Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life

Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life

by Ezra Bayda

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can use whatever life presents, Ezra Bayda teaches, to strengthen our spiritual
practice—including the turmoil of daily life. What we need is the willingness
to just be with our experiences—whether they are painful or pleasing—opening
ourselves to the reality of our lives without trying to fix or change anything.
But doing this


can use whatever life presents, Ezra Bayda teaches, to strengthen our spiritual
practice—including the turmoil of daily life. What we need is the willingness
to just be with our experiences—whether they are painful or pleasing—opening
ourselves to the reality of our lives without trying to fix or change anything.
But doing this requires that we confront our most deeply rooted fears and
assumptions in order to gradually become free of the constrictions and
suffering they create. Then we can awaken to the loving-kindness that is at the
heart of our being.

many books aspire to bring meditation into everyday experience,
us practical ways to actually do it, introducing techniques that enable the
reader to foster qualities essential to continued spiritual awakening. Topics
include how to cultivate:

  • Perseverance:
    staying with anger, fear, and other distressing emotions.
  • Stillness:
    abiding with chaotic experiences without becoming overwhelmed.
  • Clarity:
    seeing through the conditioned beliefs and fears that "run" us.
  • Direct
    encountering the physical reality of the present moment—even when that moment
    is exactly where we don't want to be.

Pema Chödrön, the best-selling author of
Things Fall Apart,
Bayda writes with clear, heartfelt simplicity, using his own life stories to
illustrate the teachings in an immediate and accessible way that will appeal to
a broad spectrum of readers.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Novice author and veteran meditator Bayda writes with exceptional clarity and simplicity about the awakened life. Bayda is a recognized teacher in the Ordinary Mind Zen School founded by Charlotte Joko Beck (who provides the foreword), and he has a gift for describing that "ordinary mind," or the customary thoughts, feelings and experiences of everyday life. His style is as plainspoken as Tibetan teacher Pema Ch dr n's; it's not surprising that she acknowledges his work in her latest book. Bayda's grounding in life as it's lived makes his teaching and writing unpretentious and inviting, as if ready to apply. Indeed, one of the book's strengths is the techniques and exercises that the meditation teacher describes. None of them is startlingly new, but his explanations are precise, discriminating among similar practices and noting how results change over time as the meditator grows more experienced with tools for inner inquiry. Meditation, after all, takes as much time as any other habit to acquire. The book breaks no new ground a big expectation, true, after 2,500 years of Buddhist teaching and practice and it's on the small side for its price point. But Bayda offers clear instruction, as a teacher pointing the way toward Ultimate Clarity should. He deserves membership in the ranks of respected meditation teacher-authors. (Mar.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
With clarity and compassion, Zen monk Bayda applies Zen Buddhist principles to everyday life. He explains how all experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant, help us discover our "path" to wisdom and an open heart. Presented here are realistic suggestions, including a scripted meditation and a detailed description of the thought-labeling technique, to help us survive the journey. He also uses examples from his own difficult battle with a debilitating immune system disorder to illustrate how one can learn to attend openly to scary but potentially rewarding experiences. Bayda studied under Charlotte Joko Beck, a prominent Zen teacher and author of the classic Everyday Zen: Love and Work, who penned the foreword. Recommended for any collection containing popular spiritual materials. Annette Haines, Univ. of Michigan, Ann Arbor Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
"Bayda writes with exceptional clarity and simplicity about the awakened life. He has a gift for describing 'ordinary mind,' or the customary thoughts, feelings, and experiences of everyday life. His style is as plainspoken as Pema Chödrön's. He deserves membership in the ranks of respected meditation teacher-authors."—Publishers Weekly

"With clarity and compassion, Bayda applies Zen Buddhist principles to everyday life. He explains how all experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant, help us to discover our 'path' to wisdom and an open heart. Presented here are realistic suggestions to help us survive the journey."—Library Journal

"Ezra Bayda wisely translates the Eastern spiritual belief into an extremely useful handbook for practice. Being Zen is humble and direct, which reminds me most of Shunryu Suzuki's Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. It is what its title states—not an explanation of Buddhism or Zen, but an essential guide to its daily practice. Bayda's is a gentle, sharing voice that evenly embraces humor and sincerity, bringing reason and heart-sense to our most irrational behaviors."—Parabola

"A skillful wedding of mindfulness and Zen—straightforward, simple, and wise."—Jack Kornfield, author of A Path with Heart and After the Ecstasy, the Laundry

Product Details

Shambhala Publications, Inc.
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
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File size:
339 KB

Read an Excerpt

1: Skating on Thin Ice

have a picture on my wall of a girl ice-skating. She's gliding along, arms held
high and head thrown back. Seemingly carefree, she's oblivious to a nearby
sign: BEWARE OF THIN ICE. Does this sound familiar?

of us cruise through life on automatic pilot. Perhaps things are going well, or
at least our life is currently disaster-free. We may have a decent job,
supportive relationships, and good physical health, yet even as we glide along,
we have an intangible sense of how thin the ice beneath us is. We can sense the
anxious quiver that vibrates with vague dissatisfaction, fields of unhealed
pain, and unaddressed fears. Yet most of the time we choose not to look beneath
the surface.

our life takes a turn for the worse, when we start encountering cracks in the
ice, what do we do? We try to clean up the surface, making our usual efforts to
push away or overcome the difficulties. Or we might try to skate around the
cracks by ignoring or suppressing our reactions to unpleasant events.

an attempt to keep from falling through the cracks in the ice, we choose our
strategy, either working harder at maintaining control of our lives or making
misguided attempts to escape from our difficulties with diversions, pleasures,
or busyness. Rarely do we question our strategies, which are always rooted in
fear. We believe in them as the unquestioned truth. Yet in doing so, we define
our own boundaries, our own restrictions. Consequently our life narrows down to
a sense of vague dissatisfaction.

are these strategies that we use to erect a seemingly solid ground in order to
avoid facing our fears? They are as varied as people's personalities. Some are
strategies of control—trying to maintain order to ward off a sense of
impending chaos. Some are strategies of success involving the drive to get
ahead, to be on top—geared to override that nagging inner compulsion to prove
our worth. There are strategies of conformity that seek the imagined comfort of
fitting in, and strategies of nurturing—hoping to find security in being
needed and appreciated. There are also strategies of neediness, in which we
assume the identity of weakness and desperately attempt to be saved by a
person, a group, or an institution; and strategies of diversion—seeking one
pleasure after another to fill the deep holes of longing and loneliness. The
list goes on and on.

we have to fall right into the icy water, unable to move or breathe,
overwhelmed and drowning, before we're forced to deal with the deep-seated
conditioning that runs our life—all the land mines of anger, fear, and
confusion. It might take an illness, a financial upheaval, a relationship
failure, or the death of someone close to us to wake us up and force us to just
be in that icy water.

we fall into these unwanted situations, we can no longer strategize to avoid
facing our pain. It's right in front of us! The loss of financial security, our
health, or a relationship, for example, will bring fear right to the surface,
and we're likely to feel anger, self-pity, depression, and confusion. How we
work with these will be a measure of how we understand what our life is truly
about. The good fortune of having a strong and genuine spiritual practice may
enable us to do something besides just seek comfort and escape when we're hit
with one of life's inevitable blows.

the early seventies I bought a house with a little land in northern California.
For eleven years we cultivated an extensive organic garden. Our goal was to
live from the land, which included raising goats for milk and chickens and
sheep for meat. It was a nice life, and we felt satisfaction in being able to
raise our children in the healthiest way we knew how. But when my wife and I
both came down with severe immune system disorders, high levels of DDT residue
were found in our blood. The DDT had been buried on our property prior to our
owning it, and the poisons had made their way into our bodies indirectly
through the vegetables and meat that we were so carefully raising. The
prolonged exposure consequently broke down our immune systems. Ironically the
effort to live a healthy organic lifestyle had contributed to the onset of
chronic debilitating disease.

was no one to blame. Burying the leftovers was just what people did to dispose
of pesticides in those days. Our strategy to make our world safe and secure had
failed. We had been skating on thin ice. No matter what we do, no matter how
good our intentions are, there's no way to guarantee that we can avoid falling
into the icy water. Try as we will, there's no way we can strategize and
control our world so that difficulties won't befall us. The real issue is
whether we will learn from the helplessness that arises when our strategies
fail. When my life fell apart with the onset of the immune system disease, it
took me many years to really understand the great teaching of the helplessness
of the loss of control.

even when we learn from these major upsets, as soon as we get back on our feet,
we often go right back to gliding on the thin ice. Perhaps we know a little
about the big hole we've just fallen into, but what about the rest of the
cracks in the ice? Can we begin to learn from the smaller cracks—our upsets,
our mood swings, our efforts to protect, defend, push away—all our

is required is that we see clearly how we keep ourselves skating on thin
ice—how we use identities, strategies, and mental pictures to help keep
ourselves going. We need to see our forceful determination to make our
strategies work. Then when life situations that don't suit us arise,
challenging our identities and our sense of comfort, we can open to the
possibility of learning two basic lessons.

we can learn to recognize that the difficulty is our path instead of trying to
escape from it. This is a radical yet necessary change in our perspective. When
uncomfortable things happen to us, we rarely want to have anything to do with
them. We might respond with the belief "Things shouldn't be this way" or "Life
shouldn't be so messy." Who says? Who says life shouldn't be a mess? When life
is not fitting our expectations of how it's supposed to be, we usually try to
change it to fit our expectations. But the key to practice is not to try to
change our life but to change our relationship to our expectations—to learn to
see whatever is happening as our path.

difficulties are not obstacles to the path; they are the path itself. They are
opportunities to awaken. Can we learn what it means to welcome an unwanted
situation, with its sense of groundlessness, as a wake-up call? Can we look at
it as a signal that there is something here to be learned? Can we allow it to
penetrate our hearts? By learning to do this, we are taking the first basic
step toward learning what it means to open to life as it is. We are learning
what it means to be willing to be with whatever life presents us. Even when we
don't like it, we understand that this difficulty is our practice, our path,
our life.

when hardship strikes, we can learn not to point the finger of blame—at
another person, at ourselves, at an institution, or even at life itself—and
instead turn our attention inward. When we're in distress, this is often one of
the hardest things to do, because we so want to defend ourselves. We so want to
be right. But it is much more helpful to look at what we ourselves have brought
to the situation—beliefs, expectations, requirements, and cravings. Then we
might gradually come to understand that whenever we're having an emotional
reaction, it's a signal that we have some belief system in place that we
haven't yet looked at deeply enough. With practice this understanding gradually
becomes our basic orientation.

we may realize that we need to look deeply inside, yet we don't really know it.
There are people we laugh at because they can't see the most obvious things
about themselves. Well, those people are us! We have to acknowledge that we
often simply don't want to see the aspects of ourselves that cause us distress.
We basically want life to please us—to feel comfortable and secure. Our last
priority is to expose our own shaky supports, the tenuous beliefs that stand
between us and unknown territory. Why? Because investigating ourselves at this
level doesn't necessarily feel good. But until we become aware of all the ways
in which we keep ourselves oblivious to what lies under the ice, we will
continue to simply glide along with no direction.

we need is a gradual yet fundamental change in our orientation to life—toward
a willingness to see, to learn, to just be with whatever we meet. Perhaps there
is nothing more basic and essential than this willingness to just be. To simply
be with our experience—even with the heaviness and darkness that surround our
suffering—engenders a sense of lightness of heart. The willingness to learn
from our disappointments and disillusionments is key. Pain we thought we could
never endure becomes approachable. As we cultivate our willingness to just be,
we discover that everything is workable. Until we come to know what this means,
we are cutting ourselves off from the openness, the connectedness, and the
appreciation that are our human gifts.

Meet the Author

Ezra Bayda teaches at Zen Center San Diego. He is also the author of Being Zen, At Home in the Muddy Water, Saying Yes to Life (Even the Hard Parts), and Zen Heart. For more information, visit

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