PZI Teacher Archives

Zen Koans & Creative Process: A Conversation


Zen koan meditation practice and creative process enhance each other. David Weinstein Roshi of Rockridge Meditation Center (Oakland), hosts a conversation with sumi artist and teacher Michael Hofmann and musician and luthier Jordan McConnell. Insights abound on creative process in music and in visual art when combined with koan practice.



Step by step in the dark,
if my foot is not wet
I have found the stone.

Musician & Luthier Jordan McConnell

Art and creativity are mysterious. Those viewing and appreciating art also participate in creative process. Works of art invite us to find ourselves in them. David Weinstein asks, “What is a work of art? Who is an artist? And how does creative process relate to koan practice?”begin

Musician Jordan McConnell and visual artist Michael Hofmann agree that working with koans in meditation involves trust. Michael says, “We allow the heart to express itself directly,” with nothing in the way. Art process with any creative project is similar to keeping company with a koan.

Audio: Jordan playing guitar during meditation

Musician Jordan McConnell notes that he stopped trying to prepare for his music in PZI meditation sessions and began following “step by step in the dark…” with each note. The ideas he had had beforehand became limiting. He compared this to meeting one-on-one with his Zen teacher who said, “Don’t bring anything (to this conversation) that is not true.” What he meant in part was, “Don’t try to impress me, don’t come with something ready, but respond spontaneously.”

Michael Hofmann

Michael Hofmann, visual artist, while in college met the priest Shibayama Zenkei from Japan. Upon arriving in Kyoto, Shibayama introduced Michael to painting master and poet Jikihara Gyokusei, with whom Michael studied for the next 33 years. Michael did not have a strategy for his practice, he just trusted that even though he did not know where he was going he would get somewhere interesting. He found the first stone of many—discipline—in his zazen practice at Antaiji in Kyoto.

Santoka Portrait – Michael Hofmann
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