August 23, 2016

First sesshin experience!

I know I have not updated in a long time but that was mainly because of my studies-which is right now over and I passed with flying colors-Yaay!
First and foremost, friends and Romans, here is a short summary of my first ever sesshin!
I arrived in the cute little town of Brugge and through the hustle and bustle of the ultra touristic city, I entered this building which used to be a Carmelite monastery. Interesting, isn't it? It was very quiet and peaceful inside. We had a friendly welcome and everyone was assigned their rooms after a nice small banquet with tea and cookies: yes, we are in Belgium after all :) People love eating and drinking and they always do it with gusto!
The rooms were quiet clean and had a very lovely view-as you too can see in this picture. After we got settled in, the marathon started!
I tried not to get too caught up with the physical strain of sitting zazen for hours, all weekend but boy is it hard to ignore! My back was cracking, my legs even my arms and shoulders were hurting so bad. Nonetheless I bit the bullet and I am glad I stuck with it. I attended all the sessions and despite the discomfort I enjoyed every moment of it.
I also attended my first oryoki. Again I was a little out of my comfort zone, not knowing what to do and constantly afraid of doing the wrong thing, but the calmness of those around me was contagious and after a few minutes I too relaxed and let things run their course without maniacally worrying about them going wrong. That is the whole point after all isn't it? :)
Here is an image of my self made oryoki set! I am pretty proud of it because I spent quite some time making it. I will have to remake one of the napkins because it proved to be too small but it is fine. I had also made my own zafu however that one turned out to be a big mistake. It looks like a sad mutant of a zafu and I need to re-make it too. Still, I am grateful to it for I sat on it all through the sesshin and it was not too uncomfortable. It just looks like a mutant zafu that's all.
I used every minute of our free time lying on my back and trying to relax my muscles. Once the weekend was over I thought i would feel free and happy to go back home. On the contrary I was overcome by this sadness for a moment, like saying goodbye to a good friend. That is when I realized I enjoyed my weekend in Brugge more than I thought I did.
Next sesshin? I will definitely be there!

April 9, 2016

try not...

After a fun week in England with my sister and niece, I am back home. Only a week till my first sesshin(zen retreat) in Brugge. I must say I am excited and a little nervous-which is stupid. I should just relax and let things fall in place by themselves. However that part in me that constantly tries to control everything cannot relax and is afraid of making mistakes. While browsing the internet for "first sesshin experiences", I came across this article that answered several questions in my head.
Here is an excerpt:
"This public correction can be very uncomfortable as we usually rush to cover up our imperfections, but in Zen you eventually learn to accept yourself as you are by accepting that your failings are obvious, ordinary, and not special to you. At first I tended to only notice my own mistakes, but as this has become less painful I am seeing my mistakes blend in with everyone else's. Chanting is a good place to notice this as it is difficult for westerners to chant in Japanese, and even the English chants are long and hard to follow correctly. I don't think I'll live long enough to experience it - but they say a Zen master is one big mistake! In dharma talks sometimes Eshin says “we are all one big mistake”. This is a powerful antidote to getting stuck in the "I want to be special, So fuckin' special . . . But I'm a creep" song."
You can  read the whole article here:

I get a lot of questions as to why I do zazen. Am I a Buddhist? No. I am an atheist. I do not follow any religion/teaching whatsoever. Honestly I also do not know why I do zazen. I cannot give you concrete answers. Moreover I know I should not have any concrete goals for doing zazen either. After all, it is just sitting in silence isn't it? Not trying to achieve anything, a state of mind that is so different than what has always been taught to me. However I can say this: I like it. I love my dojo. I like going there and meeting the people there. I like sitting in stillness and I like "not trying" for a change. In my life I am always so busy with "improving" myself, "changing" and "trying hard". "working for a goal". In zazen I let go of all these, or maybe, I don't. I just sit there aware of all my inner struggles and my environment. That's all. I just like doing zazen. Simple as that.

February 7, 2016

...and now for something completely different...

In between the hectic and stressful schedule of my life as a freelancer, a graphics design student and amateur/obsessed researcher of Komitas, I made the right choice and decided to re-start going to zazen sessions at the local Dojo!! Ta-taaaaa!
My fascination with Zen had started following a course on Non-Western art I took during my art education. I figured I loved reading about the approach of the zen monks to practicing their traditional arts more than reading about the art itself. As a result, I later took another honours course this time on the following book, which many of you probably have read:

It was an amazing course prepared and taught by Lee Adnepos (a wonderful professor; I still remember his calm voice. I used to leave his classroom more inspired and curious than before after each lesson) and I still count myself extremely lucky for having taken it. The whole semester we dissected Pirsig's book, word by word, researched on themes within, and ended up reading several other books next to his. And then, as a part of the field research, he took the entire class to a Zen temple in Rochester and there I had my first zazen experience. After the first introduction at the temple, I knew I wanted to make it a part of my life.
After we moved to Antwerp, I realized I wanted to continue and Bas and I started going to the zendojo Ho Sen. We enjoyed it immensely, and we saw the benefits of these frequent zazen sessions in our daily life. Nonetheless life happened and we stopped going following some medical problems. Since then neither Bas nor I had practised zazen although we tried Samu at every chance we could and Bas's interest in koans and other readings never diminished.
Today I went there again after several years of absence. And boy! I had a blast! Once I was there I knew I had made the right decision. To start with, I  had a very warm welcome from other members, I then met the new ones, had two zazen sessions and I knew I would try and do my best to go there regularly.
Do not get me wrong, it is not all enlightenment right after the first moment, and nothings is sugar coated, no no-not at all. On the contrary it is a lot of work and can be tiring at first, even sitting still or finding the right way to sit can be a painful experience for some. The benefits come slowly and way later. I believe zazen helps me stay calm, helps me control my ups and downs a bit and makes me more observant.
Today our teacher gave a wonderful example of a landscape, which I think can also be applied to many aspects in life. This is what I understood of it: during meditation, everything we perceive (smells, sounds, even physical discomfort of sitting still, or even the thoughts and memories) are like different parts of a landscape; some more pleasant and some less than the others. Concentrating on a single discomfort is like concentrating on a single piece of garbage within the landscape and missing on all the rest. Instead, we should be aware of the whole picture without giving priority to a single one.
Of course this was just one of the many things he told and after all this is my interpretation of what I heard. You might do zazen and have a totally different experience. It is worth trying, for everyone, I believe, regardless of your path, your faith (I am for instance an atheist), your age, your condition etc.

Here below you can find the information about the Ho Sen Dojo I attend. Feel free to check their website(in Dutch) and try it for yourself maybe? :)

February 1, 2016

in search of Komitas -2 Bibliography

Reading about the Armenian genocide is not at all an easy task. I keep reading about places I know, places I have been to, places I walked on without knowing that thousands had been murdered there. I have to stop every now and then to go out for a walk or open the window the let in some cool air to calm myself down. I also feel more irritable and have less tolerance for silly jokes that target groups of people or cash on stereotypes.
It feels like there is so much hatred in this world.
I think the more I read topics on sociology and history, the more I understand people and their motives. They are selfish and predictable. Animals driven with simple instincts. That gives one a strange sense of calmness, it is like coming to terms with human stupidity. You would then expect that it should not be news that there is so much hatred around-since that too is to be expected from our species. Nonetheless there is also so much good and greatness; like in music, harmony, in arts, in literature, and all of it is going to waste!
A fragile and gentle person such as Komitas is wasting away somewhere on this world, at this very moment. This alone is the biggest tragedy.
Komitas, gouache on watercolor paper, 2016 -  Sevgul Sumer Dielemans

As I keep reading, I keep sketching too, these days all I draw is about him and his music.
Anyways, here is a bibliography (in English) I would like to share; the first 6 are sources mentioned at the website: Komitas Virtual Museum where you can find more information on his life and works.
  1. Atayan R. - Komitas. 100-th anniversary of Komitas. New York, 1969.
  2. Komitas Vardapet - Presents the life and songs of Komitas. New York.
  3. Komitas Vardapet - Rethor of modern Armenian music. New York, 1957.
  4. Poladian S. - Armenian folk songs. Los Angeles, 1942.
  5. Poladian S. - Komitas Vardapet and his contribution to Ethnomusicology. California, 1972.
  6. Soulahian-Kuyumjian R. - Archeology of Madness Komitas. New Jersey, 2001 (ordered this one from Gomidas Books, great selection of books and very friendly service!)
  7. Karakashian Meline - Komitas (1869-1935), victim of the Great Crime. 
  8. Andonian Aram - Exile, Trauma and Death-On the way to Cankiri with Komitas Vartabed. London 2012 (ordered this one from Gomidas Books, great selection of books and very friendly service!)
  9. Balakian Grigoris - Armenian Golgotha. New York 2009 (limited information about Komitas but gives a detailed first hand account of the 1915 deportation)