Zazen”: Sitting Zen meditation as in “sitting zazen
Translates from Japanese into “facing the wall


– Find a quiet spot with few distractions

– Sit comfortably on a zabuton (meditation cushion), there is no need for pain

– If sitting is difficult or you have bad knees use a chair

– Sit upright, but not rigid

– Find intentional position of legs, not haphazard or sprawling

– Ground yourself into the floor, if sitting in chair have feet firmly on floor

– Find stable base, not wobbly, with knees preferably on the floor

Mudra: hand position in zazen- fingers laying atop one another, thumbs lightly touching

– Set timer or timer on cell phone (turn down volume of ringer)

– A stick of incense can be used as timer

– A candle can be lit


– Start with a gassho (deep intentional bow)

– Ring bell or chime to announce your intention to focus awareness on present moment

– Turn your attention to your in and out breath

– Eyes are half open in soft stare at wall in front and looking downward

– Slightly lengthen exhale by extending the out breath

– Count breaths to 10, if you are distracted or drifted away start over again at one

– Try and let go of internal chatter; when noticed simply return to the present moment

– No need to berate yourself for not being better at it

– When thoughts come up, notice yourself thinking and then let them go

– See noises and distractions as invitations to return to the present moment

– Return to your breath


– Ring bell or chime to bring yourself to the present moment

– Gently bring your awareness back into the room

– Gassho (bow) of gratitude, recognition

– Stand up next to cushion, fluff and straighten cushion for next person or next session

– Gassho to cushion, gassho to each other (Sangha: community)

– Walking meditation to exit, turn and gassho to room


©Douglas Beasley 2011


“The Zen the can be explained is not the true Zen.”
But I will make an attempt anyway…

We all seem to have an idea of what Zen Buddhism is. Contrary to popular belief, Zen is not necessarily just about being blissed out or euphoric. It is about seeing ‘what is’ more clearly, like cleaning the windshield of your car, or polishing the mirror. It’s about owning your thoughts and emotions without being them, then dealing with what comes up, moment by moment. If you’re angry, be angry. No one ‘made’ you angry, that was the response you chose. You can also choose how and when you express that anger or how you channel it…

Zen is a sect of Buddhism, one of the world’s oldest religions. Buddhism originated in India, with the enlightenment of Buddha under the Bodhi tree. It is believed that after his death he chose to come back (reincarnation) to help others work towards enlightenment rather than dwell in nirvana. The Buddha is not God but an awakened one who can help us all to achieve that state of being fully awake. We are all Buddhas in the making, somewhere along the path to enlightenment.

Buddhism moved through India, then across China where it melded with Taoism. From there it migrated to Japan, where a branch of Buddhism based on rigorous contemplative meditation became ‘Zen’. Zen came to America in the 1930’s from Japan. Many were introduced to Zen Buddhism when Japanese teacher and Roshi DT Suzuki opened the first Buddhist Zendo in the US and then wrote his classic book Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. Zen entered the mainstream consciousness in the 1960’s with scholars such as prolific author of Eastern philosophy Allan Watts, beat poet Allan Ginsberg and then Gary Snyder, and with musicians like John Cage and Leonard Cohen.

Zen is now not only practiced as a religion but as a philosophy. It is widely studied by many as a guide for mindful living by people of many faiths. There is a strong history and tradition of Zen practice among Jews and there are numerous Rabbis as well as Christian clergy that are also serious Zen practitioners, and not seen by them as a contradiction to their faith but rather an enhancement.

Some essential concepts:
– The Zen that can be explained (or taught or read about) is not the true Zen
– Understanding can only come from direct experience (contemplation, meditation)
– Essence: being fully present, aware and awake
– Experiencing fully the continuing and unfolding present moment
– Learned by sitting zazen (Zen meditation or “facing the wall”)
– Zen has little emphasis on achieving enlightenment or Nirvana like other Buddhist sects
– Everything, including ourselves, is impermanent
– Everything is interconnected
– Central concepts: Impermanence. Interconnectedness.
– Buddha is not ‘God’ but an enlightened or “awakened” being
– Buddha chose reincarnation to come back to teach others

The Buddha taught “The Four Noble Truths
1) To be human is to experience suffering
2) Suffering comes from cravings and attachments
3) Cessation of suffering is attainable
4) Understanding impermanence and practicing meditation leads to cessation of suffering

The 3 Treasures of Zen:
– The Buddha
– The Dharma (teachings)
– Sangha (community)

The Eightfold Path
1) Right View
2) Right Intention
3) Right speech
4) Right Action
5) Right Livelihood
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness
8) Right Concentration
How can we apply these to our photography?

Zen Koan. A traditional method of helping students understand Zen. A question given by the Zen master, or Roshi, that the answer cannot be found by thinking and logic.
These could be great photo assignments!

Evolution of the term “Zen in the Art of Photography”:
Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel, 1953
– Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig, 1974
– Zen in the Art of…everything! 1990’s overuse

Photographers who embraced Zen:
– The photography and teaching of Minor White (in the shadow of Ansel Adams)
– Minor Whites’s students and followers like Paul Caponigro, George Tice, Wynn Bullock
– John Daido Loori, Roshi of Zen Mountain Monastery, was also a student of Minor White
©Douglas Beasley 2013


It is easy to make pictures that show where you were and what you saw. But what about pictures that show who you are and what you feel? It is a valid use of photography to make a snapshot for memories; it is troublesome when acquiring those snapshot moments substitutes for genuine experience. The artist’s challenge is to not just record but to respond. Photography can also be used as a tool for connecting to the world and helping find your place in it. Yet often the camera is an obstacle to experiencing the world and your own life directly. Taking pictures is can be used to remove and separate us from the stream of life, becoming an observer rather than participant. That observer status is sometimes touted as a goal, but if one seeks connection rather than separation you can use your camera as a tool to investigate deeper, both externally and internally. Photography as a tool for connection is there for those willing to not only see, but feel.

One method is to develop a stronger visual point of view. Personally, I am not interested in making documentary images (in the sense of passive or objective observer) but rather more personal pictures that reflect not just the outside world but also reflect the inner vision and state of mind of the photographer. It’s not just the “Mayan man” or “colorful weavers” but how you react, respond to and ultimately connect with these people and events. I am always more interested in how things ‘feel’ visually rather than how they ‘look’. My hope is that the photographs I make begin to build a bridge from the viewer back to not only the people or place but the emotions felt when the exposure was made. It is about seeing all places, things and moments as sacred and less about making distinctions.

To facilitate this emphasis on vision over technique I have learned to simplify my approach as well as my tools. I often use one camera, one lens, one type of film. This is done in part to distinguish myself from the ‘tricks’ of the travel photographer; who seek to sensationalize the differences and emphasize surface details like exotic fabric colors. I want to enable myself to engage with my subject rather than worry about making lens and camera choices. My energy goes into the subject and situation rater than equipment choices. I want my photographs to be visually strong yet quiet, simple and of substance, rather than decorative. Vision over equipment! Passion over passiveness! I am trying to penetrate deeper, working past stereotypes- even my own, to a place of deeper understanding and empathy, where there are more similarities than differences and where spirit is celebrated rather than sublimated.
©Douglas Beasley 2011
Reprinted from Tensegrity News


Photography is the art of looking out; out through the lens, out from your own perspective, out into the world. But to make (as opposed to ‘take’) better photographs I believe that if you go inward first you can make this process much more effective and rewarding. This inwardly derived vision will allow you to better communicate your point of view as well as better understand and express your own inner ‘voice’.

To be in touch with your inner self is to quiet the inner chatter and strip away layers to get at what is really important. Meditation, yoga, breath awareness, long walks in nature, solitude; there are many ways of getting there. This same process can be applied to making a strong photograph. You strip away the outer layer of visual clutter (in-camera framing and choice of perspective) until you focus in on what is really important to the meaning of the picture. Most people point the camera at their intended subject, place that somewhere near the center of the viewfinder, and then snap away. But if you can stop and breathe, turn inward for a moment, then more concretely identify what your subject really is and your deeper relationship to this subject; be it people, place, thing, or even mood or emotion. You can then remove what is extraneous while keeping what is essential. The more you leave out the stronger what remains becomes. Feel your connection to your chosen subject. Feel your relationship to the place or space your subject occupies and hold that as important as the subject itself. Then tap into your intuition to arrange these forms within the space of your frame. This will make your composition even stronger. It is an act both of simplification and of clarification. The more you do this the more powerful your photographs become.

This ‘less is more’ approach applies to photo equipment as well. Many believe that more equipment, cameras and lenses give more chance of success. Really it just helps us feel more like a photographer because we have all the ‘stuff’ we believe photographers should have. I believe the more we bring with us the less our chances are of making good photographs. Ansel Adams said “the more lenses you have the greater the chance of using the wrong one.” With more choices our energy goes into choosing what equipment to use in a situation rather than connecting and engaging with our subject. The less equipment you bring, and the more you become really familiar with what equipment you do have, the easier it will be to react to and engage with your subject or situation. This allows you to move past the generic snapshot and towards a more personal and unique view of your chosen subject.

“It is only with the heart that we can see rightly.
What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
                        -St Exupery from ‘The Little Prince’


©Douglas Beasley 2012


Is it time to put more meaning into your imagery and move past pretty pictures? Are you finding technically competent photographs often have nothing to say? Would you like to add a spiritual dimension to your photography? Have you have heard the term “Zen” thrown around with regard to art and photography but are not sure what it really means?

Zen is one of the most overused and least understood concepts, applied indiscriminately to almost everything in recent years. It is generally used as a replacement for ‘peaceful’ or ‘serene’ but really it means so much more than that. Although a sect of Buddhism, Zen is both religion and philosophy. There is much emphasis placed on fully experiencing the present moment. This is facilitated by practicing ‘zazen,’ which is sitting meditation and simply translates to ‘facing the wall’ while concentrating on your breath. So how does all of this relate to photography?

Bringing heightened awareness of the present moment to our photography, while tuning in visually and tuning out extraneous internal chatter or noise, can often help make simpler, more succinct and emotionally powerful photos. We are using our camera as a tool of connection rather than of separation. Continuing that experience of heightened awareness and connectedness to and in the present moment helps make photos at a deeper, more authentic level.

Be the camera. Be the film. Be the pixels. Be the subject. Be the print. We are bringing together the past (camera, lens and location choices) together with the future (visualizing the final print or image on the computer screen) with choices made in the present moment (shutter, aperture, lens focal length, perspective, composition, moment of shutter release). Even pre-visualization is practiced in the present moment. With this awareness of the effect of our choices, we learn how the camera ‘sees’ in order to better help your camera see like you do, more effectively expressing how you want your photos to look and feel.

By not being overly attached to results and by being ready to embrace what is given or already there, we expand our notion of what is appropriate subject matter for ourselves. It is less about what we photograph and more about how we photograph. It is about how we live and making conscious choices. There is acknowledgement and connection to materials (camera, film or memory card…) yet we are not bound by them. They are merely the tools we use to express ourselves, as a hammer and chisel are to the sculptor or paint and canvas to the painter. And yet in the Zen tradition, embracing paradox and inconsistency, we are our tools and our tools are us– no separation. We are also one with our subject as our subject is one with us– again, no separation. We are using our awareness and our camera to dissolve the illusion of separation between self and subject. Our spirit merges with the spirit of our subject to become one at the moment of exposure. This is the melding of our spiritual practice with our photography practice. This is Zen in the art of photography.

“We have allowed the picture and the picturetaker and the picturetaking to become one. Inseparable in a moment of no time. And then we forget.” Robert Leverant

And then remember and begin again. -Doug


©Douglas Beasley 2012
Reprinted from the Santa Fe Workshops blog


We all want a teacher. Someone wiser, with a bigger or better perspective on our own life that can help guide us. But we already have that and can access that teacher whenever we need. That teacher is the quiet voice inside of us, sometimes only heard in silence.

Most of us live a life of stimulation. Multiple input streams: TV, movies, internet, email, Twitter, Facebook, friends, family, work, co-workers. It is so hard to even recognize the voice of our true self within all that stimulation, layered on top of our own wants, needs and desires and the constant inner dialog or narration of our sensations.

There is no guide or teacher more powerful, wise and all-knowing as silence. It is only through silence that we can hear distant murmurings of our heart. When we listen to that silence we begin to hear that quiet honest voice within, longing to be heard, to be paid attention to.

It is your job to find enough solitude to invite that quiet voice to speak. Don’t judge. Don’t react. Just listen. What is it telling you? What does it want you to know? When listened to that voice becomes louder; when paid attention to that voice becomes stronger.

One way to start this process is to set an intentional time, with a beginning and an end. Whether a short walk to the park or a long drive to the ocean make the journey part of the process. Start by slowing down and tuning both out and in. Turn off the car radio, turn off the iPod, put away your headphones, stop checking email. Let your too-active mind slowly settle into the silence and drift towards stillness. The less visual stimulation the better, nature is good, darkness even better.

If this is a new concept start small and simple– a walk in the woods at night or around a lake. When ready, an ideal place is on a personal silent retreat of more than one day. Rent a cabin or find a retreat center in your area. Going through a complete cycle of a day and night is good. Multiple days even better, as you will pass through layers of experience, descending deeper and deeper into the power of silence.

Many forces will conspire to stop or delay you. An emergency at work, an urgent family matter, cleaning the gutters or alphabetizing the junk drawer…but usually these are our own manifestations of the fear of what we might discover when all else is stripped away.

Don’t wait for when the time is right or conditions in your life are better. Do this soon. Do it now.

“But within our inner hurts, maybe the best way is not to listen to any words or ideas at all.
Simply let the silence work on and through you, till you’re part of something larger.”
– Pico Iyer 

©Douglas Beasley 2014