My Life as a Zen Failure

  • Posted on: 15 April 2023
  • By: Joe

                My Life as a Zen Failure

                    Joe Shakarchi


I tried to meditate 

sitting in lotus position 

on a cushion on the floor 

my knees kept aching 

getting up was hard 

my chiropractor gave me two choices: 

keep sitting in lotus 

or continue to be able to walk —

now I meditate in a chair 

or lying down in bed 


This began my career as a Zen Failure


I tried studying dharma 

and sutra philosophy 

attempted to understand emptiness and void 

but I kept returning to fullness— 

tried to become no-self 

but no matter how hard I tried 

when I looked in the mirror 

there I 



I tried non-attachment to my desires 

it worked for a while 

I gave up drugs 

stopped thinking about money— 

but I continued to hunger 

for love, food, sex, poetry, beauty 

not always in that order


I tried living in a monastery 

became kinder and gentler 

surrounded by robes, bows and smiles 

but there was drama in the dharma 

monks, nuns and priests still human 

broken hearts, broken vows 

addicts and depressives

far from enlightenment 

and I was still 




I tried to reach enlightenment 

to find Nirvana in this lifetime 

but darkness kept entering the light 

yin always took turns with yang 

the moon kept turning in its phases


I finally gave up trying— 

gave up meditation, dharma, philosophy 

detached from non-attachment 

lost my desire to have no desires 

accepted my fate as a 

Zen Failure


I have now achieved my goal 

of no longer having 

a goal


My final failure— 

in the face of a life of endless suffering 

I found a life of endless joy:  

lazy man's meditation 

blissful lack of understanding 

embracing my desires 

living with my loved one 

finding the beauty in twilight

seeing the miracle in all things


So ends my journey as a Zen Failure—

smiling into the sunset 

laughing all the way 

to the Land of the Jewel 

in the Lotus 

What I Left Behind

  • Posted on: 5 October 2020
  • By: Joe

    “I used to be somebody else, but I traded myself in”

            —Antonioni’s The Passenger


I left so many things behind 

I had another world to explore 

another lifetime to begin


I left a huge apartment in San Francisco's North Beach

gave away the multicolor jackets from Kathmandu 

the Tibetan dragon rug 

the painting of the cycle of existence 


I gave away the Hindu statuettes 

Shiva in a circle of fire dancing through destruction and rebirth 

Krishna the romantic playing his flute as a cowherd 

Saraswati the goddess of education and the arts 

I carry them all inside me now


I gave away a lifetime’s worth of books and records 

I had memorized all the songs 

and all the poems worth remembering


I gave away my bed my futon 

where I slept and made love 

the table where I ate the fish and rice 

I cooked in the kitchen 

the clothing that I wore through the fog in winter

everything that kept my body alive


I gave away my Thai furniture 

the case with the elephant paintings 

the letter holders and wall hangings —

I would find them again in Bangkok


I left so many people behind 

the Sufis spinning at the Mentor Garden 

the monks bowing to each other at the Zen temple 

the poets at the open mic nights 

at the Sacred Grounds Café 

and on the bookshelves in City Lights


All the old friends I would never see again 

all the ex-lovers who still hold a place in my heart 

and in my arms

I left my family 

never to see my brother or sister again 

their graying curly hair 

their shouts and their frowns of disapproval

left my orthodox religion 

the stained glass windows of

the domed temple in Brooklyn

left behind what I was taught in public school 

about patriotism and money —

And about America


I left so much of myself behind—

What parts got washed away by the Pacific Ocean?


Now I live in a tiny apartment in Bangkok 

with a beautiful woman with dark straight hair 

and dark almond eyes 

we eat fish and rice 

that we cook in our kitchen

walk through the night market 

go to glittering temples 

take off our shoes and bow


All we have now is a statue of the Buddha 

a painting of the rivers and mountains of Guilin 

a candle holder from Jerusalem 

a tapestry of Sufis turning 

a Japanese picture of Bodhidharma—

All we have now is all I need


I write poems and stories 

all around the world 

and live 



I remember thinking years ago  

that I would be ready to die at any time

if it was my time to go


now I would not want to leave this life— 

this love 


There are still more worlds to explore

More new lifetimes to begin

Love Comes Softly

  • Posted on: 27 November 2015
  • By: Joe

Lila comes into my room
at dusk
lies beside me
holding me
caressing my eyes
kissing my lips
Lila sleeps with me
envelops my body
my soul
until she vanishes
with the dawn
and I awake to find her gone

Love comes softly
when it comes
not a rush into
arms into
bed into
Love comes
softly into the 
as the stars whisper
and the moon
closes its eyes


  • Posted on: 27 November 2015
  • By: Joe

She moves in circles
like a spinning dancer
a whirling dervish

She goes wherever the dance is
dressed in red and gold silk--
she's so tired of black and blue

She is the mysterious one
we've all been searching for
her music, her song,
her flaming red hair

you will not find her in a convert--
when she enters the meditation hall
it is with ease and a smile
she is never what you expect

with a glass of wine and a song
she will lead you to the highest heights
if you have eyes to see her
you'll forget about diamonds and pearls

without her the wine would have no bouquet--
with her, you do not need wine

she is the butterfly in your dream
the bird let out of its cage
the voice that comes to you in the middle
of the long dark night

She is standing next to you right now.