tao

When it comes down to it, the art of truly being Zen really just means not giving a sh*t. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about here. I have all kinds of degrees in Asian languages and philosophy. During my travels, in search of… whatever, I’ve come across all manner of people looking for some kind of enlightenment, greater meaning to their mundane existence or a way of ridding themselves of the traumas and hardships they’ve endured in the past — or simply a path that will lead to a less stressful life.

Reaching for more than what you see in your immediate vicinity is a noble pursuit. If this is the path you now trod, I say power to you. But if you’ve exhausted your options, tried on many different philosophical hats yet are still searching, your heart may lighten some when I tell you there’s an easier way of going about it.

Stop caring. Really. Give up. Don’t worry so much. Yes, you’re going die someday and that sucks, but a ton of unnecessary worrying is just going to speed you to an earlier grave.

While this might sound like some overly simple and hackneyed advice, the notion of not caring runs much deeper than most people will allow. Let me explain…

A literalist might give up on absolutely everything. Bathing, work, dental hygiene and taking care of loved ones get thrown out the window. That’s not what I meant at all. Another more adventurous person could interpret giving up as “dropping out.” He or she would then join up with a commune or cult out in the woods, or perhaps an ashram in a distant foreign land. That’s not what I’m talking about either.

The art of not caring is a hell of a lot more Zen than you might imagine. Once the balance between life and the burden of living has been struck, it can also be incredibly freeing.

Full disclosure here — this is something I’ve only managed to achieve on occasion. Even so, when it descends upon my furrowed brow, it’s a blessing from paradise — not that I care where it comes from, or care about the existence of heaven or hell at all…

Men who don’t care what others think about them are not the kind of men who saunter down the street knocking people over, like in a music video. The art of not caring doesn’t mean giving up on humanity. Quite simply, it means letting the petty gossip and nettlesome worries of daily life stemming from our innumerable interactions with other human beings (over many years) gently slip away.

The lengths we got to in order not to be judged too harshly by others are mindboggling. We pay attention — at least on some level — to how we act on the supermarket checkout line, the comments we leave or choose not to leave on a friend’s Facebook page, driving in traffic, walking around the shopping mall, sitting on a subway car and thousands of other little activities. We do these things everyday, and then go over them in our minds later.

Live your life, do the things you have to do, but stop worrying about the minutia involved in balancing the relationships you take part in  – even if you’re not consciously aware of the mental energy you put into minuscule course corrections you invest in your everyday interactions and general behavior.

How is this seemingly-impossible feat accomplished?

That is the multimillion-dollar question. For some, mental liberation might come from studying with a guru atop a lonely mountain, for others, it might come from dips in a frozen lake until the pain of icy balls forces a cerebral perception shift. Another possible path is simply reading some enlightening words in well-written book, or an article online.

The point is that you have to thrash your preconceived (and hard to change) notions of self and how you go about your life until you can hold onto those notions less tightly. All of the tiny things you worry about might not seem like much when taken separately, but they can add up to a colossal behemoth, chipping away at your happiness and the happiness of those around you. You might be surprised at how liberating it is — once you finally figure out how to do it (everyone’s path is different) — when you no longer give an existential sh*t.