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This Page Was Last Updated On: 9/30/2023

Many teachings and practices with roots in Eastern culture experienced a recent surge in popularity in the West. More and more people are turning to homeopathic and ancient remedies that have been used in China and Japan for centuries. Acupuncture and yoga - just to name a few - are excellent for healing of the mind and the body as well. Buddhism and many concepts from Buddhism have also been taking hold in many parts of our lives over the last several decades.

As a result, you have more than likely encountered the word "zen." Zen has pretty much become a part of the English language. People talk about becoming more zen, being zen and maintaining their zen. You can also find it applied to all sorts of other things from cooking to business strategies.

Have you ever stopped to wonder: What is zen?

It definitely has very positive connotations, but how can it be applied to so many things? What exactly is it? Is it a place? A state of mind? A belief? The answer is: zen is none of these and all of these.

What Is Zen? The word "zen" is a Japanese word. It is the Japanese translation of the Chinese word "chan," which actually evolved from "dhyana," a Sankrit word for meditation. Just the word has made quite a journey over the years. Zen first came about as a shortened form of Zen Buddhism, a specific school of thought among Japanese Mahayana Buddhism teachings.

Mahayana is one of the main branches of Buddhism today and Zen is a distinct division in that branch. The main goal of Mahayana is complete enlightenment, which is - simply put - an ultimate state of peace and unity of mind, body and soul. The practice of Zen Buddhism involves rigorous meditation, insight and an emphasis on the expression of personal insight to benefit and teach others. Another important aspect of Zen teachings has to do with paradoxes. As mentioned before, zen is everything and nothing.

It can obviously be difficult to describe and define zen in words. Many of today's practitioners of zen are not even Zen Buddhists - they can be anyone. Zen itself can be thought of as an attitude, a state of peace that results from that attitude, an acute state of awareness and a lifestyle all at once. Zen is both very simple and very complex. Once you learn how to maintain your own state of zen, it may seem incredibly simple to you, but next to impossible to describe to someone else.

Once you become zen or reach that zen state of mind, you will find yourself with new, clear thoughts and positivity. You won't be bogged down by the material world and trappings associated with it. You will be better equipped to shrug off feelings of anxiety and depression. It will provide you with focus in both your productivity and your relaxation. People will notice the positive energy surrounding you.

The practice of zen, as it is most often used today in our society, doesn't require the cross-sitting and intense meditation of the original Zen Buddhist practices. Zen is something that everyone can practice at any time of day or even all day, everyday. It is a positive habit that you can form over time to greatly improve your life.

How to Maintain Your Zen

Understanding the Principals of Zen

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Attaining and then maintaining zen require making gradual adjustments in your mind and thought processes. Thinking and talking about the future and the past are strongly discouraged because they will cause you to lose your zen. The future isn't real and can cause a lot of stress if you begin thinking about paying bills, planning vacations and other goals both unattainable and attainable alike. The past conjures feelings of nostalgia, regret and more. Plus, our memories are not accurate and are often much more distorted than we would like to think.

Zen is about living in the moment and "just doing" as well as "just being." This practice can help relieve stress, improve your focus, lift your mood and provide an array of other mental and emotional benefits. For example, when you're eating, you should just eat. Don't occupy your mind thinking about work or what you'll be doing after you finish eating. When you're working, just work. Be in the moment.

Letting go of the assorted baggage associated with life is liberating and is a way to simplify your existence. Zen is truly about simplicity. Living in the moment and "just doing" is about as simple as anything can get. When engaged in this "just doing" practice, you need to avoid filtering your senses and perceptions. Don't compare your present experiences to the past and don't think about how the task at hand relates to the future.

When living in the moment you should acknowledge all of your senses in that moment. Become whatever activity it is that you are doing. Don't think about what you did the day before or your weekend plans. Instead, you need to see, feel and hear in the present. When you start getting into this mindset and practicing it more and more often you will soon begin to realize that every moment of every day is truly an amazing experience of its own, even when you're doing work!

Once you start beginning to reach zen, you will find it easier to maintain it in the face of adversarial situations like high-stress moments in your life. Stress is caused by that assorted baggage associated with the past and the future. This stress baggage can be both positive and negative, but it still causes your body and mind to have very similar stress responses. Excitement and anxiety are both indicators of stress. Zen does not mean you should ignore your responsibilities or shirk your job, by any means. It is more about the task at hand.
Zen is not about denying or escaping life, but is instead a different way to view life. The view helps you see the positive in the negative. If you have a lot going on and nothing seems to be going your way, it can help to stop everything for a few minutes to become centered and zen again. For those few minutes, you can take a few easy steps to maintain your zen then return to life refreshed and ready. 

Taking a few minutes to exist in the moment is very much like the traditional mediation practiced by Zen Buddhists. If you can, you should have at least one of these moments each day until you become more comfortable with the zen mindset as you complete tasks.

  • Choose a quiet location
  • Sit comfortably
  • Breathe naturally and focus on your breath
  • Shift your focus gradually to other sensations like touch and hearing

This conscious focusing on different sensations can be applied to numerous aspects of your life. In this way, you can become zen and truly begin to understand how to maintain zen at all times. 

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