Joyful mind

The famous thirteenth century Zen master Dogen Zenji, in his ‘Instructions to the cook’ (Tenzokyokun), wrote about three minds which the cook (and anyone else who is practising Zen) should maintain as they go about their daily tasks. These three minds are joyful mind, nurturing (or paternal) mind, and magnanimous mind. We will look at these over the coming months, starting with joyful mind today.

When Dogen spoke of the joyful mind, he did not mean it in the sense of pretending to be happy when we’re not, or pushing away negative thoughts and only letting positive ones in. In his monastery, daily work was considered just as much part of a Zen life as sitting and walking meditation. He instructed the cook that when he was cooking, the cooking itself was the practice – not getting the cooking over and done with so that everyone would be able to eat, but simply cooking for the sake of cooking. We can find joy in these tasks because they connect us to each moment as it is. There is no need to be focused on outcomes, to feel we’re rushing through mundane tasks so that we can, at some time in the indeterminate future, arrive at the more ‘important moments’ in our life. The cooking is the life, as is offering the food we’ve cooked to others, eating the meal, and cleaning up afterwards.

One of the easiest and most profound ways we can cultivate a joyful mind in everyday life is through pausing, taking a breath, and allowing ourselves to feel a gentle half smile in our body. This smile is almost imperceptible, it is more felt than seen, and we can imagine it in our face, or behind our eyes, in our shoulders or heart centre or the belly. There is a world of difference between going through the day with a slight frown or a gentle smile. The half-smile brings a sense of openness, connectedness, and softening into our lives – it can be wonderfully restful and grounding.

We can also pause to appreciate how precious it is to have a human life where we can practise meditation and other ways of nurturing wellbeing. Our human lives involve suffering, but we also have countless opportunities to cultivate qualities such as compassion, equanimity, and joy. From a Buddhist point of view, living in the ‘heavenly realm’ is not conducive to good practice, as we have no motivation to try and improve the lives of others if we’re too comfortable in our own! There is also an acknowledgment that being in the ‘hell realms’, going through periods of intense suffering, can limit our capacities to fully develop ourselves, at least for a period of time when we’re just scrambling to survive.

Most of the time, however, we’re hopefully living here on earth, between heaven and hell, and this brings with it many precious opportunities. It is easy to miss these in the hectic distractedness of daily life. Yet our so-called ‘ordinary’ daily life can actually be the most reliable and effective way to cultivate a joyful mind, if we keep bringing this simple intention into our days.

Mindfulness practice idea:

Set aside ten to twenty minutes, and either in meditation, or through journaling, drawing or some other creative expression, reflect on the qualities of your human life which are precious to you. Choose one of these, and notice how it manifests in your everyday life for the next three days.

Anja Tanhane

Mindfulness in daily life

It’s not difficult to include some mindfulness into our everyday life – we just need to remember to be mindful, which sometimes is easier said than done! But there are some simple tips which can really help us to start to become more mindful during the day. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • Each week, choose a new activity to be mindful of. This is best something which you do regularly, such as brushing your teeth, walking to station, or eating breakfast. Allow yourself to slow down and really notice every aspect of the activity. For example, if you’ve chosen brushing your teeth, then you can notice the feel of the toothbrush, the fresh taste of the toothpaste, the sensation of water, and the clean feeling of your teeth afterwards.
  • Drive without the radio or music, at least sometimes. This can be wonderfully restorative. Often we’re surrounded by so much sound, to have some time out can be very refreshing.
  • When you walk, notice the sensation of the ground underneath your feet. Try not to think too much ahead or ruminate about the past – just feel the sensation of walking, and enjoy it.
  • Stop for a moment and tune into the sounds around you. Often, we miss a lot of the richness of the present moment because we’re so caught up in the thinking mind. Allow yourself to hear sounds as if they’re part of a symphony.
  • Replace your frown with a gentle half smile. This smile can be very subtle, barely perceptible – but it can make a powerful difference to our day. We can get into the habit of frowning without even realising it, and this makes us look and feel anxious.
  • Tune into your breath. Your breath is your friend, and it’s always in the present moment. What more could you want?
  • Find your own little moments of mindfulness – what are some parts of the day you would love to be more mindful of?

Weekly practice idea:

This week, choose at least two of these ideas and practise them once a day. Enjoy!

Anja Tanhane