Zen + Dogs: Enso Meditation

ensoThis post is Inspired by Robert Carter’s writing on Zen aesthetics ¹‚ ² specifically on enso sumi-e (ink painting) ³ and the energy of the brush.

Oct 12

  • Lesson from Sugi: Dogs are attuned to the moment and sensitive to energy from others.
  • Sugi says, “I feel good when Julie is practicing art or mindfulness.”

Calligraphy and other Zen arts, such as landscape design, ceramics, tea-ceremony, and aikido are seen as a practice in self-culitivation; as forms of meditative practice towards cultivating a positive state of mind leading to compassion, benevolence and equanimity. One key aspect of Zen arts practice is that the mind become “unattached” so that the body can move freely with energy.

The image is a photo of a mark I created based on enso* (circle), a stroke traditionally made in sumi-e. I enacted an ‘enso’ session by meditating on mark making, with Sugi’s assistance of course. I made numerous marks trying out different relationships with energy, brush and mindfulness. The most successful marks had a represented energy, a balance of elements, and fluidity. I noticed that these ones were created when I did not think about controlling the brush, but instead focused on the energy needed.

I sent this one to my dear friend Sandra (who also designed the stamp image in the photo) as a birthday wish.



1. Carter, Robert. The Japanese Arts and Self Cultivation. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2008.

2._____________. Becoming Bamboo: Western and Eastern Explorations of the Meaning of Life. Montreal & Kingston: McGill University Press, 1992.

3. from wikipedia: In Zen Buddhism, an ensō (  ), “circle” is a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.The ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). It is characterised by a minimalism born of Japanese aesthetics. Drawing ensō is a disciplined practice of Japanese ink painting—sumi-e (墨絵)“ink painting” . The tools  and mechanics of drawing the ensō are the same as those used in traditional Japanese calligraphy: One uses a brush to apply ink to washi (a thin Japanese paper). Usually a person draws the ensō in one fluid, expressive stroke. When drawn according to the sōsho (草書) style of Japanese calligraphy, the brushstroke is especially swift. Once the ensō is drawn, one does not change it. It evidences the character of its creator and the context of its creation in a brief, contiguous period of time.


Zen + Dogs: Every-Minute Zen, 30 minute Union Street

This post is inspired by “Every-Minute Zen” a classic Zen koan reproduced in Zen Flesh Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-zen Writings, by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. (North Clarendon, VT: Tuttle Publishing, 1985.)**

Oct 4

  • Lesson from Tom: Pay attention to the present moment, it’s the only one there is!
  • Sugi says, “When I’m walking, I take in the scent each step along the way.”



cracked sidewalk, uneven underfoot

skin and lungs/nose feel warmth and humidity

mild breeze, hum of landscaping machines

sprinkle of brown leaves crunch under sneakers

breath in just-discernible autumn scent

Maximum 30km

motorcyclemotorcycle parked but exploding hard pannier

City of Vancouver Heritage Building, mustard brown, black railings as outline

newspaper flicking cafe drinkers

hairy stock of a palm tree

ivyivy-type plant, interior leaves of green, pink on fringe

same pink, but deeper, flower with bright yellow centre

yet another, same pink outer petals on fuchsia bells, soft white interior, blooming crazily

across the street side by side smart renos with alternating black and white paint

Trans Canada Trail / Sentier TransCanadien, this way points the arrow

Residents Parking Only, clack of bikes passing

lionsgate to Vancouver Special, two concrete lions surrounding, right lion – right front paw lifted, left lion – left front paw lifted

guy in black with a large black cap accentuating his head

scent of detergent as he stops

“Cute dogs! How old are they”

“Black one’s 10, brown one’s 9”

guerilla folk festivalwhite and green Urban Guerrilla Folk Festival poster

crows caw about nut

guy in a bright green T-shirt, white earbuds letting out dim sounds

cross Gore, more crowded, cafés and bike shop

stop for water out of my pack

remove and fold sweater and stow,

change glasses to interior set

enter shop, browse the beautiful blues and blacks

Tom points to the door, so we head back, I still have a lot to learn


**Every-Minute Zen
Zen students are with their masters at least ten years before they presume to teach others. Nan-in was visited by Tenno, who having passed his apprenticeship, had become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him Nan-in remarked: “I suppose you left your wooden clogs in the vestibule. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or left side of the clogs.” Tenno, confused, had no instant answer. He realized that he was unable to carry his Zen every minute. He became Nan-in’s pupil, and he studied six more years to accomplish his every-minute Zen.


Zen + Dogs: The Three-Headed Daimon

This post is part of the series “Zen and Dogs” (a project I’m doing for my PhD study) and experiments with forms from Zen story-telling, traditionally used as means for moral education. I’ve become interested in Koan practice. Koan is a public story or dialogue that relays an interaction between a Zen master and student and may describe a test to the student’s Zen practice.

Sept 26


  • Lesson from Tom: no use getting frustrated by not being able to control the emotions or expressions of others.
  • Tom says, “Find something to do together that is enjoyable!”

It’s 8:30am. There is nothing to be done about the pouring rain and the reality that we have to go for a walk. My turn, with Tom and Sugi and Bruce whom we’re baby-sitting (last day) for Greg’s daughter Lauren who is traveling. Baby-sitting, an appropriate term here because the dog is brattishly balking every few feet in protest to being forced to walk in the rain, and worse, having to wear a raincoat. I am irked by his ingratitude towards my good intentions…

Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life discusses the philosophy of  Marcus Aurelius (121-180 AD) and his proposition (from his written Meditations) that the Daimon —nature’s laws and ways, the force indispensable for all creation, the natural spirits— can seen as a guiding principle towards freedom and a moral life.

En route beside Britannia High School, it occurs to me it’s the time when kids are on their way there. Tom and Sugi, both off-leash, head towards the school grounds. I yell that I do not approve. Tom comes back, Sugi continues to browse, ignoring me. I realize frustration linked to the dogs expressing their own desires [contrary to mine!] Anger now directed at Sugi. In different locations, Bruce pooping and Sugi too. Pick up Bruce’s, locate Sugi’s, while keeping track of Tom.

Aurelius proposed three philosophical exercises intended to confront life for its reality. 1. Desire and aversion: People are unhappy because they desire things they can not obtain or control. The task is to develop temperance and to cultivate desire that has moral virtue. “Keep the daimon within you in a state of serenity…”

I try leashing Bruce to Sugi so that Sugi can lead Bruce. Normally this works, allowing for keeping track of two better than three. Today, Sugi doesn’t have enough strength to pull stubborn Bruce, or maybe it’s Sugi’s lack of will…

2. motivated action should be “right action” in the service of community. Inclinations should be towards social justice. “…neither saying anything contrary to the truth, nor doing anything contrary to justice.”

Tom now calmly out in front. Bruce on leash, Sugi browsing close at hand. That’s better. Continue walking, thankful for the pack formation.

Once Tom’s done, we head back. Bruce now moving with purpose. Can’t seem to shake the frustration. Feel surprised by my lack of equanimity at such mundanity. Reflect, searching for a deeper reason. Can’t find any…

3. assent; give ourselves to only that which is true.

Later, Tom reminds me of a special treat the four of us can share. I open a pack of Seaweed Snax. All four of us enjoy the salty, oily flavor. I feel contented through this small act of mutual enjoyment.



Sugi’s Vegan Gluten-free Oat, Lentil, Sweet Potato Dog Pancakes



  • Lesson from Sugi: Dogs do well on a vegan diet
  • Sugi says, “I love these oat lentil pancakes even more than the other pancakes!”

I modified the last pancake recipe to increase the protein content and to substitute sweet potato for the banana. I think Sugi likes the savory flavor of this one in comparison to the more sweet flavor of the oat/banana recipe. You can buy the lentil flour from Anita’s Mill or from Fairy Cakes. I learned from vegan chef Preet Marwaha, who spoke at the Vegan Congress Tasting on Jan 22, 2014, that you should soak your hemp or flax seeds for a few minutes before using them in the recipe in order to allow them to create a nice jelly like texture. Preet also said the omegas in hemp seeds are especially easy to digest. I added safflower oil because according to my vet it has the same omegas as flax oil which should not be heated.

  • 1 cup organic oat flour
  • 1/3 cup organic lentil flour
  • 1tsp. baking powder
  • 1 cooked small organic sweet potato
  • 2 tbsp organic hemp seeds
  • 2 tbsp safflower oil
  • about 1 1/3 cup unsweetened organic coconut milk beverage (I use So Delicious brand)

Put the seeds in about 1/4 cup of your coconut milk and let them sit. In the meantime, put the flour and baking powder  in a bowl and use a whisk to mix up thoroughly. Put the sweet potato into the bowl that has the seeds/coconut milk and mash together until smooth. Add the mashed ingredients to the dry ingredients. Then add the coconut milk, whisking until smooth, and until you get the thickness you want. Add more coconut milk if you want. Use a spoon to put a dollop (about 1/8-1/4 cup) of batter onto an oiled pan. Cook until dry on the up side. Flip and cook the other side, just like you would regular pancakes! You may have to add a bit of coconut milk as the batter sets while you’re cooking.

You will see in the picture that I’ve cooked them as small (about 3″) grittle cakes on a special grill that spans two burners. Once done, I let them cool on a rack. Sugi (20 lbs.) eats about 6 of these per day (in addition to other lovely treats…). Unlike Tom, Sugi knows when he’s had enough… Delicious!