Shared Intention


This series of Just This focuses on Zen and the Arts. The current (and first blog) issue of this series explores Shared Intention—people working together to practice and create.

Our next blog issue, Making our World: Construction and Craft, will come out in April. We could use some further material on that theme. Submissions on building, craft, installation, and gardening would be appropriate. Please send these to

Please feel free to react by clicking on one of the reactions option buttons below the posts, or by clicking on comment and leaving a comment (it can be anonymous if you so choose).

You may see the entire issue either by scrolling down, or by clicking on individual posts in the Blog Archive on the right, or if you have a full-size keyboard, you can use the page-up and page-down buttons to see one page at a time.

Sarah Webb, Kim Mosley, John Grimes

Jill Wilkinson's Talk on Zen and Creativity

Jill Wilkinson, a founding member of the Austin Zen Center, is presently serving as Head Student during this Spring practice period at AZC. Hear below her dharma talk of March 11, 2008, on Zen and Creativity.

Erik Piepenburg, "An Expert in Audacity Tries Arthur Miller"

Erik Piepenburg, "An Expert in Audacity Tries Arthur Miller." The New York Times, Oct 22, 2008, Theater section.

"The only reality of the theater exists in the mind of the audience. That audience looks collectively at what is going on on the stage and collectively imagines that this is real. ... But what is more fundamental is the notion that when everybody laughs together or, last night, when I heard people around me collectively sobbing, at that moment we are bound together not by our bodies sitting in the theater but by a collective imagination. At that moment we understand the lie that what we think is only our own, that our internal lives are only our own. At that point our collective imaginations become one imagination and my internal life becomes the same as your internal life, which is what Aristotle understood when he analyzed tragedy. It’s a collective act in which we collectively understand something about being a community together. The moment we understand that, feel it, we feel a kind of responsibility in which we must collectively help and take responsibility for each other. That is part of the definition of our humanity and, if you like, if it’s not a contradiction in terms, our animal humanity. Of course, that is part of what “All My Sons” is about."

Dharma Talk Drawing

Kim Mosley's blog is at
He can be contacted at

A Haiku Circle

Glen Snyder

My first experience with a haiku circle was while visiting Rinsenji, a Soto temple in Tokyo. Lay practitioners would get together there to sit on Wednesday evenings (Zazenkai), and afterward there was always a big social get-together that went on late into the night. After going for several weeks, I noticed that there was a small group of people sitting at a table on one side, passing books around with their own haiku. They carefully read each other's haiku, considering the sound of each word, and at times an older man who was the haiku master would gently offer a few suggestions. A woman who was very talented at calligraphy would then ink each of the haiku into their books.

My Japanese is not very good at all, and there were only a few people there who felt comfortable with English. The haiku master turned out to be an artist who had journeyed to Spain many years ago to study Impressionism. So my first lesson in haiku would be Basho's frog jumping into the pond, inked on the back of a napkin, accompanied by a sketch and a short discussion, not in English but in Spanish. That was enough to inspire me to try something similar at the Houston Zen Center.

Adapting haiku to English has always been a challenge, particularly the visual impact of the words themselves. The concept of season words is also not easily described. Setting aside the technical aspects, I wasn't entirely sure if there would be a way to create the same intimacy of the haiku circle as I had seen on my visit to Rinsenji. Fortunately, I found that there were others who had also either studied or lived in Japan who had the same interest, as well as those who were simply willing to try something new. We structured the haiku circle around suggestions by Abigail Friedman in her book, The Haiku Apprentice: Memoirs of Writing Poetry in Japan.

The haiku circle has been meeting together for nearly two years now. Initially, a group of 6 of us met weekly, but we now meet more infrequently, generally once a month. We copy our haiku on index cards, shuffle them, and distribute them, then copy them down so that the original author's handwriting will not be recognized. Then we pass them around, and copy down our favorites. Then we take turns reading our favorites. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for some was the recommendation by Abigail Friedman that, in the absence of a haiku master, it is preferable not to make any comments or suggestions about the haiku of others, other than just reading your favorite haiku.

During the two years, we have delighted in the way that often a similar theme will inspire several of us during the course of the week, be it a storm, a hot day, the blooming of ornamental plum trees, or flocks of grackles. It has also been an opportunity to express our feelings over time, in the context of descriptions of nature. There are also a number of other possible activities that we have considered, including putting together haiku scrapbooks that would incorporate words, art, and collage; and linked verse, or renga.

(Glen Snyder,, Mar 19, 2009)

The Haiku

Haiku describe a moment penetrated so whole heartedly as to leave aside any mention of the writer. Most often haiku reflect a natural theme and make reference to a season.

The Houston Zen Center Kukai (haiku circle) has met over the past two years to experience each season as a poetic moment.

The following are a few selections by Barry Cooper, Gail Keller, Glen Snyder, and Michael Zimmerman:

Mosquitoes return:
Rain bucket larval dance
Cat's eye reflections

The baby was passed
Hand to hand, love extended—
Everyone a mother

At the funeral
The family offers incense
Smell of lilies

Two stones mark the place
Beyond stands the dark forest
Fear turned her away

Art Every Day

Elizabeth Kubala

Just before the new year began, I made a commitment to create a piece of art every day for the year 2009. Although I try to live life artfully, I’ve not created much tangible art I figured if I had to create something every day, I wouldn’t have time to listen to my inner critic and creativity would flow through me like a river. I believed that this practice (like any practice taken on in an earnest way) would teach me something about myself.

I told a friend and she said she would make the same commitment. That started me thinking about sangha. I wanted a community of fellow practitioners to help me stay on the path. So on New Year’s Eve I sent an email invitation to fifteen people. I asked them to join me in the commitment to create art every day. I suggested that we could each define art however we wanted. I offered to set up an email listserv so we could report to, support and encourage each other. We could have a website with photo albums for posting photos or scans of our work. And if there was interest, we could gather in person a few times a year.

Friends joined. Friends suggested other friends. And now we have a nice sized group of 23. I don’t know how many (besides me) are creating art EVERY day, but I think most of us are creating a lot more art than we would have without the support of each other. It is nice to feel connected to others in the group even when working alone. I feel certain that I would have let this commitment slide if it weren’t for my “sangha.” I would have been too lonely.

A few people on the list identify as artists. Most of us are grateful for the excuse to act on our creative impulses. We have created poems, essays, observations, an experiment, photographs, paintings, drawings, collages, sculptures, dances and a sound montage. Some members are creating art, but not reporting. Some report occasionally. A few of us report almost daily. I always get a thrill when I see an Art_Every_Day post in my email box.

I am finding this to be a powerful practice. It requires me to engage with the world around me, to dialogue with it, to let it move through me. It is helping me to keep my eyes open and to cultivate appreciation. I feel my brain working in new ways. As with zazen, sometimes I feel curious, interested, playful and open. Other times I just go through the motions.

Following are some observations about this practice, and some of the art that goes with them:

Inspiration, tools and materials are everywhere
Many members are enjoying examining their beliefs about what constitutes art. This is an opportunity to loosen up, and an invitation to keep our eyes out everywhere. When we share, we inspire each other to see art in new places.

Pat K is enjoying her clothes.
She plays with color and texture
when she gets dressed.
She photocopies her scarves
and adds objects to make compositions
like this valentine.

Pat Y created 
spontaneous art 
on her patio.

And in her kitchen 
as with this "Reclining Nude." 

Sarah also finds art
in her kitchen creations.
This piece is called "Circles."

Lucy is stuck at work
with nothing to do.
She pulled out her CAD manual
and created this "Bright Star."

Later she painted "Cloudy"
using her PDA.

Sarah creates maps 
of her daily travels,
adding written observations 
and drawings.

Lisa draws he daily journal entries. Penina drums and dances.

Lila and I found our art materials
on the ground during a walk
around our neighborhood.
We came home and created
this collaborative piece

Art doesn’t have to take a lot of time.
There simply isn’t time every day to sink into a creative groove, and it’s a great practice to find something that can happen fast. Beverly makes a drawing of dental floss. Pat Y arranges pebbles around a plant. I make six-word entries in my meditation journal. Shiila creates disappearing brush art on her Buddha board. Lila pins objects on a cork board. Lucy folds a penny-sized origami butterfly. 

Lorraine takes a photograph 
of her cat. 
"Neville and Flowers

It’s interesting to see the influence of season and place.
The shadows were especially long in January. I did a whole series of pieces that worked with shadows.

I call this one 
“Self Portrait."

Now it’s March and 
Sarah is noticing trees 
filled with birds.

Meanwhile in Michigan, Leigh is painting her pot bellied stove, photographing snowy landscapes and only dreaming of Spring.

Even the ground does not suspect what lies beneath the snow.
The colors hum; they wait for spring
and for a chance to show
the world a thing
or two: patience, how to grow.

We can add to our art by writing about it.
Beverly posts no photos, but writes cryptic descriptions of her art-making process, leaving to our imaginations what her pieces look like. Here are a couple of her posts.

cutting a heart out by hand from an obituary
number six graphite pencil covers all the space and letters front and back except "love" "love" "enjoy being"
cut an envelope holder for the heart from translucent vellum salvaged from an advertisement
sew up two sides of heart holder with white threads

At a birthday party brunch at Enoteca I was telling a woman I just met about our project. She said, "You must have a lot of unstructured time...." I responded by opening up the envelope the rooibos teas was in and invited her to collaborate with me on making today's art. We passed the drawing back and forth between us for about seven times before ordering, after ordering, and during the meal until I had to leave. We spoke about what we liked about the drawing and I asked her to sign the back.

I enjoyed writing the following post in almost the same way I enjoyed creating the art for it:

I remember an exercise I did with my friend Jane long ago. We sat across a table from each other, pencils in hand, paper on the table. Without looking down at the paper, we drew each other’s faces. We had lots of good laughs and a feeling of intimacy that came from looking so closely at each other.

Since I didn’t have a flesh friend to play with today, I used the Buddha in my back yard. He was very patient, and studying his peaceful face so carefully had a deeply calming effect on me. I’ve heard tell of a Buddhist ancestor who recommended that all his students complete two activities before they die – copy the entire Lotus Sutra by hand and carve a Buddha. I thought about the power in those activities as I felt the power in this simpler one.
This could go anywhere.

I have been surprised and delighted to witness the twists and turns this practice has taken in me and in others. I am learning to follow the creative impulse, rather than try to lead it. One thing leads to another and there are surprises. My idea generator is cranking away, happy in the knowledge that time will be made to act on some of its output. There are close to 300 days left in the year. The possibilities are limitless. I look forward to seeing what will emerge.

If you are interested in having access to the website, please email Elizabeth Kubala (