Zen in the Age of Anxiety: Wisdom for Navigating Our Modern Lives by Tim Burkett and Wanda Isle (editor), Shambhala Publications, US $16.95, Pp 172, June 2018, ISBN 978-1611804867
Most people suffer from anxiety for one reason or other. Anxiety can take different forms and may have different causes. Some people suffer anxiety because they feel they are a good-for-nothing. Others may be anxious because they are unable to decide whether sex is good or bad. For yet many of us, the cause of anxiety is money. Many of us suffer from anxiety just because we are unable to accept failures in life. In Zen in the Age of Anxiety, Tim Burkett offers an approach to life that opens us to a new way of thinking and being in the world. As the Guiding Teacher of Minnesota Zen Meditation Center, Burkett has the right credentials to write such a book. He was a student of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi and later of Dainin Katagiri Roshi, in whose lineage he is a dharma heir. He is also the author of Nothing Holy About It. Tim Burkett says that we can overcome our anxiety by practicing meditation the Zen way. He warns that meditation doesn’t save us from life’s trials and tragedies. Contrarily, Zen meditation allows us to enter completely both the joy and darkness that make up this great life.
In the Western societies, feelings of unworthiness are pervasive. We are enticed into a self-centered dream, hypnotized by the movies we make. We get caught in when our original nature is veiled by feelings of guilt, shame, remorse, anguish, and resentment. We may even feel as if we’re sleepwalking through life. Burkett says that healing happens naturally as we penetrate these trance-inducing veils with mindful attention. We start by seeing clearly the thought patterns that cause us so much pain. These trance-inducing veils include fear, anger, and anxiety. Zen in the Age of Anxiety demystifies our emotional reactivity so we can live with buoyancy and skillfulness, even during emotional storms.
From Zen point of view, sex is not immoral or sinful, but it is a powerful force – so much so that it can distract us from our commitment to meditation. If you want to wake up to your true interdependent nature, your commitment to practice has to permeate your life, as long as an active sex life doesn’t interfere with that commitment, sex is not condemned. Since Zen does not dictate a moral code of conduct, we don’t differentiate between reproductive and recreational sex. Hooking up, dating and even one-night stands are fine as long as there is a mutual understanding. A spiritual practice is not healthy if it does not accept the intrinsic pleasure of sex. If we can accept the intrinsic pleasure of the sun’s warmth, the sound of rain, a good meal, or the ecstasy of an enlightenment experience, then why not the pleasure of sex?
Adding money to money does not buy more happiness. In fact, having too much money may actually lessen our experience of happiness. Burkett says that Zen doesn’t differentiate between the spiritual and material, or between the end and the means. If all things are infinitely worthy just as they are, there is no need to get all wigged out about the equal production and distribution of merciful goods. If we are truly actualizing the principle of infinite worth, we take care of each other naturally, without creating artificial boundaries between the physical and the spiritual or between the collective and the individual. What is good for the individual is good for the collective.
Most Western cultures take a dim view of failure. That is not the case with Zen. Meeting failure informs your life below the conscious level. That means failure cannot be turned into a technique. If you think of failure as a technique, you are not truly meeting it. You’re trying to mold it, rather than allowing your experience to mold you. When we accept failure completely, without qualification, it strips us of all the inessentials. We have the opportunity to return to our deepest level of being. Then, when we meditate, we become focused without even trying. We are not all over the place thinking about what we’re going to do. We sink all the way into the ground and we stay there until we are renewed.
Zen in the Age of Anxiety is a book of love for humanity and eastern wisdom. Tim Burkett shows that we can overcome our anxiety and other worst human fears by meditating the Zen way. In a very easy-to-understand language, Burkett shows how we can practice meditation the Zen way. The Zen practice of meditation is for everyone and leads to the peace of mind we rarely enjoy in modern societies. Practicing the Zen wisdom and meditation will make you at peace with both yourself and the society. The life will inevitably become enjoyable.