Young male sitting on a rug holding a cup of coffee looking out the window

“To express yourself freely as you are is the most important thing, to make yourself happy and to make others happy.”

–Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

During these most unusual and extremely challenging times, distractions are easy. Forgetting takes little effort. Sometimes it takes adversity, pain, a pandemic, and social distancing to focus our attention on how we want to use our time and our energy. Many of us are looking more carefully at how we want to work, play, live, and love. We’re remembering the importance of making ourselves and others happy.

I feel really lucky that I’m in the “remembering” business. Remembering is a kind of waking up, from being on auto-pilot to noticing the aliveness and richness of everything, internally and externally. The Pali word sati, translated as mindfulness, literally means to remember – to be here, present, alive, curious, kind, happy, and as much as possible, fearless. To remember to stop, breathe, and open to the pain and suffering, the joy and wonder. The current level of isolation and uncertainty has a way of focusing the mind, helping us shed thoughts and distractions that are less important. This can be a time to remember what matters most. Whatever that might be for you.

Powerful, poignant words in the form of quotes can be a valuable way to help us remember. They can touch us, re-focus us, and help us stay more curious. I’m biased about the power of quotes, since I consider myself to be a professional quote collector. I founded and was CEO of a greeting card and calendar company for 15 years and often spent many hours combing through books, just to find meaningful quotes that I wanted to offer and publish as cards or calendars. 

According to the opening quote here by Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki , the most important thing is to express yourself freely, to make yourself happy, and make others happy. What does that look like for you? How do you express yourself freely? 

When I reflect on what it means to express myself fully I realize this is what motivates and inspires me to practice meditation each morning. Just sitting, breathing, allowing my feelings, and stories, and sensations to come and go. Just breathing in and out. This is one practice, perhaps the most basic practice of expressing ourselves freely. Just sitting, expressing myself freely feels like the most important way to begin my day. 

I sometimes think that our lives are simply about sitting down and getting up. That’s perhaps the most common way that we transition from one task or experience to another while awake. If sitting down meditation is a way of expressing ourselves freely how do we transition from meditation to activities such as cooking or eating, or engaging with family, work, and our other relationships, with as much free expression as possible? Perhaps remembering to ask these three questions is the most important thing:

  • What is most important to me, right now, today, this week?
  • How am I making myself happy?
  • How am I helping to make others happy?

Expressing ourselves freely, making ourselves happy, and making others happy – especially when things are challenging, painful, and shifting – feels more important than ever to me. What about you?