"When we run to things and people that taste and feel good we get stuck in honey like bees. The addiction to this sweetness in life can trap us, often we can't get out. In that case the sweetness turns into a different kind of poison," writes Brenda Shoshanna, a psychologist and therapist who has been a Zen practitioner for 28 years. In this well-written work, the author applies the timeless wisdom of monks and Zen masters to the rigors and strains of our hurried and harried contemporary lives. The book starts out with an overview of Zen, koans, ordinary mind, and doing nothing, and then turns cartwheels and somersaults in chapters on cravings and compulsions, letting go, and dissolving the false self. She finishes off with "Zen, God, and Enlightenment."
Shoshanna does a marvelous job pointing out how zazen enables practitioners to come to terms with the repetitiveness of everyday life. Over and over again, the meditator returns to the cushion and starts afresh. Suzuki Roshi says: "If you lose the spirit of repetition, your practice will become quite difficult." And he's right. Worrying about feeling special or achieving results doesn't matter. The process is all important. And perseverance is the key.
Shoshanna quotes Dogen Zenji: "Life Is One Continuous Mistake" as a prelude to her wonderful anecdote about her propensity for stepping in potholes: "During my life and Zen practice if there has been a pothole in the street, like clockwork, I fall into it. If there was a mistake to be made, I made it. Not only once, but again and again. Instead of fearing to walk out of the house, I have learned to enjoy being in the potholes when I land there and spend time looking around. Rather than hating myself or the potholes, I just simply say, 'Oh blind again.' After fully experiencing a pothole, as many times as I fall in, getting out becomes easier."
We quote this brief vignette as a shining example of the author's ability to bring Zen to life on these pages in ways that are fresh and poignant at the same time. Life is filled with troubles, and we will err again and again. Zen miracles arise from being able to stay with our experience and learn from it, to accept our flaws, and to emerge from the whole thing with a lightness of being. The last page of the book contains a series of spiritual aphorisms that sum up the teachings in this capacious volume. Contemplate the following: "We cannot stop the noise, but we can stop ourselves. We can accept the noise."