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Resting in the Open Nature of Life

zen stones and butterfly

So much of our days are filled with an underlying feeling of difficulty:

  • Procrastinating when things seem difficult or overwhelming
  • Distracting ourselves and doing small tasks
  • Feeling like we’re doing things wrong, and searching for the right answers
  • Trying to get things under control when they feel chaotic
  • Trying to comfort ourselves when we feel tired or stressed

And so many more examples, I can’t even list them all. Underneath most things we do is a feeling that we should be doing more, that we should be doing things differently, that we don’t want to be doing what we should be doing, that we’re failing in small ways.

It’s stress, worry, anxiety, frustration, dissatisfaction.

But it’s all unnecessary. We can come to rest in the basic, open nature of our lives.

Why We Feel Stress & Anxiety

The thing that we don’t like is that everything feels unstable. Everything feels uncertain, shifting, not solid. Everything feels unsettled. And this is completely true, and it makes us feel nervous, angry, dissatisfied. We don’t like the unsettled nature of life.

We want certainty, control, plans, a system. Order. Unfortunately, we don’t get that, because that’s not how life works.

Life is unsettled, always shifting, like the waters of the wide open ocean. And that is both scary and beautiful.

Scary because we want order and want to know how things are going to turn out, and we don’t get that, not even a little bit.

But beautiful because open waters are fluid, not fixed. Surprising, not boring. Completely undetermined, which means so much amazingness can emerge.

Coming to Rest

Life’s basic nature is to be open and fluid, like the blue sky. We can either try to box in the blue sky, or we can rest in its openness.

Imagine if you could learn to rest in the open, fluid nature of life — you’d no longer need to get everything under control. You could learn to trust in life, be less anxious or worried, find beauty in each open moment.

It’s possible, if you practice mindfulness.

Try this:

  1. Notice the sensations of this moment. Place your attention on the way your body feels. On the light and colors of the room. On sounds all around you. Without judgment, without needing to reject any particular sensation, just soak them in. Stay with these sensations for a few moments.
  2. Notice that life is open, fluid, shifting. Nothing stays the same. Nothing is fixed. We can try to create order by creating thoughts about things, a narrative, a mental construct about the reality around us. But in truth, life doesn’t need order. It is inherently shifting, open, dynamic. Just notice this fluid nature of all that surrounds you — and include yourself in that.
  3. Allow your mind to come to rest. If you don’t reject things, don’t cling to any one sensation, just allow sensations to come to you, one moment after another … you can actually just come to rest with the open nature of the sensations in this moment. Just rest in the vast openness of the moment.

It can take some practice, as it’s easy to have your mind be very active, or reject certain parts of the experience, or get caught up in a chain of thoughts. That’s OK. Just notice that happening, and think of this as a part of the experience. Just keep practicing.

If you do find yourself able to rest in the openness, this is something you can access at any time. Notice yourself feeling uncertainty, notice yourself getting worked up about the instability of life … and then come to rest in the open nature of the moment, finding trust in it. I wish you nothing less than the deliciousness of that experience.

Zen Habits is about finding simplicity and mindfulness in the daily chaos of our lives. It’s about clearing the clutter so we can focus on what’s important, create something amazing, find happiness. My name is Leo Babauta. I live in Davis, California with my wife and six kids, where I eat vegan food, write, run, and read.
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