Always in search of the ‘Zen Zone’

“You’re always trying to create the Zen Zone.”

“He who asks a question is a fool for a minute; he who does not remains a fool forever.”

— Chinese Proverb

“You’re always trying to create the Zen Zone.”

“The Zen Zone?” I repeated to myself and chuckled.

A friend and I were talking about inherent tendencies of different personality types.

We had both, on separate occasions, taken a course designed to reveal our personality type – our true colours, if you will. My friend had become a bit of an expert on the topic and gave an assessment of what he suspected had been revealed in my workshop. His assessment was surprisingly accurate.

He touched on my need to ponder things deeply and my need to create harmony in my relationships.

It’s a little unnerving to be understood so well but, then again, one of the goals of self-esteem and empowerment-building is becoming transparent.

And by transparent I mean no hidden agendas – the “you” that is presented to the world is authentic.

Of course, my friend knew me well, which no doubt contributed to the accuracy of his appraisal. His comments did get me pondering. First of all, I liked the term, Zen Zone – a place of peace and bliss. It is something I strive to create every day. I’ve actually had colleagues come into my office, plop down in a chair and declare they need some time in my Zen Zone.

Zen is a Buddhist term referring to wisdom and the attainment of enlightenment, emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition rather than ritual worship and study of scripture.

For years, my Zen Zone was a false one built upon a foundation of fear.

Though I would have been reluctant to admit it at the time, I was not attempting to create harmony or attain enlightenment; I was actually attempting to reduce or eliminate conflict and confrontation. I have always preferred a calm and stress-free environment where everyone gets along, and though my efforts may have created the outward appearance of such, my life was anything but.

Though most of us would like to, few of us live in the Zen Zone.

The lives of most people are complex and busy – a metaphorical juggling act where (by choice or circumstance) more and more items are tossed at the juggler until juggling becomes an all-encompassing task.

Sometimes, like the juggler, we can become so busy keeping all the balls in the air that we become blind to everything else that’s happening around us. The first thing we need to do is stop.

Stop and take inventory of all the activities in our life. Stop and look at our motivations asking important questions like, “Why am I doing this?”

We might also ask who derives the greatest benefit and whether or not our actions are designed to impress others and create status. We must always be aware of the control that ego can exercise over our choices and perception.

We need to take an inventory of all the activities in our busy life accounting for how much time, effort and resources (physical, emotional and financial) each requires. Next, we can calculate the return each provides for the investment demanded. The results may be surprising.

There’s a great Buddhist saying, “Do not speak unless it improves on silence.” This philosophy can also be applied to our juggling. Do not do it – whatever “it” might be – if it does not add to making our life and the lives of those around us more positive, joyous and loving.

A state of peace and bliss must include reflection and self-awareness. There are many lessons to be learned by the simple act of looking back. With awareness, we can reflect back over past experiences with an eye to witnessing key turning points in our life. I have found it best to suspend judgment when reflecting – letting go of ideas of fair or unfair, right or wrong – looking at the act or experience objectively. If we can let go of our need for the act to be anything other than what it was then we can begin to discern the lessons hidden deep within.

There are many ways to reflect and come into the moment but for me the best is through meditation. Meditating can be as simple as focusing on our breathing and becoming physically aware of the sensation of the air as it enters our body and as it leaves. This is a powerful way to take our thoughts and experience from the external to the internal. For me, meditation allows me to clear my mind and be completely in the moment. Time – a product of the conscious mind – disappears when we turn our thoughts inward and seek that higher connection to self.

Practice mindfulness. We can work to maintain clarity of mind no matter what it is that we’re doing: working, playing or resting. By mindful, I mean be fully alert. Brushing your teeth? Be mindful. Washing the dishes? Be mindful. Shoveling the snow? Be mindful. Notice the position of our body. Feel every feeling. Pay close attention to the thoughts that move through our mind as we perform each activity. Practice letting go of all expectations, needs or desires and focus entirely on the task at hand. To me, it’s another form of active meditation.

Be thankful. Express gratitude for each experience. Be grateful for all the circumstances that have put us where we are at that moment. Learn to fully appreciate each moment.

“Put your heart, mind, intellect and soul even to your smallest acts,” wrote Hindu spiritual teacher Swami Sivananda. “This is the secret of success.”

I suspect this is also the secret to getting into the Zen Zone. When we are fully present, when we are relaxed and focused, we may find that place of calm, bliss and balance.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.

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