Deep Hope: Zen Guidance for Staying Steadfast When the World Seems Hopeless
“Deep Hope: Zen Guidance for Staying Steadfast When the World Seems Hopeless is a wonderful read for those interested in Zen Buddhism and its application, helping each of us create more awareness and attentiveness in our lives.”
Diane Eshin Rizzetto’s Deep Hope is an extraordinary and straightforward guide to help the reader apply Zen Buddhist principles to situations that seem hopeless. The book is an honest and vulnerable venture into living our best lives by learning to be present through our daily activities while being unattached to outcomes. It is an exceptional work.
With so many books about Buddhism available what sets Deep Hope apart?
The book is practical. The author understands that, “in the midst of impermanence and interdependence, we can only do our best.” There are no heady philosophical discussions or too-difficult-to-implement practices.
Rizzetto’s breakdown of the paramitas, or “perfections,” is clear and concise. It’s designed to engage one thoughtfully, to help the reader apprehend specific steps toward living with hope, while releasing expectations. This state “arises when we purposely engage in living in such a way as to nurture and sustain our deepest capacity to continue on . . .” Deep Hope bridges real life and cheerful optimism with an ease that is gratifying.
Rizzetto’s book is structured around the six paramitas. In Zen philosophy and practice, the paramitas are actions to aid the practitioner in reaching realizations that help transcend suffering. The author describes the paramitas as a “journey,” a helpful means of meeting life on life’s terms, from the enormous problems facing the planet to the frustrations of day-to-day living. This is a process of knowing one’s self and taking specific, thoughtful actions to rise above our ego and smallness of mind.
When the paramitas are practiced together, in an interwoven and intentional way, one is on the path of the bodhisattva. Rizzetto recognizes that we all fall short of that ideal. She encourages the reader to try anyway. Her introspective action plan and stories about student efforts are the guide.
Intention is emphasized throughout the book. To engage with any practice, the paramitas or anything else, we must make an effort to participate in our lives with meaning and focus. Intentionality is the foundation of all spiritual work. Deep Hope places appropriate weight here.
The interconnectedness of the paramitas, and each of us, is also underscored. While specific actions may fall under the subheading of one of the paramitas, their power to transform lives comes from their being practiced in unison.
Deep Hope is filled with practical gems of wisdom. Here are two:
Cultivating a clear mind is often associated with abstaining from alcohol. Yet with all the ways we distract ourselves, not only with other drugs but overwork, sex, even phones and digital devices, we can find ourselves overstimulated, stressed out, and disconnected from the people and activities that need our attention.
Rizzetto asks the reader to become aware of this tendency to distract and to go further, by noticing what is happening in the body in the moments before we reach for our favorite distractions. Through this awareness, we can begin to break free of our compulsivity and live life with more focus on what matters to us most.
Accepting responsibility for ourselves and the choices we make is another way of being more present in our lives. Rizzetto writes, “Engaging Effort also requires accepting responsibility for and ownership of our lives.” We can fall into “the trance of busyness” or we can step up and do what is needed of us, sometimes when we don’t want to do it.
Looking at the book critically, the “Practice” sections might seem a bit repetitive. There’s a great deal of instruction to focus on body sensations and notice where the focus of our attention is. This flatness is made up for in the “Student Sharing” sections, which come across as genuine and vulnerable.
Deep Hope is beautifully written but may be disappointing to those who are familiar with Zen or other forms of Buddhism. It is specifically created for the beginner who is considering a new spiritual practice or wants to know more about Zen. It is not for the seasoned practitioner, though some teachers might find it useful for their students. It is also an appropriate book for psychotherapists and other mental healthcare professionals who recommend meditation or mindfulness techniques to their clients.
Deep Hope: Zen Guidance for Staying Steadfast When the World Seems Hopeless is a wonderful read for those interested in Zen Buddhism and its application, helping each of us create more awareness and attentiveness in our lives.