To purists, Zen is the realization of Buddha's enlightenment in one's own life. Central to this is daily Zazen practices. This is the practice that melts away the mind-forged distances that separate man from himself. In Zazen, there is no reality outside what exists here and now. While sorrow, joy, anxiety, and stress cannot be completely avoided, by not clinging to them we set ourselves free of these conditions.

While understanding of Zen in recent years has come to encompass these basic principles, achieving them has evolved into something less structured than the traditional mind, spiritual, and physical exercise associated with Buddhism. For me, achieving self-mastery means composure and tranquility of the mind entails a more informal approach. You should strive to find your inner strength, which can take many forms. Indeed, most people who strive to achieve these states take the fundamental techniques and develop their own personal approaches.

Toward that end, there is one basic element. That is, to never panic, regardless of what you are facing. I know, easier said than done. But if you do find yourself heading towards the panic mode, just stop and take a deep breath. Better yet, take a series of deep breaths. This will help your mind and body from becoming paralyzed. This will enable you to calmly analyze what is causing you to panic so you can act logically and develop the best options possible.

Another technique if you find yourself heading towards panic or uncontrollable anger is to count slowly from one to ten, focusing on the numbers and temporarily shutting out what is causing you to stress out. Again, this will enable you to focus your mind and energy on problem solving, as opposed to worrying or agonizing.

If all of this sounds jut a little too basic, it is because you simply want to avoid the mental state, and accompanying tight physical state, that will prevent you from acting with thought and composure.

Zen and the art of life is just refusing to allow emotions, worry, and fear to take over your body and mind. Make a conscious effort to reduce panic and stress by using breathing and numbers to gain or retain control of yourself. After all, you are in charge of your body and mind, not external factors. Remember, if you refuse to dwell on such common states as sadness, anxiety, and worry, you eliminate them, or at worst, reduce them to something manageable.

In preparation for each day, you might want to take a few quiet minutes in the morning to remind yourself of this and to marshal your inner strength for the challenges you--and all of us--face as we go through our daily routines.

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