The Art of Being Zen

800px-Black_and_Orange_TortoiseshellToday’s reader question: “…The art of being zen. I don’t necessarily mean religious though I’m not excluding that – I more mean I would love to pursue a life that channels a more peaceful, zen-like approach to stressors but how does one achieve that?”

I love this question! Before I answer it let me share a quick story.

So one of my relatives recently decided that all of the non-Christians in the family will convert to her denomination before we die. Despite being told repeatedly that we have no interest in joining her church she insists that our conversions are imminent and treats us as if it has already happened.

A few years ago this would have irritated the hell out of me. The world is full of so many beautiful topics that I don’t understand why anyone would want to focus on what divides us. Telling other adults what they must believe is also counter-productive, a waste of good words and an indication that the person who continues to press the issue cares more about being right than maintaining a healthy relationship.

These days I’m (usually) able to ignore these proclamations. Not every thread in a conversation needs to be pulled after all.

So what sparked this change in my outlook?

1) I let go of my expectations. Buddhist writers have such thought provoking things to say about how our expectations of ourselves, other people and life in general leads to suffering.

If I expect my relative to be respectful I will be sorely disappointed. When we see one another I no longer predict ahead of time how the visit will go. This isn’t to say I allow them to say or do anything they want to me! The natural consequence of haranguing is that the person being lectured will feel less interested in future visits but I don’t walk into reunions expecting to be thumped over the head. Maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t. All I can control is my reaction to it.

2) I (began to) learn that I’m not responsible for what others think of me. Some people like me. Others don’t. Unless I’m deliberately doing something to hurt you it’s none of my business either way.

I used to be careful about when and to whom I mentioned my bisexual or Agnostic identities.  Now I bring it up when the conversation swirls in that direction but don’t worry about how they’ll react.

The world will always contain folks who don’t believe in “fence-sitting.” The best way to  show them that some things aren’t dualistic is to refuse to apologize or pick a side. I am who I am.

3) I cut caffeine out of my diet. Well, mostly. 😉 Too much caffeine makes me feel anxious so as much as I love dark chocolate and tea they’ve become occasional treats and the line between acceptable and unacceptable amounts of this drug for my system is quite thin. Every time I slip back into old habits I notice a big difference in my quality of sleep and tranquility.

With that being said I’m still learning how to take life less seriously.

What has worked for you, readers?

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