Dr. Hal French has taught Zen classes and workshops at the University of South Carolina, the Esalen Institute, and elsewhere. In a biographical note, he writes: "My own root-stock, religiously, is still Christianity however it seems possible to graft insights from other traditions onto that root-stock, enriching, not adulterating the original." With a deft but light-hearted touch, he delineates the graceful ways in which the wisdom and disciplines of Zen can be applied to everyday activities such as working and sleeping, moving and staying, eating and drinking, playing and working, caring and loving, thriving and surviving.
French begins by calling the Japanese the world's greatest borrowers. "It is a notion which accords well with the Buddhist teaching of emptiness, which can simply be defined as openness, a willingness in this case to absorb from strange systems, to drink from alien wells. . . . Emptiness implies an invitation to be filled, a welcome to what is offered by a myriad of potential hosts."
The author demonstrates the same hospitality in his utilization of a variety of charming Zen stories and extensive quotations from poets, seers, and revered teachers. Thanks to his keen talent for "inloquence," deep listening, French is able to deliver refreshing commentary on meditation, breathing, the tea ceremony, and the art of being intimate with all things.
We were especially impressed with the chapter on play where French quotes Lin Yutang: "If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live." The author admirably succeeds in conveying how bromidic tasks in the home can be bearers of delight and meaning.
Near the end of the book, French writes: "I am convinced that the best antidote to boredom is not escape, but attention. If the situation cannot be profitably changed, then immerse yourself in it. Bring an artisan's spirit to your work, taking pride in your best, most focused effort." Fine and inspiring words. In Zen and the Art of Anything, French doesn't just talk, he walks the talk bringing an artisan's spirit to his writing.