Dharma room sunbeam

You’d think that last week’s Photo Friday theme, Meditation, would be an easy one for someone who practices and teaches Zen meditation, but the exact opposite is true. Because I practice meditation, I actually have very few photos of meditation.

Dharma room altar

Taking a “meditation” photo offers the same challenge as capturing the ponytail shot in my last post: how do you take a picture of yourself sitting and not taking pictures? The Dharma room is, after all, one of the few places where I don’t carry a camera, so I had to go all the way back to August, 2007 to find a handful of images I shot after practice at the Open Meadow Zen Group one morning. Notice I that I shot these photos after (not during) morning practice. These aren’t photos of meditation; instead, they’re photos of the scene of meditation. Over the years I’ve taken more than a few pictures of Buddha statues, Buddhist ceremonies, and pretty Dharma rooms…but statues, ceremonies, and Dharma rooms aren’t themselves “meditation.” The accoutrements of meditation aren’t the same as meditation itself, and that makes “meditation itself” particularly difficult to capture in images.

Stained glass bodhisattva

Over the years, I’ve illustrated most of my Zen posts with images that don’t look particularly “Zenny.” Rather than returning again and again to the same old images of statues, ceremonies, and Dharma rooms to illustrate the practice of meditation, I usually illustrate my Zen posts with whatever images I have at hand. This is, I suppose, a particularly “Zennish” way of considering the question of how to depict “meditation.” Meditation isn’t a special thing limited to a special room where you sit on special cushions while wearing special clothes, and the simple act of just looking at (and just snapping pictures of) whatever you happen to see can also be a kind of meditation. Yes, the trappings of Buddhist iconography help put practitioners in the mood to meditate, but meditation isn’t dependent upon them. If you don’t have a pretty Dharma room, a cushion in the basement will do.

(Dharma) room with a view

If I had to pick, in other words, the scenes and objects of meditation in order to illustrate what meditation “is,” what scenes and objects wouldn’t I choose? Would I show you the sink where I follow my breath while washing dishes, or the car where I follow my breath while driving between Newton and Keene? Would I show you the streets and sidewalks where I follow my breath while walking, or the bed upon which I follow my breath while folding laundry, reading, or settling into sleep? Would I show the laptop where I sit following my breath as I type these words, or would I show the kitchen table where I will follow my breath while eating a late lunch after posting them?

The scenes and objects of meditation are many, and I’ve spent these past five years quietly blogging them, sometimes affixing the label “meditation” and sometimes not. But even when unnamed or unattributed, meditation is as close at hand as the breath on your lips.

This is my belated contribution to last week’s Photo Friday theme, Meditation. I was tempted to post a photo of virtually anything as my depiction of “meditation” but decided a trip to my photo archives was a more aesthetic (and cooperative) choice.

If you’re intrigued by the pretty Dharma room that illustrates today’s post, you can join us this Sunday for a one-day retreat at the Open Meadow Zen Group in Lexington, MA.