Posts Tagged ‘Practical’

7 tips to de-stress your home

April 4th, 2017    -    18 Comments


No matter how much the spring wind loves the peach blossoms, they still fall. —  Dogen Zenji

Is it just me or is anyone else stressing out?

There’s nothing slow about spring. Everything speeds up. Winds howl. Boughs break. Blossoms burst. Things fall apart.

The same devotional practices that turn monasteries into bastions of serenity can relieve the stress that infiltrates life at chaotic times of year. Even if you can’t consistently observe all of these pointers, doing a few will change the way you feel when you come home, and that is nothing less than a modern miracle.

1. Observe light. The natural world wakes with the first light of the sun, why not you? If rising at daybreak is too late for your daily work and commuting schedule, wake before the sun and observe the sunrise. In the habit of hitting the snooze button? Don’t.  If your waking thought is resistance, you wake in stress. You start the day in a race against time, and you stay that way. The sun is not only a natural time management system, it delivers the neurotransmitter serotonin that enhances brain function and reduces stress.

2. Observe darkness. Turn the power off and see what happens when night falls. We’ve turned our homes into temples of electronic stimulation, and our default position is maximum overdrive. Gadgets are handy and appliances are useful, but everything from the microwave to the smoke alarm and the cell phone to the computer is discharging a constant pulsing stream of energy. We cannot afford to be careless about our electronic addictions because we are going out of our minds. Evening brings a natural end to the 24-hour workday, restores mind-body balance, and invites quiet.

3. Observe quiet. I’ll be loud and clear. The quiet that needs observing is not an external silence like the kind imposed at a library or hospital. Our homes are not ivory towers or infirmaries. The quiet that needs stilled is our internal commentary – the nonstop thoughts that stir anger, resentment, anxiety and fear. You may never get around to practicing meditation, but try this technique in the meantime.  Designate a comfortable seat in your bedroom as your “quiet chair.” Clear it of clutter; keep it empty and available. When domestic chaos and turmoil overtake you, retreat to your bedroom and take sanctuary in your quiet chair. Conflicts will decelerate by themselves when you take a step back. When the decibels in your head come down, come out.

4. Observe bells. A mountain of laundry, a forest of weeds, and an avalanche in the hall closet: the sheer size of untended tasks at home can topple us into paralyzing despair. When chores get out of hand, pick up some extra time. Set a timer for 20 or 30 minutes and focus on doing one thing during that period. It doesn’t matter if you finish; what matters is that you start. Once you start, the finish comes into view.

5. Observe nature. Open a window. The view doesn’t matter. Open a door. You don’t have to be in a national park. Air and light are curative. If you doubt it, just take a walk around the block and watch your mood lift with the breeze and change with the scenery.

6. Observe order. Washing dishes, sweeping floors, folding clothes, clearing the table, and sorting mail: these are not just simple means of practicing mindfulness, they are your mind. As Buddha described our true relationship to our environment, “There is no inside, there is no outside, and there is no in-between.” When we resist order, we are messing with our minds.

7. Observe ritual. Light a candle, and elevate your mealtime. Burn incense, and alleviate anxiety. Sages have always known that rituals are not just symbolic. Your rituals don’t have to reek of religious significance. Give yourself a set of completion rituals to signify the end of the day. Empty the kitchen sink; put your shoes in the closet; brush and floss your teeth. When repeated, rituals prepare you to enter a state of repose.


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Song for reasons of eating

February 26th, 2009    -    10 Comments

There were several items in the New York Times this week that got me salivating. But the one that cut closest to home was this one about the minstrel and erstwhile Zen Buddhist monk, Leonard Cohen: “On the Road: For Reasons Practical and Spiritual.”

As you might expect, the writer finds it paradoxical that Cohen has decided to re-take the stage at this late age. The story’s hook is that Cohen’s road tour is a mystical mingling of the sacred and the secular. The writer thinks that is notable, but I’m certain Cohen doesn’t. He’s not mingling anything. He is simply singing for his supper, because he’s broke.

Can anyone relate?

Cohen doesn’t pit the practical against the spiritual and make a divine quest out of it. There is no difference between the two. There is no either and no or. That ideological distinction is only in the mind of the writer. And it might be in your mind too. When you’re hungry, and you are broke or near-broke, it’s a good time to get your ideas about spiritual versus practical out of your mind and strap them to the bottom of your feet. And then walk the heck out of them.

Eating is a divine act. It is a mingling of the practical and the spiritual. Pass the ketchup.

A painting of a rice cake does not satisfy hunger. – Zen saying

Cohen is the kind of icon to whom we all lay claim. In truth, I have no claim. I was born a poor, illegitimate music lover and I heard my first Cohen when he was all but done as a singer, living as a mountain monk, and his Ten New Songs was released in 2001. A fellow Zen practitioner gave to me. When I heard Cohen’s bottomless voice surfacing from somewhere deep beneath his navel, when I heard the pure, raw, spare simplicity of the words, I was amazed. “Damn,” I thought, “this guy has spent serious time on his butt.”

But there’s a time to get up off your butt, and it’s about the time you realize that coming or going, walking or sitting, standing up or lying down, you’re always on your butt. Run out of money and what are you going to do? Put your butt on the road.

“Past mind is ungraspable. Future mind is ungraspable. Present mind is ungraspable. With which mind will you eat this rice cake?” – Zen koan

So everyone’s struggling now. Who’s not struggling? Since last summer, every idea I had of my illustrious future has been chewed up and swallowed. Every previous source of income has vaporized. These days I do many, many things, and I do anything for money. Little dribs that come when I need it most. Little sums that get me through. Funny, I actually see more possibilities now. There’s far more tunnel, to be sure. And there’s more light that shines in from all those cracks in the way I thought my life would go.

So come on now, everybody, sing along. Let’s sing and then have supper. You’re invited to my place for dinner, you see, because it’s all one place.

Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.

– Leonard Cohen

PS My friend Ted says you can find the unfiltered Leonard here. And you can find Ted here.

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