My weekend with John Daido Loori Part 1

Since I’ve been at Naropa Boulder I have intentionally avoided taking classes that mixed artistic practice with spiritual practice because I am very protective of my art (and my spirituality).

As Donald Preziosi asked my first semester here, can there be religion without art? What would it be? That’s a heavy question when you think about it, especially when you include story telling and poetry as art ?.

So I’ve been careful not to take art ? classes with heavy religious connotations. Instead I’ve prefered to take religious classes and let my own practice infiltrate my writing.

But this past weekend I took a Zen Intensive through Naropa Boulder that was actually a zen art class. From the course description I thought I was taking a weekend course in meditation, similar to the Shambhala Trainings I’ve taken at Naropa Boulder. The course description read:

The teaching and practice of Zen Buddhism assumes that there is a big mind present in all mental and physical activities, that this big mind can be realized and that its realization can be matured. The class will look at how this Zen paradigm-its teachings, practices and realization-can be a personal vision and part of professional contemporary psychology.

Instead, the weekend was more of an art workshop with a heavy zen influence. Although I would not have taken the class if I had known ahead of time what it was about, I’m still glad I took it.

It was helpful that the instructor, John Daido Loori (founder and abbot of Zen Mountain Monastery and author of The Zen of Creativity) was very clear about this approach not being art ? but being zen art ?, instead of claiming the process to be the best and/or only way. What is troublesome to me is when the distinction is not made.

We were given brief meditation instruction (really just a visualization and relaxation technique). And our first assignment was to go practice that visualization before going out into the world and connecting with some particular non-sentient thing. Our task was then to express what else ? that thing is.

Most people in the course ended up taking photographs. I stuck with writing. Here’s my piece:

Dear Doris,

I love you. Right now I am sitting on a bench next to Boulder Creek. I am trying to experience ? the creek so I can write about what else it is, like its inherent nature.

The creek is flowing pretty good. Most of the city sounds are covered up by the sound of rushing water. But ever so often I can still hear a bus or sirens.

There’s a cool breeze. I imagine the water is cold. I want to put my hand in at this one certain point, just after the water begins to fall over a line of rocks and just before it bubbles up white again. I can see the rocks through about five inches of rushing water. I’d like to cup my hand there and feel the creek pulling me down stream.

Do you remember that time we walked to the bridge and stood holding hands? The water rushed toward us with so much energy but on the other side the water seemed to move slowly away from us.

I miss you.



2 comments to My weekend with John Daido Loori Part 1

  • […] to analyze the texts, but to express their emotional response. A similar injunction was given by John Daido Roshi for an exercise where artists and audience established a profound two-way connection. The feedback […]

  • […] Jack Collom literally wrote the book on teaching poetry in the classroom: Poetry Everywhere. He opened the WITs workshop by leading a writing exercise with seventeen of us. As we gathered around a landscaped pond outside the Colorado Humanities offices in Denver, he asked us to write and share a poem that expressed the pondness of the pond, an exercise similar to the activities John Daiod Loori Roshi prescribed during a Zen intensive weekend. […]