Book-reviews, Learning, Thoughts, Well-being

Nothing Special – a Personal Story and a Zen Book Review

05/04/2015
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There’s something about Barcelona that made me feel happy for no reason. Or maybe there’s nothing about the city, but the mental point I’ve reached – being happy, not for achieving a goal, but simply for being alive.

I’ve thought that happiness should be achieved: by traveling a lot, having close friends there for me, accomplishing my dreams, doing things I love,  having financial security, and many others. All these are nice to do and have. But life got me to a point where I had little out of these. My internship got to an end, I was completely alone in a foreign country, without others’ support, lost and confused, rejected by a few people, no clear future plans and little money saved. I was, according to society’s expectations, a loser.

I started to question the value of a human being. Are we worthy only because of a job title, salary, location, social class, places we visit or have dinner at? Is this really what defines us or is much more than that?

I refused to consider myself nobody because I had no job, no money saved to live for more than a month, no friends around and no positive self-image.

Instead, I asked myself what I do have and what I have done that makes me a worthy human. And I remembered that I am a believer and an idealist. I do want with all my heart this world to be a better place for all human beings – more collaborative, kinder, more encouraging, loving and supportive. I believe we are all worthy of being happy and at peace and we all can create beauty inside and around us.

I recalled moments when I did good and contributed to humanitarian causes and supported to raise money for medical surgeries, or when I gave a hand in times of despair and confusion, or when I simply was there for someone. And then I realized that these are the things that matter the most and I am worthy without a job and an income. At least in my eyes.

I accepted the moment I was, I asked myself what gifts I received,  what I want to create for the world using them and how I can make that happen. Firstly accepting the moment as it is and being aware of it. This is what “Nothing Special- Living Zen” book is about. Simply about being, staying with the pain, accepting it and letting it be. Eventually it will pass. The pain (anxiety, fear, worries, hatred, etc) that is not acknowledged and accepted will always be there with us:

” When we “run away” from our problems, the problems stay right with us. They like us, and they’ll stay right with us until we pay some real attention to them.”

This book review is part of a personal project, whose story is explained here. Pictures were taken in different spots in Barcelona, mostly where I tend to spend my time reading.

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The author, Charlotte Joko Beck, teacher at the San Diego Zen center, invites us to look at the pain, identify our thoughts and body sensations and let it be. Our innate state of mind is joy, so it will come back to us if we simply learn to stay in the here and now.

The practice of being in the now is simple, though difficult to be maintained. It takes years of practice to fully live in the present, be aware of our thoughts and emotions and stay with them.

The book helped me become more aware of the beauty of my imperfect life and inspired me to accept its flaws more easily. Life has pain and joy and our job is to face everything:

Life is not a safe space. It never was, and it never will be. If we’ve hit the eye of a hurricane for a year or two, it still cannot be counted on. There is no safe space, not for our money, not for ourselves, not for those we love. And it’s not our business to worry about that.
Until we see through the game that doesn’t work, we don’t play the real game. Some people never see through it and die without even having lived. And that’s too bad. We can spend our life blaming other people, circumstances, or our bad luck and thinking about the way life should have been. We can die that way if we want. That’s our privilege, but it’s not much fun. We have to open up to the enormous game going on that we’re part of. Our practice must be careful, meticulous, patient. We have to face everything.”

I was really excited when I read this paragraph because it confirmed me that the practice of asking lots and lots of questions is actually a positive one, even if sometimes is exhausting.

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On the importance of listening to our thoughts, emotions and body:

” When I tell students to experience the body, people tell me, “Oh, yes, I’m feeling my body. I label my thoughts, and then my thoughts, and then I feel my body. But it doesn’t solve anything.” Yes, I feel the tightness in my chest, and I just center in on it and hope it will disappear.” Such comments reveal a personal agenda, a kind of ambition. At bottom, the thought is, “I’m going to do this practice so that I – my little self – can get something out of it.” In fact, as long as out little self is talking like this, we are not truly experiencing. Our practice is contaminated by such agendas, and we all sometimes have them.

We can get closer to an accurate understanding of experiencing by the word listen. Not “I’m going to do this experiencing,” but ” I’m simply going to listen  to my bodily sensations.” If I truly listen to that ache in my left side, there’s an element of curiosity, of what is this? (If I’m not curious, I am always caught up in my thoughts.) Like a good scientist who is simply observant, without preconceived notions, we just watch or observe. We listen.

If our mind is stirred up with personal concerns, we can’t listen – or rather, we don’t want to listen; we want to think. That’s why labeling, watching the mind and its activities, is often necessary for quite a while before the second nonstate of experiencing or being can even start. This nonstate is what make our practice religious. Experiencing is the realm of no time, no space, true nature. Just is-ness, thus-ness, God.”

I had an aha moment when I read this: “Where we are is where we need to be.” That gave me a feeling of acceptance of what it is and of trust in the process of life.

I used to want to control everything: How I feel, where I go, with whom, what I talk about, how long I need to accomplish a task, so on. I now believe it is great to have objectives and decide what to go for, but I’ve learned that when things don’t happen the way I planned or hoped, it’s okay. Maybe it’s for a reason and there is something to learn from that experience. And maybe it’s just another lesson to learn a bit better the dance between making things happen and letting them happen.

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