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Holiday Book Bonanza ’09:
Robert J. Wicks

It has become a holiday tradition on the OUPblog to ask our favorite people about their favorite books.  This year we asked authors to participate (OUP authors and non-OUP authors).  For the next two weeks we will be posting their responses which reflect a wide variety of tastes and interests, in fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.  Check back daily for new books to add to your 2010 reading lists.  If that isn’t enough to keep you busy next year check out all the great books we have discovered during past holiday seasons: 2006, 2007, 2008 (US), and 2008 (UK).

Dr. Robert J. Wicks, the author of Bounce: Living the Resilient Life, is a professor at Loyola University Maryland. Bounce is a guide for managing stress, turning it into an opportunity, and living more meaningfully in the process.  Wick’s favorite book stays true to the theme of living a better life.

A psychiatrist was once asked by his wife why he was a disciple of Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki and he replied, “Where he is, is where I want to be, in that place of sanity.” This is my experience as well when I read, take notes on, and seek to live out Suzuki’s teachings as they are related in his biography by David Chadwick, The Crooked Cucumber.

Described by his biographer as a kind and gentle guide with backbone, Chadwick presents Suzuki in an unvarnished way that turns out to make him an even more appealing model for those of us who feel far from perfect ourselves, yet still desirous of so much more in the short life available to us.

Physician and writer Walker Percy in one of his novels poses the question, “What if life is like a train and you miss it?” It is clear from this biography that not only didn’t Suzuki miss his, but he also helped many in the West to live out their lives more completely as well.

The center of the path to accomplish this was not taking extra-ordinary measures or achieving promised mystical experiences but instead by practicing Zazen (sitting meditation.)

The spirit that comes through in this book is a series of fresh, formidable and infectious lessons that call us to be a student for our whole life. It also is based on a simple principle (everything changes) and a focused goal (be clear—especially about ourselves.) In Suzuki’s own words, “When you are fooled by something else the damage will not be so big. But when you are fooled by yourself, it is fatal. No more medicine.”

Meditation, which is a formal sense of mindfulness, is woven through Suzuki’s own story and physical and spiritual journey from Japan to America. Described as accessible to all, sitting meditation is presented both with its challenges and enthusiastically for what it may provide us.

For instance, when a publisher of beat poetry who was a student of Suzuki laments after 1 ½ years of practice that he couldn’t continue because every time he meditated he started to cry, the Zen Master doesn’t seek to talk him out of stopping meditation but simply stated, “You try and you try and you fail…and then you go deeper.”

On the other hand, when asked by a university professor in San Francisco the reason why students who came to see him stopped abusing drugs, Suzuki replied, “They simply sit Zazen and then they soon forget about those things.”

I found this biography to be so richly written that I felt that when I was reading and studying my notes from it, for a while I was truly a disciple of Suzuki’s as well.
When after a period of sitting meditation he said to his students, “You are all perfect as you are” and then after a brief pause (probably with a smile on his face) added “and you could all use a little improvement.” I felt he was speaking to me as well.

As a therapist and mentor myself, I try to help be with others in a spirit of both clarity and kindness because when people sit in the right interpersonal space, insight becomes possible, amazing change can begin.

In experiencing David Chadwick’s biography of Shunryu Suzuki, The Crooked Cucumber, that very space was provided for me. It is a true joy for me to recommend it to you.

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