Desenho zen • Zen Drawing

Drawing made during the figure drawing session of the @Nua collective with Marcela Müller

The first time I sat zazen, it reminded me of blind drawing, when you draw without looking at the paper. And so the mind is freed from the judgments of “good, bad, ugly, beautiful, right, wrong. The moment you simply look, reality shows itself. It is as it is. And in this observation, we stay in the present moment, and just like in zazen, we are able to notice the breath and the way it is changing. 

But zen’s connection with drawing doesn’t stop there. When you do an observation drawing, now looking at the paper, you realize that things are not what you think they are. For example, to draw a nose you have to forget the whole idea of a nose. And it is not easy. Try to do this now: take a look at a nose. How to draw the transition between the nose and the cheek? There are no sharp lines, only subtle shadows. Dalton de Luca, with whom I took a drawing class, suggested that we draw the “nostrils” (nose + mouth), “eyebrows” (eyebrow + eyelashes), the spaces between things. An artifice to turn our heads away from concepts and patterns, and simply look at what is there.

Our capacity of awareness is also connected to the point on the path we are on. For example, in a retreat I attended in Zendo Brasil, I had the role of handing out the books during the Our ability to perceive is also connected to the place on the path we are on. For example, in a retreat I attended in Zendo, I had the task of handing out the books during the ceremonies. And there is an exact moment to do this, when the prayer is ending and the bell rings. It is in that fraction of a second that the handing out or collecting the books should start. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It took four and a half days and three times a day. And it was not easy to get the timing right, sometimes it was too fast, or too slow; sometimes I forgot to bow… But there is something beautiful in those little mistakes. The beauty of showing how I am and how I am on the way. It is the same with drawing. Sometimes I start a drawing and, for some reason, the lines grow longer and one piece gets bigger than the other. Or sometimes a line falls out. But even so, the drawing is already there. 

There is also that moment of impasse, the drawing started, with the successes and mistakes, all there. And it brings that urge to drop it in the middle, to just give up. You know that feeling of moving your leg when it tingles in the middle of the zazen? Then you make the choice: either abandon everything at that point or go all the way. That is the way. 

Cibele Lucena’s blind drawing of a meeting of zazenhos (subject for a future post). And you can see her beautiful drawings on her instagram @cibele_desenha

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