"The flower in the grass may point the way with humble ease, but what about wall rubble and discarded plastic toys and a broken tile in the weeds? That too is where we live; it is fragment of our regular world of human trouble and riches, and it waits to meet with us. I suggest we can well afford to love it, tend to it with our open attention, redeem it with our full imagination. To fail to truly attend to it is to lay waste the place right where we are, where we live our lives. It is to agree to live with indifference." So writes Susan Murphy, a Zen teacher in Sydney who has established the Pacific Zen Institute. She regularly conducts sesshin (Zen retreats) with the Zen Open Circle and is a writer and feature film director. In the foreword, John Tarrrant says: "This book locates spiritual work where it has always really belonged bang in the middle of whatever is happening, Susan Murphy is a gifted leader in a new generation of Zen masters, and an excellent writer."
This always inventive and enlightening paperback holds up the upside-down wisdom of Zen where reason and predictability are set spinning in the face of life's many surprises. Murphy examines Zen as a direct path into reality with its emphasis upon meditation and breathing, practice, koans, and the teacher-student relationship. She likes Zen's playfulness and crazy wisdom. She hits high stride in a section where she relates this path to environmental awareness, aboriginal spirituality, and the presence of the feminine in Western Zen.
Our favorite piece in the book is "The Hermitage in the Street." Here Murphy challenges us to find glints of meaning, beauty, and grace in an ordinary city street that may not seem to offer much but which beckons us to open our hearts, minds, and senses to the many mysteries going on beneath the surface of things. A walking meditation in the city can reveal "the marvelous in the ordinary."
The last section of Upside-Down Zen zeroes in on a variety of fascinating and complex subjects including character, dealing with difficulties, mistakes and grace, viewing all days as good days, and living a scaled-down life. Murphy has a knack for making the most out of pithy bits of Zen wisdom such as "Accept all offers" and "There is nothing I dislike." Judging from the few references to movies in this paperback, we would love to see how Murphy relates Zen to cinema. Perhaps this could be the focus of another book.