Everyday minding – everyday Zen

The term, ‘zen’ means simply ‘meditation’ – it is the Japanese form of the Chinese word, ‘chan.’ ‘Za’ means to sit or to be sitting. So, ‘zazen’ means sitting meditation. Shinzan Miyamae, a Rinzai Zen teacher, distinguishes between zazen – which he calls ‘practice in stillness’ – and do-zen, ‘practice in activity.’ Though the term, do-zen, is rarely used in Zen teachings, it seems to me that it is a very useful reminder that the way of Zen is to be mindful in whatever we are doing. The art of being mindful, of exercising Zen-mind, may be learnt during sitting meditation, zazen, but it needs to be exercised as often as possible in our everyday life, if it is to be really beneficial.

In the spirit of developing do-zen, ‘practice in activity,’ I have gathered together a few suggestions as to how to be mindful in everyday life. I am listing them in no particular order of importance:

  • Try to do things slowly and quietly as if you are handling something fragile and precious – pay attention with care – minding in the sense of being alert and looking after.
  • Do what you are doing completely, single-mindedly – not distracted or divided in attention – concentrating without clinging or identifying with what you are doing (which is a form of clinging).
  • Appreciate the small things and events that happen in daily life – paying attention enables us to appreciate the beauty and miraculous qualities of mundane activities and objects.
  • Look closely at a patch of ground, a leaf or a cloud – notice what is going on with care and curiosity – not to possess something but just to see, value and let go. Listen, taste, smell and touch in a similar way.
  • Step back as if you are watching yourself doing something – be present yet aware of being here – opening up a little space between being aware and the object of awareness.
  • Notice when the critical voice in your head starts to speak and step back. No need to cling to what it says or identify with it. Listen to the sound of the voice as if it is rain falling or a passing car. Note it and let it pass.
  • No need to identify with any particular aspect of your personality and experiences. Remember, Zen Mind or Buddha Mind is a space and activity without boundaries – a creative space in which your senses, emotions, thoughts and imaginings come and go. Let go of the tendency to label yourself in terms of a particular belief, opinion, feeling, injury or illness – you are not defined by any of them. You are always more than you manifest at any particular moment.
  • When meditating, in stillness or activity, say to yourself, ‘here is a thought,’ ‘here is a feeling,’ ‘here is a sensation’ – note these experiences as they happen, without dwelling on them or being dragged around by them. Then gradually note them in silence – without saying something to yourself or labelling them. Just be aware, awake to what is going on in, and around, you.
  • The American composer, John Cage, used to say, if you do something and you find it boring, do it again. If it is still boring, do it again… and again. Eventually you will find that it is very interesting. Boredom is being unmindful, not noticing, not paying attention. Noticing, being mindful and curious, provides us with endlessly rich experiences
  • Being mindful is paying attention and ‘minding’ – looking after and taking care of yourself, other beings and everything you encounter. Notice the relationships that exist between everything. How we all depend on each other. You are a being of openings, doorways and windows through which experiences flow. There is no clear boundary between you and the world. You and the world are one.
  • Be aware of how the effects of your decisions and actions radiate out into the world. Try to make wise decisions grounded in non-violence and with the aim of lessening suffering and maximising wellbeing – both in yourself and in other beings. Ask yourself: ‘to what extent am I taking responsibility for my actions?
  • When you buy something, try to be aware of the extent to which it is necessary or important to you. Try to distinguish between ‘needs’ and ‘false needs’ – that is between something you consider will be useful and helpful to you or to others, and something that you may be buying out of habit or just to have something new. Try to moderate your consumption. Be aware that everything you buy or consume comes from somewhere. How can I minimise my impact on the earth’s resources and on the carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere?
  • Try to be an ethical consumer. Keep these mottos in mind: ‘make do and mend’ and ‘waste not, want not.’ Try to make the most out of the least. Ask yourself if your money, your wealth (however large or small), is being used beneficially – does it do good or harm? To what extent does is my bank doing good or harm to our planet and its inhabitants? Paying attention, being mindful, involves being aware of, and caring for, the world around us, as well as the world within. Develop the practice of mindful meditation so that your awareness includes not only your thoughts, sensations and feelings, but also your actions and the effects of those actions.

To paraphrase Shunryu Suzuki, who wrote, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Zen is not some kind of excitement or exotic state of mind, it is paying attention to whatever we are doing – whether it is washing the dishes or drinking tea. When we are mindful, whatever we do will be done better and be tastier. This is the underlying aspiration of Zen practitioners. But don’t cling to this aspiration and turn it into an obsessive goal that becomes a burden. By all means strive to be mindful as much as you can, but beware of that critical voice starting to make judgments about how ‘you are not being mindful enough.’ Zen minding is a process not a dogma.

Exercising ‘beginner’s mind’ is to be curious, open, attentive – it is also to be caring and carefree. To ‘mind’ is to care – to be kind and peaceful, as well as being aware. Being mindful, practicing zazen and do-zen, is a way of being and doing – it is everyday minding.


Skinner, Julian Daizan. 2017. Practical Zen: Meditation and Beyond. London: Singing Dragon.

Suzuki, Shunryu. 1970. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. New York: Weatherhill.