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How are you so zen?

Last week, I had dinner with a friend whom I have known and used to work with for many years. We talked a lot about how much has changed in our lives over the past few years since we were no longer at the same company. During our conversation, he asked me how I had become so zen. To this, I chuckled. I thought about our interactions over the years that we've known each other. Was I not zen before? Was I really zen now? What does that even mean? After a few thoughtful moments, my answer was this: the stress is still here now, the responsibilities and challenges we all carry on a daily basis. However, what is different is that I am choosing, more than ever, how to live. Before, I felt I was often going through the motions and had little agency over my life. Now I am in the driver’s seat more than before. With that, I've had a huge shift in perspective and how I react to the world.

She had the power to choose, and so she chose.

How often do you find yourself stuck in the same patterns over and over again? In yoga philosophy, there is the wheel of samsara. A (brief!) way to think about this is the cycle of birth and death, the pursuit of pleasure while avoiding pain. While this may sound like a good thing, being trapped in this circular, never-ending motion means we remain attached to things that may not serve us. We keep going around and around in the same patterns. Our past experiences and our thought patterns pull us into this cycle, where many of us become stuck. We may come to a point where we recognize this and can either repeat the stories and impulses in our heads (called samskaras) or evolve into something new. We can become active participants in our lives, and if we don’t like something, take responsibility to change it. We all have the power to choose. And yes, not making a choice is a choice.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized my level of zen, as my friend calls it, has come from this increase in self-awareness. I am more conscious of my thoughts, feelings, reactions and triggers. I see the areas in life where I’ve been stuck on the wheel and also recognize how I can get off. I can thank my mindfulness and meditation practices (plus a lot of yoga and journaling) for this improved level of knowledge about how I truly feel. Recognition is the first step to making changes. From there, we can work towards defining how we want life to look and plant new seeds that better serve us and reshape our future.

If you're looking to do your own journaling and self-work around choice, start with these four questions. Know this is one way to begin and this type of awareness is a life long path.

  1. In what situations do I ignore or selectively omit parts of myself?

  2. Are there choices I make based on other people’s opinions and desires?

  3. In what areas of my life do I want to be a more active participant?

  4. Are there aspects of my life I want to change now?

So, am I more zen? Maybe. The more I think about it, though, the more I believe it is the power of choosing what I want that makes me a more whole, authentic and content version of myself today. I can equally tap into my logic and intuition. I have done A LOT of inner work and self-care to understand my core values and define my aspirations. I might even think too much about purpose and how I want my life to look! I also know how certain ways I act will bring about certain results, both positive and negative.

In the end, the journey to zen is an ongoing process of self-discovery, conscious choices and personal growth. Embracing the power of choice can lead us towards a more fulfilled existence. We all have this power. To control what our responses and reactions are. To decide how we want life to be.

The ocean always brings me moments of zen

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