Practicing Simplicity: Two Teachers on Zen

By Katharine Kaufman and Michael Wood //

The beginner’s mind has many possibilities
 Shunryu Suzuki

The upcoming SMC retreat, “Practicing Simplicity,” is the result of an ongoing conversation between two friends and students of Zen. Katharine’s Zen practice is foundational to her work with Poetry and Contemplative Movement Arts. Michael revels in the paradoxical; learning from ontological and cultural engagements with Dharma Art and Zen philosophy. It is through our shared intuitive appreciation for the beauty of fragility and contingency of expression that we have come together to offer this weekend introduction to Zen retreat. Please join us in discovering the simplicity of Zen practice. 

Michael says:

In the Sôtô Zen tradition, the primary practice is shikantaza- or “just sitting.” While we do not sit as a means to an end, through the process of sitting, we find that as our thoughts settle and a  glimpse of the non-dual nature of reality reveals itself, awareness and the ability to concentrate on the precision of forms and transience of the present arises. In doing so, experience is once again transformed into the ordinary and everyday, stripped of the extraordinary preconceptions, delusions, judgements, anxieties, and desires placed on top of experience. This course serves as an introduction to both shikantaza meditation, as well as concentrated practice of extending the meditative state to everyday activities such as eating, cleaning, moving through space, observation of the outside world, creative writing, and social engagement.  While sitting is just sitting and cleaning is just cleaning, we realize that the particular state of consciousness, clarity, and focus achieved through sitting can also be found in cleaning, and vice versa.

Katharine says:

We don’t have to figure anything out, solve any mysteries, or be a certain way to belong here. We don’t need to be advanced or have special knowledge. All we need is a slight willingness to return to what we are doing in any given moment. This Way-Seeking may feel familiar. As we listen and feel space around us, a whisper of a new way of being organizes itself. Body and mind rest together. We find delight in beginner’s mind.

Insights arrive from simply sitting in silence with everything that occurs, including our many internal experiences. There is no mantra and no emphasis on positive thinking. From the root practice of sitting mediation, we find we are suspending old held opinions. We can then express our basic aliveness as we chant, write a spontaneous haiku, sweep the shrine room floor, place an empty bowl to be filled with steaming soup, or ask a burning question.

We’re supported by the facilitators and new friends practicing together. Distraction softens or it wears out. We let one thing go. Clenched jaw relaxes, shoulders drop, belly breathes, and for a moment the body/mind agrees with itself.  We want nothing other than what is occurring now—and now.

About the Authors

Katharine KaufmanKatharine Kaufman is priest ordained in the Soto Zen lineage and teaches meditation, writing workshops, Yoga, and contemplative dance in Boulder County and at Shambhala Mountain Center. She taught for many years at The Yoga Workshop and Studio Be in Boulder. Katharine is an adjunct professor at Naropa University. She holds MFAs in Performance/Choreography and Writing/Poetics.

Michael WoodMichael Wood is a writer, translator, and professor of World Languages and Cultures. His doctoral training is in early modern Japanese literary and visual culture and he has published poetry, interviews, and other shorter works. Living between Japan and the US for the past 25 years, he has taught at many universities and serves as the Director of the Japanese Studies Program at Chapman University.


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