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 and Dogs: Thanks-giving

tom-thanks-giving-sThis post is inspired by Robert Carter’s discourse on ethics in his book Becoming Bamboo. He integrates views from Western philosophy and Zen Buddhism. Zen practice is inseparable from ethics. It is a way of life, a ‘spirited caring and effective willing’.

Oct 12

  • Lesson from Tom: Dogs are attuned to their human’s emotional states and often mirror this state back to the human.
  • Tom says, “When Julie’s anxious, I get anxious and I don’t know what to do!”

“We got this amazing delivery of twenty pounds of pork yesterday!” she said. “We had the whole machine there and all the materials for making sausages!”

“It was incredible to dig your hands into the meat…!” he said.

I look at them and don’t respond except with a weak expression of interest. Greg, at my side, just says “Oh.”

“Are you vegetarian?” she asks.

“Vegan” I say.

“Ah” they both say in unison. “And you?” they both look at Greg. I don’t look but hear him say, “I live with her”, gesturing to me. He elaborates, “I eat vegan at home, but sometimes away from home…” his sentence peters out. Then, as though intending to deflect the attention, “the dogs are vegan too.”

Instinctually, I glance over towards the front door. Tom is there, mildly hyperventilating with wide eyes, giving me a look that says, “get me out of here!”

We are at Greg’s sister’s place for thanks-giving dinner. She kindly invited us over while we were in Victoria visiting my mother. She warned that there would be meat, but that she and her daughter would provide vegan options which they generously did. I often feel torn about going for dinner to meat-eating houses. It is uncomfortable for me to watch people prepare, eat and discuss the meat meal because it brings up images in my mind of animal suffering. On the other hand, I feel grateful that people go to the trouble of inviting and hosting. I usually offer to bring something. I try to look at these dinners as opportunities for small openings towards conversations on ethics. This time, the couple changed the subject to growing veggies, which I welcomed.

I take Tom and Sugi outside, sense the crisp damp air and feel better. They let me know that they’d rather wait in the truck than in the house. After, I return to the dining table to be seated.

  • Large browned turkey. I think about the appalling living conditions of turkeys bred for consumption.
  • Brussel sprouts with bacon. Don’t they taste great already? The image in my mind is of the crammed conditions of pigs who never get to see the outdoors, and the gestation crates where females are forced to lay on their sides for months nursing the piglets who’ve had their tails and other parts cut off without anaesthetic.
  • Mashed potato with butter. There are great alternatives to butter! I think about the male calves born into the dairy industry who are born and disposed of, or kept alone in veal cages for months before slaughter.
  • Apple pie made with lard. Seems that this would conjure a disagreeable image for anyone.

The whole evening, I practice meditative techniques of breathing, attention to the moment, compassion towards the other guests, but with mixed results. I continue to feel a small familiar cloud of despair hanging overhead…

Zen and 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.”

dogs

 

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 and 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

Zen and Dogs: Organic Time?

This post is the second in a series of posts related to Zen and Dogs, part of a project I’m doing for my PhD study. Like the last post, I’ve been gathering courage to post this one because the post includes a correspondence with my dear friend and collaborator Simon. It’s all good…: )

Sept 12

  • Lesson from Sugi: my organic time must take into account the organic time of others
  • Sugi says, “I know what I want and when I want it!”

Yesterday, set out to spend the time today ‘organically’. Previously, I’ve called this practice an ‘unstructured day’, having no plans, just moving about activities as needed or as inclined. I’ve found that this kind of day can be productive, allowing for a relaxed attitude toward tasks therefore usually stressless.

Today —the ‘organic time’ day— I had almost no plans, except for the day itself and the Graduate Liberal Studies (at Simon Fraser University) party for incoming and outgoing Directors. That’s later…

06:30 I forgot that the (mechanical) time is projected on my bedroom ceiling. Normally, this allows me to track it without moving from a resting position. Today, it let me know that Sugi was awake and up, as usual at this time.

Sugi, “I believe that when I get up someone else should get up too, and more precisely, someone should let me out into the back yard [which happens to be a Zen garden] to pee and then give me a rice cake.”

I did the former and went back to bed.

07:37 I made the tea. Gave Sugi a snack. Normally, on days like today, after we have our tea, we go for a pack-walk (Greg+Julie+Tom+Sugi) to get coffee. For some reason I looked at my phone. Messenger text from Simon, my (human) collaborator who is finishing his MFA in Helsinki:

simon

He’s proposed a 9am skype call for this morning. Earlier in the week we’d tentatively planned it for tomorrow….

julie

No reply.

Head out for the walk, start making a mental list of the things I need to do this semester. I recall talking to a colleague yesterday at Emily Carr University (where I work) who told me she’s taking the rest of the semester off because she hurt her back. I should have asked her…ACK! I double over with a sharp pain in the mid-back. CRAP! what?! This never happens to me! Struggle through the rest of the walk stretching to try and relieve the spasm.

Get home, do a bit of yoga. It helps. 10:30 log onto skype. No Simon. Send messages to him. No replies.

11:00, lay down on the couch with the PhD course reading for the week, Pierre Hadot “Philosophy as a Way of Life“, part II. Notes: People are prevented from truly living, it was taught, because they are dominated by worries. …Still no reply. Hadot outlines the list of spiritual exercises, that can assist with the path towards wisdom, passed down from Philo of Alexandria: research (zetesis), thorough investigation (skepsis), reading (anagnosis), listening (akroasis), attention (prosoche), self-mastery (enkrateia), and indifference to indifferent things.

I reflect on how I may be integrating, into my own life, these things on this list. I recall how I, just yesterday, told my supervisor how the reading practice was calming. This couch…I can’t get completely comfortable… Hadot later outlines in the text the spiritual exercise of dialogue —Socratic dialogue— and a bit on dialectic (the interlocutor can discover the contradictions of his own position, or to admit an unforeseen conclusion.) I identify with this and reflect on it.

Impatience with the “Christian Philosophy” part of the reading. During my early years, spent in a Catholic girls’ school, I found many of the Christians to be hypocritical. There was a gap between what the nuns preached and their practice. For instance shunning and firing the gay teachers who declared themselves. I recalled Mr. Ralston who taught “Religion”, but mostly introduced us to Greek philosophy. One of my favorite courses! He was fired, and years later I read about his death.

Sugi, now scratching and staring, “lunchtime please”. 14:30.

I make his and Tom’s lunch. Sugi refusing the last half…

Ping!

simon-2

julie2

Back pain a bit worse. I lay down on the floor and do some stretches. It helps. I have a play with Tom, he’s a good sport. I recall Heesoon talking about Tarchin Hearn at a meditation retreat demonstrating his ‘in the moment’ attitude through play. I’m in a better mood.

Sugi, “I’m ready to go out now.” 15:00

Down the street for a walk, the breeze is the perfect temperature.

Back home: cook some more pancakes for the dogs, hang the laundry, water the plants on the deck. 17:30.

Did I get anything done today on my organic-time-unstructured-day? Oh yes, zetesis, skepsis, anagnosis, akroasisprosocheenkrateia, and dialectics. Happy day!