Around the world reading challenge- Book 2: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind


This is a book by a Japanese priest of the Soto lineage, Shunryu Suzuki (1904-1971). He taught in the US from 1959 until his death and is viewed as the founding father of Zen in America. It is a classic and well loved book.

I was listening to the radio when I heard the a phrase, “books are patient”. This one has been sitting patiently to be read for more than 5 years. Another idea that I came across this week was from Austin Kleon that removed any guilt for having not read it yet. I’ve started reading his book, Steal Like an Artist and really like his blog.

“Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to. Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Filmmaker John Waters has said, “Nothing is more important than an unread library.” Don’t worry about doing research. Just search.”
― Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

I had tried to read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind before but didn’t really get into it. It’s a short book. This time around I read it mostly in a weekend. It made sense to me in that making sense not quite making sense kind of non-dualistic way that this book is so much better at expressing. Meaning I can’t say I get it completely, but it resonates with me. It’s like that notion of effortless effort. You must make an effort but not too much, not too little.

This idea of non-duality reminded me of an audio book I heard a few months ago by Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg, A Conversation on The Writing Life. Both are writers and teach writing from a spiritual perspective. It would seem that although starting from different points, they arrive at the same end sometimes or at other times shed light on different, sometimes contrary qualities and experiences of writing. Natalie Goldberg’s book, Writing Down the Bones is one that I would like to read once I get through the Artist’s Way, another patient book that has been started a few times but not yet finished.

I started reading the first 20 pages of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind the same weekend that I attended Baxter’s Hoop Path workshop. The ideas seemed to be applicable to approaching any type of practice, including hooping. When I picked the book up last week, the next topic was mind weeds, just what I was encountering with my Artist’s Way exercises. The book is a collection of essays. Each essay came from a recorded talk by Suzuki and begins with an excerpt from the talk.

MIND WEEDS “You should rather be grateful for the weeds you have in your mind, because eventually they will enrich your practice.”

-Shunryu Suzuki

Pull out the mind weeds, but don’t make a big deal out of it. Mind weeds will enrich your practice. I have examples of this from my yoga practice with a particular hard driving teacher. I noticed that certain mind weeds did change over time, not by trying to change my thoughts, but just showing up to class week after week. I noticed that corrections that once stressed me out, I could accept without taking it personally and saw this is good for me.

Artist’s Way seems to take a more proactive stance about pulling weeds and replacing them right away. But similarly, in the end you have fewer weeds. It becomes no big deal. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind is a book that you could pick up and read randomly and find something to make you pause and take a wider view of things or maybe come back to my favourite question “what are you wearing?”. I have a feeling I will be revisiting this book and it will be one to keep.

I just finished listening to an audio book that recommends drastically reducing the number of things in your home and only keeping the things that spark joy, including books. I really like the sound of this method. She says it takes about 6 months, but you only need to do it once ever. She teaches her method and has never had a repeat client. It was strangely entertaining for a book of this nature. The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up also happens to be by a Japanese author, Marie Kondo.

Recently, I wrote about a mat, a hat, and now a man who sat. If you’re having a Dr. Suess moment here are some quotes by Dr. Suess to make you smile. I had planned on reading a Korean children’s book as my book from an Asian author but I finished this one first. I’m still working on it. I need to review my Korean vowels and learn to read in Korean. With the combination of illustrations, an English phrase per page and a recording of the story to listen to, I understood what was going on. The last thing I remember reading ( rather stumbling through syllable by syllable) was in high school Saturday morning Korean class and it was a dialog about ordering Seolleongtang (ox-bone soup) in a restaurant. I need the equivalent of Dr. Suess in Korean or something at that level. That’s where I’m at.

June Written by:

One Comment

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    May 1, 2015

    Hi June, lovely article. I read Beginners Mind around 15 yrs ago. I loved it and found comfort and resonance. : -). K

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