“Going All Zen…” Guest Post by Donis Casey

Since the holidays are almost upon us, I invited my friend and fellow author, Donis Casey, to guest post. Donis is an award-winning Poisoned Pen Press author from… ready… Oklahoma! But this Chicago girl and Donis seem to click, whether we’re talking noir, the dust bowl, or Zen. Probably because, just like me, she has an evil mind. Enjoy! Oh, by the way, she has a new book out. I know it’s going to be a barn-burner. 

Many years ago I had a friend who could not stand the success or joy of others. Not schadenfreude, exactly. She didn’t wish them ill, but she didn’t want them to be richer/happier/more talented than she. Even in my callow youth I never thought that happiness was a finite commodity in the universe. I like to think that good fortune begets more good fortune in the world.

Yet I am prey to envy, myself. What I envy is other people’s ability to work in spite of obstacles in their lives. I envy their time to promote and travel, their discipline and work ethic. Whether it’s true or not, my perception is that other people are better able to cope with the difficulties of their lives than I. They seem to be able to concentrate after a traumatic day, to carve out time to work in spite of all the picayune things they have to deal with during the course of their lives. As for me, I feel as though I barely manage to cope with one disaster after another, spending my life putting out fires. And thinking evil thoughts.


Oh, the evil thoughts you have that are never voiced aloud, thoughts that shock and horrify you even as you have them. Things you would never really wish for. As I sit here typing I bring to mind several friends and relatives who are living with pain or sickness, or caring for family members with chronic or acute illnesses. Several who have spouses or children with alcohol or drug problems. People who have endured much more than I have, and for much longer. What awful things must go through their heads, as well?

Please don’t let her die until June, when the insurance kicks in.

If one more person offers advice I’m going to shoot them.

If I never see that ungrateful kid again it’ll be too soon.

I wonder how long it would take me to die if I just didn’t get up out of this bed?

I’m going to knock that doctor’s teeth down his throat if he doesn’t stop treating us like children.

I can’t think about this for another minute or I’ll lose my mind, so shut up.

For God’s sake, just let this be over.

But then you simply get tired of feeling bad. Or something happens to give you hope.  You have a good day. You feel better. You get up the next morning and carry on, because you love the rascal or you love the work and in the end you’re willing to take it however long you have to.

For many years now, I have been a student of Zen, which I love, because it’s very helpful when times are tough.  It’s also pretty funny, and anything that’s pretty funny is okay with me.  Years ago, I went to my first meditation retreat with some trepidation. I had heard that during sitting meditation, the sensei prowls around the room with a long stick and occasionally whacks the hell out of you when you least expect it.  The point of this is to make you be totally in the present, and believe me, when you think you’re about to get smacked at any minute, you actually quiver with awareness.  As it turned out, the sensei told us that he quit doing that because his students seemed to enjoy it too much.  So I’ve never actually been assaulted while meditating.

I’m sure most of you Dear Readers have heard of koans, such as “what is the sound of one hand clapping.”  These are apparently senseless little stories that you ponder on all day until you finally throw up your hands in frustration, go eat a scone with jam and forget all about it.  Here is one of my favorites.

A Zen master was teaching his students when a cat wandered into the room.  The master picked up a cleaver and said, “If any of you can tell me the true meaning of existence, I won’t kill this cat.”  Not one student said anything, so the master whacked the cat, and his students ran out of the room, horrified.  The next day, the master was relating the incident to another teacher.  “I said, if any of you can tell me the true meaning of existence, I won’t kill this cat.”  The second master sat there for a moment, then hung his shoes on his ears and danced out of the room.  As he disappeared, the first master yelled after him, “If you’d been here yesterday, that cat would have lived!” (Please don’t get all het up, cat lovers.  It didn’t really happen.)

Or how about this one :

Two masters were debating which of their teaching methods was best when a disheveled drunk burst into the room, kicked the crap out of the first master, and ran out.  “Who was that!”  he cried.  “That was one of my students,” said the second master.  “You win,” said the first master.

Ah, I’m feeling better already.

Donis Casey is the author of the Alafair Tucker Mysteries. Her award-winning series, featuring the sleuthing mother of ten children, is set in Oklahoma during the booming 1910s. Donis is a former teacher, academic librarian, and entrepreneur. She lives in Tempe, AZ, with her husband, poet Donald Koozer. The latest Alafair Tucker novel, The Wrong Hill to Die On (Poisoned Pen Press, November, 2012), is now available in paper, electronic, or audio formats wherever books are sold. Read the first chapters of all six books at http://doniscasey.com


I Love Donis!