Wednesday, 28 November 2007

My Zen items for the 'Last Friday' newsletter

Last Friday is a cultural news and opinion online newsletter, it's editor is Katie Thompson of Motiongrafik Katie invited me to write a Zen inspired item for all the creatives who subscribe to Last Friday.

Item 1 introduces myself and how i planned to approach writing a monthly piece for Last Friday.

August item 1:

In the meantime ‘Creative thought for the month’ is going to be fun. I’ll try and
combine it with my Zen training and background. No time like the present!! WOW
I’ve begun. Actually that’s not bad – combine that with one of my favourite little
Zen sayings ‘if you see a weed, pick it’.

Not sure how you want me to present myself, so how does this sound..
Welcome to the John Pollex creative thought for the month item, hopefully it will
inspire all you creative people out there to get on with it and also offer some food
for thought at the same time.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’ve been working in Plymouth since 1971
as an artist Potter, the term artist potter suggests that not all my work is
made for a functional purpose but also for its visual qualities. If you want to
really see what I do, here’s the link
Alongside being a Potter I have also taught Tai Chi for over 30yrs here in Plymouth
and am a practising Zen Buddhist, which basically means I have a daily meditation
practice and have spent many hours on retreats facing a wall. Exciting stuff hey!

I’m hoping to combine these two elements of my life to offer a small spark of inspiration
and food for thought to all of you out there.
So here’s a favourite Zen saying of mine for starters – “ if you see a weed, pick it “
In other words, whatever it is, just do it! Write it, paint it, cook it, make it, play it, etc, etc.
Under no circumstances start thinking about it. Once inner dialogue starts chugging away
about anything the creative moment is lost. Another Zen saying goes like this,
“ chop wood, carry water “ so, if we chop wood, we just chop wood and if we carry water,
we just carry water. If you want to try this out, just give your full attention to making and
drinking a cup of tea. You’ll be amazed at how wonderful it can be to experience the
simplicity of giving attention to what you’re doing.
Okay, my cushion and the wall beckon, until next time, love what you do.

September item 2:

Hi and welcome back to this month’s Zen column. I’ve just got back from a weeklong retreat with my teacher Reb Anderson. The retreat was held at Gaia House near Newton Abbot. Check out the website if you think you might like to try a spot of serious meditation. For beginners I suggest a weekend retreat or on the last Sunday of the month there is an afternoon meditation period starting at 2.30pm until 5.30pm. This also includes a talk given by someone who has personal experience of Buddhist teachings (dharma).
So how did you enjoy making tea? This month I’d like to suggest you try taking the awareness of making tea I suggested last month into other areas. Meditation is about being in the here and now, living in the present moment. So, next time you dress yourself, try and pay attention to how you do it, the movements of your body, the weight and texture of the garments. Don’t rush it and don’t comment on it, just give your attention to the present moment. Have you ever noticed how wonderful the hands move when tying up your shoe laces? Washing dishes can also take on a different feeling just by giving attention to it. Someone like me took a lot of time to learn to make those dishes, so why not have a good look and feel of them next time you wash up.
Finally if all this activity seems like too much to do, get yourself a chair you can sit upright on, place it in the corner of your room and quietly without commenting or having opinions about what you see, just let your gaze wander around your room for about five minutes. Isn’t the present moment great!
Okay, enjoy what you do and hey why not offer a random act of kindness for someone this month.
P.S. I’d welcome any feed back or questions you may have to

October item 3:

Welcome to this month’s Zen item, I thought I’d begin with a couple of quotes from The Mirror of Zen which point to the importance of having a quiet or empty mind.

“In all the sutras expounded by the Buddha, he first draws distinctions between various kinds of Dharmas (teachings), and then only later explains the principle of emptiness. The Zen meditation tradition handed down from the Patriarchs teaches, however, that when all traces of thinking are cut off, the principle of emptiness appears clearly, of itself, as the origin of mind”

Following on from that a beautiful quotation expressing the nature of our original nature.

“The sacred radiance of our original nature never darkens
It has shined forth since beginningless time.
Do you wish to enter the gate that leads to this?
Simply do not give rise to conceptual thinking”

If you can spare a minute you might like to look at this link.

Take a look at the image at that page before you read on.
It strikes me as a wonderful illustration of a famous Zen story.
The story goes... Two monks are looking at a flag waving in the wind, and one says: look! the flag is moving! to which the other replies: no! the wind is moving!
Then the old Roshi (teacher) comes up and says:
It's not the flag, it's not the wind, what's moving is the mind.

Enjoy watching the leaves fall,


November item 4:

Hi and welcome back to my Zen item no.4.
I’ve just had another look at one of my favourite books – ‘The Unknown Craftsman’ by Sōetsu Yanagi, adapted by Bernard Leach. I have a first edition which was published in 1972 and is bound with handmade mulberry bark paper (momigami) from Toyama Prefecture. My copy has that lovely old bookie smell now and is wonderful to just sit and hold. I hope the new Lewinsky building ages as well.
What follows is a snippet from a chapter on the Buddhist idea of beauty.
“Beauty from the Zen point of view is the state of non – preoccupation, it is that which in every respect is free.In pursuit of the pre – differentiated world, Zen monks asked such questions as “How about an old mirror before it is polished?” or “How about a lotus blossom before it emerges from the water?” Translated to the realm of aesthetics, such questions become: “How about the time before the beautiful and the ugly were differentiated?” Art is usually, so to speak a struggle between the beautiful and the ugly, a struggle in which the artist seeks to subjugate the ugly and bring victory to the beautiful. But this is a process that can take place only after the separation of the two. The Zen point of view warns that this struggle is not a final solution to the problem, that the artist must dwell in the world before there is beauty or ugliness, that only there is salvation to be found.The fundamental “undifferentiated” or “unborn” state is expressed in Buddhist terms as inherent or innate or inborn nature. The distinction between beauty and ugliness is post-natal and artificial, and therefore one is constantly advised to “return to one’s original state”, since this means liberation from dualism. The object of Buddhist aesthetics is the clarification of the following truths:1. That the inherent nature of man is not dualistic; that non-dual entirety is the primordial home of us all; that the place is purity itself.2. That the division of things into two is merely a later event and is unnatural, that the distinction between the beautiful and the ugly is based on human delusion and is wholly artificial.3.That we must accordingly forsake the dualistic fallacy and return to our old home of non-duality, where our salvation is promised.Zen looks forward then, to the state where there is no dualistic strife, a state it describes by the words buji (“no event”) or bunan (“no trouble”). What is implied by the two terms is the absence of storm, of conflict, of disease, of living with one’s self nature without illusion and in complete tranquillity. Worshipping the beautiful and hating the ugly are immature; Zen admonishes us to seek the world where no antagonism exists”.
This Kizaemon Ido teabowl from Korea. Yi dynasty 16th cent. renders all critical comment meaningless and sums up the content of the item above.
Until next month, a line from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s book, ‘The Little Prince’.
“What is essential is invisible to the eye”.

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