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
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, 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, 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!
My first experience with meditation was at Ryoan-ji, the iconic zen rock garden in Kyoto. Sitting on the veranda, a monk walked up and offered instruction about meditation. He said, "sit here." That was it. I didn't understand it at all. When I began 7 year cycle of summer work practice at Tassajara Zen Center, I had the honor of moving rock from the creek bed and creating a bridge to the women's bathhouse. That simple, tedious and laborious task put my mind at ease. Working with Ed Brown one summer, his laughter, wisdom and humility taught me zen in everyday life. At last, my Ryoan-ji moment began to take shape. It's taken me 10 years to bring that one home.
Ryoan-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Michael Heizer, Tangential Negative Circles, 2010
Our body is intricately woven in to the web of life and our planetary energy. This inter-being, as Thich Nat Hahn has called our relationship to life, is calling for healing. Using meditation, yoga and mindfulness practice are ways of creating greater healing within ourselves and for our planet.
When I see Richard Long's Circles or Lines in the desert or marvel at the way I feel after a walk in the woods, I realize that these connections between Zen, Land Art, Meditation, are threads woven together within me that speak to a way of being that infuses my life with the ability to handle the chaotic times at hand. This weave of art, mindfulness and creativity infuses my body and helps shift the churning gears of worry, despair and fear.
There are many paths to creating space for divine time and living in connection with our spirit. Enjoying art, nature, and the realm of creative ideas is how I find my sacred space off the mat. Taking time to create the divine within us, disconnect from the iphone addiction, disavow the pull of technology, and simply connect to our sacred selves in some small way each day. It ain't easy!!!
With our minds wired, our hearts must find a stronger beat than the pull of Pinterest. In yoga, the mind is rewired, our bodies remapped, as we mindfully and soulfully breath deeply and focus. This transformation of the soul is what inspires me to continue to teach yoga as my body ages.
Neurologist and Zen practitioner James H. Austin helps to clarify which brain mechanisms underlie the subjective states of Zen, and employs Zen to "illuminate" how the brain works in various states of consciousness. Harvard's School of Medicine explores the neuroscience of meditation and mindfulness. Watch his Harvard Medical School talk, Now and Zen.
In these times of dysfunctional politics and the genocide of our planet and our people, levels of chaos, insanity and death only escalate. I don't need to list all the ways we are annihilating ourselves and our fellow man. it is a horror show. My intention with this blog is to extend the blessing of insight that has been given to me by many great teachers and offer through my personal discoveries some pathways to finding your way to nourish your spirit in this crucial time of evolutionary change.
It is my prayer that we treat ourselves with compassion and connect with the truth of our spirits.
May you find a way to nourish your spirit every day