Thursday, April 24, 2014

Book Review: Paradise in Plain Sight

I finished Paradise in Plain Sight in three sittings.  I read it the way hungry people stuff themselves at an all you can eat buffet.  I piled up the pages, devoured them all, and rolled away round and full.  The meal was that good. 

If you are hungry, if you yearn for the thing that is missing in your life, if you wonder why your life is taking so long or why there isn't more time, if every once in a while you tire of feeling anxious or confused or put upon....This book makes for one delicious, nutritious meal.

As in Maezen's previous books, Momma Zen and Hand Wash Cold, she offers up her life with generous honesty.  When someone asks her daughter what it's like to have a Zen priest for a mom, her daughter tells it straight up, "She yells a lot."  After buying a new house, our guide/heroine experiences that, "peculiar misery that follows as soon as you're handed what you asked for."  Later in the book she describes how she's spent a long stretch of her life living as though there were two versions of herself--one version, the as-is model, and the other version, the much-improved model.  "I am taunted by her perfection," she says. Sound familiar?  The point here is that she's a lot more like the rest of us than her Zen robes might make you think.

And at the same time, she is a sensei.  She is ahead on the path and is shining a light along the way.  Her guidance comes in the form of poetic language, "You have to rely on a sliver of moonlight, because half of every day is night," instruction, "the best place to practice is a place you don't want to be, using time you don't think you have," and straight forward presentation of Buddhist dharma concepts.  

I know, I know, you're not a Buddhist.  But here's the thing, the word dharma is often translated as truth, and can have a capital T--truth kind of a feel to it.  My experience of it is more basic than that.  Dharma feels like firm ground, it is the way things are, it is the stuff that holds steady over time and in every kind of weather.  You know it when you encounter it whether it comes from Jesus, the Buddha or Captain Picard.  So spare yourself wondering whether or not "Lessons from a Zen garden," are for you.  They are. 

With that, I'll leave you with one of my favorite passages:

"Don't worry about a thing.  It's the garden that makes the gardener, not the other way around.  All you have to do is show up."

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