Simple ways to be a little more ‘Zen’

By Karen Chin


HAVING RECENTLY OBSERVED some Zen-like people in their elements, I decided to research and implement some of their practices and teachings into my life. Like most people I know, I have a normally frenzied daily routine of multitasking, rushing, poor management over my sleeping time and eating meals at unpredictable times (that is, if I even remember to eat).




My productivity usually adds up to almost zero although I feel tired at the end of the day. When I tried recalling the things I did throughout the day, it was mostly unfocused attention that I was giving to my unfinished tasks, rushed work, procrastination and unhealthy habits.

I decided to follow some of the teaching of the monks and here is my down-to-earth adaptation of Zen habits that I believe anyone can pick up:


1. Focus on one task at a time

Forget about multitasking, not while you are on a Zen mission. Pay attention to nitty-gritty details and execute tasks slowly and deliberately. I know this might sound strange, but I achieved Zen while washing my dishes. I felt a little bit obsessive-compulsive while doing it the Zen way, but it did me a world of good to be able to focus on a task, and do it extremely well. The results left me feeling utterly satisfied with myself for doing an extremely good job even on something so mundane, and made me want to do more productive things. Positive feelings become addictive once you start getting them – and the hardest step is always the first.




2. Create rituals and have a system.

I created a simple ritual for myself in the morning before I go to work or start my day. While showering, I start from hair to toes and then back up again. It really helps to compartmentalise my thoughts and it truly has a stress-relieving element to that act. You know how some people say that organising stuff in sequence (for example, like arranging your books by alphabetical order or your clothes in your closet by colour) de-stresses you? This has the same effect. And in each sub-tasks I have in my showering task, I focus and concentrate on doing them well. For example, when I get to my face, I cleanse and exfoliate and give myself a nice massage, and send positive thoughts to myself that these movements help to tone up my face. It boosts your self-esteem too when you are sending yourself the message and you are taking care of yourself well. Turn your everyday chores into a form of meditation.




3. Breathe

Meditation is probably what most people think of when they think of Zen; along with the monks sitting cross-legged on a cool mountain top, bonsai plants and humming. That is totally not me, so that is why I am going to share with you this trick – just breathe; deep and deliberately. While you are doing that, you are actually giving your body and brain an oxygen boost – visualise that!

Your cells start thriving with freshness and everything starts to work better. This is especially true for your brain cells – you become more alert and attentive. You actually feel better instantly. Honestly, this worked so well for me when I was really bogged down with stress. All my tasks felt like one huge lump and I didn’t know where to start to get my work done – but after some deep breathing (aka meditating), I started to focus and get each task done one by one. Sometimes after a long day, breathing deeply for a while really helps you unwind and ready for rest.

4. Good thoughts and energy

Fill your mind with positivity, kindness and everything else nice. Help others. Be good. Smile. Speak words of encouragement and not of slander and gossip – and then let all that good energy flow through you in everything you do and everyone you encounter. Don’t let bad things affect you, you are bigger than the things that happen around you and you are not going to let anyone (not even that annoying idiot at your workplace) succeed in making you lose your cool.




5. Stretch

I do like this a lot – stretch slowly and hold. Imagine yourself limbering up and growing taller with every stretch. Imagine your movements getting bigger as you gain more flexibility. Imagine all toxins and bad energy oozing out as you savour the pull of that stretch. Do this first thing in the morning and throughout the day as needed. Be aware of your body and keep that posture right. For those who are naturally Zen, yoga might help. As for me, I tend to doze off at things like that, so I do my own slow stretches at home.

6. Prioritise your time for rest

Rest is important. Do not assign too many things in a day. Do not rush. Give yourself ample time. In between tasks throughout the day, allocate some time in between for breaks. Give yourself some quality sleep and get enough shut-eye. Make sleep a luxury activity at the end of every day. Invest in a bed that closely resembles a fluffy white cloud in heaven.




7. Live simply

This Zen trait probably was the most undeliberate one for me. I was already broke before I even started practicing a Zen lifestyle, but it suits what I am. Say no to consumerism and don’t buy stuff just for the sake of wanting; only if you need it! If you can live without it, you don’t need it. To be more down-to-earth and practical, I would advise holding off on purchases for a week or two (give yourself a deadline) and if you still want it, only then you can go get it. Try to enjoy more the things money cannot buy, such as friendships, families, lovers, caring for others, volunteering your help to the needy, your hobbies, etc. Just be mindful of the things you want versus the things you need. Living simply leaves less clutter in your life.

8. Minimalism with everything

And speaking about clutter, try to be as minimalist as possible. I like to just carry the essentials with me when I go out, and many of my friends are amazed at how I don’t carry a handbag while most girls would carry big handbags with them everywhere. What is in there really? I used to carry makeup around, and I figured out that I never really needed them. Keep your workstation as clutter-free as possible, same goes for your dressing table, your bathroom, your car, etc. The less things you have, the more Zen you can be. Eliminate the unnecessary. Try to be basic and minimal. Even make your meals so. Would help a great deal with your health too. Be basic! Go with fresh, natural or organic!

Try these steps out and see the change in you!

Karen chin biodata


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