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November 6, 2009 / Melissa Yuan-Innes

Zen books and other awesome enterprises

Note:  I am reposting my old blogs from Livejournal, so the life commentary is out of date but still historically interesting to moi, so I’m leaving it in.

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Olo on our wedding anniversary, August 2008

My beloved, perfect, 4-year-old golden retriever mix has cancer. Not just any cancer, of course, but the most aggressive soft tissue sarcoma the Ottawa oncology surgeon has ever seen.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m a bowling pin being knocked about by a demon in brown and white bowling shoes, but I’ve tried to stay centred. My friends and family have helped. And so have my book friends.

I’ve had a few requests for Zen book reqs, so here it goes. Sorry, I don’t have time to make links for all of them, but I know you’re all computer-savvy, or you wouldn’t be here, right? Dive in.

It’s Easier Than you Think, Sylvia Boorstein. I find her so accessible, down-to-earth, and honest. For example, she and a friend planted so many onions, they’d have an excess, and the friend said, “We can give them to the food bank.” Sylvia’s first reaction was, no! I’ll buy onions for the food bank, but these onions are mine! Then she relaxed and thought, Of course. Good idea. I could totally relate to the onion possessiveness. I am learning to let go.

Zen Shorts, by Jon Muth. The children’s book I never get tired of reading to my son. Wise, funny, beautifully illustrated.

Writing Down The Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. My first introduction to Zen at age 18, by Dr. Sylvia Bowerbank, in my Writing and Informal Logic class. I was more interested in the writing, but certain Zen ideas pop into my mind regularly. For example, she got a divorce and asked her teacher, Katagiri Roshi, “But what if I’m lonely? Do you get lonely?” He said, “I don’t let it toss me away. It is just loneliness.” Simple but profound. Similar to what the Dalai Lama said about anger.

The Chocolate Cake Sutra, by Geri Larkin. Once I got past the first few pages, I dove in and consumed this book and have started reading her backlist. Her Detroit abbey was plagued by rats. Everyone said to shoot them or poison them, but since that goes against the principle of non-violence, they brainstormed and came up with a different solution: clean up all the garbage. Where there’s no garbage, there are no rats. So they took on this laborious, slow work, but it worked. I also loved the “crazy wisdom” of one of her colleagues. She held a fundraiser where you could ask this woman anything, and she answered everything from “How do you manage to pray when you have four children underfoot?” and “I’m not supposed to be attached to earthly things, but my first baby is about to be born, and I already can’t imagine my life without her.”

Things Fall Apart, Pema Chodron. It made me see things in a deeper way. Nearly every mini essay made me pause to think. For example, how does maitri (lovingkindness toward the self) help the world? And, as in all books I can relate to, she doesn’t pretend to be all that. When her husband told her he was leaving her, she threw a rock at his head. But she emphasizes that all crises are an invitation to soften and develop insight. (Or, you know, you could just bomb the hell out of everyone. My addendum.)

I am also picking through Zen Guitar and Being Zen. The former is excellent and the latter is more dense but interesting.

Added in 2009:

Everyday Zen:  Love & work, by Charlotte Jocko Beck.  Blew me away.  I made this one a FUNA (fave book) after she challenged my ideas about writing and other former pleasures.  By trying to compete with other people and turning it into work instead of pleasure, I have ruined it.  But I’m trying to get it back.

Lovingkindness, Sharon Salzberg.  Chock-full of goodness, but I especially remember her comparison of dropping a teaspoon of salt into a cup vs. into the ocean.  Everyone’s like, noooo!  Not the salt!  Keep that salt away from me!  But you can’t alter the salt (death, illness, other crappy stuff) as easily as you can modify what it spills into.  Meditation and mindfulness allow you to become more like the ocean that can better accept the salt instead of the cup of water.

Non-Buddhist but still-useful resources:

Dojo Wisdom for Mothers, Dojo Wisdom, and (I am ordering) Dojo Wisdom for Writers, by Jennifer Lawler. Quick, simple, but profound pages. I bought the first based on a quote from a female Supreme Court Justice who was asked how she balanced work and family. She replied, “I have a brain and a uterus and I use both.” The author was overweight and suffering from rheumatoid arthritis before she discovered martial arts. It saved her life. And it saved her life again when her daughter was born with tubular sclerosis because she’d learned mental clarity as well as physical skills. I would love for my son to learn martial arts and yoga.

The Joy Diet, by Martha Beck. I love her wry, self-depracating, but confident voice, and I love what she has to say. For example, give yourself three treats a day. That means anything that makes you smile. Her high-powered clients say, “Well, I guess I could exercise more.” That’s me, baby. I’m working on the treats.

Yoga Today, yogatoday.com

I’ve been doing yoga since before Madonna and Lulu Lemon, and this site lets me watch three different teachers teach classes on different levels. I still tend to rush through the breathing at the beginning (my bad), but I love being able to try classes for free, at home, on my own time. And I learn from them. During one class, I realized that yoga is a form of prayer and meditation for me. It’s a time where I can clear the chattering of my mind and just be present and send well-wishes. During a class with the theme of ahisma (non-violence), I realized that worrying was actually a form of violence against myself. Slowly, I try to un-learn that habit.

Speaking of Faith podcasts, NPR
I’m a fan of a lot of NPR shows, but this one helps me go deep. Waagiri Maatai, the Kenyan woman who planted 30 million (30 million!) trees with the help of rural women, was imprisoned for her efforts, but won the Nobel prize and now keeps on planting. I loved hearing about how the indiginous Kenyan spiritual beliefs, her Catholic upbringing, and her Ph.D. in the U.S. during the turbulent 1960s all helped influence her. It reminded me of the Buddhist response to all the violence and chaos surrounding us: plant a tree. And I decided that instead of struggling to find the perfect Christmas or gifts for families who have everything, I would give them a tree. They may hate it. The tree may die. But I will give them a tree anyway.

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5 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Carolyn Downey / May 29 2010 12:31 am

    If I had a greenback for each time I came here… Amazing read.

  2. charlotte wedding venues / May 29 2010 5:56 am

    Hi,
    I really liked your blog! you are a very talented person
    Regards,
    Viny

    • melissayuaninnes / May 31 2010 5:41 am

      Thank you, Viny. I’m sure you’re a very talented person too. And Charlotte, South Carolina is a lovely area to say “yes” to.
      Cheers,
      Melissa

  3. Minority School Grants / Jun 2 2010 1:46 am

    Hi,
    I really liked your blog! you are a very talented person..

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