PZI Teacher Archives

The Story of the Well Painting


I want to describe the process that I went through, over the last year of making the painting, and I want to do that in the spirit of “when something arises, don’t believe it, and shine your light on it.” So in a year a lot of things can arise not to believe, and they did. But even if you’re in the meditation hall, five minutes is probably long enough for plenty to arrive not to believe in.


Good Morning. This morning I’m going to talk about the painting that’s here,
the well painting. I want to describe the process that I went through over the last
year, of making the painting, and I want to do that in the spirit of when something
arises, don’t believe it, and shine your light on it. So in a year, a lot of things can arise
not to believe, and they did. But even, if you’re in the meditation hall, five minutes is
probably long enough for plenty to arrive not to believe in.

I first encountered this koan a year ago at winter sesshin. I was working
through the koan curriculum with John; we were working together and he offered
that koan. It was the first time I heard it, and it was… as he said it and I repeated it
back to him, my body started just moving, and the koan is: “In a well that has not
been dug, water is rippling from the source that does not flow. Someone without
form or shadow is drawing water from the well.” And it had this kind of immediate
sense in my body that I knew it would be the next koan painting.

At the time I was still working on Baizhang’s fox, which is back there, and as
I’ve gone through this experience of making these koan paintings, always there had
been a space between when I was working on one painting and then I’d finish it and
then there’d be a little space, and the other one would arrive, but this is the first
time that that didn’t happen. I was still working on the fox koan, so when I had that
experience it was a bit unsettling, and it was because I was really drawn to – it was
like the alchemical reaction had already started and I was trying to hold it off
because I had to finish the fox koan, and I think in a way it was the koans getting
impatient with me, saying finish the damn fox koan, you’re taking too long. So it was
a little bit of an incentive, like a push, to finish the fox koan, and I did.

So this one was still thought just settling inside my psyche and I had to not
engage with it. It was like I was Odysseus and I heard the siren calls, and I had to tie
myself to the mast. There were certain things I wouldn’t allow myself to do, for
instance – often, the koan always tells me what materials and what size and things,
so right away I just knew what size it would be: it would be 28 by 28 inches. I knew
it would be birch panel, and I just wanted so much to order it, because I knew it
would have to be specially made. They don’t come that size. But I wouldn’t allow
myself to order it until I finished that one. And I also wouldn’t let myself say the
koan out loud, which I didn’t do until I finished.

So I finished the fox koan painting, and I ordered the birch panel, and it
showed up. The first thing that happened was – I’d gone to New York to visit my
daughter over spring break, and we were in the Met looking around, and I came
upon a painting, a Renaissance painting (I think it was by Bellini), and it was a
Madonna and child. The background was this old gold leaf but with cadmium red
underneath and it was all worn out, and it had this warm red-gold glow to it. It was
the koan, I could feel it was the koan. So that’s an interesting moment, and you might
notice that when you’re walking around outside or sitting in meditation or in the
kitchen or having a conversation with someone, that someone says something or
you hear a sound or there’ll be a blossom you look at, and you’ll just know it’s the
koan. You’ll have a sense of connection with it, that things – you’re no longer
separate from the sound of the bird or the conversation or the face you’re looking at,
and it was that way with that painting, that that was the koan and that was what I
began with, just a field of color.

I lay down black, mars black, and then I put cadmium red on top of that, and
then layers of gold leaf, and I sanded down into it and through so that I had this field
of color. So there’s a kind of excitement and thrill when I’m beginning, and a kind of
hopefulness when I’m beginning a painting. It’s kind of like going to retreat, and
you’re packing up, and there’s this excitement and hopeful quality about that.
Then I went to Tassajara, twice, once in May and once in June, and at the
bathhouses there, there’s a very high ceiling with open eaves, and canyon wrens had
built a nest about eight feet up in this little alcove space in the women’s bathhouse,
so whenever you’d go in there you’d see them flitting in and out, carrying things to
build their nest, and you could hear their descending scale song as they were
speaking to each other.

I came back a few weeks later and the eggs had hatched, and the birds were
coming in and out – they’d come onto this little perch here, and one would come in
and it would look around to see if anyone was in the bathhouse, and if it saw people
it would fly away. I wanted to see them come into the nest and feed the birds, and I
thought I’m just going to become the plaster wall. So I just laid myself against the
plaster wall and became really, really still. I just became kind of solid and cold and

They would talk to each other, the baby birds, and I started to understand
what they were saying to each other. The one sound was “I’m coming,” and then,
“I’m on the sill,” and it would have a little spider in its mouth. It looked over at me
and it wasn’t quite sure if it was a person so it hopped a little closer and looked
again. And then it thought no, it’s plaster, and it flew to the babies and there was an
explosion of excitement as one of them got something, and they came back and forth
with moths and different things.

I watched them for awhile and then I went outside and I lay out on the deck
and I started thinking about home. How do we find a home? How did they find that
nesting spot? How do we find a nest? And I think so much about Zen is that where’s
our home? How do we feel at home in our lives? Where do we find a home? And I
just became moved by that question. I knew it was the koan, somehow, and as I just
lay there in the deck feeling the sun and hearing the birds go in and out, and then it
came to me, well they didn’t have to find the nesting site. The nesting site was
offered. Every bird is offered a nesting site, and each person is offered a nesting site.
And I knew that the canyon wren nest would be in the image somehow. I could also
feel that – I don’t know when this image of the night sky came to me, but I already
knew that that would be there, the night sky.

What happened next? I know, I hadn’t started painting anything yet, I just
had that background color, but none of the image was painted. I’d done a couple of
sketches. Then I went to summer sesshin and I gave the talk about the fox koan, and
in some way I couldn’t really start this one until I had given the talk; in some way
then it was finished. As soon as I gave the talk, I could feel my whole consciousness
turn toward the well, the well painting. Then it was undivided at that point, it was
kind of a thrilling moment.

I went home from sesshin feeling incredibly buoyant and alive and happy. I
got home and I was unpacking, doing laundry, and I was walking across my living
room – I have these big, two-story windows that look out into my backyard, and I
notice my backyard looks odd. Something doesn’t look the same. So I go out in my
backyard, and I see that someone, while I was at sesshin, had taken a sawzall, and
had sawzalled several huge sections of my very expensive, handmade grape-stake
fence, had sawzalled them out, pulled them out, put them back in and tacked them
up all askew and unbalanced, had torn up all the mature landscaping – it was
trampled everywhere. Because I had just been in sesshin, this didn’t seem
particularly like a problem, yet. It just seemed curious. I wondered why this had

I realized what had happened is, I have on my back property, a well. It’s an
abandoned well that, as long as I’ve owned my property – for a dozen years or so –
it’s never been used. I don’t own the rights to the water, so it’s just on my property.
So apparently while I was at sesshin, someone had come onto my property, the
person that owns the water rights, without asking me or getting permission, which
legally they were supposed to do, and had activated the well. So I called up this
person, this person of interest, and mentioned that I had noticed that this had
happened, and he said – he did acquiesce the fact that he should have given me
notice. He was very sorry about that, and maybe we could just meet and talk about
it. It still wasn’t a problem and so I said fine.

So he comes over to my house and he brings with him his contractor. So now
enters this character into the story, who became later affectionately known as the
troll. I do have a bridge on my property too, with a creek, and so it’s so great. It was
as if he was living under the bridge on my property, and he had this very
obsequious, craven, sort of avaricious quality to him. He had a sallow complexion
and he had this kind of – you felt like when he wanted to shake your hand, like he
had a layer, like a mollusk has, this kind of slimy – you didn’t really want to shake
his hand, and if you did, you wanted to wipe your hands off after you did. And he had
his minion, which was the contractor, with him, and so he’s going like this and
talking to me about the well. I started to ask him about repairing my fence and
replacing the landscaping. He immediately started, after having made the incursion
into my property and he had laid down his line of defense with all of his guns ready,
had set up the war, so it was like World War I, now we had these trenches and we
were fighting each other.

So I entered this period where, here I thought, going into this koan, the well,
it’s so moving, it’s so wonderful… And what shows up is rage, a troll. So that may
happen in your meditation. You may find a troll sitting under your meditation
cushion. They frequent those places. In my mind I had laid out these, I had these
eight weeks of my summer vacation to paint, to do this painting, and maybe even
finish a second painting. That was my hope. But as we began to have this
relationship where he would do things like leave threatening phone calls on my
answering machine. So I’d pick up my phone, and hear this message and one of them
I was so shaken by I was physically trembling. Or he’d insist that he could come onto
my property through my side gate, and legally I was saying that he couldn’t. So
what’s interesting about koan work is that, not only will it show you, it will give you
the experience of what it’s like to live with ease, not holding life off in any way, but
just meeting life and encountering life.

And it’ll also show you what it feels like when you’re trying to hold
something off, when I’m holding anything off. And the koan will evoke whatever it is,
any way you’re trying to control life or manage life, or hold things off, or exclude
something in yourself or in someone else. That is the thing that will rise up. So it was
very interesting that the thing that rose up for the well was rage and protection,
protecting myself, in some way being able to be at ease with taking care of this
boundary, this borderline, and being at ease with being angry, with rage.
I felt so toxic from this rage that I literally could not paint. I’d pick up a
paintbrush, and I just couldn’t touch it to the surface, because my whole body and
being was so engulfed by these feelings that that was part of it. So that part of not
being able to touch the painting is in there. It’s still in there. It got to the point where
one day I came home for lunch and I was inside and somehow I guess I saw the
contractor show up or something, and he came to my door and knocked on my door,
but I didn’t answer it. I wasn’t answering my phone, I wasn’t responding to their
emails, and so I take the letter, and it’s from the troll saying things like: I’m going to
sue you, I’m going to make you pay for all the damages and not being able to get to
the well if I can’t get through your side gate.

So I think that the minion is gone, and the coast is clear, and I go out to my
car. I start to drive away for work and he comes running up. He’s just like an
enraged bull; he’s so mad. I roll down my window. His eyes are just bulging and red,
and I am so angry. I was right on the edge of out of control. He starts insisting that
he has to get through, that he has the crew there, that if I don’t let them through
they’re going to charge me for all this time, and I start – I notice this – suddenly
there’s this pristine quality to the moment. I remember seeing the red in his eyes
and the blueness of his eyes, and I notice that I’m screaming at him. I’m telling him
you do not have my permission to go onto my property and I am going to call the
sheriff if you try. And he said go ahead, call the sheriff.

So I go to work and I call the sheriff. Meanwhile my class is coming in in four
minutes and I’m having phone conversations with the sheriff, and on and on. This
kind of thing continued all summer long, and this is the point in your meditation
where the demons are there. The demons are there. You don’t have any access to
grace, in that moment, and what do you do then? You get very interested in the
demons, you get very interested in the rage, you get very interested in the troll. You
get very interested in waking up at four a.m. and watching your thoughts. I’d wake
up at four a.m. and I’d notice that my mind was contemplating various forms of
litigation, or accidental death.

After that moment, after I threatened with the sheriff, then a friend of mine
was a lawyer and I got him to help me. So then I asked for help. That was another
piece for me. I needed first of all to just be able to experience rage, which was
something that I’d been holding off, let myself experience rage and be able to stand
and hold my boundary, and then also to ask for help. That was a part of it for me,
too, to say I can’t do this all on my own and I need someone to help me. The lawyer
friend helped and he wrote a letter to the troll and sent it off to him, and as soon as
he sent that, the troll backed down. And I didn’t hear from him. The front was quiet.
There was a ceasefire, briefly. Then what happened?

I started painting. I started painting the night sky. This is the Pleiades. When I
was painting I knew somehow that I couldn’t just paint a night sky, just kind of a
general experience of a night sky. It had to be the actual experience of the particular
quality of a certain section of the night sky, so that when you looked at it, it was the
experience of the sky, not just an idea of the sky. So I must have spent an entire
month very exactly matching the placement and luminosity and color of – the stars
are different colors, they’re multi-colored. They’re like glittering pieces of multi-
colored glass, and also it’s not just pure black, there are these changes in color,
purples and magentas. So this is a Hubble photo that I worked from for the Pleiades.

Then I entered a period where things were going well. I’d kind of go in and
out, where I’d have periods of the painting was working, and then I’d have periods
where I’d get stuck and struggle. This was kind of a period where method is helpful.
It’s helpful sometimes to have a method. It was helpful to have my painting skill
during this period to help me out. But then eventually your methods and your skill,
you come to the edge of that. Fortunately, eventually, those don’t work. You come to
a place where you’re going to hit something where that doesn’t work anymore, and
then what do you do?

For me what was happening was I had this idea that a friend of mine, Yinua
[sp?] was going to be in the painting. I kept trying to paint her in, so for awhile she
was right here. She was coming here and then I spent one whole Sunday painting
her in right here, but it had a very efforting quality to it that day. It was almost like
I’d had eighteen cups of coffee and I was really working hard and I was painting and
painting and painting and painting, and then about six hours later I thought: well,
maybe I should stand back and take a look at it.

I paint in my kitchen. I was in the kitchen and I stood back and went into the
living room, took twenty paces, turned around and as soon as I saw it, it was
unequivocally clear it was a mistake. Everything had to go that I had just spent six
hours doing. I had this moment of just piercing despair, and then it passed and it
was kind of relief, and I went into the kitchen and got a kitchen sponge with the
green part on the back, and I just scrubbed it all out with the same ferocity with
which I had painted it. The whole thing just disappeared.

So during this couple of month period, that kept happening. Things kept
appearing and disappearing. I’d paint them, I’d scrub them out, I’d sand them down,
I’d redo them, and it was just a tremendous amount of effort, but also interspersed
with periods of ease, where I wasn’t working so hard, I didn’t have an idea about
something that should be in the painting. I was just paying attention to the painting
itself, and that’s when things were going well.

So there’s a way in which you’ll have moments of ease in your meditation,
where you’re just not trying to hard, You’re responding to the things that are there.
Whatever’s there, you’re just responding to it, whether it’s something in your mind,
you’re just letting it be there without finding fault with it. But the thing that’s rising
up will tell you what it needs. You don’t have to decide or plan it out. The thing itself
will let you know what it needs.

One morning in December – I had developed this deplorable habit of going to
a local bakery and getting a latté before school. I actually generally don’t drink
coffee, but I was just in this period where I was really enjoying these lattés, and
every night when I’d go to bed, I’d swear I’m not going to Janine’s in the morning.
And every morning I’d find myself there. So once again I was at Janine’s, latté in
hand, and I’d gone over to the counter to sprinkle a little cocoa powder on it. I turn
around and I see a man of about fifty, a kind of tallish, robust fifty-year-old man, and
he’s looking at me with a sense of recognition and he starts walking towards me. He
takes both my hands in his, and it’s the minion, it’s the contractor, the troll’s minion.
And I’m in this really buoyant and open mood and it didn’t seem strange that he was
greeting me this way. I was just delighted to see him. So we gave each other a warm
hug and he looks at me and he says you look really familiar but I can’t quite place
you. [laughter]

I said the last time you saw me I was screaming at you and threatening to call
the sheriff. And he said oh yes, I remember. I was really angry. Why was I so mad? I
said because you were coming on my property and I said you didn’t have the right
to. And he said, you were probably right, weren’t you? I said yes. So we had this
marvelous little exchange. The sweet thing about that and I think the reason that
happened was there was a way in which I was in this open place that morning. I was
just feeling really open and everything that rose up I was welcoming. Because I
wasn’t in any way really holding on to much. He didn’t recognize me in a way
because I wasn’t the person that he thought I was. I wasn’t really anyone that
morning. I was just a person putting cocoa on their coffee. That’s what was

And you’ll notice that in sesshin, the way you’ll see someone, and if you’re
open to them, there’s this tremendous warmth and intimacy and welcoming quality
that, you don’t really know who they are, and you don’t know who you are, and it’s
so sweet, because if I know who I am and I know who you are, that’s in the way of
the meeting in some way. It’s an interference, and when that drops away, and in
sesshin it drops away for everyone at some point, and often for a lot of sesshin.
Especially as you fall deeper and deeper into sesshin, there’s this beautiful meeting
with another human being or the frog sounds at night, or the light hitting the curtain
and how lovely that is.

Then I had my winter break. I had two weeks set aside to complete the
painting, because I wanted it done for this sesshin. I started working really hard to
finish it, which is never a good plan. I was still holding onto this idea that I had to
have my friend Yinua [sp?] in the painting. So I had these two panels here and I was
painting her into the panels. I had taken so many photographs of her and it just
wasn’t going right. I thought there’s a problem here. The problem is that the
photographs aren’t right, the lighting’s not right, the angle’s not right, so poor Yinua,
I do all these different photo shoots, dragging her in and taking more photos, and I
would take them into photoshop and alter the color, I’d alter the lighting and crop
them and things, and then I’d repaint it, and it just wasn’t right. So finally I painted
her here and here. So here she was facing toward that way, and here it was the back
of her head. I sketched this one and this one was painted. I painted it with a kind of
concentration and skill, everything I could muster in what I knew how to do as a
painter. So it looked, technically, quite beautiful, her face there. But it didn’t feel
right and it wasn’t right, and I didn’t know… it was so clear to me that it wasn’t right.
I didn’t know what to do about that, but I knew it wasn’t right and it trusted that,
and once I accepted that, I just let go of that. Okay, it’s not right. And I lay down gold
and copper leaf on top, and then I felt better, and the painting felt better at that

But what was happening was I had an idea of what needed to be in the
painting, just like in your life you might have an idea of how things need to be, but
you aren’t even aware of that idea until it doesn’t happen. Like you go to eat your
breakfast and you expect there’ll be yogurt there, but you get to the counter and
there’s no yogurt. So you don’t even know that you thought that would be there –
and then you’re mad, or you’re resentful of the person in front of you who took the
last bit, or whatever. So often we don’t discover what our expectations are until
they’re not met, and that’s an interesting and really, really fertile moment, when life
disappoints us. That’s a beautiful and really promising moment, because now you
have a possibility of freedom, because now you see what the prison looks like. You
see kind of the edge of the wall, where that is. As soon as you see that, then there’s
real possibility there.

I could feel it but I couldn’t see clearly what was happening, and around this
time I had a dream one night, where the painting – I saw the painting completed. I
saw the finished painting, and it was a lucid dream, and I remember thinking I’m
almost there, it’s almost done, and it’s really, really simple. It’s very simple. So I
didn’t think I needed to remember it, so when I woke up I didn’t pay any attention to
it, and then I really regretted that, because when I went to the actual painting I
didn’t know what to do, and it still needed work. So then the next night the dream
came to me again, the same dream, and again I saw the painting finished, and again
in the dream – the dream was showing me the finished painting and again it was:
you don’t need much and it’s almost finished, and again I ignored it and I woke up
and the dream was gone and I couldn’t see the finished image again. I was still very
much involved in working hard. I needed to work hard at this painting.

So I had this idea that there would be some bird’s wings coming in from the
sides. It was during winter break and I went to school to go print out these bird’s
wings. I’m sitting at my computer in that kind of frantic really work hard state, and
I’m cropping and changing things around, trying to get some wings that I like, and I
see something out of the corner of my eye, a kind of movement in the corner of my
eye, and I just ignored it, because I was working. So I was working, working, then I
see it again. Then I ignore it. Then I see it again and I turn to look, and it’s a canyon
wren. There’s a canyon wren in the art room. It was so clear – there’s the koan. It
was like the dream manifest now in the art room, and I ignored it. I turned away
from it because I had a painting to do. I just opened the door and it flew around the
room for awhile and then it just flew away.

I’d take these printed out bird’s wings that I had down to Kinko’s to get them
enlarged. They have this machine that you can make regular-size images into really
large, four by five feet or something. I go down to Kinko’s, I set it up, I get all the
things ready, all the controls ready. I press start. It takes a bit to warm up. An image
comes out and I pull it out and it’s pretty good. It’s fine quality and I think it’s fine.
Meanwhile I’m trying to convince myself that I like this image, I like these wings and
this is a good idea and I’ve got to finish this damn painting before the end of winter
break, so I’ve got to be doing something. At least I’m doing something. And then I
notice the machine spits out another copy. I only needed one, what’s going on here?
And I go over and then it spits out another copy. I’m thinking these are expensive! So
I’m pressing the red button frantically, stop stop! Trying to reprogram it. It kept
making more copies, more copies. And I’m looking around Kinko’s for someone to
help me and there’s never anyone to help you at Kinko’s. I don’t think anyone works
at Kinko’s. It’s a self-serve place. So I finally find someone and I’m begging them
please help me with this machine, and she turns and looks at me and says can’t you
see I’m helping someone else? Eventually she comes over and turns it off.

There’s a way in which we – it’s like, that machine was like your mind. One
thought, another thought, the same thought, the same tormenting thought. Here it is
again, that same tormenting thought. It was here this morning. There it is again. And
you’re frantically running around the Zendo trying to get someone to help you get
the machine to stop making that thought. So I take these wing images home, cut
them out, and I’m arranging them on the painting. I put the painting someplace in
my house where I have a long stretch, maybe forty feet, pretty far away, where I can
look, so I put the painting way over here and I go way across my house to look at it.
I’m sitting on the stairs and I’m looking at the painting, and I just look at it for awhile
without doing anything but looking at it. And something in me just gave up. I just
gave up. I stopped… I knew it wasn’t right, and it didn’t have to be anything other
than that. It just wasn’t right.

That’s where I was. There was a sense of all the forward effort, all the energy,
had just ceased, and I was just sitting with a painting that didn’t look right and I
might not ever finish, and that was all right. I went over to the painting and I
untaped the horrible Kinko’s wings, threw them away, and I went up into the
mountains for a walk. My mind was just wandering. I was wandering in the
mountains, my mind was wandering in the mountains, and I came to a place where I
always turn around and stop, a couple of miles up in a canyon. It’s where the creek
crosses the trail, and I stopped there.

It was late in the day, beautiful fall, winter light. No one in the canyon but me
and the canyon wrens. And I looked at the water of the creek, and the water was
moving very slowly over colored stones, and I saw a fall-colored leaf just float by,
and that seemed to be the answer to the koan, that seemed to be the answer to the
painting. I didn’t know what it was or what it meant, but I felt at peace. Everything in
me felt at peace at that point.

I hiked back, I went to work and printed out, found right away and printed
out two images of canyon wrens that I did not need to alter in any way, go to Kinko’s
and enlarge or anything. And I painted the canyon wrens and finished the star-gazer
lily and everything else in the painting. I painted for four days from morning until
night, and nothing needed to be sanded down, nothing was painted over. Every
action was kind of pure and I wasn’t struggling. I wasn’t fighting the painting in any
way, I was just responding, responding, responding. I would do something and I
would know the next step, the next step. It was just pure ease. And then I lay down
the coats of varnish and the painting was done.

So when you’re working with a koan, it’s not like you get to a certain place,
like that place at the end of the painting, that is a place of ease and bliss and then
you hang it on the wall and then your painting is done, because it’s a flowing field.
The experience of working with a koan, you don’t get to one place. There’s not a
place to get to. The place of screaming at the minion wasn’t any different than the
point of at the end of the painting where I was painting without effort. Every
experience through that year had that shining the light quality on to it, and was just
as pure and alive and necessary and full of the same beauty as every other place in
the experience, and this painting couldn’t be what it is without every single thing
that happened, and actually this painting isn’t even finished, in that this painting
now is a different painting than it was when I began the talk, and you’re a different
you than you were when I began the talk. Everything is flowing and moving and
changing just as this painting is, and my relationship with it is still a surprise every
moment that I’m with it.

So that’s a good place to stop. Any questions or comments?
S: Are the squares, four above and four below, the eaves of the bathhouse?
Allison: I don’t know what those squares are. They just appeared, and it
seems like every one of the koan paintings seems to have something in it that I don’t
even know why it’s there.
S: What happened with the well?
Allison: I haven’t heard from him or seen the troll in months, so we’re at a
state of equilibrium right now.
S: I just love how the right things show up in your life. I knew you wanted to
go backpacking in the summer, and I was just so mesmerized by your story, that you
had been working on the well koan and then this well story starts up in your life. I
mean, it’s just, it’s so same for same. It’s insane. And now to see the painting is a
pleasure, and as it was hanging on the wall I was looking at it for the first time and
looking around the edges of the well and looking and looking like something is, art
of me knew there is – looking for something to appear around the well, almost like I
could feel the history or something, but also maybe just from a painterly, visual
point of view, you tend to overlap edges and break up edges at some point, please…
So – like in that other painting, and it makes just perfect sense that no there isn’t,
like you’re saying, the wings…
Allison: Yeah, I kept thinking as a painter, that I needed to put something
there, but whenever I put something there I would feel unhappy.
S: I really enjoy that the painting opens up into a question which is for me
this koan such as why is it when I look at the earth, the whole universe shows up?
Before that I didn’t make it a koan, I said oh interesting. She thought of the earth and
she shows us the universe, because it doesn’t come out as a well for me. The whole
story is totally disconnected from the painting. Then the other question is why
order, and it’s not directed to you. This sort of Chinese obsession with having the
four corners being represented. Why would the painting be a narrative in some way,
when what I really enjoy is that it’s not. It’s more like an ideogram which is flashed
in front of you and you have to sort of understand it and make a relationship
without anything given to you.
Allison: That question of order and the symmetry of it, it’s curious to me too.
I wonder about that often, because a lot of my paintings have that, and my work
before I started doing koans never had any symmetry in it.
S: So the other koan’s really wonderful, which is why do we see through a
window? Because everything is organized following that frame, the book, the
television, the window, the door, whatever, all a square or a rectangle, the
windshield of a car, and these other things come up, so yes I’ve been asking myself,
how do I come up with koans. I think it’s the first time that there are three koans
there have come up that are sort of fresh that I haven’t heard…[inaudible] and that
are really worth investigating.
S: Each time I walk around the room and I look, I expect to see my face in it. It
catches me that way. Right down to the soul… last night when I was listening to the
frogs and looking at the stars, I came back in here to do some things, and I looked at
it again and I felt like I was seeing it; it was just so extraordinarily powerful in how…
Allison: That’s sweet. I have that experience too of looking at the night sky, of
feeling… this. Okay, I think we did it. Thank you.

Allison Atwill
Bare Bones Sesshin
February 23, 2012