The Zen Way To Make Mundane Tasks Enjoyable

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There are no mundane tasks, only mundane states of mind

Imagine you’re climbing a high mountain without any ropes. There’s no room for error — one slip of the hand can cost you your life. But you’re not backing away.

Instead, you choose to deepen your focus and become even more aware of your body. Aware of the angle your feet are turned towards. Aware of tightly gripping the stones. There’s nothing on your mind except the mountain.

The arguments, deadlines, office politics, failures, regrets, stresses, and all mental chatter fades away. You absorb the sun rays completely and let them pore into your skin giving you even more energy to climb.

Your mind is in a place you’ve never experienced before. There are butterflies in the stomach but there’s also a sense of security. A conviction that you will climb the mountain. After a certain point, you and the mountain are one. You experience this vast sense of connectedness with not only the mountain but everything around it.

This expansion of consciousness brings you to life. You’re calm and poised. You’re in flow.

When you finally come down the mountain and resume “normal life” you can’t access that state anymore. With every step down the rocks, you feel it leaving you. You realize the monkey mind waking up and chattering as usual.

It’s jarring to come back to reality and you can’t wait to plan your next climb.

But what if we don’t need to? What if we can replicate the same experience (more or less), even while going through life as usual?

Even if you’ve never climbed a mountain before, you know the feeling I’m talking about. Sportsmen call this “being in the zone,” and comedians or musicians call this “being in the pocket.”

These experiences make us believe that particular activities can only induce a state of flow and connectedness. But that’s not true.

There’s one group of people who experience the same connectedness and bliss without doing any of the above — meditators. They show us that what we’re chasing is the higher state of awareness rather than the activities themselves.

And if we’re able to bring this state of awareness to everything we do, we can make even the most mundane tasks enjoyable.

There Are No Mundane Tasks

“Karma” means action. “Karma Yoga” means bliss or union through action. It means that the yogi not only uses meditation as a dedicated practice morning and evening but as a way of life.

The focus of Karma Yoga (or what Buddhists call mindful living) is to do everything with mindfulness and higher awareness. So instead of climbing mountains or playing instruments, they do this with everyday chores like washing the dishes, mopping the floor, walking, working, and so on.

The core message here is this — there are no mundane tasks, only mundane states of mind. With practice, the same sense of awareness can be brought to big and small tasks alike.

Do this now

Pick a task that you want to practice this with. Walking, for example.

Now, take a few deep breaths to center yourself and bring your mind to the present moment. Think about nothing else but your breath.

Focus all your attention on the here and now. Think nothing about the future or the past. Let go of all plans, schedules, worries, and stresses. Bring your awareness to your senses, if you start to get distracted.

Now walk (or do whatever you choose), slowly. Imitate a meditative state of mind. Bring a sense of calmness and poise to your posture and gestures.

Feel the sensations fully. The wind on your face. The feet touching the floor. The sun blazing on your head. Whatever you’re feeling, just be aware of it. Try to expand your awareness to things around you — feeling yourself one with them.

You’ll find that by not allowing the mind to chatter and focusing fully on the activity, the task “comes alive.” It’s no longer a task you once dreaded to take on.

Final Thought

Our lives are not a string of “big moments” strung together. We strive to attain these “big” moments thinking we’ll be happy when we get there. A promotion, buying a house, raising a kid, getting into a university, and so on are just momentary phases of life.

But what about 99% of days of our life that are, for lack of a better word, “ordinary?” Are we going to let that slide away and not live them with our full attention?

Dr. Csikszentmihalyi, who coined the term ‘flow’, found that things, money, and achievement doesn’t make people happy. What makes them happy is when they’re in that higher state of awareness.

In that state, we take every action not as a means to an end but an end in itself, i.e. we make it autotelic. By doing so, we don’t wait for outward situations or achievements to make us happy — we choose to be happy in the now.

We can never choose outward circumstances. We’ll always have to do some things that we don’t want. But that shouldn’t make you unhappy or resentful. Just because you feel that the task is boring doesn’t mean you can’t change the way you experience it.

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Written on June 25, 2021