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Finding zen in modern life

  • Published at 07:49 pm August 31st, 2018
Zen
Take a sip and refresh yourself / BIGSTOCK

How to find tranquility in an increasingly chaotic world

“Survival of the fittest” is the basic notion of the intensely competitive world of today. 

It’s not new that many of us are prone to suffer from feelings of inadequacy and the trepidation of not being good enough while competing for survival. But have we ever tried to understand why it is dominating a major part of our mind?

What we are lacking is not a thorough understanding of ourselves and our potential, but rather a sense of contentment with the same. This contentment can be derived from “zen.” In simple words, zen is a state of being which gives us the composure and tranquility to deal with life through intuitive reasoning. According to the Merriam-Webster: “Zen is a state of calm attentiveness in which one’s actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort.”

Even though zen is a concept of Buddhism, it can be useful in dealing with the chaos and jeopardy of all humans irrespective of religion. But how can we cultivate zen? Arguably, it is obviously better to figure out an individual source of it rather than being dependent on others .

Finding zen is an individual pursuit, whereas sustaining it is part of a collective. This, then, becomes a rather composite paradox. 

However, it allows for the opportunity to gain freedom from co-dependence persistent in relationships today. It also helps us to not fall into the trap of unrequited love. Personally, I think of unrequited love as more of a concept rather than a phenomenon. However, I am open to acknowledge public disagreement regarding the statement.

How is it possible to find zen in an Asian setting? Let’s take a look at some of the ways through which it is possible to cultivate zen.

Exercise

When it comes to finding zen through exercise, the first Asian approach that comes to mind is yoga. The physical and mental benefits of yoga cannot be overlooked. This ancient Indian practice can be a great way of cultivating zen. 

Besides, the Chinese practice of Qigong can also be a good source of cultivating zen. The literal meaning of Qigong is “life-energy cultivation” while the practice is basically a holistic system of synchronized body movements encompassing forms of martial arts such as tai chi, karate, etc.

Music and dance 

Listening to or learning to play regional musical instruments like the flute, sitar, harmonium, etc can be a great source of zen. An individual can choose to listen to various forms of music among these options, depending on their unique preferences; a note of caution though -- the South Asian and Central Asian cultural festivities are a bit louder than the East Asian ones. 

Music and dance therapies have been known to cure stress and ease pain. It is of no wonder that it can be a way of healing our hearts from the chaotic 21st century lifestyle. 

It is important to understand that people should not limit themselves to thinking of gaining societal approval and acceptance for their potential. Anyone can sing, dance, and perform; there is no scale to materially measure this immaterialized abstraction.

Food

Most Asians are foodies, so food can be a great medium for the cultivation of zen. 

Starting from Indian curry to Japanese sushi, Pakistani roti to Korean kimchi, Nepalese momo to Vietnamese noodle, tasting and preparing Asian cuisines can help maximize the benefits from the cultivated or soon to-be-cultivated zen.  

Refreshments

When it comes to refreshments, nothing beats Asian tea culture. 

Starting from East Asian green tea to Pakistani Namak Tea, Bhutanese butter tea to Indian milk tea, Korean ginseng tea to Bangladeshi ginger tea, everything can help us find zen. Besides, Sri Lankan coconut milk and Indian lemonade can also serve as invigorating chillers for cooling our state of mind.

Sometimes, just attempting to write a Japanese haiku (short poem) or trying out a hand at Indian mandala can help restore balance and bring back the much desired stability. Moreover, practices such as cartography (making maps) or hobbies like inkpot calligraphy and sketching can be great ways to find tranquility. 

If you are too tired, taking a Thai spa or growing Bonsais can relax the hurt and soothe the pain. Enjoying solitary walks, like the ancient Chinese emperors around the secret garden, can help us recollect ourselves, just like the Chinese proverb goes: “By detours, access to secrets.” 

Moreover, in Japan, doctors prescribe “forest therapy” for alleviating depression by the logic that the fragrance from trees in the forests can provide strong immunity against stress. 

Overall, it is important to understand that flaws are intrinsic to human nature; almost everyone suffers from one kind of complex or another. The trick lies in overcoming these complexes through zen. 

With reference to this, a good reminder for keeping in mind when we feel broken is the Japanese practice of Kintsugi -- the art of repairing broken objects with gold, as the flaw in the object is seen as its beauty. 

Basically, the key to finding zen essentially lies in our perceptive discernment of the fact that our flaws do not deserve anything else other than being embraced as part of our beauty. 

Maisha Mehzabeen works at the Dhaka Tribune and is a graduate in economics.