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Book Review: Everyday Zen

Everyday Zen Cover image

I didn’t know what to expect when I first picked up Everyday Zen. I saw it mentioned on an e-mail list quite awhile ago and subsequently added it to my “To Be Read” list. The author, Charlotte Joko Beck, teaches at the Zen Center in San Diego and this introductory book is compilation of her talks aimed at those who are newcomers to Zen (although experienced Zen folks certainly can derive benefit as well).

The author takes familiar Zen concepts and helps us to apply them to our everyday lives. Some topics discussed are: feelings, religion love, anger, relationships, suffering, renunciation, tragedy, aspiration, expectation and more. While most people associate Zen with “sitting”, the author shows us that real action is necessary as well for a rounded practice – and provides practical advice on recommended actions. I found that reading this book opened my eyes and made me think about the manner in which I approach my life – and my relationships with others.

The author communicated her ideas in easy-to-understand plain English and included several excellent stories to make her point, making the book accessible to a wide audience. I admit that I have read some Zen books in the past where every page was a struggle. Not so with Everyday Zen. Her easygoing style helps make the book practical as well as full of wisdom.

A good portion of the book had to do with the ego or as Echart Tolle refers to it “The drama that is me.” Joko Beck leads us down the path of learning to not only keep the ego (she refers to the ego as “pride”) in check, but how to recognize ego interruption when it is occurring. She teaches how to step back and observe. When we are angry, we learn to observe that we are angry (rather than just experiencing the anger). Once we do this, wisdom comes in, allowing us to see the world as it really is, not just the way we want it to be.

One example that she used that really resonated with me was being in an argument. When we are in the midst of arguing with someone, it’s almost impossible for us to look at and label our thoughts because a huge block stands in our way. This block is our need to be “right”. This need to be right is one of the reasons why it’s so hard for us to back away and look at our ego. This is something I myself have worked on and struggled with over the years — these days, I find that being right is not as important to me as it was when I was younger and more “ego-driven”. It certainly makes for a lot less stressful life.

Consistent with Zen teachings, the author stresses over and over the need to be present, to be in the moment. She points out that when we live mainly in our daydreams and hopes, we miss actual life as it is happening. We give our life over to hopes, thoughts and fantasies. We daydream, we hope for something special, something ideal – and when it doesn’t come to pass, we are not only disappointed, but also anxious, even desperate.

What I liked about the book is that she shows how to relate these teachings to our everyday lives in our busy, ego-centric Western world – how to put Zen teaching into practical everyday use.

I found the book to be full of wisdom and helpful advice — and I believe that those not even on a Zen path can derive benefit from it. Recommended!

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