5-10 Minute Zen

Why?

This is your place to practice the Zen life. It’s that simple.

The purpose of this series is to help people learn about and practice mindfulness; find freedom from attachments; discover purpose; and make a difference in their lives and in the world.

The idea is to create a one-stop shop for daily practice. A place to go in the morning to get your head straight or anytime of day to hit the reset button. To study about Zen or just a place to go to remain still. To read something; to look at something – be it flowers or fish – and enjoy life; to quiet the mind.

How It Works

Pick a lesson. Any one that suits you at this moment. If it is your first time here, start at the bottom with lesson 1 and work your way up over time. Don’t try to read and do them all at once. Just take a few minutes to cleanse your mind like you wash your hands. Practice becoming a better version of who you already are. In your practice now and in life remember to:

  • Breathe
  • Be still
  • Be silent
  • Be calm
  • Be mindful
  • Be grateful
  • Be patient
  • Listen
  • Observe without judgment
  • Be in the now
  • Accept what is
growth

To evolve is to develop yourself gradually from within yourself, the evolution of your mindset, habits, daily routine, associations, actions, and life. The goal is progress, not perfection.

Grow: Simply, Slowly

Lesson 8

Often, one example of when we try to make changes too quickly or too dramatically is when we alter our diet to lose weight or just be healthier. Many times we immediately get rid of ALL of the carbs or cutting our calories so excessively that we are starving all the time. We often fail to achieve the original goal because it becomes too daunting of a task. Stop doing that. A sapling doesn’t become a giant sequoia overnight. This goes for every incremental positive change you wish to make in your life. From taking care of your body to meditation to spending less money or whatever positive change you would like to make. Do it gradually. Not only will you have a better chance of getting to your goal, you will also have a better chance of sticking to a new habit.

  1. Pick just one or two aspects you wish to improve. Let’s say you would like to read more. You watch too much tv or spend too much time on your smartphone, and you want to read books again like you used to. Ok. That’s a worthwhile goal. Start with a single page. Maybe two. But keep it light. In fact, you should stop reading even when you want to go further. Never empty the tank. That way, when you come back to it, the thirst to read more is still there.
  2. When you begin removing a “bad” habit, replace it with something “good.” If, for example, you want to have less selfish desires in your life, whenever you catch yourself daydreaming about a new gadget or car or whatever, change your thoughts in a positive direction. Think about what you could do for someone. Don’t beat yourself up for noticing any “greedy” thoughts. Just acknowledge them, and practice switching at those moments to thinking about doing something nice for someone else. Over time, you begin to replace random, selfish thoughts with intentional thoughts. Ultimately, you gain more mastery over your own mind.
  3. Set long-term goals, but don’t expect quick results. Be patient. Life is an ongoing marathon. It isn’t a sprint.

Panic Attack or Anxiety? Breathe Your Way Out

Lesson 7

Of course, you already know how to breathe without even thinking about it. But, watch what happens when you do think about it. The next bout of anxiety you have, or even panic attack, change your mind’s obsession by doing this:

  1. Count to four while inhaling. Count to four while exhaling. Steadily. Repeat over and over for a few minutes while focusing your mind’s attention just on your breath.
  2. As you focus on your breathing in this exercise, notice and feel the breath enter your body at a steady pace. Feel it pass from your gut or lungs and through your nose on the exhale.
  3. If you get distracted and your mind goes back to whatever it was preoccupied with, no worries, don’t beat yourself up, just gently bring the focus back to your breath.

You don’t have to save this for panic attacks or anxiety. This exercise is a great way to start your day. You also don’t have to swing for the fences on your first at bat. Meditation and breathing doesn’t have to be a marathon session every time. Try just three minutes. It might change your whole day.

breathing fresh air

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Become An Early Riser

Lesson 6

Waking up early certainly isn’t a prerequisite to live a “zen” lifestyle. In fact, one could argue that using an alarm clock at all goes against the zen grain, so to speak. But, another perspective is that being awake for the sunrise and sunset allows you to enjoy the full breadth of each day.

While it might not be for everyone, for some inexplicable reason it improved my life and made it more peaceful. How to accomplish this?

  1. Don’t do it drastically. Honestly, not being drastic is a good zen tip for pretty much everything. Just set your alarm back in 15 minute intervals over time until you get to your target. I am usually up at 5:30am everyday.
  2. Go to bed earlier. Ok, this seems obviously intuitive if you plan to wake up earlier, but it is not an easy task to accomplish. No caffeine after noon, put away the smartphone and turn off the t.v. an hour before bed, and deep breathing techniques (see “whisky breathing” in the post about breath in the health and nutrition section) are all effective for helping overcome a restless mind.
  3. Make up your mind to do it. That is, don’t allow your brain to rationalize sleeping in when the alarm goes off. Roll out of bed, drink a glass of water (before you make your coffee), and get going.

Enjoy the dawn as much as you can. It might become your favorite time of day. And don’t sleep in on the weekends. Breathe. Enjoy each moment of the day from start to finish.

Patience

Lesson 5

Here’s a hard truth: ultimately, impatience is a selfish feeling.

Whatever you are waiting for – standing in line at the grocery store, your turn in a game, a fish to bite your hook – you are waiting for something or someone to happen or do FOR YOU. That’s ok. Everyone feels this way.

Whenever you are struggling with an impatient moment, shift your focus on someone else: your partner, a family member, a coworker, a friend, or even a stranger. What can you do for them now or the next time you see them?

For example, “I should buy my wife a card for no reason other than to surprise her with gratitude.” Or, “I should let that person with less groceries go ahead of me in line.” Spend just 5 minutes thinking about someone else instead of your own desires, whatever you are waiting for, and the result will invariably be a greater sense of patience. Cultivate this skill over time, and you will be happier for it.

Waiting for permission to cross
Woman looking out from a boat

Letting Go of a Painful Past

Lesson 4

First, come back to this very moment. Wherever you are – in line at the grocery store, at home in bed, or folding laundry – bring your attention to the exact moment you are in now. This gets easier to do the more often you practice it.

Accept that whatever memory you are replaying in your head hurts. Whether it is the loss of a loved one or simply something embarrassing you did one time. Ok, yes, it hurts to think about and relive in your mind. The goal is not to repress your thought, but to practice accepting some pain and discomfort as a natural part of life. It is for everyone. 

Now that you’ve acknowledged the suffering, release your attachment to a moment that no longer is. Take a five minute break from a past that is gone or a future that hasn’t occurred, and be mindful of what is here and now. Listen to the sounds around you. Listen without judgment. Maybe it is a crying baby or a honking car horn. Maybe you are outside and the only sound you hear is the wind through the leaves or a bird. Touch something and notice the sensation. Sniff the air. Take in this very moment. You are alive right now, not in that memory. Practice this often and you will be less and less trapped by your past.

Practice Virtues Daily

Lesson 3

There is no finish line. Everyday is practice. A continuous cultivation of the mind.

Here are 7 virtues to practice. Read through and imagine each printed on a mental flashcard for you to think about and do everyday: 

kindness

compassion

generosity

contentment

respect

honesty

mindfulness

Dwell a moment on each. What you think and speak, you will do. What you do, you will become.

 

“The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something.” – Koun Yamada

Feeling Anxious? Calm Your Mind

Lesson 2

Go from stressed to calm in 30 seconds. Use the 3×3 method.

  1. Name a physical object (“That is a lamp.”)
  2. Take a deep breath. Inhale slowly. Exhale Slowly.
  3. Repeat 3×3.

Huh? Don’t worry, it will make more sense after you watch this 8 minute TED talk video:

“Every moment has meaning. Time is precious. Don’t miss out.” – Phil Boissierre

A Way To Begin Your Day

Lesson 1

First thing in the morning, clear your mind. How? Start here: (1) “Let go of thought, become still and alert and don’t try to understand or explain.” – Echart Tolle

Then: (2) Go through a 5-10 minute morning ritual everyday. Make it a ritual – i.e., make it the same everyday whether it is making your bed or preparing your coffee. While doing this, repeat these words of Lao Tzu to yourself silently or aloud:

Manifest plainness

Embrace simplicity

Reduce selfishness

Have few desires

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