It’s not only for motorcycle maintenance

I’m a Zen girl, and lots of people really have no concept of what that means. Popular media would have you believe that Zen and other forms of Buddhism are really about “blissing out”–being peaceful and happy. Some commercials would have you believe it’s about the clothing you wear or speaking in a soft voice. This is not really true.

Zen is about reality and awareness, about paying attention every moment of every day and experiencing each moment as fully as possible. Zen is in the details.

I was thinking about this the other day as I was shaving my head. I’ve currently got a Mohawk hairstyle because it’s fun and because I like my hair really short. This also allows me to cut my own hair which appeals to my thrifty side. This is where the Zen comes in.

I use electric clippers, and I’m able to see around the Mohawk to cut around the edges of it. I can see parts of the front in the mirror, and I can check my work by holding several mirrors. Mostly, though, I need to pay very close attention to what I’m doing and do it by feel, especially in the back. This takes a lot of concentration, and I’m getting really familiar with the shape of my own skull. The more attention I pay, the less I have to fix when I pick up the extra sets of mirrors. When I slow down and focus everything becomes easier.

I thought I’d share this because one of the first places I learned about Zen practice was from a book called Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It was really helpful to me, and I have never once tried to maintain a motorcycle. You may never shave your head, and you may follow a different faith, but you may also find a little bit of mindfulness adds a lot to your day. What can it hurt?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
272. This week, give one of your routine tasks your full attention. How did it feel? Did you end up doing anything differently?


I won’t make you fold the map

It’s a new year, and I hope you’re having a fabulous 2014 so far. I know I most certainly am. I’m sure you’ve put some thought into some things you’d like to accomplish this year–losing weight, quitting smoking, all the usual resolution things–but have you figured out your bigger goals? Do you know where you want to be at the end of the year?

When you’re on a journey, it can be helpful to have a map. This can be as complicated as an outline of everything you’d like to accomplish for the year or as simple as setting a direction. I chose a word for the year on New Year’s Eve–abundance. That’s my goal for the year. What’s yours?

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
271. Where would you like to be at the end of 2014? How are you going to get there? Take a few minutes to plan that out.

Gathering resources for a fresh start

It’s been a busy few weeks here, so that’s why I’ve had a short lapse in publishing–I have a new temp job after a long lapse in steady work. I enter the year grateful for this opportunity and for the fact that it’s a job helping others. I love to spread joy.

As New Year’s approaches, many people come up with resolutions. This can be good and bad. It’s not good to put too much pressure on yourself, but it can be very motivating to start positive change on a meaningful date. It’s always good to reorient your compass towards a more joyful life, so why not now? Here are some resources that you may find useful if you want to go down that path. These are specific suggestions that have helped me or people I know:

  • If you want to lose weight or eat a healthier diet. I love the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. I have followed their advice to quit sugar, lose a hundred pounds (so far), and lower my cholesterol to admirable levels. They also have a program called the 21 Day Vegan Kickstart which allows a person to try a vegan diet with guidance to see how it makes them feel. The kickstart program features lots of ethnic variations to suit all sorts of people. I’ve met Dr. Barnard in person and was able to thank him for how their advice has helped me. If this isn’t your cup of tea, many friends of mine endorse Weight Watchers as a good solution.
  • If you want to get more tidy and organized. I have been fighting a battle with this one for years–the creative spirit isn’t necessarily neat as a pin. I finally made peace with my housework in three major ways: 1) I have less things to put in their places. Zen Habits is a wonderful resources for this. If you want to get really minimal, you can emulate my friend Nick Winter who has only 99 things. 2) I found out I’m allergic to dust, and it creates asthma issues for me that make it very hard to breathe. I am now personally very motivated to keep my house dust-free. 3) I found Flylady. Stylistically this website is targeted at a person very different from myself, but the lady who runs it has great ideas to help you get clutter under control. Highly recommended, and maybe you’ll like how cute it all is. If you don’t, learn to see beyond the presentation to find the gold within.
  • If you want to stop smoking. I have never smoked, but smoking has affected my friends and family in a big way. When the tobacco settlement happened the states were required to put money into helping people to quit. No matter what state in the United States you live in, you can call 1-800-Quit-Now to get free help to quit or to contemplate quitting if you are not yet ready.

As you prepare to start the new year, don’t forget to see the old year out with a celebration. Enjoy the holidays, whatever you choose to celebrate. Merry merry merry to you all!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
270. What might you want to change in the new year? Start contemplating it now, and have a happy holiday in the meantime.

No “Kaboom!” required

This is not a cooking blog. You may have noticed the distinct lack of recipes and cooking tips. I try to focus on discussing things that I discover in pursuit of the most joyful life possible, and there are lots of great places to find cooking tips.

This is true, but cooking can also be a part of the joyful life. It’s good to be able to make things as you want them to be, tailored to your own whims. It’s healthier, and less expensive, and both of those benefits lead to greater happiness. I find I am more cheerful when I do a lot of cooking (and I don’t mean sweets–that way lies madness for myself and perhaps some of you).

As I cook, I experiment, and this is my theme today–experimentation. We grow up being told what to do. We learn from friends and we learn from books, but we can also learn from ourselves. I tend to think of something that might be tasty and just go for it. I’ve definitely made some things that I wouldn’t want to foist on guests, but I make more predictable meals when expecting company. I’ve also stumbled upon these fun recipes, which are inexpensive and which I make all the time:

  • Easy Indian mock-paneer: I love paneer and peas which comes in a rich spicy red sauce. Paneer is cheese, and I can’t eat that anymore, so now I throw in cubes of tofu. All you have to do is take inexpensive bottled spaghetti sauce and keep throwing in curry powder until it tastes good to you. Add peas and tofu and you are set to serve over rice. Fantastic!
  • Smoky rice & mushrooms: I have a rice cooker, so one day I threw in pieces of dried shiitake mushrooms with the rice and water (I added a little extra water) and a couple of lapsang souchong tea bags on top. This is awesome by itself, but can become an ingredient in another recipe, too. Mandarin Orange Spice teabags give the rice a good taste for pilaf. Yummy!
  • Savory oatmeal: I eat a lot of hot cereal, but I gave up sugar a few years ago so I wanted some breakfast ideas that didn’t contain honey or sweetness. I realized that you can flavor oatmeal in many savory ways. Sometimes I make it with broth and mushrooms, sometimes I season it like stuffing, sometimes I put in garlic and peas. I keep trying new things–my next favorite is waiting to be created. So good!

You may rush to try these, or they may sound horrible to you. That is not the point. I created these as a thrifty cook who wants to try new things, and I made things that taste good to me. Your recipes may contain chicken and pickles. Cook what appeals, but I encourage you to experiment, in cooking and in life. Your mom probably said it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true–if you don’t try new things, how will you know what you like? You may be pleasantly surprised. I know I have been. Just don’t blow up the kitchen–it wakes the neighbors.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
270. This week do a little experimenting inside the kitchen or in some other way. What would you do again? What will you never repeat? How does the process of creation feel to you?

Where are you going?

I’ve been thinking about travel lately. We’re all on a journey from beginning to end. Do you know where you want to go before you get to that last stop?

There are several things to consider as you travel.

  • You could meander aimlessly. It’s important to explore. Perhaps you haven’t yet figured out what you want from life, or you’ve just realized that you’re heading in the wrong direction but don’t know which way to turn. Experiment and listen to yourself. You will find a way.
  • You could get sidetracked. Sometimes you know where you need to be but things happen to divert you. It’s okay. Things always happen. Set your sights and calibrate your compass. Keep heading towards your goals. You will get there.
  • You may need to forge your own path. Some journeys are easier than others. If you don’t want a conventional life, you’ll have to take Frost’s road less traveled. Sometimes you’ll need to clear some brush on the way, but it’s worth it to get to where you want to be.
  • Feel free to turn back. Your goals may change. You may have been pursuing a dream but realize that it’s not right for you or not something you really wanted. You can change your destination at any time.
  • You should occasionally check the map. Travel can be tiring, and along the way we can see shiny things that distract us from where we want to go. Don’t be stuck in the tourist traps of life–take a break once in a while and refine your goals.

Choose where you want to go, and then put one foot in front of the other. It’s okay to stop for directions along the way and observe those who have gone before you. Bon voyage!

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
270. Do you know what your goals are in life? Where do you want to go? What are you doing to get there?

No sonic screwdriver required

This week geeks all over the world celebrated together as we rejoiced in the 50th Anniversary of Dr. Who. I went to a huge gathering last night at the EMP museum in Seattle and celebrated with other people who love the show. It’s good to commune with your tribe.

I’ve learned so much from the show about living a joyful life, so I thought I’d share some of that today in honor of this milestone. This applies whether or not you watch the show yourself.

  • There is value to be found everywhere. The Doctor once said: “In 900 years of time and space I have never met anyone who wasn’t important.” I agree, and I would add that this means that you, too, are important. Never forget this.
  • Don’t give up. Just as in baseball, “it’s not over until it’s over”. There is always time to remedy the most dire situation, and there are always more than two options. You may need to think outside the box, but you can usually find a way.
  • Travel is good. Without a T.A.R.D.I.S. (the flying blue police box) you may not be able to travel through time, but you can always go new places and meet people, and you may have a chance to save the universe. Take it.
  • Bring your sense of humor. There are some essentials one should not do without. The Doctor believes you should always bring a banana to a party (and this is debatable) but you should never leave your sense of humor behind. I have defeated the darkest of foes with this strongest of powers. You’re going to want to have it around.

Here’s hoping the show continues for a long time. I’ll be watching.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it:
269. What shows or books have inspired you? Take a few moments to think about this question and write down some of the lessons you’ve learned. Extra credit: share a few of these lessons with others, either in the comments or with someone you know.

A visit from the inspiration fairy

I write this blog to inspire others and to share some of what I learn as I wander about wholeheartedly pursuing joy. I am also inspired by other people, so today I thought I would share some of what has been thrilling me lately. Here are a few, in no particular order:

  • Winter in AshevilleThis is one of my very favorite blogs written by one of my very best friends (full disclaimer). If you like my blog you’ll love this one, too, and I particularly loved Laurel Winter’s recent essay about how we think about time and spend our moments.
  • A different sort of style article. I find my joy in many places, including articles about home decorating, and very geeky forms of storytelling. This article marries the two in a way that you most likely haven’t seen before.
  • Parenting: you’re doing it rightI don’t have kids, so I don’t usually read articles on parenting, but this came to my attention. Einstein once said that “imagination is more important than knowledge”. I found these parents’ approach to that statement inspiring.
  • The life of an artist. Danny Gregory is an artist who has inspired me to do many visual journals and to draw without fear. I love his joyful work which has been a journey of healing for him. This essay talks about the artistic path and how society views those who take it. He articulates many things I’ve been trying to express for years.
  • The future of storytelling. We live in a fabulous time when so much teaching is available for free on the web. I’m currently taking a free course on the future of storytelling which discusses all kinds of new things that are being done with story. You can still join if this is something that interests you. I’m learning a lot and having lots of fun.

I hope you will check out these links and enjoy some of them as much as I have. These articles have inspired me this week, and I want to shine their light out to all of you. Who knows what will happen next? Pass it on.

Your assignment should you choose to accept it:
268. Read some of the above links. Did they inspire you? Why or why not? For extra credit, share some of the things that have inspired you in the comments section. I’d love to learn from you, too!