Zen and the Art of Modern Day Thriving

Written by Brant David

How can you be a zen master of modern day culture? Brant David gathers tips from ancient wisdom traditions and shows how they can apply to you today. [tips]

aNewDomain — Many people dream of changing the world, then become disillusioned, grief-stricken, even depressed when they don’t live up to their own expectations. Well, the truth is that there’s only one way to change the world — and that’s to change yourself.

If you change yourself — even if the only thing that you’re able to change is your attitude —  you can change the makeup of the entire world. You’re a part of it, too, you know.

You may now be wondering what you can begin doing differently to bring about transformation in these modern day cultural circumstances in which you find yourself. I explore some ideas based on suggestions from the editors at The Freeman magazine. Zen and other ideas from ancient wisdom traditions also inspired me, as did the concept of being “antifragile.”

If you’re ready to dump that chip on your soldier or discard the heavy coat of depression you’ve been wearing, consider some of the guidelines I gathered below.

Accept different ways of living. People who have attained mastery at something don’t do that something entirely the same way. For instance, great musicians and great visual artists have different styles, and by those different styles we tell them apart. Why should everyone do everything your way, let alone live your way? Accepting your circumstances is the No. 1 way to contentment, Zen experts have long said.

Thomas Quine via Flickr Creative CommonsThis isn’t about tolerating a drug addict being in your life or looking with benevolence upon a serial murderer. It is about accepting things as they are and choosing not to let others affect how you react in any given situation.

Stop hating on “commercialism.” Instead of keeping your thoughts focused on its imperfections, take some time to think about all of the benefits that commercial culture brings to you personally. You have ready access to quality food and clothing, great music of your choice and affordable miracles in communications technology and travel options. If you think yourself more gifted and more creative than those “low-level” marketers and advertisers, carefully consider how much they have done to help you and people like you bring your creative visions to the attention of the world — for your profit and fulfillment. The world and the markets aren’t perfect, and disparity is the rule of life everywhere. But accepting that as it is is key to your satisfaction and long-term happiness. If you don’t like how a system or organizations work, work to change it. Don’t just whine.

Merchants are your friends and acquaintances, not your adversaries. If you resent people who are providing you with goods that you need or desire making money off of you, then surely you feel like slime when you accept your paycheck for your own honest work … right? Sure, the merchant needs you, but you need him, too. I doubt that you would be giving him your money if you didn’t. That business owner that you’re choosing to buy from is your partner. See him in that way.

Freedom means that not everyone shares your take on things. So — you’re right about something and that other guy is just plain wrong! He doesn’t have the facts. She lacks taste. She’s immature. Or something like that.

For you to live free, you can’t try to force that other person to see things your way, because she has to be free, too. Otherwise, you don’t live in a free society. Sure, you can use all of your powers of persuasion to show her that she needs to change her mind. But you cannot figuratively hold a sword to her throat chanting “convert or die.” You don’t want to be so right that you’re left. You see? Lighten up.

When you think “there ought to be a law” or “they need to ban XYZ,” think again. While we do need some laws and rules, every law and regulation is ultimately enforced at the violent end of a gun. How much violent power are you really willing to give to a group of power-mad people whose power has only grown and grown over time? Every time you figure out a way of handling a problem without passing a new law or having something you don’t personally like banned, you advance personal freedom and the spirit of nobility.

Diminish your time preference. What is time preference? Well, it’s the amount of time in which you feel that you “must” receive a desirable result or thing. (The concept is based on an economics theory.) Diminishing your time presence is the same thing as being patient. But you must also be driven. Be relentless in your striving to live the life you have imagined, and don’t put off living now for some invisible, intangible and vaguely imagined tomorrow to come when you’re retired, rich or doing something else.

Increase the marginal productivity of your work. Here I go again with the economics terms — they happen to be awesome as philosophy. By this concept, you increase the value of the work you do to others, which in turn increases how much money you get from one product, production or idea.

Here’s how I conceptualize this…

Imagine that you’re a writer or an independent musician. Imagine that it’s beyond question you’re immensely talented and highly skilled. You have produced a high quality work. Everyone who reads your book or hears your album praises it effusively.

So, what’s left for you to have to do? You need to engage in marketing.

Either find out how to do it yourself, or if you find that you haven’t the patience or talent for it be willing to pay someone else to do it for you. Marketing gets knowledge of your existence out there to a far wider audience. Without in some way, shape or form investing in marketing, you’re not going to have the success that you desire and deserve for your creative efforts. In terms of economics, your “marginal productivity” shall be diminished compared to what it would, could, should be as long as you’re refusing to do some type of marketing.

Be open to taking the second-best. People waste tons of time and energy on perfectionism. They shout that if they can’t have it all, they want nothing! But in many circumstances we simply can’t have or find the very best — while the second-best choice is there, right within our reach. When you’re making decisions, have a second-best option in mind to go to. Remember, only the mediocre are always at their best, and you can’t always get (exactly) what you want — at least, you can’t always get it immediately.

Make geography matter less. Are you convinced that you are tethered to your j-o-b, your commute, the location where you and your family have “put down roots”, the place where you were born? Well, we live in the time of the Internet and the fastest means of human travel in all history. If you’re feeling tethered, look into how you can cut your ties. Why can’t you work remotely (or for yourself) by way of a laptop and an Internet connection? Why can’t you move far away from your family and the familiar while still being able to come back and visit at will by means of a plane, a train or a fuel-efficient automobile?

Most of the tips above can be found not just in Eastern traditions but among most ancient wisdom traditions found around the world. They all advise acceptance, saying that acceptance is the quickest and smoothest road to contentment. But don’t settle for contentment. Aim for joy. And gratitude. Don’t forget to be grateful for whatever goodness you have in the here and now.

And know that success is nearly always the fruit of patience.

Okko Pyykkö via Flickr Creative Commons

For aNewDomain, I’m

Brant David McLaughlin — aka Brant David — is a Milford, NJ-based senior writer for us here at aNewDomain. Follow him at his +BrantDavid Google+ page. Email him at Brant@aNewDomain.net.