Zen practice, a foundation in my life since 1996, is not something distant or esoteric. It’s simply and fully being alive: hiking being the path, painting the mountains being mountain. For me, painting is conscious seeing. In the most graced moments in the painting studio, I get out of the way and allow the mountains and rivers to paint themselves. It’s actually not so different from my work with people in clinic. In clinic it’s supporting every individual patient to become fully, vitally, expressively alive.
Nature amazes me: light bursting through trees, clouds, CLOUDS! Water’s ability to patiently carve rock. With the world burning in so many directions, I am profoundly grateful for such wonder-filled moments. They breathe space into my heart in a way similar to sitting meditation and both help me cultivate and maintain, as Roshi Joan Hallifax says, ‘a strong back and soft front’. With this posture, internally cultivated, externally embodied, I can step forward to, as Gandhi said, ‘be the peace I want to see in the world’.
In 2010, I received lay ordination in the Rinzai Zen tradition. My teacher Shodo Harada Roshi gave me the name EKan, with which I sign paintings. EKan translates as the ‘blessing/wisdom borne of seeing with one’s whole being’. This is the same seeing I bring to my clinical work as well, in stewarding the health and well-being of others.
I grew up in a household that valued visual arts. My mum infused my awareness with awe of the natural world. Despite some interest, I decided not to pursue art school. I didn’t want creativity tethered to my livelihood. I pursued a liberal arts education, and later a Master’s in clinical Oriental Medicine (now respectfully evolved to East Asian Medicine).
In my teens and 20s, I explored photography, collage, ceramics, and wood sculpture. My relationship with ceramics fundamentally changed after a trip to the American SW. In visiting Anasazi ruins, I witnessed pottery shards thousands of years old. I was horrified that my own crude creations might last, taking up space on the earth, for eons. True to my fears, some of my crude early ceramics still take up space in my parents’ home.
During four years of global travel interspersed between the ages of 18 and 26, I made occasional journal sketches and tiny paintings with a portable watercolor kit. After a dozen years without touching a brush, I began painting again in autumn of 2012, painting from photographs taken in the mountains. I have no formal training.
The images here were mostly painted between 2014-18. Since, I’ve directed a lot of energy into organizing focused on ending police violence which disproportionately targets Black and brown members of our community. This I’ve done alongside sustained work since 2006 meditating with our incarcerated human family at Monroe Corrections Complex. Not much time left for painting. I sense activity of the paintbrush will continue to rise and fall in waves.
“There are times in a life when one traverses this entire continent in a day. Wherever each one of us is coming from, or going to, we can take steps: steps that foster health and well-being in ourselves; collaborative steps toward equity and vitality. There is a place for each one of us here,” text from 2019 New Year’s Card.