By Leo Babauta
For many years I simply lived, and got by.
But in the last few years, after learning a bit about habits and mindfulness and simplicity and love, I have changed my approach to living.
Now I see living as an art form, to be studied and played with and practiced and mastered. Of course, few ever master the art of living, and I don’t know if I ever will. Probably not.
But I can pursue this art. I can appreciate it when others do it well. I can learn about it, through experiments and observation and introspection.
My pursuit of the art of living is only just beginning, but I thought I’d share a bit about this pursuit with you, my good friends.
Beginning the Pursuit
The journey begins with a single step, a wise man said, and for me that first step is simple:
Admit I don’t know.
Learning begins by emptying your cup, so that you can fill it with what you find. Emptying your cup means getting rid of pre-set opinions.
I don’t know what the art of living is, but I am curious.
And so the path is one of open hands, of curiosity and finding out.
And it’s one of bare feet, of being open and naked, willing to be exposed to life and chaos.
It’s about clear seeing, mindfulness turned to seeing reality as it is, without trying to make things rosy or conform to the story you tell yourself.
Clear seeing, naked, open hands, curious without knowing. That’s the path that I’ve found, so far.
The Art Emerges
With clear seeing, I start to see why I (and others) suffer, why we stress and get mad at each other and want more and more.
And now I can start to apply the art of living to my days.
Here’s what I practice with, imperfectly:
- Compassion. Instead of being angry or frustrated, I find the pain in others, and open my heart to them. This includes compassion for myself.
- Gratitude. Life is filled with wonder, and the people around me as well. I try to open myself to that wonder, and be grateful it’s there, instead of complaining.
- Joyfear. Joy is an awesome thing to have, but joyfear is present in the powerful moments in life where joy and fear mix, where we’re taking chances and doing something outside of our comfort zone that both excites us and makes us face the possibility of failure. I now embrace these moments rather than avoiding them.
- Not avoiding discomfort or uncertainty. When we avoid discomfort, we are limited by our comfort zone, and new learning and new ventures become impossible. When we avoid uncertainty, we only stick to what we know. But we can purposely become good at discomfort and uncertainty, by practicing in small bite-sized chunks, over and over.
- Staying with the moment, even when it’s hard. This is the hardest of all. “Living in the moment” sounds wonderful, but actually staying with the present moment isn’t ever easy. Try it: with your eyes open, sit still and stay with the sights and sounds around you for 1 minute, without your mind wandering away from them. If you don’t notice your mind wandering, either you’re an experienced mindfulness practitioner, or you didn’t notice when your mind wandered.
- Relationships are everything. Getting what we want, having things our way, having control, being right … these things matter nothing compared to relationships. Imagine being in your death bed at the age of 80 … will your sense of being right and in control comfort you when you have no good relationships, no one who has loved you? Put relationships first.
- Not holding on to expectations & judgments. Expectations and judgments prevent me from enjoying what I have, from enjoying the simple presence of someone else in my life. I practice with noticing these expectations and judgments, and practice with holding them loosely, letting them go.
- Letting go. This is the art of living in two words: letting go. It’s letting go of judgments, expectations, wanting to be right, wanting to control, fear of discomfort, fear of uncertainty, fear of failure, fear of boredom, comparing myself to others, wanting distraction, being irritated, complaining. It’s noticing when I’m holding these, and letting go. Loosening my heart’s grip on any of these, and letting go. And then letting go again. And again.
And so the art of living is a practice, one that doesn’t end, that doesn’t have a mastery level. It’s a constant letting go, a constant picking up again, and then letting go again. And falling, and getting up without beating myself up.
The art of living is the art of getting back up.