Ordinary Wonder collects the transformational wisdom of renowned, Western-born Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck.
Beck’s work was foundational in developing communities of Zen practice in the United States, and her work in the early years of the movement solidified the place of women in American Zen tradition. This collection carries the full weight of her significance, but also echoes the lightness of her teaching and way of being.
The book is organized by themes like confidence, and its emotion section is powerful: to have the classic calm of Zen, Beck says, one has to face their emotions—all of them. Throughout, Beck speaks with humor about elements of daily life; at the same time, she conveys deep inner wisdom. Her language bold and direct, she suggests ways to become free from the negative beliefs that too often control people’s lives. Humanity’s core negative belief, she says, is the hub of the wheel: “Out of it come the spokes, the systems, the strategies we use so we don’t have to feel the pain … it’s too painful to bear.”
From these painful, honest statements, the book moves into spaces of healing. Its progression ventures through inner work and relationships to the ultimate payoff: wonder. In the process, Beck explores the surprising connection between suffering and wonder, giving meaning and worth to the difficulties of human life—not just as a means to an end, but as they are valuable in themselves.
Beck’s teachings are accessible to both new and experienced practitioners of Zen—not only because she explains the role of a teacher (“to see a student clearly”), which will inform new students’ expectations and help to develop teachers’ identities. Indeed, Ordinary Wonder invites whole-life transformation through Zen practice.
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