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Zen in Chaotic Times


In these chaotic times, politics are unhinged, planetary genocide is rampant, living in urban intensity, striving, driving and thriving, what might it mean to be zen?

For me, being zen was not found on my meditation cushion but rather waking up to the pearlescent morning sky at Hot Spring Ranch, tinged in pale pink like a delicate sea shell. I arrived in the middle of the night, from boom-town Seattle, without any reference to the astounding openness that would greet me upon sunrise.

East Horizon, Hot Springs Ranch Nevada

East Horizon, Hot Springs Ranch Nevada

The stark minimalism of earth and sky reminded me of one of my favorite artists, Richard Long, whose own walking meditations and art interventions in global deserts explore the paradox of the permanent and the transient. Stepping out in the vast landscape, the sonic scenes of Miles Davis "Sketches of Spain" accompanied my journey into unknown corners. Then I began to see the art in the landscape, not unsurprising for an art historian to see the grand ghosts of Georgia O'Keefe, Ghost Ranch, hear echoes of Andy Goldsworthy, Woody Creek Colorado and Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels. My mind began to unwind, allowing for the desert as canvas becomes Michael Heizer's Double Negative, 1969, located in the Nevada desert, a few hours from Hot Springs Ranch.

Andy Goldsworthy, Woody Creek, Co,

Andy Goldsworthy, Woody Creek, Colorado, 2008

By stripping away all the excess of the urban world and allowing myself to surrender to the heartbeat of the land and the silence, I opened a deep well of inspiration and peace of mind. What I call my "everyday" Zen, a space within myself transient and permanent at the same time. Ever changing, ever constant.

More than a spiritual practice, zen is a way of living, available at any time anywhere. Consider cultivating zen in your everyday life. It doesn't require a special space, time or teacher. The teacher is you! Everyday zen requires pausing and noticing your surroundings, creating simple beauty in all that you do. Find it in small gestures, light falling on leaves, sounds of water pouring into a glass, footsteps falling, your self breathing.

One of my passions is Land art, variously known as Earth art, environmental art, and Earthworks, is an art movement that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s in Great Britain and the U.S. Using nature as their canvas, Land artists explored the vast landscapes of American deserts materializing Zen vibrations of body/mind bliss.

Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels

Nancy Holt, Sun Tunnels, 1973-1976

Richard Long, Sahara Circle, 1988 Richard Long, Midday Muezzin, Siwa Egypt, 2006

Meditation made material, the work of Richard Long explores zen themes of emptiness in monumental ways. Subtly crafting the landscape Rock circles, mud paintings, line drawings. By seeing into landscape, mark making accentuates and echoes the timeless and constantly shifting rhythms and cycles of nature. We too can find our rhythm by aligning with our surroundings. One pathway to the divine is through the simple opening in the world around us. It is creating space for that to happen that becomes our greatest challenge. What I love about this work is its profound simplicity that brings home the idea of being not doing.

Get inspired to create everyday zen and watch Richard Long's Rivers and Tides, 2001

Zen happened for me in Japan, where I lived and studied in the 1980s. Traditional culture was still in high form, geishas walked the street in full kimonos and taxi drivers wore white gloves. I was drawn to the simple beauty created in everything from sushi to Shinto shrines. Everything was created with mindful intention. And then there were rock gardens!