Book Review: Nothing Special, Living Zen by Charlotte J. Beck

There’s got to be a shift from when you stop worrying so much about being special, and start focusing more on being content.  It’s a shift from focusing on your sole happiness to thinking about bringing good to others and the world at large.  Is it an age thing?  A circumstantial thing?  A luck-of-the-draw thing?

If there’s one thing I’ve taken away from this book, it’s that I don’t need to worry about figuring it out.  The Universe is as it is, time marches on, and I don’t need to worry about figuring out why.  That is not the same as saying I shouldn’t keep trying to figure out why.  I simply needn’t worry about it.

Are you following me?  The words are tricky, and sometimes people stubbornly stick to their own opinions before opening themselves up to more nuanced interpretations of the zen lifestyle Beck explains in these pages.  Despite this, the zen perspective seems to boil down to remarkably simple tenets, that may only be difficult to fully comprehend because they are meant to be experienced rather than read about in a book.

Nothing Special probably isn’t for everyone (I mean, look at the title); it can be repetitive at times (really, each chapter eventually reads like a variation on the same theme of non-attachment), and at other times lacks a tangible foundation in application of its concepts (so much talk of “sitting” without any explanation of what that translates to in real life – are you really just sitting for hours at a time each day to understand the concept of non-attachment?  Are there stages of progression, methods of meditation?  I felt a little unclear on that).  As I mentioned before, there are concepts that the written word fails to explain in lieu of instructive experience.

Still, if you are someone who enjoys exploring different perspectives on this life and our experience of it, who is curious about zen and theories of non-attachment as a means to alleviate suffering, this book is direct and clear in its exposition of “living zen.”  I found many phrases and nuggets of wisdom that I could apply directly to my own life experience, and would not be surprised if I came back to my (now heavily annotated) copy of this book for inspiration or guidance in the future.

Greatest take-away:  There is nothing required for me to fix, to find, or to create in this world; everything is as it is, and I am here as an observer.  Only when I am completely open and raw to the vast possibilities of the Universe (which are neither good nor bad, but simply as they are), will I know true compassion, true release from suffering.  I must be curious as opposed to judgmental, and real as opposed to perfect.  There is and never will be control, but wonder and joy in this life should I choose to embrace it exactly as it is in each present moment.

YoginiJackPaperBackRating:  4/5 stars


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