Illuminated Journals

· Creative Expression, Sangha News, Zen Training · , , , ,

By Birgitte J. Haug

As fall ango came to an end, Monastery residents gathered to share their three-months of art practice. Led by Hojin Sensei, herself an artist, I felt that her deep interest in the work was contagious. Creative expression in art practice, one of the “eight gates” of Zen training, enriches our practice with something vital and uniquely alive. 

hello, puddle…
Autumn leaves abounded

I entered ango with the questions: what is art practice? Looking at something deeply for no reason? Losing yourself in the expression of your experience? A raw meeting with yourself using a piece of paper as your mirror? 

The instructions for “illuminated journal” were to take a new, blank book, put something in it every day, any way you like. Experiment. Challenge yourself. For me it was certainly a challenge. I immediately came face to face with my own expectations: trying to surprise myself, to express something I had not heard myself express.

daily self portraits

I tried lingering patiently with something that bored me, looking for something I could not immediately see. With the paper, pens and paint, wanting to together come closer to something more genuine and intimate: always meeting my demons.  

Monastery residents became more diligent at their art practice during the final week. I struggled, having chosen too big a book, still searching in my approach, trying to expand out of my comfort zone, finally coming into more of an easy flow.

I remind myself…

Cannot say I succeeded in tearing myself and my expectations apart as I had hoped, but the practice had started doing something for me.

The Ten Oxherding Pictures,from autumn leaves, paint and glue

As we came together for the group presentations, we put all the books in the center and passed them around. The ways people had worked with their journals varied greatly. Some had a clear thread throughout their journals, and I really found these very beautiful and simple. In others, every page was a new universe in itself, a totally new perspective exploding across the page. Other’s again deliciously unpretentious—with lists of chores to be done, bills to be paid.

Sun coming up and suffusing trees, water, sky with her own golden magic

There were some common denominators too—not surprisingly, many beautiful fall leaves. In the light which each of these journals offered, everyday life and it’s struggles became illuminated.

Birgitte J. Haug is in residence at the Monastery, visiting from Norway where she works as an architect and artist.


See a teaching from Hojin Sensei on how to start your own illuminated journal, offered at the beginning of fall ango 2019:

NextSangha marks 10th anniversary of Daido Roshi's passing