There are dozens of self- help books that aspire to teach us how to beat stress and find peace, joy, and tranquillity in our everyday lives.
One of the latest is Zen: The Art of Simple Living written by Shunmyo Masuno, the head priest of a 450 year old Zen Buddhist temple, an award winning Zen garden designer for clients all over the world and a professor of environmental design.
As you leaf through his little book you will be drawn in by the enchanting illustrations of the Japanese landscape, temple gardens, birds, plants and butterflies.
It was originally based on a series of talks for a Japanese children’s programme. When it was published in book form it became an instant hit with Japanese adults. Over a million copies have been sold and it has now been translated into English.
Shunmyo Masuno makes beating stress sound easy. Just subtle shifts in your habits and perspective are all you need to live simply. And if you live more simply he promises you that your worries will disappear and your life will become so much more relaxed.
Each of his 100 life changing lessons, underpinned by Zen Buddhist philosophy, is spread over just two pages and includes nuggets of wisdom and little stories about the life of Buddhist monks.
At the heart of it is zazen (a form of sitting meditation in which you breathe deeply and endeavour to clear your mind). This need only take up a few minutes of your day. If you have already practised mindfulness you will find it similar.
Marie Kondo persuaded us to declutter our wardrobes. We took her advice on board and opshops were soon overflowing with our discarded clothes. Shunmyo Masuno is not against buying new stuff but he cautions us to limit this to only things we really need and love and that will last a long time.
Not wasting Food.
“Try eating radish leaves” he suggests. The large daikon radishes frequently eaten in Japan are not part of our diet but there are lots of other ways we can stop wasting food.
In Zen temples the monks clean the temple with all their hearts every morning not only to make the temple sparkle but to polish their minds. For most of us cleaning the house is just a chore that has to be done but maybe if we could see it as having a spiritual benefit we might possibly be persuaded to vacuum and dust with a more enthusiasm.
Getting in touch with nature
Through a lifetime of being a Zen gardener Shunmyo Masuno knows how getting close to nature can nurture your spirit. It can be as simple as planting a seed and watching it grow or sitting quietly in a garden.
Eating a vegetable-centric diet
In his enthusiasm to persuade us to eat a more plant based diet he tells us that ‘Eating nothing but meat inspires a combative spirit. Before you know it your skin starts to discolour.” A bit of an exaggeration, but we all know that eating less meat and more vegetables is good for us and if we eat healthily we’ll feel better. He suggests we start by eating just vegetables one day a week.
There is much more good advice in his book about how to get moving instead of worrying, how to cultivate our sense of gratitude, how to be more accepting of our lives and to cherish being alive every single day.
Even if we adopt only some of his ideas it would help to reduce our stress levels.
Zen: The Art of Simple Living is by Shunmyo Masuno. Publisher Michael Joseph. RRP $35.
Reviews by Lyn Potter
Parent and grandparent, Avid traveler, writer & passionate home cook