How to Find Zen in the New Year

By Katherine Heaney

A new year marks new beginnings. As 2015 comes to a close, nearly half of Americans will select New Year’s Resolutions with the goal of improving their lives in 2016. Common resolutions include eating healthier, exercising, quitting a bad habit or taking up a new hobby. However, only eight percent of Americans will reach their goal or stick with their resolution for the year’s entirety. The vast majority gives up within the first week, mainly due to a lack of patience and frustration from putting themselves on strict schedules with unachievable aims.

While setting goals can foster ambition and self-motivation, the pressure can increase anxiety, especially if the goal is narrowly focused and difficult to reach. Such goals create an adverse effect, the results being more self-destructive than self-improving. Instead of setting a specific resolution, one should enter 2016 with a new mentality of positivity, serenity, and alleviation. This can be achieved by applying the principles of Zen.

During the Tang Dynasty, many Buddhists were influenced by ideas and laws found in Taoism. They developed a practice called “Zen,” named after the Japanese word for “absorption.” Zen followers believed in living in “the now.” The past and future are unalterable or unpredictable. Everything in the present, whether it is a person, an object, or a feeling, is real and therefore truthful. Zen followers focused on what they could control by reclaiming their lives and living in the moment. This would ultimately help them find peace with their pasts and prepare them for the future.

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Photo by Lazaro Rabanales: Ms. Byron, a Phys. Ed. teacher, is a proponent of meditation, although this is not the only way to find Zen

Although Zen stems from ancient religious practices, its application in the life of high-school students is relevant and effectual. With midterms a month away, many students will soon feel the stress of an increased workload and pressure to perform well on a week of difficult exams. Zen encourages one to perform tasks one at a time, giving individualized time and attention to each event. Instead of attempting to study five different subjects,
one should divide one’s time into large blocks, to “absorb” oneself in that area of study for a prolonged period of time. Zen also emphasizes the necessity of using every second productively. This doesn’t mean one can’t set aside free time. One must find a balance between work, rest, and recreation. If one does not allow adequate time for one of these activities, one will worry, which only adds to the amount of time consumed ineffectively.
One doesn’t need to meditate or recite prayers to find Zen. It is a personal lifestyle, not an isolated activity, and what Zen entails will vary for everyone. There are limitless possibilities for how one may choose to seize one’s days. One must not misuse precious time by comparing oneself to others or dwelling on things over which they have no control. Instead, one should start each day with an optimistic outlook and willingness to learn, explore and seek opportunities. One must value each moment of life’s journey, because “now” will only be the present for so long.

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