Be Your Sh*tty Self: Book Review

shitty self

Isn’t the Internet is the best invention ever!  I use it every day to do my research on a variety of topics; it keeps me informed about what’s happening in my community and the world and most of all, via social media, helps me connect with people who I otherwise, would never met. Sometimes I connect with others who practice Zen Buddhism, and sit Zazen. Zen is the form of Buddhism that I am attracted to, probably because of the silence. I like sitting in silence. It’s a nice contrast to my noisy life. I live in Southern California. Traffic jams. Crazy drivers. People who are obsessed with looking trendy. Fake boobs. Fake personalities. Why do I live here? The ocean. The beach. Health food stores, great vegan restaurants, my terrific oncology doctors are here, and a variety cultures and lifestyles all thrown in to one crazy mix. And I am only a few hours away (in any direction) to experience the desert or the mountains. But the Internet allows me to travel anywhere in the world without leaving the comfort of my futon. Sometimes people even find me.

Mark Van Buren

Mark Van Buren

Mark Van Buren, a yoga teacher, recently found my blog (the one your on right now) and left a comment about one of my posts. I found out he wrote also wrote a book about meditation, specifically Zazen and I wanted to know more. It’s titled, Be Your Sh*tty Self and I knew right then, I had to read it. He sent me a copy. I wasn’t sure what to expect even though the title was humorous. Would it condone asshole behavior? Was it meant to be sarcasm? Mark is twenty-something and I read his generation can be a bit self-centered—and I do live a few miles away from the self-absorbed capital of the world… Hollywood! The only way to find out was to read the book.

I was hooked after reading the first paragraph:

“One day I was listening to a talk given by a Buddhist teacher, when a woman in the audience revealed that no matter how much she meditated and was aware of herself throughout the day, she was still just her same old shitty self. Her brutally honest confession cloaked in humor made me sit up and take notice. Finally, someone who felt the same way as me! I didn’t know this woman, nor had I ever met her, but I was sure as hell relieved to hear someone else was struggling like I was.”

That sounds like me! I struggle with my “shitty self” all the time (especially when I have to interact with rude, self-absorbed people. Remember… I live in Southern California, but that doesn’t stop me from being disappointed in my own behavior).  I knew I could relate to what Mark was writing about even though we are a generation apart. Many of the Buddhism books I read are written by monks and Zen priests, which is good, but sometimes they get all “esoteric” on me and I have no idea what they are taking about. Take koans as an example. I can read a Zen koan a hundred times and it still sounds like an algebra problem to me (algebra and geometry are not my best subjects). I know these writers from centuries ago are the real deal, but if I don’t understand them, how will that help me? … And keep me interested in studying Zen? I do better with contemporary writers, especially those who live in the same hectic, western world I do. I simply cannot relate  to someone who lives in a cave (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I also cuss. I can relate to someone who has a “colorful” vocabulary like mine. Not that his book is full of cuss words, it’s not, but occasionally you will find one. It makes the author human.

Be Your Shitty Self, is divided into two parts; Section I: Concepts and Beliefs. Section II: Applications and Practices. It’s easy to read, with several anecdotal stories that we all (probably most of us at least) have experienced and how to deal with a particular situation. Of course the theme is meditation and mindfulness. How many of you read books on “how to meditate” or watched videos, but the author never went in to detail about the actual experience of meditation? They make it seem so easy, but when I did it, I experienced all kinds of problems. Why couldn’t I just “sit” like the pros? Did they know something I didn’t? Why was meditating so hard? How many have given up because they think it’s too hard to do it “right”? Mark challenges that excuse:

“The excuse I hear most often from people is that meditation is too hard. “I can’t stop my mind from thinking,” people complain to me. This excuse comes from a misperception that thoughts need to be stopped when practicing meditation. As discussed prior, your thoughts are not to be annihilated—they’re to be noticed and then released.The idea that thoughts must be stopped is not only the wrong approach to meditation, but it also fills your head with the impression that your thoughts are bad, creating an internal war between the object of meditation and your thoughts. This leaves you more tense than you were before you began. Warring with yourself is the complete opposite of what you are trying to do when you sit and meditate. Let go of the struggle. There need not be any wars in your mind during your practice. Label your thoughts “thinking” and then let them go, even if it happens a thousand times in your session.”

Yay! Finally, someone says it’s normal to have thoughts invade your meditation. Actually, another contemporary author, Brad Warner, said the same thing, but it’s nice to know there are more Zen practitioners who admit it.

So many of the conservative Zen authors come across quite formal (and that’s ok) but I am anything but a formal kinda gal. (I wear my leopard coat over my pajamas when I walk my dogs in the morning.) I like to laugh. I have a sick sense of humor and love to prank people. A sense of humor got me through my cancer treatments. I think a lot of people’s problems stem from the fact that they take themselves too seriously and don’t laugh at themselves. Mark seems to agree.

Humor will be your best friend when things get tough, and it will allow space in your mind for the problems of life to float freely through, causing less harm to yourself and those around you.”

Mark’s book is going on the shelf to join my other books on meditation. I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone who wants to learn how to meditate and find out what it means to live as a “shitty self.”

You buy a copy on Amazon.