In the mid 80’s I was ordained as a lay priest within the Zen (Tien) lineage of Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn, which is a Rinzai tradition working with ‘Koans’ (like spiritual riddles). On occasion while doing a task of some kind, he would ask us the question ‘what are you doing?’ .. to test our mindfulness. For instance a student was once working in the kitchen preparing food and the question was asked ‘what are you doing? and at first she answered, cutting carrots… pretty literal answer, on the second day she said, preparing a meal and on the third day, feeding the hungry… each time he would simply walk away. The fourth day came and she answered, building the great wall of China! .. Good answer! he replied back to her.
I spent many months in the South of France doing this and other kinds of practices, revealing to me the magic that is all around us in any given moment if you are available to see it, and the bigger picture connections and solutions that can be accessed by being present in the simple day to day activities of everyday life.
Everything can be a gift, of learning, discovery, and possibility, mindfulness 24/7 with ease.
Just recently for my birthday I taught a workshop about what motivates us to produce or create a work of art, revealing my own integration of daily Zen practices within creating Art. I focused on how I prepare myself before starting a painting, which liberates me and my brush during painting! When Michelangelo said he frees the form (figures) from the marble stone, when I prepare my mind this way, I free myself in the process of freeing the image from the paper… this takes practice, and persistence, and sometimes just the simplicity of repetition, like the practice of a simple open circle with one stroke, referred to in Zen practice as ‘Enso’ practice.
Art can liberate the imagination! The image on this blog is my ‘Enso’ for the day.
And the Koan and answer.. ‘Why were the Zen students not able to vacuum in the corners of their rooms?
.. Because they had no attachments.’