At some point in our lives, all of us wish our life was different–well, not just different, but better.

Maybe you’ve imagined what life would be like with a better job, a bigger house, improved health, or whatever “better” is for you.

The truth is, many people are worried and confused about how to live their lives. We don’t know what’s better for us. There’s a sort of an existential dread that keeps on arching over our days.

And what do people do when they’re bored of this routine of just existing and dreaming?

They try to experience the extraordinary to shift their mental states. That might mean going on a solo trip, dating someone new, going on multi-day a hike i.e. something that is new and exciting.

But once we return to our daily life, the extraordinary stays away. This is a never-ending cycle of seeking the extraordinary.

There’s a lovely quote by GK Chesterton that I keep referring back to. It goes:

“We should always endeavor to wonder at the permanent thing, not at the mere exception. We should be startled by the sun, and not by the eclipse. We should wonder less at the earthquake, and wonder more at the earth.”

GK Chesterton

Such beautiful lines. This is exactly what I want. A life where I enjoy the ordinary stuff, the daily life. It doesn’t mean I don’t try new stuff or stop exploring.

Simply put, the daily grind becomes extraordinary.

To achieve this, I read a multitude of books and podcasts on personal transformation. In January, I decided to explore Zen and read a book called Zen: The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno.

Zen has been receiving a lot of fame so I thought I’d give it a try.

The book consists of 100 really short chapter on:

  • Ways to energize your present self and inspire confidence
  • Habits to alleviate confusion and worry
  • Tips to make any day the best day

The overall goal is to make subtle shifts in your habits that become how you live.

To be honest, out of the 100 habits, I think 80 were just worldly wisdom that all of us already know but don’t apply in our lives. It also felt like the author is speaking like my mom asking me to behave in a certain way.

Some really average advice includes:

Organize your desk, Pause after every bite, Be a minimalist, Arrange your room simply.

I don’t think I need to read a book to know all this.

Then there’s some decent advice that is easier said than done.

Don’t blame and compare to others, Don’t fear change, Be positive, Make the most of life (like I’m not already trying to?)

It felt like a self-help guru giving a very dull speech.

But there’s some good stuff as well. Below I write briefly on the habits that I enjoyed reading about and am cultivating in my own life:

(Most of the descriptions below are paraphrased from the audiobook)

1. Make Time for Emptiness

Modern life is busier than ever. There’s no time for us to think about nothing?

Try making time for emptiness. Not thinking about anything.

How? Just try clearing your mind and not being caught up in the things around you.

When you do so, you will begin to notice the present moment, the subtle shifts in nature that are keeping you alive.

Give yourself a brain break daily. That is the first step towards creating a simple life.

2. Feel Instead of think

The author asks us to hone our 5 senses. He suggests picking up a stone by the side of the road, touch it, and sensing what it smells like.

Mountain stones smell like the mountains, sea stones smell like the sea.

By doing this, we learn to take interest in the details around us.

Hone your senses so that you don’t miss even the slightest changes in your environment.

3. Go to a Zen Garden

There are healing powers within a zen garden. The author himself is a Zen garden designer.

He suggests instead of seeing the superficial beauty of a garden, try seeing the zen mind it is imbued in.

Once you feel integrated with the garden, you will not notice the passage of mind.

I have always been fascinated by Japanese culture and their interest in design which is reflected in their gardens as well.

4. Free yourself from money

The more you try to accumulate it, the more it gets away. The strange thing about money is the more we get attached to it, the more it eludes our grasps. Instead of thinking about money, concern ourselves with our higher purpose. The money you need will ultimately find you.”

5. Contemplate How to Die, whenever you are confused How to Live.

Just as we contemplate how to live, we should contemplate how to die. If you were told your life is going to end in 6 months, you would think about how best to spend that time. But what if it were only a month or a week. What if it would end tomorrow? Meditate on this.

You will feel as you must not waste a moment.

Life happens in a blink of an eye. Have you ever spend a day just binge-watching and discover it is evening, and realize you didn’t mean to waste so much time.

We must do our best not to squander this blink of an eye given to us.

That’s it from this book. I don’t recommend it cover to cover, just browse through the topics that interest you and skim it.

There are many more books on Zen that you should check out and if you do, please let me know as well 😉

Enjoy reading!

Cover Photo by Akira Deng on Unsplash

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