What are the essential keys to unlocking your power of calm, the keys which make up the very spirit of true happiness? And in what way do we need to design our lives to effectively pursue a happy life amid the various responsibilities and challenges we have?
Well, the reality is, at least in the 21st century that most of us aren’t interested in becoming a monk, or even necessarily in calling ourselves spiritual, or any other label (not that they mean anything anyway). But we all are very much interested in the living of an authentic, calm and happy life.
A Mindfulness practice is where we can begin changing our lives. The practice is where we will find greater peace, happiness, and the ability to better navigate our daily challenges. And most importantly, it’s in this practice that we learn to express our authentic calm selves.
The below 6 points are some of the most important points I’ve distilled from my own mindfulness practice, living a typical daily life while trying to live true to my practice, and what I’ve witnessed to be the real essence.
You’ll undoubtedly notice how universal these points are. That’s because, as opposed to being some religion or philosophy which holds to a set of ideas, it is empty of a defining set of ideas or beliefs. I’m talking about a practice, it’s also the very expression, or living, of the realization of that great wisdom which we all intuitively know exists within us.
This wisdom is expressed in many spiritual and religious traditions all around the world, just under different names. This is because the truth has no name, it’s universal. I hope you find these 6 ways useful in your own life in pursuit of greater wisdom, deeper calm, and happiness.
- Do one thing at a time
“Zen is doing one thing at a time.” Matsuo Basho
This symbolizes a key aspect of the power of calm, so I thought it would be a good point to start with.
“Do one thing at a time,” by the Zen master Basho, means exactly what it says: a single focus. Zen monks, for example, live in a way that they’re totally and completely focused on the task at hand, and a key aspect of that is to simply do one thing- whatever it is that you’re doing in that moment. Whatever demands your presence, you’re there for it single-mindedly.
Of course, sometimes in our life things aren’t so straightforward, but the point is to make the commitment to do so in every moment. Multi-tasking has not only been proven to be ineffective, it can actually be harmful.
Making the vow to live your life in a way that you do the one thing that’s most important in each moment, means to live with greater calm and perform more efficiently at everything you do. It also promotes greater awareness.
- Simplify, simplify
“Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.” Henry David Thoreau
By the time we’re adults, we’ve collected quite a lot of things which are either useless or relatively unimportant (both material and non-material).
Now, this might be a little excessive and even unnecessary to most, but the idea is what’s most important. The idea is to remove everything in your life that isn’t essential. Essential to what? Essential to your well-being and the well-being of others.
But where do you begin? How do you decide what’s essential and non-essential? The best place to start is to ask yourself if the item or thing is ever used or ever holds any purpose. If it’s never used, or holds no purpose, those are the first and most obvious things to go.
From there it gets more difficult, but the question to ask is simple: does this thing help contribute to the calm and happiness of myself and those around me? If the answer is no, or even maybe (suggesting it’s not essential), then the likelihood is it not only doesn’t serve a purpose but often gets in the way of allowing those things that really matter to come forward.
You can also go in the opposite direction by asking yourself: If I had to live with only a handful of things, what would they be? Again, not just material possessions but non-material things in activities, responsibilities, relationships etc. This question can help simplify your life down to its essence.
It might be beneficial to ask yourself the question a few times, because sometimes you’ll put down things you think are essential, but upon closer examination you realize they really aren’t. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to give it up, but it will give you clarity.
A Mindfulness practice as a whole, is very focused and intentional. In living an intentional and calm life, all clutter needs to be removed and only the essentials should remain, it’s as simple as that.
This can truly help improve your life and help to remove that which is distracting and give you more time for what matters most.
- Lose yourself in the doing
“When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.” Shunryu Suzuki
To do something with all your energy and attention means to live with mindfulness in every moment. It means to be totally and completely focused on that one thing.
This doesn’t just mean to do one thing as I have mentioned, it also means to be totally concentrated on that one thing. In a way, it means forgetting the “I” and becoming the act, the doing. Hakuin Ekaku (also a Zen master of old) explains it this way: “If you forget yourself, you become the Universe.”
But really it’s being totally concentrated and mindful of the now, this moment. You don’t eat while fighting and pushing away any thoughts or outside sounds that arise, you just eat with all of your being, while still being openly mindful of whatever arises within that moment.
This is what my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh meant when he told me “…when you eat the orange, eat the orange.” You’re being here, awake to your life, to what is in front of you, in every moment. And that’s really what this is all about. This point is closely tied with the emphasis on sitting meditation, but it’s the greater effort of bringing that same single-minded awareness from the meditation cushion into your everyday life.
Nothing special is necessary to begin living your life in this way. To live in each moment, doing each thing, with all your being and to the best of your ability, makes a significant and concrete difference in the quality of your day-to-day experience.
The benefits of living in this way are too many to mention, but suffice it to say that it’s the most important effort of all. Most important to remember, is it’s the key effort in each moment, the heart of daily mindfulness practice, while most of the other points while significant are either things to keep in mind from time to time, establish once, or keep tabs on.
- Let go or be dragged
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Foremost, on any spiritual path your goal is to realize enlightenment, or awakening. This is considered the ultimate effort, achievement, or realization of a life.
And being so deeply aware of one’s own impermanence, the precious nature of this one life, is to realize this complete awakening for ourselves so that we can go beyond hang ups (or attachments), let go, and realize true calm and happiness.
Whether you believe there’s something after this life or not, all we know for certain is that we have this life. And this life is here and gone in an instant. So, don’t waste time on being unhappy.
A Calm and happy life will look different depending on the person, but the idea is the same: we only have a short time to enjoy this life, so we shouldn’t waste a minute. And the surest way, I know to real happiness, is to let go of those things which are keeping you from calm and happiness. So that you can realize a clear path to living peacefully and joyfully.
Throughout our lives, we resist the natural way of things. It’s our job to find that resistance (whether it’s an attachment to something we like or aversion to something we don’t like) so that we can remove the resistance in our lives and life with greater ease, calm and freedom.
The truth is, unless you learn to let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation or person, unless you realize that the situation, emotion, hold on you is over, you cannot move forward.
In this, letting go means to free yourself. Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone or something anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself. In this way, you open up a clear path to living happily and peacefully.
- Find your rhythm
“Without practice or cultivation, the clouds of ignorance cover up enlightenment awareness quickly.” Guishan
This is about living with a sense of order and discipline, something that’s very important for living a calm and happy life. What’s the purpose? In a very real way, it’s order and discipline which gives us true freedom. Many of us are afraid of order and discipline, but this is generally due to a misunderstanding.
Think about it this way: what if you could free up an entire day for yourself if you just took the time to establish a daily schedule and stuck to it with discipline? What if this was a real possibility? Isn’t this more freedom as opposed to working all day and most weekends without any free (quality) time?
Also, it’s by setting up this sense of order that we can occasionally break away, and this can be very liberating. Without a sense of order, we not only waste our precious time, we also lose perspective on what is truly important. And in that we can’t create the right atmosphere for calm and freedom to arise.
To live half-asleep, unconscious to so much of what we do (even though our bodies are doing it), is the opposite of true freedom. Living in this way, we’re being pushed and pulled by our habitual desires and being directed by the impulses of the ego.
To live our lives in a way that we structure our days and live with a sense of order is to live with freedom because we’re living intentionally. To live intentionally is to live mindfully, knowing that you’re taking this step. And then this step. By walking mindfully, you’re taking every step deliberately, in this there is true freedom. And it’s order which helps us to live in this way.
- Find the balance
“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and harmony.” Thomas Merton
The Buddha’s ‘middle way’ is a principle which essentially refers to the fact that in all things in life we shouldn’t remain in the extreme either way. We should find the balance through the ‘middle way’ of things.
It’s difficult to fully express the importance of this principle because of its relevance to our entire lives. Let’s take a example.
Work and family are typically considered the two major parts of our life. They’re distinctly different and involve essentially all of our combined time on any given day, or at least the vast majority of it outside of sleep.
So, when talking about the balance between work and family life, what’s best? Working all the time, not working at all or a balance between work and spending time with family. Assuming, like most of us, that you’re not able to quit your day job, finding a balance between work and family is the obvious answer.
If you work all the time, your well-being and the well-being of your loved ones will suffer without your presence. But if you don’t work, you won’t be able to support yourself and therefore all will also suffer.
It’s that same sort of idea with many things in life. When referring to the Buddha’s eightfold Path; Right Speech are a great examples.
Should we speak negatively to someone? Of course not. But on the flip side, should we completely refrain from saying something just to not potentially insult or hurt?
Maybe, Don Miguel Ruiz take on it will help us find the balance: “Be Impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”
The most important thing is to be truthful and approach any situation with a sense of compassion and love, and sometimes this requires being straight with someone and sometimes to say nothing. We shouldn’t be quiet about important issues; we should speak up and express our opinion. But we also shouldn’t try to force others to go along with what we believe either.
In all cases, the Buddha’s principle of the ‘middle way’ is the right practice. The Buddha’s middle way leads to a balanced life free from excess and conflict.
Whatever your life looks like, know that to live a mindful life and to realize the power of a calm and happy life, isn’t outside your reach. Start by applying these six points to your everyday life and see what happens.