Zen and the Lady, by Claire Myers Owens

Zen and the Lady, by Claire Myers Owens Zen and the Lady, by Claire Myers Owens


This is the personal story of a woman’s journey into Zen, beginning in her 70th year and continuing into her eighties. When first published in 1979 it was praised by the most respected spiritual researchers and psychologists of the time including Kenneth Ring, Jean Houston, Ken Wilbur, Charles Tart, Jack Kornfield and Willis Harmon. In this book Claire brings the reader with her on the path to enlightenment and shares in her spiritual development. This book is already considered a classic of Western mystical literature. paper, 192 pages, $17.95


What others have said: 


A beautiful tale, artfully told… I’ve read a number of spiritual autobiographies, including several with a Zen setting, but Zen and the Lady is without parallel.  —Kenneth Ring


I found it absolutely fascinating and a totally absorbing story, a superb blend of autobiographical remembrance and sophisticated psychological insights.  —Ken Wilbur


Thank you for being an inspiration to us all.  —Willis Harman


It is a treasure trove… of wisdom.  —Sonja Margulies, Journal of Transpersonal Psychology


Beautiful.  —Jack Kornfield


Fascinating.  —Charles Tart


A beautiful spiritual story for people of all religions.  —Dr. Jean Houston




About the Author

Claire Myers Owens (1896–1983), writer and lecturer, was born in Rockdale, Texas, on February 11, 1896. She grew up in nearby Temple, where her mother and maternal grandmother, Laura (Smith) Allen, taught her the fundamentalist values of a Southern Baptist. Although they tried to mold her into a perfect lady, a true Southern belle, Owens gravitated to the philosophy of her father, Coren Lee Myers, who was a free-thinking intellectual and championed Jeffersonian principles. 

In 1916 Claire graduated with a B.S. in domestic science from the College of Industrial Arts but left home, no longer interested in being domesticated. When she took a job as a social worker in an Alabama mining camp, her parents were not pleased, realizing that their daughter would be a part of the working class. She was denounced and disinherited by her family. During the early years on her own, she also did settlement-house and social work in Chicago and then in 1918 helped set up a utopian community founded on free love and communal living in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with Leo Saidla, who became her common law husband. The marriage was never consummated, and the commune proved to be unsuccessful.

In the 1920s she moved to New York, where she worked at Dauber and Pine and other bookshops and wrote short stories, novels, and book reviews (several for Publishers Weekly). After her second brief unsuccessful marriage to George Wanders, a financial columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, she wrote The Unpredictable Adventure: A Comedy of Female Independence (as Claire Myers Spotswood in 1935). It dramatizes Owens’ journey from Temple, Texas to New York and satirizes her childhood and both marriages. The protagonist’s quest for self-definition covers the struggle of women to balance love and work, spirituality and religion, freedom and responsibility. Her editor at Doubleday praised her for writing the kind of book “no women have had the courage to write.” It was banned by the New York Public Library for being “too risqué for its shelves.”

 In 1937 she married prominent banker H. Thurston Owens III, who shared her love for art, literature, and theater, and they settled in New Haven, Connecticut. Though the couple never had any children, their union lasted until Owens’s death in 1969.

In her writings Claire Owens championed sexual freedom and financial independence for women. During the 1940s she wrote a column for Today’s Woman magazine dealing with independence issues married women confront. In addition to her published work, several novels, short stories, and nonfiction manuscripts are among the holdings of the Owens Collection in the Blagg-Huey Library at Texas Woman’s University.

From the age of ten Owens experienced altered states of consciousness. In 1949 she underwent a spiritual rebirth she called a “Great Awakening” that changed the focus of her life. Trying to make sense of her experience, Claire began to study psychology, particularly the work of C.G. Jung, and to write. Awakening To The Good: Psychological Or Religious? (1958) and Discovery of the Self (1963) describe her awakening and our struggle to arrive at a scientific explanation for a spiritual state. As a result of her research, she became involved in the humanistic and transpersonal psychology movements of Abraham Maslow and Anthony Sutich, in addition to Aldous Huxley, who, over the years, came to respect her work and value her friendship. Her work was praised by other prominent psychologists and philosophers who were pioneers in the human potential movement, including Maslow, C.G. Jung, F.S.C. Northrop, Aldous Huxley, and Anthony Sutich. Claire had become immersed in this new branch of psychology (human potential or transpersonal psychology) and soon had many of her articles published. Carl G. Jung’s writings shaped her quest. In 1954 she interviewed Jung in his home in Geneva. The article she wrote describing the interview was published in the New York Herald Tribune, Paris edition; it won a prize and was eventually anthologized in the book C. G. Jung Speaking

Claire’s husband, Harry Thurston Owens, died on June 27, 1969. Shortly after his death, Claire studied Zen Buddhism in order to induce spiritual enlightenment. In her seventies she joined the Zen Buddhist movement and, with a group of Yale students, moved to Rochester, New York, to study at the Zen Center under the tutelage of Roshi Philip Kapleau. During this period of her life, she contributed chapters to two anthologies on mystical experience: The Highest State of Consciousness, edited by John White (1972), and Transpersonal Psychologies, edited by Charles T. Tart (1975). On her eightieth birthday she began writing her last published book, Zen and the Lady (1979). In it she describes her seven-year spiritual path which, in Zen Buddhism, is directed toward an enlightenment experience and its integration with the devotee’s everyday life. It also describes her intellectual and erotic connections with a man nearly 40 years her junior, and dispels negative stereotypes surrounding old age and women’s sexuality. The book was a success, which resulted in both radio and television interviews.

Two lengthy (and currently unpublished) manuscripts followed: Meditation and the Lady, her fourth autobiography, and Varieties of Self-Realization, an exploration of scientific and philosophical theories on enlightenment and self-realization. Claire, who claimed she was “the happiest person she ever met,” died peacefully on May 7, 1983, at the age of 87 years. Her ashes are buried beneath a tree in the garden of the Zen Center.