• Jeff Lee

Is Zen a Myth? What is a Minimalist Lifestyle?

Updated: May 18, 2020

After a decade of continuous effort, yes, a decade of continuous effort without slacking, tuning myself into Zen, practicing gratitude and appreciation to all that I possessed... but, I need to confess, I am still asking for a raise, I have started a side hustle, I purchased a new camera in order to up my game in YouTubing, I bought 2 Bluetooth speakers with great sound quality at a steal, I planned a few diving trips, I get jealous when someone outperformed me in something that I think I'm good at, I judge strangers in malls like I know them... Not very Zen indeed...

Why is ZEN so difficult to achieve? Is it a Myth?

I needed some soul searching, I needed to let go of my attachment to the materialistic world. So, I turned to YouTube for free advise. The advise provided are deep and thoughtful (depends on whether the content resonate with your confirmation biases at that point of time), the gurus look happy and calm with their minimalist lifestyle, their apartments were furnished with pieces of timeless philosophies. I was wondering which camera were they using, the video and audio quality were amazing!

Then the question poped once again in my mind: How do I apply such wisdom to my life?

"Zen" and "Minimalist" in the mainstream

Disclaimer: This section is purely my very own perception and point of view.

It's Zen-ish to disclaim first, so that I won't unnerve unnecessary emotions.

I have came to an impression that these 2 words had evolved from a philosophical representation of our inner state into an outer form that represents living standards, design styles or the glorious feeling of owning less.

Gurus all around the world are teaching: how to live like a minimalist, beginner tips for new minimalists, minimalist financials, 10 mistakes that minimalists makes, 15 lessons after 2 years as a minimalist, top 10 gadget for minimalists... I wonder, how did Zen and minimalism got into this mess? Yup, I'm part of this too, as I've made a YouTube video called DIY Minimalist Bench with some Zen-ish decorations and a book called Mandala Bible.

We need to start by understanding the common definition given to Zen and Minimalist. For this I turned to Google, then ended up in Wikipedia:

"Zen" and "Minimalist" definition from Wikipedia

The term Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word 禪 (chán), an abbreviation of 禪那 (chánnà), which is a Chinese transliteration of the Sanskrit word of dhyāna ("meditation"). Zen emphasizes rigorous self-restraint, meditation-practice, insight into the nature of mind (見性, Ch. jiànxìng, Jp. kensho, "perceiving the true nature") and nature of things, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favors direct understanding through spiritual practice and interaction with an accomplished teacher.

Simple living encompasses a number of different voluntary practices to simplify one's lifestyle. These may include, for example, reducing one's possessions, generally referred to as minimalism, or increasing self-sufficiency. Simple living may be characterized by individuals being satisfied with what they have rather than want. Although asceticism generally promotes living simply and refraining from luxury and indulgence, not all proponents of simple living are ascetics. Simple living is distinct from those living in forced poverty, as it is a voluntary lifestyle choice. Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons, such as spirituality, health, increase in quality time for family and friends, work–life balance, personal taste, financial sustainability, frugality, sustainability or reducing stress. Simple living can also be a reaction to materialism and conspicuous consumption. Some cite socio-political goals aligned with the environmentalist, anti-consumerist or anti-war movements, including conservation, degrowth, deep ecology, and tax resistance

The Form of Zen

What is the form of Zen, that is being represented in the mainstream? Meditation, calming music, mindfulness, consciousness, stone sculptures from Bali, fancy hand gestures, balanced stones, clam water, high up in the mountains, retreats, restaurants, and so much more

It is represented more as a vibe in mainstream.

I strongly agree that these calming vibes will always remind me to practice meditation and mindfulness: to be present, letting go of the past and the future, to feel the peaceful stimulation of the present moment, to slowly move into alpha wavelength, linger for a while in the darkness, activate suggestibility within the theta waves, to believe that we are blessed and powerful, we are in charge of ourselves, breath, feel, be conscious of the present moment. Creating the balance of a spiritual being that still needs to make a living.

The Form of Minimalist living

What about the form of minimalist? White, spacious, trestle tables, pendant lamps, table lamps, MUJI, mid-century furniture, tidy, same T-shirt, de-cluttering, new year resolutions, videos in 4K with at least 120fps for slow motions, motivational music, chillhop music, and so much more.

Minimalist is represented as more of a hip lifestyle in the mainstream. Hip lifestyles are usually not sustainable, as the trend passes, the minimalist influencer and their fans will move-on and become some other -ist. Ya' know, influencers need to make a living too (as of 2020)

I strongly agree that a lifestyle of wanting less is great for humanity, as over-populating mother earth had created a lot of problems, such as: fueling capitalism, widening of the wealth gap, over consumption, gruesome treatment to domesticated animals, deforestation, depletion of resources, wastage, pollution, and so much more.

Easier said than done.

Internalizing Zen to live Minimalistically

Hmm... Minimalistically, not sure if it's even a word, but I'm sure you'd get it. My one decade in the Zen and minimalistic journey is super meaningful to me, and only I will know that I've been able to reinvent myself, letting go of unessential and unimportant matter. Humans love a great story and I'm not a successful mogul with a great story, while I'm used to eye-rolling and yawning whenever I encourage people around me to practice mindfulness, but will it discourage me? Of course I'm discouraged! But, I have skin thick enough to continue my quest.

I'm going to use my mantra to sum up my pursuit to Zen-ness and minimalism

1) We always have a choice

It is a choice that we will have to make and exercise it. It's a lifestyle change, and you are not suppose to make drastic changes, one small step at a time. Bring up mini battles with your subconscious mind (brain neurons that are connected strongly that are refusing to breakup, a.k.a comfort zone), and make mini choices that wins 1 battle at a time.

Here are some mini choices that you can make today:

- I will go to bed latest at 10pm and wake up 5am everyday

- I will hit the gym at least twice a week

- I will meditate everyday

- I will not drive through McDonald's, there's always a healthier choice

- I will not buy anything on fabricated shopping season (eg. Spring sale, Black Friday, 1111, etc)

2) Be Wise

Humans are social-beings, therefore, in order to build relationships, we are built for gossiping and judging, I'm sure you have felt the energy unleashed during these occasions. But don't fight it, it's part of our nature, it keeps us safe and helps us to build stories around a person.

So every time a judgey thought arises, be very conscious and aware of it, then

- Stop

- Realize that your brain is just being lazy by pulling out a pass experience

- Re-evaluate the matter and ask "why?"

- Ask questions if you are not sure

Now, the lazy brain had been fed with new information, naturally, a wiser response will follow.

3) Always be a nice human being

One of the toxic trend that is preventing humans to treat each other nicely, is the misunderstanding of the term HUMAN RIGHTS. Activists are fighting for EQUAL RIGHTS, and it is very clear that they are not fighting for:


- BOSS' Rights

The toxicity always comes in the form of money and power. The key to unlock the niceness of a human being is to remove these kind of entitlement mindset:

- Every individual have equal rights to be themselves

- We have a choice to express our curiosity towards confused situations

- Be a great listener, as our brains are lazy and judge too quickly

Finally I would like to share a quote from my master, Bruce Lee

Be like water my friend, formless

"Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend." ― Bruce Lee

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