I discovered satori and zen meditation quite by accident 25 years ago. I was reading a book called “Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain” by Betty Edwards. One of the exercises to help you draw realistically changed the way I perceived the world. All thoughts and labels disappeared and I saw exactly the way an artist or a Zen monk perceives reality. It was as if a fog of thought had been lifted and I saw colours, light and contours with great clarity.
When I read Betty’s comments at the end of the exercise she stated that the consciousness achieved by completing the exercise is similar to satori which is the goal of Zen meditation. I have been interested in and practised Zen
What has drawing got to do with zen?
The exercise that Betty described in her book was to look at your left hand while drawing with the right hand. The important part of the exercise was not to look at what you draw and remain focused on your left hand. As you follow the outline and contours of your left hand millimetre by millimetre you draw what you are seeing very slowly. It does not matter what you draw.
It is a warming up exercise for artists to clearly perceive what they are seeing, It teaches you to “see” as an artist sees. Betty went on to describe the resulting change in perception as being similar to way one would see reality while under the influence of mescaline. Colours seem more intense and the contrast of everything is more highlighted.
After completing the exercise for about five minutes I noticed my consciousness had altered. It was an enjoyable and calming experience. I found out that the same state of consciousness could be achieved through Zen meditation.
The goal of Zen meditation is to stop the constant chatter of the mind and perceive reality directly. The mind is described as a pond and thoughts are waves on the surface of the pond. Only when your thoughts are stilled or there are no waves on the surface of the pond do you see the reflection of the moon.
Zen meditation can be practised while sitting or walking. Once you are comfortable you start by following your breath and allowing it to fall into a regular rhythm. Traditionally, a Zen master will give a novice a koan to focus on while meditating. A koan is like a riddle. Two of my favourites are “What did your face look like before your mother and father were born?” and “What is the sound of one hand clapping.”
Of course there is no logical answer to the koan but that is not the point. The koan acts as way of switching off the logical and analytical mind. With practice thoughts slow down and eventually stop. Only then do you perceive reality as it really is without the constant interference of the internal chatter of the mind.
When in the meditative state you are said to be aware of the self which is separate from the mind and body. Awareness of the self is the knowledge that you are the knower or witness of your thoughts and actions. You are consciousness. Forever free and blissful