Recently my family had to move from San Francisco to Davis, California because of an illness that Eva’s father has been dealing with. This led to some major life disruptions: we had to find a house, buy a used car, move to a new city, adjust our lives to this new place, all while Eva (along with the rest of us) was struggling to cope with the illness of a close loved one. I also had a pretty major workload and a lot of logistical things to deal with on top of all this, and a family trip coming up.
In the middle of these major changes and struggles, I found myself calm. Sure, these were all new things to deal with, but somehow I wasn’t panicked, sad, angry, or otherwise suffering too greatly.
I realized why: I was dealing with everything one thing at a time, as much in the present moment as I could, with acceptance rather than wishing things were different. I let go of the Childish Mind that wanted things a certain way and just re-adjusted as things changed.
This gave me peace. Sure, I missed San Francisco. And of course my father-in-law’s illness, and Eva’s grieving that resulted, made me sad. But I saw all of these life changes as a part of life and that helped me cope much better.
As you’ve worked through this book, you’ve been learning one concept at a time about change, as each concept applied to habits. Today we’ll look at how they all come together, not only for habit change but for living a life that’s filled with change. For coping with life changes, small and big.
We’re going to call it the Zen Habits Method: a method for creating and dealing with change. It will pull together ideas from previous chapters.
The Zen Habits Method
Here’s the method in short — we’ll go into each item in a little more detail.
- Spotlight: Be mindfully in the moment.
- Plum Blossoms: See everything as change (impermanence), and embrace it.
- Create a Space: Deal with things as they come, one at a time.
- Mind Movie: Don’t be attached to expectations and ideals.
- Grow a Plant: Focus on Intentions, without attachment to Outcomes.
- Childish Mind: Let go of the Self that wants the ideals.
- See the Mountains: With Appreciation and Gratitude.
- Dewlike Life: Don’t waste a moment.
With these interrelated ideas, we can take on anything: illness, loss of a job, unhappiness with someone else, being overwhelmed, procrastination, financial problems, and more. We’ll go into a little more detail in upcoming chapters.
I think of this method in a little (unrhyming) poem:
Be in the moment, embracing life’s impermanence
Deal with things as they come, without expectations, without ego
With good intention, appreciation and gratitude
Without wasting a moment
OK, I’m not a great poet. Let’s go a little further into the method before seeing how it’s applied to various areas in our lives in the next few chapters.
Recall the Spotlight of Mindfulness we discussed in Chapter 9 that makes everything else in this method possible. Without mindfulness, you won’t be able to see your Mind Movie or Childish Mind, you’ll forget to have appreciation and gratitude, you won’t remember to have good intentions, you won’t see your attachments to outcomes or ideals.
Be mindfully in the moment, as much as you can. You won’t be able to be mindful all the time, but when you are dealing with a frustration, a major life change, stress or any other type of suffering, turn on the Spotlight of Mindfulness.
2. Plum Blossoms
In Chapter 15, we contemplated the impermanence of the plum blossom, and everything else around us. If we can see that everything in life is change, that everything is impermanent … we can either hate that change or embrace it.
I say embrace change. Love impermanence. It makes growth possible, life possible, love possible. Let the possibilities of change fill you with a sense of wonder. See everything as change and impermanence and embrace it.
3. Create a Space
In Chapter 1, we talked about Creating Space for your change and doing one habit at a time. Well, whenever we have new changes coming at us, give each one of those their own space. You can’t focus your attention on 10 things at once anyway — all you can do is switch between all of them, either giving them the full space and focus they deserve, or switching quickly and giving them insufficient focus.
We can’t plan and prepare for everything, because we can’t predict the future, and as things change, plans will be disrupted. Instead, be prepared for anything by dealing with things as they come, one at a time, giving each one the space it requires.
4. Mind Movie
One of the central themes of this book is the Mind Movie: the stories and images playing in our heads that we become attached to. These are our ideals, our expectations, our fantasies of what life should be or could be.
As we’ve seen, attaching ourselves to these ideals and expectations is the cause of frustration and suffering. It can cause us to abandon a habit change, and also to be unhappy with ourselves, unhappy with others, unhappy with our life situation. All because of a made-up Mind Movie.
Instead, don’t be attached to expectations and ideals, and accept reality as it is.
5. Grow a Plant
In Chapter 12, we discussed the idea of how a plant grows: you focus on giving it the right inputs (intentions and effort), like water and sunlight and nutrients … but you don’t control the outcome of the plant. It grows how it will grow. All we can control are intentions — we don’t control outcomes.
As we approach any situation, we should focus on intentions, without attachment to outcomes.
6. Childish Mind
Another central theme of this book has been the Childish Mind — that young child inside of us that wants its way. It doesn’t like discomfort or uncertainty, and it wants comfort and the Mind Movie it has created. This causes us all kinds of problems, not only by creating the urge to quit habits but also by building frustration throughout our lives.
Instead, let’s not listen to the Childish Mind. Let go of the Self that wants the ideals, and we can live life more consciously.
7. See the Mountains
In Chapter 22, we talked about the passenger in the back seat of the car who is so focused on getting to the destination, repeatedly saying “Are we there yet?” while missing the scenery of the beautiful mountains the car is passing. Instead, don’t miss out on the miracle of the present moment.
See each moment, and each person in your life, with Appreciation and Gratitude. There’s something to be appreciated, and to be grateful for, in everything.
8. Dewlike Life
In Chapter 3, I shared Zen master Dogen’s ideas about “this dewlike life” fading away and how we should “begrudge every moment of time.”
If we remember the fleetingness of this life, we can appreciate each moment for the precious gift that it is and spend each moment on something important: being compassionate to others, improving our health, creating something amazing, improving our habits, not being angry with others. Don’t waste a moment.