Snake Oil

You will not achieve your long-term goals following get rich quick schemes, fad diets, or buying the latest re-invent yourself book.  Beware of the accomplices in the crowd. 

There may be guides that help us along the way; fingers pointing to the moon.  I've learned a lot from Thich Nhat Hanh, Eckhart Tolle, Seth Godin, and even Anthony Robbins.  Their works and words have inspired and directed me, but I still have to walk the walk myself. 

Snake oil doesn't work any better today than it did a hundred years ago; it simply comes in a new package.

Modern Zen Stories VI - Stories about growth.

This week's articles focus on personal growth.  I'm going to change Dylan's words here and say "He who is not busy growing, is busy dying."

So, I'm working on a new blog, Aberrant Living.  I'll still be publishing ZenPresence.  Aberrant Living will be along the same lines, minus Zen.  It will celebrate independent thought, authenticity, and choosing freedom in this cookie cutter world we live in.  Look for the launch of Aberrant Living in the next few weeks.

 Have a good week.

How a Stray Cat Reminded Me What We Should Do With Our Lives on Daily Spark

When you're feeling less than charitable on A Charmed Yogi

How Badly Do You Want It? on Soul Speaks

Embracing Commitment for Lasting Change on Becoming Minimalist

Yes, it's worth it! on Smile with Your Heart

In the end on Castles in the Air

Zen Presence - minimalism, simplicity, self improvement, simple living, Zen in modern life

5 ways simplicity allows you to achieve more

"As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler."  ~ Henry David Thoreau

I don't think it is an overstatement to say that most of us feel overwhelmed almost every day of our lives.  If scarcity creates value, then my free time is very valuable.  The key though, is that for most of us, we determine how much free time we have.  We select the projects we work on and how we spend our time.  Studies show that often we are the source of our own complexity and confusion -The Simplicity Survival Handbook, Bill Jensen.  By prioritizing and focusing on what matters most, we can be in charge of our time and actually accomplish more.

Below are five ways that simplicity allows you more time so that you can achieve more. Check back next week and I'll talk about how to achieve simplicity.

1  Simplicity allows focus

A cluttered mind is rarely able to focus.  By trying to do too many things at once we become scattered.  By eliminating distractions and less important items, we are able to concentrate on doing what is really important.  Remember that the most urgent items are not always the most important.  As Steven Covey points out in Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a ringing telephone is urgent.  If you are going to take the call you must answer it now, but is it important?  Chances are the business proposal you are working on is more important, but you put it off to answer the phone.  Don't allow yourself to be distracted by trivial tasks.

2  Simplicity allows us to stay more organized

By owning and doing less you will make it easier for you to get and stay organized.  Better organization means less wasted time trying to locate things or trying to remember what you have to accomplish for the day. 

3  A simple plan can be executed more quickly

Stating the obvious- having only a handful of tasks to accomplish your goals will result in not only less time executing, but reduced planning time as well.  You won't waste time trying to determine what needs to be done first. Reduced planning, less wavering, and more straight to the point action will get the job done more rapidly.  It will be easier to enlist help as well.  A simple plan can be explained to involved parties much quicker than a complicated approach.

4  Simplicity leads to consistency

Simplicity will more easily allow you to replicate your successes.  I have a very simple weight loss plan that works for me.  Every time I find that I have gained a few pounds, or prior to the holidays, I execute my plan and lose 4-5 lbs. in a month.  I can replicate this every time with no wasted time trying to figure it out.

5 Simplicity reduces stress

We have less to worry about with a simpler life. While short term stress can boost productivity -  think of the professional athlete -long term, chronic stress reduces our output.   "Workplace stress costs U.S. employers an estimated $200 billion per year in absenteeism, lower productivity, staff turnover, workers' compensation, medical insurance and other stress-related expenses." -Rebecca Maxon,  Fairleigh Dickinson University.

By taking the time to sit down and sort out your priorities you will be able to achieve what matters most in your life.  You will find yourself less busy, and hopefully find life is more fulfilling.  Below are some nice resources on simplicity and productivity.

Zen Presence - minimalism, simplicity, self improvement, simple living, Zen in modern life

If you value your time DON'T buy shredded cheese.

Image Credit : Roxanne Ready

What's wrong with shredded cheese, you ask?
Well for one, it has an additive ingredient called "non-caking" agents that are used during processing so that the cheese stays in its shredded form and doesn't combine into one big lump.   Food "agents" probably aren't that healthy.

The big one is that it costs more.
So, it's a little more, right? No. It can be a lot more.
Look at the price of an 8 oz bag of shredded cheese. Then look at the price of a 2lb block of the same cheese. Divide that by two for the price per pound. At the market I shop, the price of shredded cheese is almost twice the cost of block cheese.

Shredded cheese is costing you more money and you spent your valuable time earning that money. If you factor in all of the conveniences that you buy in your life - shredded cheese, frozen meals, pre-marinaded meats, etc... - it adds up quick.
So why do you need all of these conveniences? Answer- because I spend so many hours at work. Why do you spend so many hours at work? Answer- I have to make X amount of dollars to cover my conveniences.

So the big businesses are making money off of you when you work and ding you again on the conveniences and marketing trivialities that you feel entitled to because you work so much and need more time.

Think about it, some things might be worth it, others not. It really is a minor effort to shred cheese.

Modern Zen Stories V - Stories of Minimalism & Simplicity

This week I'd like to share stories of extreme simplicity and minimalism. Do you dare?

Tammy Strobel and her husband live in a 128 square foot home.  Click here to see it.
 She has a new book titled  "You Can Buy Happiness (and It's Cheap): How One Woman Radically Simplified Her Life and How You Can Too."  
Click here to read Farnoosh's wonderful review of the book on Prolific Living
Tammy  also had a nice guest post on titled Finding happiness in the midst of grief.

Simplify then organize, and a case for open storage on the Cat's Meow.

Does your partner or family resist downsizing?  You might want to read How to negotiate downsizing on Becoming Minimalist.

Ashley gives a straightforward approach to minimalism here on

And be sure to read 10 Signs You're Not as Rich as You Could Be by Francine Jay on The Huffington Post.

Have you seen how this family produces all of their own food, supplies local restaurants, and makes a living on 1/10th of an acre in Pasadena, California?  Check out Urban Homestead.

Here are some links to really small homes:

Tinyhouseblog ( Really nice site )
11 small eco-homes that live LARGE

Middle-aged assh*les

image credit: Surian Soosay from

It always disturbs me when someone is riding my tail in traffic.  "Can't you be patient?  I'm going the speed limit."  Then they pass me and risk who knows how many lives?  I glance to get a look at the idiot as they pass, expecting some young kid with a new license, but no, it's a mature (?) adult! 

How disappointing.  I expect a young person, with little life experience and full of raging hormones through their body to behave that way, but a middle-aged person?

It reminds me of the time my wife had an old man flirting with her in a REALLY inappropriate manner.  Before we left the restaurant I said "lets get away from the perv."  She responded " Honey, he's old, he's not a pervert."  I replied " What do you think happens to perverts as they age?  They become old perverts."  It really shocked her to think of this.  I think she saw all well aged adults as sweet little old people.

The moral of this story is not to pick on any age group.  I'm middle-aged myself, and maybe to some I'm considered an assh*le.  The point is that if we do nothing to improve ourselves as we age, we're liable to be middle-aged assh*les too.  If we don't take the time to cultivate patience, understanding, and mindfulness then our state of mind could get worse resulting in our frustrated egos distorting our visions.  We could become sitting ducks for bitter attitudes and defeated outlooks. What a waste.

Interdependence and personal responsibility

The following excerpts are cut from an article on The idproject by Ethan Nichtern.  The full article can be read *here* , but is partially political in nature and I prefer to keep this blog free of that stink.  The quotes alone are enough to ponder if you'd rather not read someone else's political beliefs.

Mr. Nichtern states that "the first relevant premise of Buddhism..." is " that nobody, and we mean nobody, is going to save you from your own mind."  He then states that "The second premise of Buddhism seems to totally contradict the first. Everything, and we mean everything, is interdependent. Nothing happens in a vacuum."

To reconcile Mr. Nichtern says "How do we then reconcile the above two premises, which seem to directly contradict each other? Here's what I believe. The second premise, interdependence, provides the proper and appropriate context for understanding the first premise, personal responsibility. In other words, it is when we begin to understand interdependence that we see the true importance of personal responsibility. Once we see that nothing happens in a vacuum, that all beings are really in this together, that's the exact moment that we are properly inspired to become responsible for our own mind."

Something to think about.


Being Real...Does it matter?

If you are reading this right now, there is a good chance that you have an obsession with searching for the "truth". What is real and important?  What is the meaning of life?  Who am I? What is my purpose? These questions have run through my head since childhood.

Thoreau's words, " Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth," have had a profound impact on my life.  I try very hard to be authentic.  I do not place importance on trendy, mainstream, and pop culture ideas. I do not watch the same television shows as everyone else, actually I don't watch any at all, I don't wear the latest fashion trends, and I don't even rebel fashionably. No tattoos, body piercings, or super-sized holes in my ears.  Not that there is anything wrong with those things, but they just aren't me.  These things just do not add value to my life.

So, my question to you- does it matter?  Why is it that people like us want to resist our society's pressure to conform?  In the end why shouldn't we just mindlessly live the American dream?  I think it does but I'm not asking a hypothetical question.  I'd like for you to please respond in the comments.  I want to learn from this question. Pass this around. Let's get as much input as possible so that we may all learn from each other.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

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Modern Zen Stories IV - Stories about living

This weeks collection has a theme.  Living.  Not existing, but living.  Growth, change, overcoming fears, and being fully alive.  I read literally hundreds of blogs every week and share some of the best articles with you each weekend.  Enjoy.

“It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Waking up to living fully and passionately on Tiny Buddha

How to be fearless on Simple Life Strategies

Why do we play? on Barking up the Wrong Tree

Ten powerful benefits of change on Tiny Buddha

Five steps to achieving on

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable on The Change Blog

Name Calling & Agendas

"Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding." ~ Ghandi

Politicians know that name calling doesn't change people's opinions or encourage people to change sides on an issue, yet we see it all of the time. 

If that is true, what could possibly be their agenda?

The problem with problems

 "When I tell them there's no problems, only solutions" ~ John Lennon

The real problem with problems is that they don't go away us unless something changes. Like it or not, problems & challenges have their purpose. For us, they are catalysts for learning and growth.

Another problem with problems is that we tend to ignore the ones we don't know how to solve or that require us to get out of our comfort zone. The typical person will start with the easiest problems first, whether they are the most serious or not.  When our mind is faced with a problem it doesn't know how to solve, it tries to evade, to escape, to pretend that the situation isn't important.  By limiting our work to what is easy, we limit our growth and satisfaction in life.  Handling problems require taking risks, being uncomfortable, confronting, and knowing that the results may be what you do not expect nor want.

So the first step is to identify what are the most difficult problems in your life.  No easy solutions here.  A lot of mindful introspection.  Not an easy problem.

Five Steps to Achieving

Reduce your friction

Friction is all around you- distractions, nay-sayers, pessimists.  Eliminate unnecessary busy work.  Don't discuss your plans with negative people.  Stay motivated.

Get out of your own way

Overcome the negative voices in your head. Listen to them and then quickly let them go. Most of our fears are unfounded.  Use whatever positive thinking techniques necessary to overcome your doubts. 

Get started

Take the first step.  Any progress at all will bring new energy to your life.  You will begin to be filled with purpose.  As far as the details go, you'll figure it out.

Be Flexible

Notice that the title of this post was not Five steps to achieving your goals.  Fixed goals can be limiting.  Give your dreams room to grow.  Hopefully your ideas will change and grow as you proceed down the path you've chosen.

Don't stop

Further Reading

Getting comfortable with the uncomfortable on The Change Blog

How to go from fear to freedom, one step at a time on Zenhabits



Modern Zen Stories III - Best Blog Reads This Week

Topics this week inclued big cities, working weekends, mastering language, talking to empty chairs, and how to have a better weekend.  My goal at ZenPresence is to help provide you with the information and tools to create a mindful and meaningful life.  Enjoy.

The soapbox and the city Seth Godin's blog

Why I worked this weekend on Be More With Less

Changing your language can change your life on Meant to be Happy

Talking to an empty chair on

Three essential components of Buddhist practice on The ID Project

How can you make your weekends more awesome? on Barking up the Wrong Tree

What we allow, will continue...

What we allow, is what will continue.

You don't have to actively participate to play a role. 

Every choice, even ignoring something, has an outcome.

Zen Presence - Ideas for Meaningful Living

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Being happy with less

Americans spend roughly $22 BILLION on storage (Source: National Storage Association, 2009).  We spend this on storing things that don't fit into our already over-sized homes.  Are we any happier because of these things?

I am not against owning things.  My bicycle brings a lot of enjoyment to my life.  Yes I enjoy most of my "things", but I ask myself hard questions before acquiring them.  How much of my life energy will I spend to acquire this thing?  Is it in line with my higher values?  How much will it cost to maintain this thing?  Will this thing bring overall value to my life?

You don't need to live a life of deprivation to enjoy the benefits of minimalism.  Just think before you buy.  Realize that things alone will not bring you happiness.  I've already discussed 12 good reasons I'm a minimalist here. 

See Graham Hill's ( founder of presentation at TED 2011 on the Joys of Less.

Talking to an empty chair

Much was made the other night about Clint Eastwood pretending to talk to " Invisible Obama" in an empty chair.  I avoid politics and mainstream media like the plague, yet I still read and heard about the speech.  I'm not sure you can really call it a speech, it was more like a rambling, pointless monologue.  Eastwood's mental clarity was immediately questioned by many, but how many of us have similar conversations regularly?  We rarely experience life right here, right now.  We're busy carrying on a conversation with someone that isn't really there.

That voice in your head, who is it talking to, who is talking?  Give it some thought, or better yet, don't.