life because it clarifies your own core values and principles. When you are clear about the importance of your core values and principles you do not compromise them for short term gains. You are able to keep your moral compass pointed towards true north. Meditation practice gives you the discipline that helps you begin to subordinate your impulses and feelings to your own values and principles.
This habit of clarity and discernment is the foundation for strong character development and is the basis upon which all true leadership potential arises. External events are often beyond your control and they are always changing, but principles such as personal integrity, keeping your word and honoring your commitment don't. They are the bedrock upon which a Zen-inspired life is based. They support you in developing your unique gifts and having greater impact in how you contribute them to the rest of the world.
As I said in the beginning, none of this is easy, because it's a lifestyle that involves discipline and awareness. But the rewards in self confidence, self worth and personal effectiveness make living a Zen-inspired lifestyle something that you should seriously consider. You don't need to wear black robes. You don't need to go live in a monastery. You can start where you are. Nothing is lacking. Nothing needs to be gained. And in the simplicity and grace of this moment all of your potential and authenticity reside.
Roshi Robert Althouse