Wisdom from the Zen master

16 Mar|Cathleen Mair

Event report, by Cathleen Mair

On Wednesday 15th March, we headed to St Stephen’s Church in Notting Hill for an evening with Buddhist monk Haemin Sunim. He discussed his beautiful new book The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down with Idler editor Tom Hodgkinson and shared his insight on spirituality and slow living.

We can all take small steps towards happiness every day, suggests Haemin. Try collecting a loved one from work or school and take pleasure in the happiness you bring them. Or why not pick up the phone and call a friend, a welcome respite from the stressful world of instant messaging. He spoke about dealing mindfully with negative emotions, like anger or jealousy, by taking a step back, and highlighted the positive power of smiling, even when you don’t feel happy. Most importantly, he urged us to take responsibility for our life and wellbeing.

Tom Hodgkinson with Haemin Sunim

Some of it did sound like an awful lot of work though. Most of us simply don’t have the time to follow a strict monastic routine of getting up early, meditation and manual labour. Fortunately, it seems monks aren’t perfect either: when asked how he gets by on less than six hours’ sleep, Haemin confessed that monks often doze off during meditation. 

But how can we fit meditation in between work, family commitments, cleaning, relationships and food shopping?

Everyone can make time for micro-moments of rest in their daily routine, countered Haemin. This might mean getting off the bus a few stops earlier on your commute home, giving yourself some time to walk and clear your head. Perhaps try getting up half an hour earlier and focus on starting your working day with the right intentions. 

Haemin finished by leading a fifteen-minute group meditation. With eyes closed and hands joined, we focused on our breathing and repeated Haemin’s positive and comforting mantra to the sound of bells and gongs from his iPhone. I left feeling hopeful that slowing down was an achievable outcome. For a start, I’m going to try smiling more.