Not a stone Buddha

Portrait of a woman in meditation #01

 

I started meditation in the 1970’s in high school, with TM (transcendental meditation) and listening to, and reading Ram Das. I was clawing my way out from under my Catholic upbringing. Shortly afterwards I began a journey back to the Japanese side of my family. When I  was sixteen I started Karate-do, with Kobayashi Sensei (of course the teacher had to be Japanese) and from there came an adventure to a yoga studio to supplement my martial art training. My girlfriend and I went downtown to a big house on South New Hampshire. The door opened, and a white bald headed man in saffron robes said, “You are early, come on in.” My first thought was, ‘how do you do Yoga in that outfit.’

The main room had an enormous golden Buddha with painted face and black hair. This was no yoga studio! We meditated the whole evening. My friend grew more and more agitated as the evening went on, but I got more and more into it, as if my mind and body already knew something about this ancient technology of sitting, breathing, and observing. I sat like a ‘Stone Buddha.’ I came back, I was hooked.

My mother had started going back to Japan for months on end to visit our family in Kobe. When I was twenty-one I went with her. It was my first trip back to Japan since I was four. It was magical to see that I had a family who loved me so much, even though we were separated by language. My parents had decided to stop teaching me Japanese after we got back to the U.S. My mother was now on a mission, not only to reconnect me to all my relatives, but to take me to all the major temples and shrines in Tokyo, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, I saw many stone Buddhas. I even climbed inside many of them and looked out through their eyes! I felt for once at home again.

I may call myself a Buddhist, though I have practiced the teachings long enough to realize that there’s no such thing. True freedom has nothing to do with labels and identities.  I have been a teacher since the 1980s. I have co-founded our own school, which incorporates Vipassana, mindfulness and Zen with Hypnosis, NLP (Neuro-linguistic programing) Family Systemic Constellation, deep-time work, and Pyschomagic. We live, breathe, teach, mentor, heal and train people in this.

These images are a continued journey into my life of meditation. This series, ‘Not a stone Buddha’ means that I am now a living breathing, laughing, restless, angry, frustrated, dreaming, joyful, blissful, sensual, farting, peeing, shitting, hungry, critical, discerning, and altogether happy and deeply at peace with myself, awake being.

The first piece of this series was inspired by a dream. I was in a room filled with monks and nuns sitting at a long dinner table, everyone had their heads down on the table, fast asleep. I saw myself locked in a frozen scream, shouting at the monastic gathering, with my hair raised up straight above me. I was screaming, “Wake up!”

 

Why were the Zen students not able to vacuum the corners of their room?

In the mid 80’s I was ordained as a lay priest within the Zen (Tien) lineage of  Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn, which is a Rinzai tradition working with ‘Koans’ (like spiritual riddles). On occasion while doing a task of some kind, he would ask us the question ‘what are you doing?’ .. to test our mindfulness.  For instance a student was once working in the kitchen preparing food and the question was asked ‘what are you doing? and at first she answered, cutting carrots… pretty literal answer, on the second day she said, preparing a meal and on the third day, feeding the hungry… each time he would simply walk away. The fourth day came and she answered, building the great wall of China! .. Good answer! he replied back to her.

I spent many months in the South of France doing this and other kinds of practices, revealing to me the magic that is all around us in any given moment if you are available to see it, and the bigger picture connections and solutions that can be accessed by being present in the simple day to day activities of everyday life.

Everything can be a gift, of learning, discovery, and possibility, mindfulness 24/7 with ease.

Just recently for my birthday I taught a workshop about what motivates us to produce or create a work of art, revealing my own integration of daily Zen practices within creating Art. I focused on how I prepare myself before starting a painting, which liberates me and my brush during painting! When Michelangelo said he frees the form (figures) from the marble stone, when I prepare my mind this way, I free myself in the process of freeing the image from the paper… this takes practice, and persistence, and sometimes just the simplicity of repetition, like the practice of a simple open circle with one stroke, referred to in Zen practice as ‘Enso’ practice.

Art can liberate the imagination! The image on this blog is my ‘Enso’ for the day.

And the Koan and answer.._DSC6234 ‘Why were the Zen students not able to vacuum in the corners of their rooms?

.. Because they had no attachments.’

A silk thread, a luminous spider, vast space…

Still Life (2)

In 2002 I awoke from a dream feeling a profound inner peace. In fact I did not recognize myself for hours after the dream, until slowly the familiar emotional ebbs and tides crept back into my awareness, and I felt completely myself again.

I was changed nevertheless, and motivated to explore the deep space and freedom I felt from this dream. So I did explore it, in detail, through a body of drawings and paintings that I continue to work up until today.

This drawing here is one such piece and it is titled ‘Still Life,’ currently on exhibit at the Brand Library Art Galley in Glendale until the end of October 2015.

Now for the dream, which is a living memory that stays inside me. Every time I revisit it, or relay the dream to someone, it activates the inner peace I experienced when I first had it…

Such stillness! and vast dark space around me. I was suspended from a single silk thread that was coming out from my body.

I was a spider, luminous and transparent and white. It was a moment in time, and I had no idea how long it lasted, because as that being I had no capacity to gauge time, nor care about it. It was magnificent..

..since then, the entry way to my home has a small painting, depiction of the spider, hanging on the wall to greet guests coming and going from my home, and it reminds me, of the dream… am I the human being who then dreamt of being a spider, or am I a spider now, dreaming that I am a human being…

Reminds me of a quote…

Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, a veritable butterfly, enjoying itself to the full of its bent, and not knowing it was Chuang Chou. Suddenly I awoke, and came to myself, the veritable Chuang Chou. Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. Between me and the butterfly there must be a difference.

This is an instance of transformation!

Something nevertheless has changed inside of me, and I am forever grateful.

 

 

Dreamscapes

Some dreams are like a road map of the future. One such dream resurfaced for me, and it has been following my waking hours for the last two years. I traced it back to 2002 in one of my journals; you see I journal my life mostly through dreams.

Just recently I received third prize at the ‘TAG” gallery CA Open Competition with Juror Jim Morphesis, and he said to me, ‘Your painting is strong, and your work is out of the ordinary, and there is a need for that!’ he was such a personable and friendly man..

So I told him about my dream ..

I was walking along a street in Chinatown in Los Angeles with my partner Caitriona, we were on our way to see the Emperor. He was expecting us, but the guards were not informed and there was a mishap in which Caitriona was hurt. I put my hands on her and healed her wound, just then the Emperor came down the stairs. He took my hands in his, looked at the red mark in the center of my palm and said, your hands heal, and so does your brush. Then I followed him  up the stairs into a very large loft space with high ceilings and wall to wall paintings. The work was mesmerizing. I asked him who the artist was, and he answered that many of the paintings were his, and some were mine. I was stunned by his words, as I knew that this was my work in the future! I struggled to get my head around his what he was saying to me, and the next thing I know, I began to merge with the Emperor and became him! and then awoke from the dream..

I remember being left with the the feeling of my great desire to look upon the work again.. and I awoke with my hands tingling from the center of my palms.

This dream was thirteen years ago, and the images are just now coming through more vividly onto canvas and paper!

05

My canvases access the dream-scapes of my inner world. I keep meeting the paintings on those walls in my imagination and one by one they enter into this tangible world.

This is not the only time that a major body of work has come from a dream. Before this, I dreamed of being a luminous white delicate spider hanging from a silk thread in vast space. I was in a state of pure embodiment with an inner satisfaction and a deep quiet calm which lasted hours into my waking state. I was so inspired by this dream that I created a body of work from the early 90’s and continue to do so up until now.

Dreams reflect back to us what we need to see in our waking hours.. to make the most of them!

I used to create art as pure catharsis, taking all of those life experiences, mostly the painful ones onto paper and canvas. It was almost as if I equated myself as an artist purely because of my suffering!

This is no longer true for me .. It was only when I made a clear decision to have choices, that things really opened up for me… I was fed up with so much focus on suffering, struggling, and my pride in it.. instead, I put my focus on being informed, aware, and looking through the lens of possibility, being empowered by my imagination.

I turn 60 in October!
..and with that brings a renewed vibrancy and motivation for creating empowered change in myself and others.
My art and my work as a mentor, and trainer in our evolutionary leadership programs, are constantly changing, adapting, and evolving, as I do.

Change is a powerful force of life, and I can choose to be a victim of change and circumstance, or to be a catalyst for a different kind of change, and inspire others to create more possibilities and solutions.

As an artist I use one of the most powerful tools we humans possess to create change inside and around us, everyday.. and that is the imagination!

Einstein said it beautifully, ‘Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.’

And just to let you know.. my art is just as energetic and powerful as the images that were inspired out of the cathartic motivation long ago, the big difference is, I am energized by creating art now, and motivated from a place of inspiration and possibility, which overflows into all the other areas of my life. My life becomes art, and then anything becomes possible, because an artist can move a mountain with a simple brush stroke, can she not?

I invite you to join me and celebrate my 6oth, by expanding your creative capacity this Oct. 2-4 of 2015, in a residential weekend workshop in So Cal, to open and free your mind, empower your imagination, and bring those skills into all areas of your life!

The link below takes you to information about the 2015 Oct. workshop.

http://fivechanges.com/celebration/

A Celebration of Creativity and the Artist

Celebrate

A training with Michele Benzamin-Miki Oct. 3rd – 4th  2015 at Manzanita Village

If you are an Artist, or if creativity is an important part of your work .. take a deep dive, and join us in this exploration of the Creative Muse. Free your inner resourcefulness; magnify and balance your creativity, and deepen your joy and understanding of what’s possible in your work.

Through intuitive Soul Sketching, embodied movement, and guided processes; you will learn to access and expand the vast creative resources inside of you. You will get to fire your harsh inner critic, and learn how to engage your Inner Advocate! Be prepared to be creating, engaging, and having fun throughout the entire weekend!

As one of her students famously remarked, Michele does not teach art, she is art!

To celebrate her 60th Birthday, Michele will be sharing her experience and methods for creating, and being in flow. Her award winning work as a visual artist, and performance artist; her lifelong experience as a teacher and practitioner of Hypnosis and NLP, energetic field work, Meditation and non-violent Martial Arts  ..  are going make this a once-in-a-lifetime experience of Michele teaching with all the stops pulled out.

Be ready to open and free your mind.

There is very limited space for this event, so reserve your place now.
Includes Raffle for special prizes (including private leadership mentoring session with Michele)

Registration

$397 ~ Lodging and Vegetarian food included.

This event is by invitation. If you have not spoken to Michele about attending
Please contact her to schedule a call, email her at 
mbm@fivechanges.com

For more information go to www.fivechanges.com/celebration

My Art Goes Electronic on Sunset Strip Billboard

Exited and honored to be one of the women artists celebrated during Women’s History Month

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The iconic billboard on Sunset Boulevard.
Can you guess how many people drive past this every day?

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The images depict Red Tara, a Buddhist icon that represents ‘all good things’ coming together.

 

Wave

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Inspired by the work of my friend, performance artist Dan Kwong, who posed for me. His work is a bridge between worlds and cultures. Pencil and Sumi ink.

Dance of Life

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Wherever there’s light, there is also shadow and darkness. Wherever there’s darkness, there is also light. This warrior spirit emerges to dance between the opposites..  Gesso on black paper.