50 Days of Simple Living

Einstein once said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Simplicity has been one of my major obsessions.

As an undergraduate in the computing school, I had always striven to achieve the best outcome with the least number of lines of code.  And now, at work, I enjoy distilling complex topics into a few core principles.

There is beauty and elegance in simplicity.  It’s no surprise that I am drawn to the work of a Zen monk and Zen gardener.  Despite having decided not to purchase any new book until I am done with a dozen of unread books accumulated from previous year, I couldn’t resist when I chanced upon The Art of Simple Living by Shunmyo Masuno.

I used to devour books like a hungry teen at a buffet.  But this time, I decided to slow down and pause after every bite.  Exactly 50 days ago, on 19 January 2020, I set out on a #50DaysOfSimpleLiving challenge to fully immerse myself into Shunmyo’s ‘100 daily practices.’  Each day, I shared a couplet on Instagram and Facebook, and tried putting them into practice.

Here are my Top 10 daily Zen practices from 5o consecutive days of experimenting with Shunmyo’s Art of Simple Living and how they have impacted me.

01. Day #11: Try just sitting quietly in nature.  I’ve always loved nature, but have definitely spent a disproportionately high percentage of my life being seated in front of the laptop.  This has prompted me to make time to connect with both nature and with myself more regularly.  It has brought greater clarity of mind and deeper peace in my heart.

02. Day #13: Focus on others’ merits. I’ve been known to be ‘highly critical’ and focusing on others’ merits (instead of faults) has enhanced the harmony and relationship both at work and at home.

03. Day #14: Don’t put off what you can do today.  A perfect remedy for the ‘chronic procrastinator’ in me. This practice had fueled actions to get a few things done, including publishing Let’s Hack Learning

04. Day #17: Be here now.  I’ve known the importance of being present to the HERE and NOW, but certainly haven’t put that into practice enough.  I think I’m more present now, especially when listening to another.

05. Day #24: Do not be swayed by the opinions of others.  A timely advice when faced with a recent dilemma amidst the COVID-19 outbreak.  I learned about decisiveness and the ability to trust in myself.

06. Day 27: Be grateful for every day, even the most ordinary.  Gratitude is indeed a powerful practice found in many spiritual and cultural traditions.  This had deepened the practice that I have observed when experimenting with A Year of Living Gratefully in 2017.

07. Day 27: Make the most of Life.  I am reminded that what matters most is not how long we live, but how we use the Life we are given.  Borrowing the words of George Bernard Shaw, “I want to be thoroughly used up when I die.”

08. Day 34: Deepen your connection with someone.   Deep and meaningful relationships – that’s what I have always enjoyed.  I shall continue to do so, even with those whom I meet only once in my lifetime.

09. Day 43: Discard what you don’t need.  A very practical advice to simplify our lives.  I’m still working on my attachment to certain possessions and past experiences, but already enjoying the space created both physically and mentally from letting go of those that I am able to discard.

10. Day #50. Serve People.  Some friends have asked, “What happens after Day 50?”  Inspired by the words of wisdom from an old friend – “Being in service of another is a mutual gifting,”  I’ve decided to extend this final practice into the rest of the year with a next project: #50GoodHours.

I’m committing 50 hours of pro bono service to individuals seeking coaching, mentoring, or consultancy in the areas of personal development, leadership development, life transitions, and parenting.

If you know anyone or non-profit organisation (any where in the world) that I could be of service to, please have them contact me. Thanks for spreading the word. 🙏

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Why not check out The Art of Simple Living and find out for yourself how Shunmyo’s 100 daily practices could bring more simplicity, calm, and joy into your life?

Decisiveness is about having the ability to trust in yourself

“To go, or not to go?”  That’s the question that I have been wrestling with over the weekend.  As a consequence of COVID-19, all our face-to-face programmes with clients scheduled in February and March have been either postponed or replaced with virtual options, except two.

I was due to travel to Dubai next Monday, followed by Batam, Indonesia in late March.  Dubai will be my first overseas destination since the beginning of the outbreak.  Part of me yearns to return to ‘business as usual,’ get on with normal life, and carry  on with my work in leadership development.   Another cautious part wants to minimise non-essential travel so as to lower the risk of being infected or infecting others.  At present, there are more confirmed cases of infection in Singapore than UAE.  And I certainly don’t wish to be known as the guy who spread the virus to Dubai.

Confused and undecided, I chose the easy way out.   Instead of facing into the dilemma, I expressed my preference for postponement and left it to the client to decide.  Eventually, as the company put in place a ban on non-essential travel and that some participants would be travelling in from other middle-eastern countries, the workshop was postponed.

I was relieved, but somewhat disappointed with my cowardice.  Why hadn’t I just said ‘No’?

Then I thought of one of Shunmyo Masuno’s 100 Zen practices that I had previously shared on Day 24 of #50daysofsimpleliving:

75. DO NOT BE SWAYED BY THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS. The secret to breaking free from confusion … Decisiveness is about having the ability to trust in yourself.

 

This time, I trusted myself, and took courageous action.  I wrote to the CEO of the other client, shared my concerns openly, and recommended strongly to postpone the training in Batam.  I also expressed firmly my withdrawal from the engagement should they decide to proceed as planned.

I’m not going to Indonesia this March, no matter what the latest news or COVID-19 statistics may suggest. And I shall not be swayed by others’ opinions.

I made my stand and felt fully at peace. And the CEO responded shortly:

Dear Kenny,

Our policies are in line.
We just decided to postpone the school 2 hours ago. I will get back to you in the next days with proposals for new time slots.

Great minds think alike.  Looks like ‘business as usual’ is not about to return anytime soon, if it does, at all.

And I learnt my lesson on leading in uncertain times.   As much as rational and well-informed decisions are often preferred, in the absence of sufficient information, we still need to take a courageous stand.  Whether we choose to be guided by intuition or grounded on values, Masuno’s wisdom is worth heeding.

Decisiveness is about having the ability to trust in yourself.