What is Zen?
Zen is the direct experience of what we might call ultimate reality, or the absolute, yet it is not separate from the ordinary, the relative. This direct experience is our birthright. The practice of zen meditation is a way of realizing the non-dualistic, vibrant, subtle, and interconnected nature of all life. I discovered that through using simple tools that hardly cost anything like a pencil or a pen I was able to calm my mind through drawing. Looking for the benefits of drawing I couldn’t find another more compelling reason than the connection to nature and the skill that only humans have, to draw accurately. When you start drawing with a Zen approach the world is going to change.
Everyone wants some peace of mind. In these chaotic times, carving out some Zen for yourself seems not just a luxury, but also a vital necessity. I find meditation hard, but I do not find drawing hard. Yes in the beginning it takes effort but actually if you let go of judging and allow yourself to improve your skills day by day, nothing is hard. It just is. Just by picking up a pencil and start drawing is a great alternative that everyone can do.
Through drawing our environment, we can realize that self and other are One, that the conditioned and unconditioned are simultaneous, that absolute and relative are identical. I would say that the negative space and the object are one and the same in drawing. There is only a fine line that divides the two. Out of this realization flows a natural compassion and wisdom, a peaceful and intuitively appropriate response toward whatever circumstances may arise. Drawing might bring you closer to not just an understanding of yourself, but also an understanding of the power of art. It became my personal religion, my spiritual practice.
So, again, what is Zen? Stop now. Stop trying to get an intellectual lock on something that is vast and boundless, far more than the rational mind can grasp. This vastness is felt by using the right brain capacity. Just breathe in with full awareness and look how the light hits your object. See how it casts a shadow on another object. Watch it slowly move. You can almost hear the flowers open up. Appreciate it fully. Breathe in with gratitude; breathe out with love. Receiving and offering—this is what we are doing each time we inhale and exhale. To do so with conscious awareness, on a regular basis, is the transformative practice we call Zen.
This simple yet profound practice can release us from the shackles of past and future, as well as from the self-imposed and imprisoning barriers we erect around what we consider our separate and unchanging identities. Who do we think we are, anyway? When we really look deeply, it becomes the koan “Who am I?” We find that the conditioned views and compulsive traits we have come to call “self” have no fixed substance. We can, when we learn to weave in an almost daily practice, free ourselves from that judgmental self and discover our true self. This is what it means to use the right brain that is open, confident, and unhindered, flowing with all that exists in this very moment.
Thus quite naturally we care for the environment. Respect for all that grows start here, by connecting deeply to it. And quite naturally we start to live with attention, integrity, and authenticity, it almost happens as a byproduct of drawing. My whole life I have been drawing and painting. I discovered all kinds of materials and finally developed my skills with oil on linen. As my work as an artist became more professional, my oil paintings grew bigger and bigger. This all changed during covid, the loss of my job and the lack of expensive recourses.
We have nowhere to go, there is nothing to do. Living more inside than ever before I started looking at my own interior at my own sketchbooks from travels and discovered such wealth that I wanted to share this with my students and thought of adding a second course and a third. Drawing as a zen meditation is a technique that not only improves your drawing skills, but it is also a very powerful way to quiet your mind and open your heart. It can therefor also be used as an easy meditation technique. Most of all, Zen drawing makes you more aware of the beauty of the world around you.
So now you are able to create a beautiful world for yourself and with that also for others. Wouldn’t you want that? Drawing is your path to mindfulness.