The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm in a Busy World - by Haemin Sunim


Given that the world we see through our mind’s eye is limited, if we can train our mind and choose wisely where to focus, then we will be able to experience the world corresponding to the state of our mind.

There is a famous Buddhist saying that everyone appears as buddhas in the eyes of the Buddha and everyone appears as pigs in the eyes of a pig. It suggests that the world is experienced according to the state of one’s mind. When your mind is joyful and compassionate, the world is, too. When your mind is filled with negative thoughts, the world appears negative, too. When you feel overwhelmed and busy, remember that you are not powerless. When your mind rests, the world also rests.

I squeeze myself into the subway car. People are crowded all around me. I can either get annoyed or think it’s fun that I don’t have to grab a handrail. People react differently to the same situation. If we look at it more closely, we see it’s not the situation that is troubling us, but our perspective on it.

If we know how to be content, we can relax our endless striving and welcome serenity. If we know how to be content, we can enjoy the time we have with the person next to us. If we know how to be content, we can make peace with our past and let go of our baggage.

Are you feeling confused or conflicted? Allow yourself a good night’s sleep. When you wake up the next day, the problem will seem lighter. It works, truly.

On a piece of paper, write down everything that stresses you out. List everything you ought to do, including minor things— watering plants, replying to e-mails. The stresses are now contained on a piece of paper, away from your mind. So, relax tonight. Tell yourself you will go through the list tomorrow, item by item, starting with the easiest. When you open your eyes the next morning, your mind and body will be ready. I can guarantee that.

Life teaches us through our mistakes. When you make a mistake, simply ask yourself what you were meant to learn from it. When we accept such lessons with humility and gratitude, we grow that much more.

Those who work in a playful, relaxed manner tend to work efficiently and creatively. Those who work nonstop, driven only by stress, work without joy. To keep doing your work for a long time, do not treat it as just work. View it as a source of enjoyment and growth. The road to happiness lies not just in finding a good job, but also in learning to enjoy what you are asked to do.

Has something disappointed you? Has something made you sad? It’s the school of life trying to teach you an important lesson. When you feel ready, take the time to understand the lesson.

If you genuinely care for others and look for ways to help others succeed, you won’t need to look for ways to boost your mood. A selfless and kind act will lift your spirit and self-worth. If you are having a bad day, see if you can find a way to help someone else. Even a small gesture of help will make you feel better.

CHAPTER TWO: Mindfulness

How can we better understand our negative emotions and try to resolve them instead of suppressing them? The answer is fairly simple. All we have to do is separate the raw energy of negative emotions from linguistic labels like “anger” or “hatred” and then witness it calmly until the energy morphs into something else. What is important here is not to get attached to words like “anger,” “hatred,” and “jealousy,” and instead to witness the raw energy behind the labels. Although it may be subtle, the energy constantly changes while the label remains static. If you peel the label off and get in touch with the raw energy, you soon realize that the negative emotion is only temporary, one that changes without your efforts. Therefore, much like a mirror reflects what is before it without judgment or identification with the image, simply reflect the negative emotion—let’s say it’s anger—and watch dispassionately. You will see the anger slowly changing shape, either revealing a deeper layer of emotion or disappearing on its own. If another layer of emotion is revealing itself, attend to it the way you did with your anger.

A moral purist who is quick to judge others often fails to see the flaws within himself.

If I had to summarize the entirety of most people’s lives in a few words, it would be endless resistance to what is. As we resist, we are in constant motion trying to adjust, and yet we still remain unhappy about what is. If I had to summarize the entirety of an enlightened person’s life in a few words, it would be complete acceptance of what is. As we accept what is, our minds are relaxed and composed while the world changes rapidly around us.

Do not try to control those around you. When you cannot control even your own mind, what makes you think you can control others?

Spirituality must be practiced not just in solitude but also among people. Open up to people around you and feel connected. This is the true challenge of spiritual practice.

If you are sincere about reaching enlightenment, you can learn even from a child, or from the person who insults you on the street. The entire world becomes your teacher.

Someone advanced in spiritual practice has the following attitude. In a large community, she lives as though she is alone. She minds her own business without meddling in others’. When alone, she acts as though she is in a large community. She follows her regimen without sliding into laziness.

Life is like theater. You are assigned a role. If you don’t like the role, keep in mind that you have the power to re-create the role you want.


No matter what we do, the top button of our business must be fastened properly. If we think, “I’ll just do it this way for now and fix it later,” it usually does not happen, because later we may not have the motivation to fix it, or we just get used to the way it is. It is like moving into a house and deciding to fix it up over time. Even after many years, we never get around to fixing it up. We end up just living with the way things are for a long time.

Instead of being the smartest person in the room, quick to critique others, be the warmhearted friend, bringing people together and sharing things. Be the sensitive neighbor, capable of feeling the suffering of others.

If you get angry while debating right and wrong, your enraged voice has just conceded defeat.

Being a critic is easy. But if the critic tries to run the operation, he soon understands that nothing is as easy as his criticisms. Criticism without a solution is merely an inflation of the critic’s ego.

When you ask a question and there is no response, then that is the answer.

Meaningful praise is from someone in the same field as you. It is worth praise from ten or more people outside your field.

CHAPTER FOUR: Relationships

Do you often feel lonely at work or in school? Perhaps your heart is closed off to those around you. “I don’t get her.” “I’m better than her.” “We’re on different wavelengths.” If you think this way, how could you not be lonely? Open your heart, and have a cup of coffee with her. You will soon see that she is not that different from you.

If you think you are either superior or inferior to someone, an invisible wall goes up between you. Treat him like an old friend you haven’t seen in a while. When you let your guard down, so will he.

Do you know why that conversation is so boring? Because we are trapped in politeness, unable to speak from the heart. Any conversation can become interesting and lively as soon as we start speaking with real honesty.

If you want a friend to remember your birthday, remember hers first. If you want your husband to give you a massage, give him a massage first. If you want your children to watch less TV, turn off your TV first. Don’t just wait for what you want to happen. Act first.

People turn sullen over a trivial emotional matter, and then attack the person later with an unrelated but logical-sounding pretext.

When you think your spouse won’t change and you worry how you will live the rest of your life together, ask yourself: Am I perfect in my spouse’s eyes?

Even if you have awakened to your enlightened nature, there is still further to go in your spiritual journey if you’re not living harmoniously with others.


Proof of having really loved: You do not speak ill of your ex even after your relationship has ended.

Sometimes, after a relationship is over, you catch yourself thinking, “I hope she is happy,” without bitterness. This is a sign you have moved on.

An exceptional relationship is not one with a good beginning but one with a good ending. Relationships often begin accidentally, but when it comes to ending them, we usually have choices. Choose the ending wisely.

Without love, our lives would pass us by in the blink of an eye. Love has the power to stop the world for a moment.

At times we are not sure whether what we feel is love. At that moment, ask yourself this: “Am I happy to give more even after having given a lot?” If the answer is yes, and there is no regret afterward, then that is probably love.


Have you ever selected a cheaper dish from a menu than the one you really wanted, only to regret your choice when it arrived? Always go with your first choice if you can afford it. It is better than a life filled with regrets.

There are many more ordinary hours in life than extraordinary ones. We wait in line at the supermarket. We spend hours commuting to work. We water our plants and feed our pets. Happiness means finding a moment of joy in those ordinary hours.

When you concentrate, even a phone book can be interesting. If you are bored, maybe you are not concentrating.

Wherever you go, cultivate a sense of ownership. If you see litter in a church, library, or park, pick it up. As you take ownership, your life will have more purpose, and people will notice your good example.

Any social phenomenon is difficult to generalize. Its causes are embedded in a complex web of history, culture, politics, and economics. If someone explains a social phenomenon in simple terms, he is either an expert or a fool.

The biggest obstacle to learning is pretending to know even when you don’t. It is better to admit you don’t know something; if you pretend, you have to act as if you knew all along. It is easier to learn when you set aside your pride and are honest.

The determination to convince someone might stem from being not completely convinced yourself. I do not go around trying to convince people that I am a man. Wear confidence. It is the height of fashion. When we hold too firmly to our beliefs, we risk being blind to reality and seeing only what conforms to our beliefs. The person who says, “That person is so political,” is usually just as political, if not more. Admiration does not come easily. Rather than setting a goal of becoming rich and powerful, aim higher: becoming admired in your field. One of the greatest blessings in life is meeting someone we truly admire.

The determination to convince someone might stem from being not completely convinced yourself. I do not go around trying to convince people that I am a man.

By complaining that something we have to do is too hard, we add another layer of difficulty. Take a deep breath, and then just do it.

A cruel irony: The reward for someone who works hard is more work.

If we’re quick to grant a favor, then people quickly forget their gratitude. If we grant a favor with several conditions, then people express immense gratitude.


A restaurant specializing in a few good dishes is more likely to develop a good reputation than one with a lengthy menu. Help your child go deep in her area of interest.

Even if you have other motives for volunteering, in the process of helping out and connecting with people you may discover the meaning of life and of happiness. This is why it is important to volunteer regardless of what compels you to do so in the first place.

When it comes to learning a new skill, there are two kinds of people. One kind prefers to first study the typewriter, while the other starts by pounding on the keys. One kind likes to first master the grammar of a foreign language, while the other learns in the trenches, using body language if they must. Generally speaking, the second type tends to learn faster than the first, because the latter is not afraid of making mistakes.

Do not turn down too many opportunities. If you insist you need more preparation, you may not be invited again when you finally feel ready. You are ready. You can take up the challenge.

An inept leader attempts to micromanage everything. His staff will wind up doing only what they are told. A skillful leader knows how to delegate to subordinates and to wait for them to take responsibility and see the job to a successful conclusion.

A jockey does not whip a standing horse. A jockey whips only a running horse.

CHAPTER EIGHT: Spirituality

When an unenlightened person does good, he tries to leave his mark. When an enlightened person does good, he leaves no marks.

The holier a person is, the more likely it is that she describes herself as a sinner. This is because she doesn’t lie to herself.