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.

 

References

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: 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

threeheaded

  • 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.

seasnax

Mochi Fun Food!

mochi

 

  • Lesson from Sugi: Dogs love fun food!
  • Sugi says, “I just have to give Julie the stare and she knows I want mochi!”

When Sugi was being picky about his food a few months ago, I searched for alternative treats that would be nutritious for him. I came across this product called Mochi by a vegetarian restaurant in Victoria called Green Cuisine. It is based on the Japanese food used for mochi deserts. The Green Cuisine mochi is made from organic brown rice only. It comes as a hard slab, and you can buy it from Capers or Whole Foods. You can freeze it if you need to. You prepare the mochi treats this way:

Preheat your oven to 375 F. Cut the slab into 1″ cubes and spread them out on a cookie tray (I use a pizza stone). Cook the pieces for about 10 min or until they puff up and brown a bit.  Let cool before giving to your dog.

I eat them dipped in salted olive oil!  They are puffy and crispy with a delicious softness on the inside. A nice gluten-free alternative to bread.