Brush Stroke at the Zendo

I am continuing my journey on the path of contemplative arts, this time in Santa Fe at the Upaya Zen Center. Since the Shambhala Art intensive I’ve done brush strokes after many of my sittings, and recently I’ve started to copy characters from Kaz Tanahashi’s book, The Heart of the Brush. Since Shambhala does not have a calligraphy program and Kaz has taught at Shambhala Mountain Center, I decided to find a program with him. Find him I did, and I signed up for Drawing Joy Density.

I’m writing this on the last day of the program, so I can say that the program was amazing and that Kaz is a spectacular teacher. His wisdom comes out more in through questions than direct offerings, and he has a surprising humor. His two teachings for the weekend were, “Are you smiling” and “Is the brush straight up and down.” If you are aren’t smiling, you put the brush down until you are. And if the brush isn’t straight, then correct that. I loved his comment about why we keep the brush straight: it allows us to draw from the vast energy of the universe. The brush becomes an antenna, and our energy spreads out. This energy manifests in the strength of the brush stroke and the presence in the calligraphy.

The basic format of the workshop was “close study.” Kaz pointed out that this was advanced practice but “this was America.” So we would look at a character and attempt to copy it as closely as possible. This was not simple, and Kaz shared technique progressively and partially by observation. He also had people come up and he would guide their hand to create the calligraphy. Bit by bit we learned how to hold the brush, how to make strokes, and how to smile.

The program occurred in the container of the zen center. This was my first time in a zen center, and at Upaya, and it made me appreciate how people must feel when walking into a Shambhala Center for the first time. I had the feeling of doing “the wrong thing” quite a few times, and the only criticism that I might find is that there could have been more of an “orientation” for first time visitors, and more communication as to what to do when. But spiritual centers aren’t known for modifying themselves to fit their guests; guests modify themselves to fit the center. It is something worthwhile to think about in terms of how we make people feel welcome.

While I started the workshop somewhat exhausted and feeling out of joint, the weekend turned into a beautiful experience with wonderful participants. I continue to be excited and grateful for the practice of contemplative art, and I hope to have the opportunity to study with Kaz again. Below are some of the characters that I created for the weekend, and I look forward to continuing the practice at home.

Eternal Now
Eternal Now
Combination of two characters.
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