Zen & the Arts - Field Notes


My journey to Italy was inspired by my desire to paint. Underneath that desire there is something else that is not so easy to put into words. Prior to leaving, I asked John Tarrant for his The Story of the Buddha to take with me. I wanted to read it out loud. There is something about hearing the words of the story in my own voice that is also hard to explain. It’s a little bit like hearing my footsteps climbing the mountain road up to the Tower.

The Tower is part of and attached to the castle of Civitela Ranieri. I painted all afternoon, later than I intended, and the Wolf Full Moon rose up, waiting for me. It was time to go..

The Ladder had not moved when I got there. It was metal and strong; it was easy to climb up and through the opening which at one time was and still is a window. Was there glass in the 1400’s? Yes: glass was invented about 1500BC. Climbing up was exciting.

Questions arose: when was the castle abandoned, how many times? Who lived here, where did they eat, sleep, make love?

When I crawled through the opening it was dark. The only way to see and make my way was to use the flashlight on my IPhone. It was my candle.  The floor was littered with debris and also beautifully tiled. There were rooms, many, so room to room I went, looking for what? Inside with my light, there, a stairway. The railing was pretty much gone, but I could not believe the newel post. I looked closely and imagined the hands that shaped it, the love they held, and when.

And it was dark. The only way to see and make my way was to use the flashlight on my IPhone. Imagine an IPhone in a castle when their light was candles hundreds of years ago., but this is now.

There were rooms, many, so room to room I went, looking for what? Inside with my torch, there, a stairway. I could not believe the newel post, the railing was gone, at least most of it.

….but the newel, look closely and imagine the hands that shaped it, with love, when.

A groin vault, groin, the edges. And the columns, through time, no time. Was music played here, did they dance around these staves of stone? Of course they did. I continued to imagine and I walked on and then turned my head, and there an opening, no name and now looking out instead of in. The night horizon.

And why do we paint?

Who knows how long I wandered about. How long would my torch last? I did come to think that the light of the moon would  take me back down the mountain. So I continued on until I found what I came for.



Of course, I didn’t know what I was looking for or for that

matter that I was looking for anything at all. I turned the corner and there, there she was. I think I might have held my breath for a brief moment.

Who is she and how long had she been waiting?

You know how you pause in life when someone commands your full attention and love? Here it was, a point in time, life, abandoned, waiting, but still so very much alive, held in stone. Sometimes beauty, that’s what it is, can bring you to tears.

Here was what I had come to see on this extraordinary evening under a full moon on top of this mountain in an abandoned castle tower.


I did find my way out and back, I did forget that its easier going up a ladder than down. After all, I did not really want to leave, but the night held me as I walked back. I loved how cold the evening was, the touch of the locked metal gate as I slid back through. I had gloves, but the cold was not really cold if you know what I mean.

And then back down the mountain road there was a sentinel, a final sign, and a final pause to close the evening.

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