5 Tips for Living an Authentic, Zen Life By Alanna Zabel
I believe that most of us have experienced moments when we feel, act or speak in an inauthentic manner. Sometimes we want others to like us or to think that we are intelligent, cool and “in the know” – so we may go so far as to present a false persona to feel accepted. Or, we do it because we feel unsafe being our true self – or maybe we want something so much that we are willing to diminish our truth to get it. This can result in a feeling of disconnect, and even painful feelings of guilt, insecurity and/or weakness when this happens. Worse still is when we’re inauthentic with ourselves because we’re unable to admit something intimate or difficult to express. If you aspire to experience more authenticity in your life, start by accepting yourself, exactly as you are – and committing to living authentically with who you discover. Below are five tips meant to strengthen one’s practice of living true to who they are:
1) Be Present. On average we have 28,000 days in a human lifespan. That really isn’t a lot, and therefore wise to make clear life goals – just hopefully not at forsaking your lifestyle and experiences. When we are present, we resume a natural flow to our life (or the Dharma Zone, as I call it in my book, As I Am). This flow is what happens when we let go of the limiting tethers of the past and future – where you forget about the outside world and are completely doing what you’re doing, whether that’s writing, drawing, practicing yoga, meditating or any other activity. Synchronicity occurs when we are in this Zone and our lives flow effortlessly. Knowing that our time is limited, it is wise to practice being present, and to embrace each moment as it happens. Even the more difficult phases of your life that challenge you are part of your journey, and learning to be present through them adds a deeper aspect of authenticity to who you are. Being afraid of them can potentially throw you off your personal path. An obvious example is parenthood. I empathize with parents who feel that they have to create a perfect, well-balanced life of education, athletics and art for their children, but hopefully they are not sacrificing the moments of being human and authentically discovering who we are (you know, laying in a puddle of rainwater while pondering the magic of Nature).
2) Be Kind. There is a strong correlation between the wellbeing, happiness and health of people who act with kindness towards others. It is difficult to be angry, resentful, or even fearful when we are showing unselfish love and compassion towards other beings. I really enjoy leading Seva (service) Yoga retreats, and one of the reasons is that I see a massive shift in my retreaters when we begin our service activities. For example, it doesn’t matter if they are cleaning dirty food bowls for elephants or shoveling dirt, they undoubtedly begin to settle into a deeper sense of happiness and presence as expectations and defenses are softened by the acts of giving.
3) Listen to yourself. Taking and following the advice from another person is assuming that: 1) They have lived through exactly the same predicament as you have (meaning that all the factors are exactly the same) and 2) That they have the same wants and needs as you do. Neither of which is probably true. However, taking bits and pieces of advice from others can be helpful, but it is always most wise to meditate alone and make certain that your actions are in line with who you are and what you want for your life. We can really second guess ourselves when we are the only voice trying to weight our options. Adding other voices and opinions often makes the process more confusing. Practice with the small stuff – for example, what movie would you like to see this weekend? Try making a decision not based on popular reviews, ratings or showings. Ask yourself what would inspire you and expand your perspective of awareness. Then go see that movie!
4) Spend time alone in silence. Alone time has a long list of benefits, which include boosting your immune system, strengthening your relationships and improving your outlook on life. Try taking 30 minutes every week where you turn the power off externally and amp it up internally. For example, turn off your phone and email. Spend the day sitting somewhere peaceful, where you can focus on your breathing and being present. The happy contradiction is that alone time like this—in such a pure form—will carry over to your other relationships and endeavors. When you connect to yourself in a deep and true manner, you start feeling more positive and powerfully charged. When you feel more connected and charged, you often connect to others with a greater capacity and joy.
5) Avoid gossip and drama. Judgment is making a “good” or “bad” assessment when we compare (implicit or explicit) how things or people are, and how we think they should be. So, in judgment, there’s an element of dissatisfaction with the way things are and a desire for things to be the way we want them to be. This makes it very limiting to maintaining presence and realistic awareness. We begin to judge other people based on past judgments and our perspective of reality becomes tainted. AZIAM has created a 30-day Non-Judgment Challenge to help us practice this vital virtue in our everyday lives. I offer a two-step formula: Step 1: Witness Your Reality – We are not going to take away your opinions or perceptions. We are simply taking away reactions to them. In every potentially judgmental situation you find yourself in, feel free to say whatever you want in your own mind. Ex: Someone snags a parking spot you were pulling into. In your mind, go for it – you have 5 seconds (only) to assess it and label it. Step 2: LET IT GO. Follow every 5 second assessment with “AND SO IT IS.” That’s it, “AND SO IT IS”. Then move on to the next activity you were planning or involved in. This group event and practice is meant to get us into the habit of not letting life’s imperfections drag us down while refining this highly beneficial practice of non-judgment.