Learning to be Zen with Jas Kiran Kaur
This has been one of my favourite pieces to write. Jas had so many insights and we had so many ‘aha’ moments during 45 minute call. No matter who or where you are in life, I am sure you can take away something that will help create a happier life. I hope you have as fun reading as I had writing it! ☺️
I have been following Jas’s Instagram account @jzenmellinal for a while and in my opinion, it is one of the most positive Instagram spaces out there. Jas is a new dog mom, newbie cook, avid reader, adventurer, a beginner in Zen philosophy, and someone that is consciously trying to create a better version of herself💁♀️. She started her Instagram account to share aspects of the Zen lifestyle. This amazing human being also loves organising and finding new ways to do things more efficiently. She is also a manager at an Edtech start-up in India💁♀️. The thing that inspires her the most is humanity; the essence of goodness in every being and everything as well as the life stories of other people.
I first heard about Zen from an ex-boyfriend. To be honest I did not care much about it at that time. I started focusing on my personal growth after a really bad break up that left me in pieces💔. Like a lot of us, this year has put a lot of things into focus for me and my personal growth has become my focus, which led me down the road of Zen philosophy and discovering Jzenmellinal.
I opened up our interview with the question, 'How did you get into Zen, and what exactly is a Zen lifestyle?'😌
During Jas's last year of master's in English Literature, she opted to study philosophy and Buddhism. This is where she started to learn about Zen. I was surprised to find out that Zen is a branch of Buddhism based on the Japanese school of Mahayana. 🗾
Jas goes on to say, ‘My interest in Zen peaked when I started reading a few of the most famous Zen Koans. Koans are parables or short stories which most of the time are so open-ended and paradoxical that it is totally up to the reader to meditate and evaluate the meaning.’
Jas’s favourite Koan is called a ‘Cup of Tea’☕ and this is how the Koan goes;
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
I started the year with lots of goals and expectations and I was completely knocked off my feet when I found out that the world had come to a halt. I spent half of my quarantine in a constant state of anxiety😰. With nothing to do, I took up journaling. I was writing my thoughts away on the whole pandemic and how worried I was about the future. When this piece of wisdom came to me and I remember writing in my journal 'you are only anxious and crying every hour because you have an idea of how things were supposed to turn out'. After a couple of hours of reflection, I started to look at my quarantine as a time to work on myself. It has not been an easy process because overdue growth is always uncomfortable and messy😓.
Jas continues, ‘By reading koans and Zen Buddhism as part of my syllabus, I realised that what Zen teaches is not fundamentally bound within certain aspects of a religion or spiritual practice. Zen basically asks any individual to slow down, meditate, become self-aware and choose to do every action with their full consciousness🤖. As I dived deeper into this area, I concluded that be it Zen, Buddhist, Kriya, Dhyan-Mudras, every spiritual practice or even religion at the end asks the individual to focus on their life energy which is the breath or the prana. By being still, calm, and aware of our mental state one attains peace, tranquillity which translates into being Zen.'🧘🏿
She finishes off by saying, 'Now a Zen lifestyle is not the easiest thing to try because we are living in very difficult times and circumstances. Being still, calm and patient is not our first reaction when we are getting yelled at work or being overwhelmed by assignments at the university. But I also want to address that adopting a Zen lifestyle does not mean living a full-blown monastic life either. 💆♀️ We are nowadays hearing concepts of Modern Monks like Jay Shetty who very well illustrates the example of how it is possible to live like a monk in our times. To become Zen, to adopt a lifestyle, you have to follow a few essential rules. After that, it does not matter what age, what gender, what religion you ascribe to, Zen is a lifestyle philosophy which focuses on living simply, consciously, and minimally.'😀
When I first started to deep dive into meditation and spirituality, I had this bizarre goal that I would spend 2 hours every day meditating. I would set alarms for 3 am and I would tell myself that I- am-going-to-wake-at-3-and-then-meditate-for-two-hours-then-start-my-day-at-5 am. Which did not work for a student that went to bed at midnight after submitting an assignment. So I would spend a lot of time beating myself up for not being able to attain my goals. 🥅
My next question to Jas was, ‘Why do you think it's so important for Millennials and generation Z to add more Zen life practices in their day to day lives?'
Jas starts her answer by saying, 'Zen lifestyle is for everybody irrespective of the generation, but very much essential for Millennials and Gen Z. In my opinion, we are the generation who has been raised with concepts of instant gratification, entitlement and have an excessive influence of social media in our lives📱. What this has done is, we are now a generation born in conflict.'
She continues, 'Our grandparents or parents may or may not ascribe fully to the traditional values, but we were somehow raised in the influence of those. And on the other side, we were also exposed to social media, competition, games of appearances since we were kids. 🚸 This life of conflict has led us to evolve with somewhat fragmented personalities. We know what once truth, honesty, hard work, and tradition meant but now we also see all those tenets breaking down in front of our eyes. We no longer know and trust the system, media, education, or the government entirely.'🤕
Jas states that social media played such a heavy and toxic role in our lives that our psyches are infected to the extent to the point, we are unsure of who we are. We are constantly basing our identities and self-work on our numbers of followers, likes, shares, and comments. 📯
I can personally relate to this! In my teens, I was obsessed with getting Instagram followers and when I was feeling down I would post pictures of myself that I knew would get me likes and comments. I remember posting a picture of myself that got one bad comment and it sent me into a rabbit hole of depression. I had to force myself to take a break from social media and explore who I truly was without my phone📴. Looking back now it was probably one of my wisest decision!
She finishes off by saying, 'So, to keep things simple, Zen is very much required so that we are at least at peace within ourselves. Practicing Zen is simple habits is you checking in with yourself daily, ensuring your mind and body are connected, and allowing yourself to disconnect with the outer world for a while. The benefits of doing Zen meditation or any mindfulness practice are numerous but to highlight a few: it helps with anxiety, improves focus and memory, reduces stress, it allows you to train your brain for better memory and health. Our lives are way too fast-paced at times. We all have several hundred tabs open in our heads every moment. That's why, Zen and mindfulness are essential for us to slow down, take a deep breath, and appreciate life.'🙂
When asked about Zen life practices anyone can add to their lives this is what she had to say, ‘There are a plethora of practices which we can practice in our day-to-day lives. I share about them on my Instagram handle @jzenmillenial whenever I try to incorporate a new Zen practice but for starters, you can start with very simple and deep meaningful ones. Now, the thing about Zen is, you should not be fooled by the simplicity of the task. You cannot say that, that's too easy, what's meditative or deep in that!'
The key to being Zen is to be aware a 100 % of the time. These are three key Zen practices that anyone can do; ✨
- Make your bed every morning
Jas explained that making your bed can help reset your mind in the morning. The best part about making your bed is that once it’s made you don’t feel like laying around in it, which is always a great way to start your day. 🌅
We all make several important decisions throughout our day. When we de-clutter our brain starts to see more possibilities which help us make better decisions throughout our day. De-cluttering and getting your home organised is always an overwhelming process, so she suggests taking fifteen minutes out of your day to de-clutter. After my conversation with Jas, I have been trying to spend fifteen minutes every morning. The mornings I do manage to de-clutter, I am happier and more productive. So I highly recommend Jas's fifteen de-clutter tips to everyone.
One of the things that Ms. Kaur has been obsessed with is bullet journaling. Bullet journaling has helped this amazing human to put her thoughts on paper and manage her emotions better. I honestly believe that a clearer mind leads to a happier life! 😀
Jas’s 20s journey
Since this is Pushing 20s I had to ask how her 20s have been going so far. Jas turned the magical 20 in 2014 whilst studying English Literature at the University of Delhi. She considers taking up English Literature as one the most monumental shifts in her life! Just like, in many parts of the world, India does not value studying literature and humanities as much as studying medicine, law and engineering. Jas wanted to jump on the bandwagon and pursue engineering. However, she always loved writing short stories and poems which guided her to pursuing a degree in English Literature. 📚
In her own words Jas explains how studying English Literature has moulded her into the person she is today, 'Not only did this open up my mental horizon, it informed and educated me in concepts which were so essential for me to develop as a human, as a woman and as a student. I fell in love with literature and opted for a Master's Degree as well. By the time I completed my education, I had to take up a job due to financial issues at home. Sadly, I could not pursue literature as a Ph.D. I took up a job up as a content writer. Writing excited me always but when I got into the digital marketing and content side of things, I realised this is not for me! I wanted to create and express freely on my terms and not be bound by SEOs and AdWords. So, I took up another job in EdTech, where I currently work and have a mixed profile. I work as a project manager and head the customer success team along with developing instructional designs for content delivery via online mediums. This, one way, is quite an ideal job because this way I am getting to teach and be connected with the learning domain.'☺️
She carries on saying, 'I turned 26 this August and so far, I would say my 20s have been tumultuous but very kind. I have gone through all the basic things which we all go through at this age. I was confused about my career, I wanted to pursue my hobby of dancing, I lost weight and then I gained weight, I became body-conscious, my self-confidence was often at odds, I had a difficult time adjusting with my parents, I made some awesome new friends and lost some of my treasured best friends to distance and situations. I met a new side of me which is interested in self-care and I pushed out the self-destructive and entitled millennial side of me! I went on a solo trip to Goa, I moved out of my house, I am learning to cook, to play the ukulele, recently became a dog-mom and I am still developing routines in my lifestyles. I am still struggling with managing my finances, landing the perfect job, keeping up with jzenmillenial, and also being a good friend, daughter, employee, and girlfriend but the sole aim is still to be a better human and a value to the greater good.'😇
I am literally in awe of what Jas has been able to accomplish by the age of twenty-six. Her story makes me feel less alone in my twenties struggle. I am currently trying to be financially independent and move out of my parents' home. Going on a solo trip is also on my bucket list. I do not doubt that she will be able to figure everything out in no time because the moment you change your focus to being a better human being, you start to subconsciously invest in other parts of your life as well! 🧬
Jas continues, ‘But if I were to isolate the best and the hardest, I would it is ironic but the hardest decisions I took have been the best ones. This includes moving out of the house as well as the solo trip. I planned and planned for months on how to act upon these decisions, I tried to balance out as many pros and cons and visualise the outcomes of both. I tried to train myself that these decisions are purely going to be mine so I need to claim full responsibility no matter what happens.’ 💁♀️
She finishes her answer by saying, 'And I finally leaped, it was not all rosy and perfect like in movies! I still struggle with living on my own, I am still learning every day and every day I make mistakes. But, this freedom, this path is the perfect way for me to start as a better and independent woman. So, all in all, I would say 20s have been amazing so far, the craziest decade and the decade of major learning and development for me.'
When asked about her biggest ‘20-something’ failure, this is what she had to say, ‘I don't want to call it a failure because I think I am not a failure until the day I stop trying. The one thing I am struggling with is not being able to put away time and full determination for my health. In our 20s, we are young and energetic, we can pull all-nighters, party, or work non-stop. Eat whatever, binge shows without sleeping on time and our bodies do allow us.'
She states that she is very disciplined when it comes to working and taking care of her mental health but, she is struggling to stick to a proper workout routine. I relate to this sentence on so many levels because I struggle to get myself to work out on most days. Like Jas said it's only a failure when we stop trying!
Some of the content you will find on the Jzenmellinal page is being on different wavelengths, happiness, and the importance of learning to say no. 💯
I had never really heard of the concept of being on different wavelengths. So I am someone that has different wavelength days a lot, where I am not as productive as I want to be and just feel so out of place. What are your tips for dealing with that? And how do you personally deal with different wavelength days?
To which Jas responded, 'The first step is to accept. You are bound by the universal rules of change and seasonality. Nothing would remain constant and the same. Accept the fact that your wavelength, energies, capabilities, emotions, and productivity will always see the lows and the highs.'🔆
Jas finished off her answer saying, ‘Once you accept this, reflect deeply on days off. I know we always try to run from this. We feel our feelings but seldom do we think and look for the whys behind them. It is super common to go from a very productive week to a very lazy, moody week ahead. But that’s alright. You cannot be always giving your 100%’
One of the ways Jas keeps her soul happy is by dancing and bullet journaling. Bullet journaling anchors Jas to the present and it allows her to reflect on what's okay and what’s not okay.
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