Practicing Zen

Finding peace within yourself, or feeling a sense of zen is something that many of us struggle to define- let alone master.

I always thought being at peace with myself meant perfecting all of my flaws, achieving all of my goals, and mastering every niche I wished was mine.

I learned through experience that this just isn’t the case. And, if it were, it would take far longer than a lifetime to reach inner peace. Thankfully, that’s not what it takes to practice zen.

The real way to be at peace with yourself is to learn how to accept yourself for who you are, and be proud of yourself for achieving your goals (when you do), instead of disappointed in yourself when you don’t. It’s learning how to go easier on yourself, without losing hope for yourself.

We often get stuck in this way of thinking that in order to be liked or accepted, we have to be the best at everything we do. But, that’s most definitely not true. How you go about carrying yourself, and treating others, is a lot more important than competing with them and making sure you are “top-dog”.

You won’t find happiness if you are constantly trying to prove you are better than others, because there will always be someone who is better at something than you are. Instead, to find happiness within yourself, you just need to appreciate who you are and what you have to offer.

I actually found a wonderful article by Blon Lee titled, How to Be Present and Peaceful When You Can’t Stop Thinking, which is all about how to find peace within yourself by accepting yourself instead of trying to silence yourself and your thoughts.

1. Understand it is impossible to silence your mind.

It’s human to have thoughts. It means you have a healthy and functioning brain. We don’t need to get rid of our thoughts at all. Why?

Just like our eyes see, our ears hear, our nose smells, our tongue tastes, and our body feels, our mind thinks. If you want to get rid of a specific function, you will have to destroy the corresponding organ. The underlying message is simple: No one has a mind without thoughts, unless he or she is dead.

When I tried to stop my mind, I was actually doing the impossible. Just as I can’t make my eyes not see and my ears not hear, there is no way I can make my mind not think.

2. Don’t judge yourself.

A quiet mind is not a mind with no thoughts. Rather, it is a decision you make to embrace every emotion and thought within you.

Here’s the irony: When you embrace all your thoughts without judgment, no matter how annoying they are, your mind will calm down.

So don’t resist your thoughts. Don’t beat yourself up for thinking too much. If you do, you are giving yourself unnecessary stress and anxiety. Thinking is the core function of your mind, and you are going to hear mental dialogue whether you like it or not.

3. Separate analysis from action.

I love to hike. When I get to the foot of the mountain, I don’t really think ahead. I focus only on the individual steps that lead me to my destination. With each step I take, in each passing moment, I admire the scenery and I savor the smell of fresh air. It’s a great way to become present.

The reason I can do this is because I know where I want to go, how to get there, and the purpose of my hike beforehand. This way, I clear my mind of all analytical thinking—about the past and future—and I can get into the present more easily.

Whenever you analyze, you are always thinking into the past and future. This takes you away from the beauty of the present moment.

Separate analytical thinking from action. Plan beforehand. Know exactly what to do before you start. Have a clear purpose and defined steps you would take.

4. Focus on what you are doing.

Do you meditate?

When you meditate, you need a focus. It could be your breath or a mantra. This restrains your mind from wandering. Like the Buddha said, your mind is a dancing monkey. It is always looking for ways to escape from the present. On the other hand, a focus is like an oak tree that grounds you in the present.

…Luckily, you can use these tricks to increase focus and stay present:

Mentally remind yourself of your present action.

Use self-talk to direct your focus back to the present moment. For example, when washing your hands, repeat in your head, “I am washing my hands. I am washing my hands. I am washing my hands.”

Focus on your senses.

Direct your attention back into your body and out of your head. For example, when taking a shower, observe how water trickles down the surface of your skin. Inhale the fragrance of the soap. Enjoy the warmth. Listen to the sounds of flowing water.

Do things differently.

Make things more challenging. A classic technique all Zen masters use is to do everything in slow motion. This may sound easy, but it’s not. You will have a hard time doing things the way you want to. As a result, you are forced to act consciously instead of acting on autopilot.

5. Return to focus whenever you wander away from it.

At the beginning of your practice, your focus may be weak. Instead of an oak tree, it is more like a sprout; a monkey can easily uproot it.

But don’t give up. Plant another tree. Bring your awareness back to your focus whenever your mind wanders away from it.

Yes, that tree will probably be uprooted too. But each tree you plant will have its roots deeper and its trunk stronger than the time before. Likewise, your focus becomes stronger each time you return to the present moment.

In this sense, mental noise is actually a good thing. It is an opportunity for you to become aware and strengthen your presence.

Presence is One Simple Choice

More than likely, all this is hard for you right now. All those concepts, techniques, and teachings you learned are complicating things so much that they don’t help you anymore. Worse, they make you even more stressed.

If you really want a quiet mind, you have to throw all these concepts away, at least for the time being. Instead, start making everything in your life a practice. Learn not to judge yourself. Learn to be okay with whatever happens, and relax.

You may not be able to do this at first, but it will happen. And when it happens, you will feel a click in your brain. On the outside, you will still be you. But on the inside, you will be overflowing with tranquility.

This is not because you have silenced your mind. Not because you have banished all your negative thoughts. Not because you have mastered a lot of techniques.

It is because you are okay with whatever happens. You are okay with negative thoughts. You are okay with a noisy mind. You are okay with interruptions and distractions. And when you are okay with whatever happens, you don’t hang on to them. In other words, you learn to let things go.

-Virginia Johnson


Are you struggling with finding inner peace, living for the present office or are you just interested in talking to someone about things going on in your life because you simply feel that you do not as you should? Sometimes having a partner in your journey can help. Give us a call  to set up a free phone consultation at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando at 407-355-7378, and one of our Orlando Individual Counselors, Orlando Life Coaches, Orlando Teen Counselors, and Orlando Child counselors would be more than happy to help you, a family member, or a friend work on changing your life.