When the Time is Right

July 24, 2012 § 40 Comments

Early in my career, I held a teaching fellowship at the Stanford Law School.  One of my students gave me as a parting gift a copy of Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  I was touched by the gesture but not engaged by the book.  I recall thinking mostly that the “Zen book” looked cool sitting on my bookshelf.

After Stanford, I headed east, jumped into the corporate lawyering world, and lived anything but a Zen life. A lot of time spent spent feeling frantic, unhappy, hollow and unfulfilled.  Through those difficult times, as the decades rolled past, Suzuki’s book patiently tagged along on my bookshelf- never read, but never left behind.

Five or six years ago, I picked up the book again.  This time I read it, really read it, again and again. I discovered the Tao te Ching.  I began working with a therapist.  I sought to feel and hold a strong sense of self.  I began to live in a more present and centered way. I changed.

I sometimes wonder why it took so long.  All that time- most of my life- I had right at my fingertips the text that would start me on the path to strength and peace.  Why didn’t I pick it up sooner?   So many years lost, I would think.

But that way of thinking is all wrong.  What I did or didn’t do before is gone now.  And that book, that amazing text, those redemptive teachings, would have meant nothing to me until I was ready.  I wasn’t ready before.  I am now.

Understanding and redemption come when the time is right.   Don’t regret what may feel like their tardy arrival.  Rejoice in the fact that they are here.  Right here, right now.

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§ 40 Responses to When the Time is Right

  • gigiwanders says:

    doesn’t it say somewhere in zen writings, that when the student is ready, the teacher arrives – anyway, something like that i recall from past readings

  • Ben Cronin says:

    Strong wisdom, Tom. Gorbachev once remarked, with some wistfulness, that life is not written in the subjunctive mood. But, I say this — that there is a reason that the subjunctive is so hard to form in Latin, in Spanish and French — because life is lived in the indicative mood, and if it is done well, in the Aristotelian sense of flourishing (eudaimonia), it is lived in the active tense. I like this post a lot.

  • l0ve0utl0ud says:

    I agree with you completely – we need to be ready in order to truly benefit from the opportunities in front of us, whether it’s reading a certain book, applying for a certain job or going on a certain journey.

  • I enjoyed this post very much. It underscores the old and wise saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Suzuki master was waiting for his student on the dusty book shelf. Finally, you emptied your cup and the student with beginners mind was ready with his bowl.

    “Every step of the journey, is the journey”

  • A Nature Mom says:

    I’ve always found it interesting how the right book will appear at the right time, if we are only open to the mystery of why that book is coming forward at that particular time. My husband and I have a large library of books (literature, non-fiction, poetry, philosophy, spirituality, and other self-help type genre, including many on Buddhism and meditation), and sometimes I’ll let myself be drawn to the shelves, allowing the book I’m meant to read at the moment present itself. Mysteriously, it will usually be exactly what I need at that point in time.

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Linda, I believe that when you step up to that bookshelf with a natural, open, and ready mind, the book that you find in your hand is the right book because you are in the right place. Not a mystery that this happens, I think. A natural- and beautiful- thing.

      Thanks for your interesting comment. I admire the writing that you do to promote getting kids out into nature. It’s important work.


  • I’m haven’t found what you have found yet Thomas, but I’m inspired that you have…

    • Thomas Ross says:

      David, I often, very often, get tangled up in my head and fall away. But I try. It’s the effort that matters. That’s why I often remind myself that each moment provides us with a fresh start.

      Thanks for the read and reply.


  • Randy Bauer says:

    Great words that hit home. AGAIN, Your words I contemplate.

  • Anitra says:

    Tom, this is such a beautiful story … and so beautifully written, as always. Anitra

  • I am intrigued. I really think I’m going to get this book you talk so highly of. 🙂 Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Tansy, I hope the book resonates with your sense of what you need right now. If not, that’s okay, maybe later- or maybe a different text. (By the way, there’s an audiobook version read by the actor, and Buddhist, Peter Coyote. Great too.)

      Thanks for taking the time to read and leave your thoughtful message.


  • artyelf says:

    This is really beautiful. Thankyou.

  • Janelle says:

    Being ready is the first step. Thoughtful writing, Tom. Thanks!

  • Hi Tom…thanks for this. Would you say that this was the turning point book for you. I am always on the hunt to open new doors of understanding. Is this the one you would recommend most?

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Jonathan, it’s hard to recommend books that might offer this deep understanding of oneself and the world. My Stanford student put the book in my hands but it wasn’t time. Maybe now is the time for you to receive Suzuki’s teachings- but maybe not. And if not, don’t feel bad. Maybe later. Or maybe it will be another text.

      For me, the Tao te Ching (Stephen Mitchell translation) and Zen Mind have become my rocks. You’ll find yours- maybe even these same texts- at the “right time.”


      • thanks Tom…one book that changed everything for me was Conversations With God by Neil Donal Walsch. Everything seems much bigger since reading that. So much wisdom.

  • Tom,

    I am grateful for many reasons…that you took the time to comment on my post today….For the uplifting comment you left…for the time and thought you gave in leaving the comment and for the shear delight I felt, to know, that someone received and enjoyed the gift, I so wanted to share….

    Now, I am once again, lifted by your writing….comforted and pleased to be reminded, we are just where… we are suppose to be.

    Thank you… for helping me remember that today!

  • Tom, I too have a book that has followed me, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. I actually read it, highlighted passages, etc. When I picked it up a few weeks ago I realized I did not “get it” the first go round, and only now am I ready for the message. I began this journey with a mountain of regrets and have finally whittled them down to a manageable pile that grows smaller each day. Your post resonated through each level of my experience, As always, well said.

  • Robyn Lee says:

    And I know you have heard this Buddhist saying….
    “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” – as I see it the Suzuki’s book was “the teacher” and I’m guessing that it was 5 or 6 years ago that you were ready Tom 😉 So glad it had such a profound influence on your life… I need to re-read! ~ Best to you always ~Robyn

    • Thomas Ross says:

      Robyn, yes, Suzuki was my teacher, patiently waiting for me to become ready.

      I am so grateful for our connection and for your thoughtful response to the work.


  • It is interesting to me the way in which we find ways to bring ourselves out of the beauty of a moment. Instead of enjoying where we are in the present we find a way to come down on ourselves by wishing we had done it sooner. I know I am guilty of this and am consciously working on freeing myself of that ever present voice of judgement.

  • Bethany Lee says:

    Hi Thomas, I can easily get sunk by this kind of thinking. For a long time, I thought I was ten years “behind” where I wanted to be because of choices I made in my young adult life. However, after some time, I realized I’m not ten years behind. I am who I am because of my experiences, and I’m here, right now, for the same reason. On the other hand, having had those experiences, it helps me to stay on the right “path” when I might otherwise falter.

  • dadirri7 says:

    a wonderful story tom, i have unread books that sit on my shelf too, but all that matters is the present moment, living with awareness so i dont worry about what i might or might not do, or what might have been if i did things differently, just being here now is perfect, and life is always full of surprises! love your writing and thoughts, christine x

  • Dear Tom, Thank you so much for this post. I often think “If only I had . . (read this book, or understood this concept, or realized this truth) I could have wasted less time, been happier, etc….but you are right! Those thoughts take us right out of the present — the only place where peace exists! Helpful nudges toward a path (as a book or something else) come into our lives when they are meant to and when we can truly learn from them. You are a great teacher, thank you! Sincerely, Elizabeth Lane

  • Anne says:

    Hi Thomas,everything in life happens at the ‘right’ time. We walk many paths in this lifetime each one bringing us to where we are, in the here and now. Just celebrate the fact that you ‘did’ eventually read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Keep writing, you paint a picture in words!



  • Sean J says:

    Always appreciate a good book recommendation. Sounds like I’d be remiss to pass this one up. Thanks!

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