PODCAST - Zen Art & Embodiment ft. Author John Stevens
Welcome to a new episode of the Red Beard Embodiment Podcast, where host Alex Greene engages in a captivating conversation with the renowned author, scholar, and art collector, John Stevens Sensei.
Join us as we embark on a profound exploration of art, Zen, and the rich background story of John Stevens Sensei.
Discovering John Stevens' Work & the Origins of Red Beard Somatic Therapy
The serendipitous connection between Alex Greene and John Stevens Sensei began through the pages of Stevens' books and the vibrant art world. Over two decades ago, as a young Zen Buddhism student in Hawaii, Alex stumbled upon Stevens Sensei's biography on Yamaoka Tesshu titled "The Sword of No Sword". This transformative book became a guiding light, seamlessly weaving together the ideals of swordsmanship, art, and Buddhism.
Inspired by the profound impact of Tesshu's story, Alex embarked on a path of therapeutic bodywork. As an homage to the influential figure Bodhidharma depicted in Tesshu's drawings, Alex named his company "Red Beard Bodywork." The spirit and energy emanating from Tesshu's works resonated deeply with his own journey as a practitioner.
Today, one of Yamaoka Tesshu's masterpieces - an awe-inspiring representation of Bodhidharma - hangs in Alex's bodywork studio, a cherished piece acquired directly from John Stevens Sensei. It is an immense honor for Alex to safeguard such significant artwork and to engage in this discussion that intertwines art, Zen, and the profound expertise of John Stevens Sensei.
The Journey Begins in Japan:
John Stevens Sensei's journey in Japan commenced over three decades ago, shrouded in the mystique of karmic affinity and unexplainable connections. Originally from Chicago, Stevens Sensei felt a magnetic pull toward the East from an early age. Upon arriving in Japan, his connection with the country and its culture unfolded in remarkable and unforeseen ways.
Immersing himself in the multifaceted aspects of Japanese culture, John embarked on a transformative exploration that encompassed Zen practice, sand sitting, calligraphy, and the profound brushstroke enlightenment known as Zenga. Throughout his journey, he cultivated deep relationships with antique store owners, becoming the conduit through which various art pieces found their destined recipients - students, friends, and colleagues.
Yamaoka Tesshu and His Era:
During the Meiji period from 1868 to 1912, a significant turning point in Japan's history, the formidable figure known as Yamaoka Tesshu, or the "demon" of Kendo, played a pivotal role. Tesshu's extraordinary physical prowess was put into perspective when he faced Asari Sensei, an older and smaller opponent who possessed an unmatched understanding and bearing. This humbling encounter compelled Tesshu to embark on a Zen practice that would eventually shape him into an influential figure.
Zen Art and the Essence of Ki:
Within the realm of Zen art, the concept of "ki" carries profound significance. It represents the energetic flow captured within brushstrokes and calligraphy pieces—an embodiment of the artist's spirit and vitality.
John Stevens suggests that a true understanding of ki can only be attained through immersing oneself in the presence of numerous art pieces. By observing and experiencing Zen art firsthand, one can begin to grasp the subtle nuances of ki and truly appreciate the energy and strength that radiate from an artist's expression.
The Transformative Power of Zen Art:
Zen art serves as a transformative vehicle, allowing us to transcend intellectual concepts and bridge the gap between the ineffable truth and our limited human understanding. It is not a mere representation of truth itself but rather a means of approaching it. Just as a boat carries us across a vast body of water, art provides a conduit for our spiritual journey.
During the conversation, Alex shares his personal experiences of training at a Zen dojo in his early twenties. The sessions involved seated meditation, contemplation of masterpieces, and immersion in calligraphy. These masterpieces served as wellsprings of inspiration and encouragement, offering glimpses of what could be achieved through dedicated practice.
Through discussions on ink flow, energy, and composition, the stage was set for participants to manifest their own creative expressions, fostering a deeper connection to the essence of Zen. It is through this process of engagement and exploration that the transformative power of Zen art reveals itself, guiding individuals toward a profound sense of self-discovery and spiritual growth.
The Universal Appeal of Zen Art:
The impact of Zen art extends far beyond the boundaries of specific cultures or regions. John Stevens Sensei shares captivating anecdotes from his worldwide exhibitions, where he witnessed the remarkable reactions of strangers from diverse backgrounds. Standing before a Zenga piece, these individuals, devoid of preconceived notions, were captivated and moved by its profound presence.
This universal appeal stems from the inherent ability of Zen art to transcend language and intellectual understanding, speaking directly to the core of our being. It resonates with our shared human experience, evoking emotions, contemplation, and a sense of connection that surpasses cultural and linguistic barriers.
The Mind-Body Connection in Japanese Culture:
Throughout the podcast, John and Alex delve into various aspects of Japanese culture, Zen philosophy, and budo. They explore the profound concept of the mind-body connection, highlighting the stark contrast with the modern tendency to compartmentalize different aspects of life.
John emphasizes the importance of "kokoro," which represents the inseparable union of heart and mind in Japanese culture. He shares insights into the concept of "shugyo," which involves dedicated and focused training in a specific discipline. Through "shugyo," individuals cultivate a deep understanding of themselves and their chosen path, integrating physical, mental, and spiritual aspects into a unified whole.
The transformative power of encounters and relationships is another central theme of their discussion. John and Alex share inspiring anecdotes that highlight the profound impact a single interaction or word can have on one's life. They explore the significance of gratitude and respect in Japanese culture, emphasizing the four gratitudes: gratitude to the universe, ancestors and predecessors, teachers, and fellow human beings and the natural world.
In conclusion, this episode of the Red Beard Embodiment Podcast invites listeners to join Alex Greene and John Stevens Sensei on a journey of exploration. From the transformative power of Zen art to the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit, the podcast offers deep insights into Japanese culture, Zen philosophy, and the embodiment of profound spiritual truths.
Through the rich tapestry of stories, experiences, and wisdom shared by John Stevens Sensei and Alex Greene, listeners are encouraged to embrace their own path of self-discovery, cultivate gratitude and respect, and find meaning in the art of Zen and the embodiment of spiritual truths.
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