Blending Self-Improvement with Zen

By Wes Annac, Editor, Openhearted Rebellion

To me, spirituality is more than a fad or a way to appear wiser than I really am. I use it as inspiration to improve myself.

Some teachers say that trying to change yourself at all is misguided and pointless. They believe that spirituality – Zen in particular – is about accepting who you are and letting go of all ambition to be something else.

For many, spirituality is a haven from the grind of daily life. It doesn’t encourage them to confront their struggles, but rather, let go. They believe that letting go of all desire, ambition, and struggle is the only way to achieve a proper meditative state. Self-improvement doesn’t matter if this life is an illusion we must wake up from.

I disagree; spirituality and self-improvement blend well for many people. Some of us need a philosophy that discourages stagnation, pushes us to be better, and keeps us from negative thoughts that might otherwise consume us.

When I write, meditate, or attempt to exercise, I’m far away from those negative thoughts and habits. Living this way removes my focus from the toxic stuff and lets me put my energy into things that matter. I’ve combined meditation with discipline and hard work to craft a productive life I can enjoy.

Spirituality has helped me understand the value of working hard and staying active. I never used to strive for much because it was easier not to try. That changed when I discovered meditation. I’m still far from the most disciplined person on the planet, but now, I have goals and the motivation to try harder.

Researching meditation led me to learn about the brain’s reward system, which is responsible for our experience of pleasure. This system rewards accomplishment with a feeling of blissful satisfaction.

It turns out that the brain is wired to seek reward through struggle. That’s why it feels so good to finish a difficult task. On some level, your mind and body crave that challenge. The problem is that for many, the craving to sit on the couch and watch TV is stronger.

To a spiritual seeker, meditating and trying to crack the secrets of the universe is more appetizing than creating something or breaking a sweat in the hot sun. Some of them would laugh at the thought of hard work because to them, it’s irrelevant.

I understand why they think this way, but I think discipline and hard work have an important role to play on the spiritual path. I borrow from ideologies that promote stillness as well as discipline. I push myself to achieve but also make time for meditation.

This path is a work in progress, and I work at it every day in hopes of improving little by little. Some days are better than others, but for the most part, I’m dedicated. Since I enjoy what I do, working at it is not so bad. Pushing myself to improve is part of the fun.

If you consider yourself spiritual, remember that it’s healthy to do strenuous things that help you grow as a person. We should accept ourselves as we are, but we should also be unafraid to evolve. This is one of many paradoxes that come with living in a universe nobody truly understands.

Featured image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

About Wes Annac:

I’m a twenty-something writer & blogger with an interest in spirituality, love, awareness, activism, and other crazy stuff. I run Openhearted Rebellion – a blog dedicated to sharing wisdom and encouraging a revolution that begins in the heart.

I also run Canna Words – a blog in which I share some of my research and opinions on cannabis. There, I write about everything from legalization to hemp and the various ways people use the cannabis plant.

I’ve contributed to a few awesome websites that include Waking Times, Wake Up World, Golden Age of Gaia, and The Master Shift. I can be found on Facebook (, and Twitter (, rebellion)

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