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A Small Home in NYC, Part 1: Quiet Practice

Schaub Dharma Room

The sun in the sky shines everywhere. Why does a cloud obscure it? — Zen Master Seung Sahn

I think my penchant for minimalism started with my Zen practice. I loved visiting Zen Centers, sitting quietly in the Dharma Room, breathing in wisdom and clarity. I always wanted to bring some of this style and feeling into my own home, I even lived in a Zen Center for 2 years and was the House and Work Master at one point!

This Zen training was invaluable, it helped me to understand what was truly needed to live a life. It turns out, you don’t need much, hardly anything actually. Shelter, food, clothing (unless you live someplace very warm!) is all that is really required. How you go about meeting those needs, and to what degree, is really the point of this series. Most people just look around and emulate the habits and attitudes of other people, never really checking in with their gut — “do I really need this to be happy?”

Without a “quiet practice,” it can be difficult to truly know yourself and follow your instincts. Taking on some type of daily meditation, yoga, prayer, walking, martial arts, etc., is a necessary prerequisite if you are going to successfully live small. If you have medical issues, check with a doctor first before starting any new physical exercise. If you are on medication, don’t stop without talking to your doctor first!

You can “add” a quiet practice to your routine gradually — this is not an overnight process, not a quick fix! Start with a minimum practice, whatever you can do very easily, every day — maybe only 5 minutes! And then build up to as much as you need, sometimes even an hour a day if your life permits.

A simple quiet practice:

  1. Set a timer for your minimum practice, maybe 5 minutes
  2. Find a comfortable, quiet place to sit (this is not necessary, but optimal)
  3. Clasp your hands together, resting them in your lap, relax your shoulders
  4. Keep your eyes a little open, just barely, look slightly down
  5. Every time you breathe out, count silently, from 1-10 breaths
  6. Follow your breath, don’t control it, fast or slow breathing is no problem
  7. When you reach 10 breaths, start over, repeat this, over and over
  8. When your mind wanders, immediately start over at 1, no judgment
  9. If you are stressed or ill, your breathing will be faster, this is no problem
  10. Eventually, you will be able to “see” thoughts coming, and just let them pass by, no involvement

That’s it! You are on your way to becoming a Zen Master! In the next part, I will start going over how we started getting small, stay tuned!