The Zen of Art

Zen flowers

My alarm goes off and I can feel with my whole body,

I didn’t get enough sleep.

A slight panic starts to rise because I really needed to get quality sleep for today.

Somehow, everything is just taking longer, and I’m rushing around to get out the door. I’m running late, and today I can’t be late.

It’s Saturday, early morning and I even question the choice of subway.

Maybe I should Uber.

I open the app and am weighing the options, and then decide to wait.

It’s cheaper to take the subway.

Rooted in my original plan, I think it will be ok, because I’ll be able to sit and close my eyes on the subway.

And then the subway is packed.

I mean, today is historic and there’s a lot of people heading into Manhattan on this Saturday, including me. Millions will be marching world wide, the largest march in American history, and I want to contribute.

After my first transfer, I finally find a seat on the subway and have just enough time to eat the eggs and bacon I made at home, before the train is pulling into the Nevins Street stop in Brooklyn. I never got to close my eyes, and can feel my eyes heavy.

And the anxiety is mounting, as I don’t feel I have all I need.

And the dialogue is running through my head,
Why didn’t you go to bed earlier?
Why couldn’t I fall asleep last night?
Why did I wake up so much last night?

And then I look at my watch in amazement.

I actually got to Brooklyn from Queens in the fastest time yet….leaving Astoria late was made up by Gotham’s speeding silver tube.

I walk to my destination with enough time to grab a couple sipfuls of coffee, stretch and settle in.

Settle in to sit…..for four hours.

Will I be able to stay awake?

And what happened within the course of the next four hours was nothing short of a miracle.

 

In the face of the deepest loss of my adult life, my divorce, a voice came up stronger than ever,

You need meditation.

I was in such a state of shock and heartbreak, that I was willing to do whatever it took to move forward.

I wanted to survive.

So, come January of 2013, I found myself in the retail section of my yoga studio with the express intention to purchase a book on meditation.

That’s the first step, right?

I was staring at all the titles and one looked interesting, so I grabbed it and opened randomly to the opening pages.

Every word was jumping off the page, going through me, as if the writer knew exactly what I was going through.

What was ironic was that the book was actually about Buddhism.

Wait, I didn’t come here seeking Buddhism, I came seeking meditation.

But, maybe it was what was underneath the meditation that was being satisfied. Here were finally tools for the roller coaster and hopelessness I was feeling.

Here were finally tools for the rejection and loss of control, for all the frustrations I had experienced in my performance career, and the feeling that my whole life was falling apart and I was losing it all.

Have you felt this too?

That book was the beginning of my search for answers and it led me to Zen practice and led me to the Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn.

What I had no idea was how Zen would actually feed my Creativity and allow me to be the Artist I had always wanted to be.

That voice inside was far smarter than I knew.

What is yours saying?

 

“Somehow time had vanished for me. I slowly rose, aware that something deep inside me had shifted. The questions I had been struggling with during the workshop – all my life, for that matter – had melted away. I felt buoyant and joyful. The world was right; I was right. I didn’t even know whether I had taken a photograph of the old tree….”
-John Daido Loori

What if there was a way to unlock your Creativity and find freedom in our existence as Artists?

What if we could dissolve the barriers we’ve set up in our mind and open to the possibility of meeting life with spontaneity, grace, and peace?

Imagine your Creative process uncluttered and unlimited like a cloudless sky, fresh where everything is new, a sense of trust in your work, and a system to receive feedback from your audience that actually serves you.

 

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I may have come to my cushion last Saturday sleep deprived, and full of anxiety, but I actually woke up in the process of sitting.

The fog lifted and I became incredibly clear. My problems worked themselves out, and I rose from my cushion quiet and sure.

After the four hour sit, we gathered for lunch upstairs and I sat next to my teacher who had led the sit and inspired me so deeply with his reminder of unity, and that our collective energy today was feeding the March.

He turned to me and asked,
So, what do you do for a living?

Thrilled to share, I smiled and responded,
I’m an Empowerment Coach for Artists and Creatives.

My teacher’s eyes sparkled and he said,
You know Zen master John Daido, the founder of our order here at the Fire Lotus temple was a photographer. He actually found Zen because he was seeking more purpose in his Art.

And I thought all along that John was a Zen teacher who found photography. Seems it was the other way around.

How many other artists was this true for?

Maybe he had a similar voice in his head like I had four years ago.

What is yours saying?

I walked out of the temple almost in amazement that I had entered so frazzled. But, there was a driving force that had said
Go, your answers lie here

And I reflected on how this practice that is actually steeped in the Arts was truly the balm I had been waiting for to open to what I could really bring forth in my Creativity.

It wasn’t until I found Zen that I had the most success as an Artist, and ended up trusting an unlimited sky….trusting my voice and empowering Creatives across the globe to do the same.

What was clear to me last Saturday as I stepped back outside from the temple walls was this,

Zen led me to this moment here with you.

So, what if you could dissolve the barriers that have held you back?

What would you create if you fully trusted yourself and were limitless?

Wake up.

Your True Creative Life awaits.

Wild Grass

College Ballet

Right hand on the barre, I lift my leg into passé, placing my ribs over my hips, and sending energy down my supporting leg.

I fix my gaze in front of me, and exhale.

I gently bring my right arm to meet my left, forming a beautiful arc, a continuation of the shape.  Fingertips alive, they point towards one another as if to say,

“Me too”

And I balance.

My mentor, Spence Ford, is teaching the class, a Broadway veteran and former Fosse dancer.  She has watched me since college, guiding me along the way, encouraging my growth, and challenging my skills.  She taught me how to be a dance captain and infuse story into my choreography.

And I’m still learning today.

Walking to the barre, Spence asks us to consider what is going on in the balance.

Where is our body?  What are we focusing on?

“So much of our practice is letting go of what doesn’t serve us, allowing it to fall away, until all we are left with is our breath.  Yes, we stack our bones, and send energy through the shape, but what can we let go of?”

 

I’m sitting on my meditation cushion for an all day Zen retreat at the Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn.  Titled Wild Grass Zazenkei, the participants form a silent circle, our gaze lowered as we begin to count our breath.

Except my eyes want to close.

Within the Zen meditation tradition, you keep the eyes open, and today, even with a good night of sleep, I am fighting. I keep opening them back up, but I’m struggling.

Why am I shutting down?

Our teacher begins to recite a poem called Wild Grasses, and with each intonation, I feel myself coming undone.  Tears start to fall, and soon I’m weeping.  In closing, she invites us for one-on-one, face to face teaching with her.

Wiping my tears, I line up, my questions soaking my shirt.

I enter the small and private room, and sit across from my teacher, her large eyes open to receive.  We are sitting so close, and I grab my heart and choke out,

“I’m flowing like a river today, and lately my eyes want to close, especially when I am meditating with a group.  I’m frustrated.  I feel I have worked so hard to be aware of what is going on, and don’t want to return to the past.  It’s not that I want to fall asleep. I want to be awake. Why do my eyes want to shut?”

She looks at me with such warmth, and then calmly answers,

“Shut them.  You’re forcing it.  Allow, and see what arises.  You don’t want to lose yourself in the constant seeking outside.  Stay connected.”

I never expected this teaching.  I thought I was doing something wrong by letting them close. I never considered the alternative.

After talking it through fully, I bow in gratitude and return to my cushion in the main room, or Zendo, with the other retreat participants.  The desire to shut my eyes has evaporated with my tears.  I sit energized and come back to my breath.

Then it returns, the need to close my eyes, and I do. And what do I see? Behind my lids I see white flowers and loved ones.  I see joy and dancing. I am completely surprised.

Was this what I was turning away from?

I’m still learning.

Closing my eyes actually connected me back to myself.  I didn’t fall asleep, and it was easy to open them back up.  There was no struggle, I wanted to return.  I actually wasn’t leaving.  In giving myself this permission, I opened up.  This was the path to staying awake.

And I balanced.

Guided by my teachers……
Wild Grasses

Have you looked at the Wild Grasses?
Rising so high,
taking over the landscape,
undulating as the wind blows?

Have you looked at the Wild Grasses,
really seen them up close?

The sun shines down,
illuminating the stalk,
revealing little orbs dotting the skyward line,
a thin multitude of possibilities…..

What do you see?

Seeds

Seeds of hope
Seeds of anger
Seeds of despair
Seeds of inspiration
Seeds of, well….anything

Dance
Words
Music
Art
Pen to paper
Foot to floor
Dream to deed

Do we let this all be,
wild and moving in the wind?

Or do we chop them down, gather each stalk, and decide which can stay?
Do we hold them so tight, they snap in our grasp?

They grow,
constantly arising,
dripping with golden kernals.

Have you looked at the Wild Grasses?

Let go and allow.

What seeds will you plant today?

How will you balance?

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