My 5-day Tutorial Retreat with Alok by Sally Aguirre
My 5-day Tutorial Retreat with Alok by Sally Aguirre
The energy and excitement was beaming from me as I entered the canyon that winded down for miles into the heart of Sedona. I have begun my 5 day tutorial with Alok, someone I found on the internet as I did my ritualistic search about Zen and art. A master? In Sedona? I wondered.
I was greeted by a thin open-hearted man with an infectious smile. We settled for a bit and then began our first training on the Kundalini meditation that he had learned from his root guru Osho. This was not a meditation that I was accustomed to in the Zen tradition. It was much more body-oriented and steered completely away from focusing on the mind but did not negate the mind. It made me feel alive and energetic but also quiet and still. We sat for tea and became acquainted. After I got over my cordialness, we started to work with something a bit more central to my visit. “Did you know, everything happens only for your benefit?” Now, this is actually the second thing he has given me a saying to contemplate. The first was for my 12 hour journey in the car, “Celebrate everything!” I notice that these two statement both point to the one way to actually meet the world. Nice! I will let this live in me.
After a lovely walk up the hill behind his home, and a nutritious lunch, I received my brushes from my teacher. These were designed by Alok in China to fit his specifications. After he gave me a few simple instructions, which for my cluttered mind was not so simple, I began to paint. He instructed in a koan style, “If you throw away what you believe about your difficulties, much of it will disappear and the rest will become interesting” - John Tarrant, “please paint this!”
This was the point at which I began to put to practice what was developing during the day— the art of non-doing. Who does the non-doing again? Let’s see how this story develops.
Missing him, I greeted him with a hug. We did our meditation and sat down for our second tea. This is not any ordinary tea, this is a taste of heaven. He pours in a traditional Chinese manner and we sniff our pouring glasses and take in the aroma. Each pour has its own essence.
Today we talked a bit on what is getting in the way of my creativity. He felt it was very important to connect with the female lineage of my family. Full acceptance of my mother would benefit me as a mother but also as a creative individual. We went through a ceremony that allowed me to release the fate of my mother, then also of my father that I’ve carried into my own life. This ceremony is hard to describe but involves sensing both of my parents in the room, honoring them as my parents, who passed this invaluable life to me. Saying to them “I am only your daughter” and respectfully returning the burden or karma that I have carried from them. One doesn’t know right off the bat how this will play out in the months to come, but I felt compelled to reach out to my mother that evening to tell her that I loved her.
The day was heavy. We proceeded to talk about personas. “If you have a lot of fear, you are holding onto your persona”. I can’t count how many I have. My fear is that I am not interesting or good enough. This is my persona as I repeatedly saying this about me, never giving myself the chance to be something different. I think to myself, what if I just put it aside for now?
We decided to paint. He introduced me to the Zen shout, or should I say, ZEN SHOUT! Wow, that cuts through all delusion. We were exhausted but at the same time fully energized. I did about 6 paintings. We both noticed that I was trying not to try, but the trying is not it. He tells me “Not tampering with life, you are left with nothing.” I’m afraid that there will be nothing there to carry it. He says, “ What is left, is just life!” “Creativity happens on it’s own”.
A happy morning, feeling light. We gazed at each other for a long time, 1 minute? 5 minutes? I don’t know. Exchanging energy and never feeling caught by it. He is my teacher, a beautiful one. How can one feel so comfortable? How is it that I can let myself be seen and he also in return? Trust.
We continue our theme of what gets in the way. His guidance has been invaluable. He tells me, “The mind flip flops. Flip or flop, one is no more important than the other, just get in the middle and move from emptiness.”
We painted twice today, before and after lunch. I began with “Dancing with my mother”, a very joyful picture. We laid out all of my paintings in order. He asks what I think and then he adds to it. He notices that I am not communicating the essence of what he presents to me. I am very careful (per his instruction) not to have an idea when I start, but to wait in silence and stillness until something moves me. I seem to be having a problem with reconciling having some intention without an intention. I ask, who’s making it? He says, “You just let existence paint- just stay in not-knowing”. “When you are not a self, it is not separate from you”. “Just become present, available, playful and not knowing”. My painting for tomorrow is “What is the self that remains after you take the self away?
It’s like coming home now. I call inside, “good morning Alok!” There is a bit of childish kidding. Before we start our usual morning meditation he says, “I think I know how to approach you today.” He says, “you are still rooted in thinking you know who you are.” He continued, “It is sort of like taking too much away and that creates too much resistance.” I did acknowledge this and said, “Yeah, I am coming with a full cup.” He said, “Either come with a bigger cup or don’t bring the cup at all.”
We had our tea and then cut it short because there seemed to be some energy pushing us toward painting. He instructed me to look for readiness, put my mind aside, and say to myself, “It’s ok if I screw up; it’s just another painting.” I did a few paintings ending with “The Gift of Life”. When I asked if it was non-doing, he said, “Well did you enjoy it?” “Yes.” “Did you have an idea of what it was going to be?” “No.” “Did you feel any resistance?” “No”. He gave me a smile.
Alok decided it was time to do my personal portrait. He asked me to sit in front of his table and to select a few “chops” that resonated with me. (these are the red stamps on paintings that have a saying in Chinese). I sat in stillness as he cleared his mind and rested in emptiness. He then reached for the brushes that were most appropriate. Without hesitation, the whole thing unfolded. He stamped 4 chops on the paper and it was finished. Looking at it I could see my whole transformation that had transpired over the last few days and saw it as a window into who I am that the non-self understood. Let’s leave it at that.
I returned to painting. As he watched me he noticed, “ You paint the force rather than the power.” “Yes”, I said. “Power can be quiet and still, force is not.” He added,“ force has an intention, power is part of being, do you understand?” I then painted The Joy of Being. I ended the day with my final 2 paintings both called Not Knowing. The first didn’t meet it. He said “would you like to stop for today?” “No, no, there is one more painting in me.” I waited. I waited and Boom! there it was: NOT KNOWING. We both really like it.
Today Alok and I decided to make the most of it and painting for more of the day. We discussed spontaneity. We can tell when we are spontaneous because we are not doing it. He also gave me a well know Zen phrase “Not knowing is most intimate.” But this still does not deal with the “I”. He likes to say, “Not knowing who I am is most intimate”. As I proceed to paint with this inspiration, Alok stopped me because he realized I was in a fog. “What’s wrong?” I responded that I didn’t know. He said I should rest. As I lay down I tried to clear my head. He entered the room and suggested that maybe I was feeling this way because I was leaving today. He left me to ponder this. After a few minutes, I got back up to the painting table, took a deep loving breath and painted “I’m Afraid I Will Never See My Teacher Again”. We hugged and entered the sad space.
We continued our painting adventure, I was much more grounded and present. Sometimes I would stop the emptiness just before a stroke. He said, “The joy of being is not hard, making it into a method is hard.” “The joy of being?” I thought, Oh!
I created a painting called “Tame birds have a longing, wild birds fly!” I surprised myself as I was filled with great joy as my final stroke flew off the paper.
The most impressive painting that Alok showed me was called “Not Fall Under Karma, Not Ignore Karma” which he brought out for my benefit. This is his rendering of the familiar “Wild Fox Koan” in Zen literature. In one single stroke he conveyed the whole essence of this koan, he even filled infinite space beyond it. It had not a trace of self. Most beautiful.
It is time to part, I hope Alok will come and do a workshop at my Center.