Mzansi Zen – Written by Antony Osler (author of “Stoep Zen” and “Zen Dust”) Published by Jacana
Antony Osler is an advocate and a former Zen monk. He is now semi-retired and lives on a Karoo farm near Carnavan with is wife Margie, where they run meditation retreats with a distinctly South African flavor. One day I am going to find him and hopefully share a mug of Rooibos and a conversation with him. Or better still I may just sit in companionable silence under his apricot tree (which sometimes contains a sleeping cat.)
This book is a beautiful and whimsical fusion of snapshot parables from the reality-frontiers of small town South Africa, erudite poems and abstract black and white photographs. It is full of gentle, earthy wisdom that fills me with a deep sense of relief while simultaneously challenging me to be a better human. I am particularly grateful for the calm it helps me to find in the midst of what feels like a daily conundrum: How will I live out my days here with the unendurable loss and anguish, the inequality and corruption and suffering, the poverty, disappointment and violence? With the beggars I make eye contact with at every street corner? And how do I balance all this with the belly-laughter, the joy and connection and hope? With the ordinary pleasures of the sun on my back, a walk in the veldt, digging a sweet potato out of my own patch of earth, the flash of a stranger’s smile, a flame lily on the edge of the dune forest? Oom Antony helps me to see that this is a tightrope I can walk with more ease than I thought possible. On many days the dichotomy really is somehow reconcilable. It can indeed all coexist and needn’t mean for certain that I am losing my mind. In the strange ways of true alchemy, anguish can create extra space for joy.
This is a book that will find a permanent home in the toppling tower of books next to my bed. I will read it and dip into over and over again. I will take it like medicine. Like a tonic when I need it’s ‘sure-footed wisdom.’ There are so many wonderful extracts to choose from that it is almost impossible to quote just one. I eventually settled on this:
“This is how we find ourselves once more in each other’s shoes. We walk, we work, we weep and we fall asleep at the end of the day without illusion or regret. Now the question is no longer “Where can I run to?” but “How can I live here?” Not “Who is to blame” but “How can I help?” And finally in a voice so ordinary we hardly hear it, “Come inside. Would you like a cup of tea?”
“It is difficult to imagine a time when it is more urgent to step beyond ourselves. There is so much need for compassion here and a sure-footed wisdom. So much need to find again the clear blue sky.”
I love books! After all, “Reading is like breathing in and writing is like breathing out.” Pam AllynSo I am excited and proud to have the opportunity to collaborate with the Vrye Weekblad (https://www.vryeweekblad.com/
), which I have admired since my student days, to write some of their book reviews. Previously published in the Vrye Weekblad in Afrikaans.