Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

So Joan Sutherland has done three tremendous pieces on the myth we are in. It’s her offering right now. We think it’s valuable, helpful, and important and have decided to run a special issue of Uncertainty Club just for her piece.

At Uncertainty Club we care about the arts and the practice of Chan. The territory that links these two is myth. Contemplative practice with imagination—that’s what we’re about.

We are involved in great catastrophic events, fire, flood, hurricanes, school shootings, economic forces, refugees fleeing for their lives. These are beyond our control but we have something to do with them too and they ask for more imagination from us. So we need a vessel in which such disasters can be held, and stories that might have doors in them.

“Wave” – Lee Perlman Allen. Hand-stitched on linen canvas (2015).

In the ancient Mediterranean world, the great myth for more than a thousand years was the story of the young Persephone being stolen into the underworld and of her mother grieving and disoriented while the earth and the plants and animals suffered. It’s still relevant today when we think of how the animals and forests are reduced and how even a country can lose part of its soul and wonder how to get it back.

Having a multiplicity of myths and images is always good. Joan’s pieces see the situation in terms of the myth of Buddhist realms. To consider this a time of the angry gods seems plausible. People shouting at the TV, people blaming the victims of shooting, all the trolling on social media, and mistaking this for a kind of freedom, yes we might be in the realm of the angry gods.

In Chan we have a myth and also a practice of seeing through myths. To see the president as an angry god is oddly consoling. If you do this, you stop waiting for him to revert to the norm and also stop hanging on his tweets in horror or hope. On consideration, even demons have Buddha Nature, so the helpful things demons do are not shocking. To see things mythically is the start of a story about where we are in the journey and how the inner work and meditation can open a path. The image is never final but it moves us along to the next image and story.

There are other helpful images too; myths talk to each other and deepen each other. The Bodhisattva accompanies people in the dark of the night. In the previous issue of Uncertainty Club, Rachel Boughton’s piece on weaving the cloth of the world speaks of images that come to visit us from another time. In that case it was from the old realms of the goddess. This myth from the old world of the goddess connects with Asian tradition and tells us what a Bodhisattva does. We are all weavers of threads. Lee Allen’s stitching of the great wave, above, is a tremendous visual display of this myth.

These pieces are long. Long form can be good, it makes a world we can live in for a while. We don’t have to hurry through; there is time. If you read all the way to the end, you get to a doorway, and to the welcome that comes with walking through together.

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