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Image – Japanese prayers tied outside a Zen Buddhist Temple in Kamakura, Japan.

Opportunities to strengthen the connection between spiritual practice and art practice are (for the most part) always appreciated but I have to say that the ‘gift of difficult circumstances’ is never the less a tricky pill for me to swallow.

Over the last 18 months birth, death, grief and serious personal injury have forced me to stay home and face my vulnerability, existential aloneness and mortality in new and profound ways.

Whilst these situations help us see the bigger picture they can also feel as if they are never ending and at times we can feel overwhelmed. I certainly did.

My recent spinal injuries and prolonged periods of being alone, and on heavy duty pain killers left me wondering whether ‘this is it’. There were times that I feared there’d be no way out of this, and that it would be down hill from here.

More than ever before, this period of time was, for me, a time to focus on the present moment and to find gratitude for even the smallest of achievements. These tiny treasures to be grateful for included such things as getting out of bed, and being able to stand up. Later they progressed into doing small tasks such as making a cup of tea.

At first, in the midst of this storm, I found myself swinging between extremes. On the one hand I’d be grasping, trying to hold on, and therefore suffering. On the other hand I’d be finding it in me to surrender to my powerlessness and as a result of that I’d find a place in me of peace.

Over time the pendulum of extremes calmed down. Eventually, more and more, I found a place where I could hold both poles more comfortably and steadily. Discovering this place was obviously where the gift was for me. I recognised it as a place of learning.

And then after seven months of excruciating emotional and physical pain, oscillating between sitting in a place of spirit and then of form, and back again, and most of the time being house bound, …..as if by some force of magic, I found I was able to travel to Japan and then join my local Buddhist Sangha (community) for a poetry writing retreat!

 

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Image – Hydrangeas, Rivendell Retreat Centre, East Sussex, UK

 

In Japan we (the Walrus Leadership Tribe) were immersed in the Japanese culture.  This had been gifted to us through the generosity of Kikuo and Jonathan (two of our tribe members) who had planned an incredibly rich and interpersonal experience with local people and the environment in and around Kamakura. (South of Tokyo)

The schedule was full. I won’t mention all the details here but some of the highlights for me were the opportunity to live with Zen Buddhist Monks in a temple, making veggie Sushi with secondary school boys and their teachers, presenting projects and ideas to the Kamacom business community and hearing a monk’s view on a massive inter faith prayer gathering when disaster hit the town a few years ago. We also learnt some ancient Japanese dance movements and saw Mount Fuji. There were so so many experiences…..

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Image – Japanese prayers tied outside a Zen Buddhist Temple in Kamakura, Japan.

 

The experiences that inspired me the most were about a sense of community and ‘coming together’. I found that the people were always patient, kind, respectful and appreciative regardless of cramped conditions and everyday pressures. This was in stark  contrast to our Western ways. Their attitude is incredibly calm, careful and considerate. Regardless of the external environments people always have time and are grateful.

 

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Image – A flower garden in the centre of a shopping area in Tokyo, Japan.

I might have suffered a nasty culture shock on my return to the UK had it not been for the fact that the very week I landed, I went, straight away, with my jet lag, to a retreat with my local Buddhist Sangha. It was curiously interesting timing, since the retreat was all about integrating spiritual practice with creative practice and the vehicle for this was Japanese poetry!

Firstly we learnt how to write individual Haiku. Then we created a collective Renga.

Renga is about a collective engagement with the creative process. It is not about an outcome. For us it was also about creating within a Buddhist context.

Sharing the outcome with you here seems in some ways to be sliding off the point a bit but I want to give you a flavour of Japan and hope that the photos here, along with the poem below, might sum up this month and these past months quite nicely.

As Renga is a joint creation and we all collectively participated in it’s creation it’s everyones and no ones.

Whether we are in a Renga or making work in a solitary studio I believe all creativity is not an individuals works but in someway an outpouring from a greater collective source.

Sometimes this might be from a inter-personal level, sometimes from a transpersonal level and I believe that it is our responsibility as artists to be alert to this and make appropriate choices.

Either way, I simply love the philosophy and message of the Renga.

 

 

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Image – Japanese prayers tied outside a Zen Buddhist Temple in Kamakura, Japan.

 

The Renga…….

 

the skin of a snake

 

we walk in silence down the holloway –

open to the sky

 

blood in my veins,

a sunlit shuffle

how do I do this?

 

swimming upwards I count

the bubbles

 

clouds in stripes

jumbo jet flies to Bali

 

my thoughts
lost to ice –
crystals on the floor

 

squirrel hides in tree hole

frenzied shopping mall

 

the white bunker of dreams –

where is the doorway

now?

 

shadows of people

I used to know

 

turn on the light step

step

over our clothes

 

your worn shoes so sturdy

still I keep them

 

along sheep’s head ridge

who

is leading?

 

on the windowsill

the skin of a snake

 

she is on the turn –

burnished, blazing,

grumpy

 

dragon’s dance, lanterns lit

moon cake anyone?

 

swinging at the top of the wheel

see our old house

by the bend in the river

 

between infinite paths of wonder, holding to broken branches,

they whisper love songs

 

exposed bare root

suspended

under the crust

 

droplets on leaf

shining

 

a drowsy bee

does what it can

with the flowers on the Afghan rug

 

mixing the right tone of yellow

for the buttercup

 

 

a nijuuin renga | Rivendell, East Sussex | May, 2017

participants: Subhadassi (Master) Jen Rouse, Lauren Davis, Tejasiddhi, Vimalabandhu, Laura Power, Kavyashri, Valentina Cartei, Eliza Payne, NgYinWan, Lorraine Moore, Esther Cann, Bruno Basilio, Veronique Maria, Penny Lloyd

R8 Walrus | Tokyo and Kamakura Japan | May, 2017

participants: Jorgen, Sue, Veronique, Kikuo, Jonathan, David, Tjessica, Hanne, Reimar, Ben

 

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