being still with just this mind

Book Review: Everything is the Way: Ordinary Mind Zen by Elihu Genmyo Smith

From its Introduction to the last chapter, there is a tone of quiet humility in Elihu Genmyo Smith’s writing.  That gives it some serious street cred when he begins the first chapter “Be still.”

Sitting is a natural slowing down of this rushing, self-centered, mind-body chattering that we often live.

A student and dharma heir of Joko Beck, the chapters are infused with her way of writing (I’ve only read ever read Joko’s teachings) and I felt this particular book as an extension of her words.  Genmyo Smith explains complex ideas of nonduality and the impact on our everyday life, the Four Noble Truths and a variety of Zen practices with a light and open hand.  In his way of teaching what could be trite – “Zen is being intimate, being who we are” – becomes an opportunity to explore how we build the walls of self-centered dreams and engage in avoidance of “each moment, life as it is…”

“Life as it is” does not mean that “I don’t need to practice; I’ll just go on with my life and learn what is needed.”  That would be like saying, “Having food in the fridge is enough; I don’t have to prepare it and put it in my moth.”  The ludicrousness of this is obvious; yet often in our life we do not see the need to make and effort to practice.”

Genmyo Smith weaves teaching from the Pali Canon, Dogen, and Hakuin, sutras and koans, his dharma talks and exchanges with students.  Each chapter is unique in offering some aspect of practice and it’s often an aspect that has confounded me or seem impenetrable.  I particularly enjoyed the last chapters which were devoted to Jukai, likely because I tend to be a slave to ritual.  And yet, buried in a sentence down towards the end of a page was a nugget just for me:

As I said, receiving the precepts is receiving our life.

Just in this moment, on this day, I needed to hear that.  Joko Beck’s voice, blended with Maezumi Roshi’s and all my teachers.  It is encouraging in this moment to feel the understanding that, through the many ceremonies, I have been offered my life and perhaps it is time to receive it.

Genmyo Smith’s book is a little treasure to open over and over again.  I’d recommend the paperback edition over the ebook – much better for making your life notes in the margin.

Read more on Genmyo’s blog Clouds.

what interferes

Every moment of our life is relationship.  There is nothing except relationship.  At this moment my relationship is to the rug, to the room, to my own body, to the sound of my voice.  There is nothing except my being in relationship at each second.  And as we practice, what grows in our life is this: first, our realization that there is nothing but being in relationship to whatever is happening in each moment; and second, our growing commitment to this relationship.  Now that seems simple enough – so what interferes?  What blocks our commitment to a specific human relationship, or to studying, to working, to having a good time?  What is there that blocks relationship?

Joko Beck (1917-2011 June 15), Everyday Zen

Joko has passed on

from Clouds:


The following from Joko’s daughter and son:

Our mother, Joko, died peacefully at 0730 Wednesday June 15, 2011.

That’s all for now.  I’ll email again.  For now, please think of some
teaching of hers that may have opened you to transformation in some
aspect of your life and the transformation that occurred.

Love to all and thank you for your prayers for a peaceful passing for
the most amazing person I have ever known.

Gassho,  Brenda Chiko

meticulous care

Meditation is not about some state, but about the meditator.

Joko Beck (1917-2011 June 15), Everyday Zen

We started in on the vegetable garden.  Finally!  Not because we’re lazy, negligent gardeners.  It’s a matter of weather; the ground really doesn’t warm up until about now.  No amount of optimism in the warm and sunny days of May is going to change the fact that we only get one growing season here in Zone 4a.  I’d always railed against it, pushing the season by setting things out on May 24th – that magical date for Northern addict-gardeners – then having to rush out with bed sheets and blankets to protect the plants from the chilly mornings.

A car-side chat with my equally fanatic-gardener neighbour opened my eyes to something.  “You know,” he said, “We may only get one crop but you can still plant by July 1st and get it before frost.”  Of course, I thought to myself as I drove away.  I loved the turn-around.  I could let go of getting the seeds and plants in quickly.  I could now focus on just what was here:  eight 4×4 boxes chaotically overflowing with relatively inedible greenery; weeds don’t believe in short growing seasons.  Enthusiasm and equanimity strangled in a mental tangle of twisted vines.

Joko explains what she means by her statement above.  It’s not about analyzing ourselves; it’s about watching how we get lost in our thoughts.  We roam around in our heads as a way of protecting ourselves from what is unfolding right now, what difficulty we may be facing in this moment.  “We want to figure life out,” she says.  However, what really happens is that we slide into a fantasy about our boss, friend, family member, or even weed-filled boxes.  It’s a way of protecting ourselves from reality.  But it doesn’t work because it actually takes us away from reality and worse, creates one that is unflattering about who we are.  That is why, when we sit, it should be with “great, meticulous care” and observe every thought, labeling them with attentive detail.

So I sat in the middle of that vegetable garden and treated it like my mind.  Each plant was a thought that I labeled.  “Green vine.”  “Dandelion.”  “Tall spindly thing with yellow flower.”  “Thistle.”  “Stinging nettle.”  “Clover.”  “Jerusalem artichoke.”  Sometimes a plant would appear to be something I could cultivate into something edible; some of these weeds look like coriander or parsley.  Label and pull: “Plant that looks like an herb.”  Slowly, the boxes cleared and the earth shone through.  By the end of the day, we had put in 30 tomato plants, 4 chilli peppers, and a few lettuce into five of the boxes.

Earlier in the Spring, I had checked the strawberry box and thought the 36 plants had not survived the winter.  Peeling away the layers of weeds, I discovered several had survived – our first strawberries in a patch I thought was ready for the compost.  I labeled them, tenderly, “Sweet.”

Zen is about an active life, an involved life.  When we know our minds well and the emotions that our thinking creates, we tend to see better what our lives are about and what needs to be done, which is generally just the next task under our nose.

Joko Beck

Joko Beck

Via Clouds June 13

The following from Joko’s son, Greg Tando Beck:

“Hi all, Just a note to you about Joko. Brenda and I are at here side and keeping her comfortable. She will pass on soon, like today or so. So wish her well in her final chapter and send her your prayers and love.”

Namo Avalokiteshvara
Namo Avalokiteshvara
Namo Avalokiteshvara