Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Back in May, I heard a story on NPR about a monk who had completed 1,000 days of walking meditation in order to reach the next level of enlightenment. This practice is called Sennichi Kaihogyo and takes place around Mount Hiei. It is unclear from poking around if the monks who undertake this practice primarily walk, run, or both... but the end result is the participant has essentially transversed a distance equal to the circumference of the Earth at the end of the 1000th day.

At the time I caught the broadcast, I had been thinking a lot about art, Buddhism, commitment, and forms of dedication... or rather, the ways in which we imbue meaning or purpose to action via consistent commitment/dedicated focus.

There is something powerful about renewed intention toward some aim or purpose. I'm not sure it even matters what it is we turn our attention toward (so long as it is not harmful or maleficent)... so long as we choose - again and again - to put our energy toward some form of expression.

Pressfield, I think would support this theory, as do the sometimes surprising pop culture or social phenoms sometimes thrust into success or rewarded with support, such as Matt Harding or Marina Abramović. And, of course, you find this sort of repetition of focus or activity via many world religions and spiritual philosophies.

I think, perhaps, we transcend the day-to-day when we shift something from the realm of mundane routine and elevate it into something extraordinary... simply by committing to repetition.

To dance in a silly way once or twice is one thing... to do it an infinite number of times in an infinite number of places suddenly transforms its meaning and purpose. Same with sitting in a chair, or taking a photo each day (think Smoke or check out this blog), or writing a daily blog entry, or asking the same question to hundreds of people.

I have been thinking about it a lot - this magic and miracle of repetition - and I think it may come down to this. These long-form processes of dedication (be they artistic, personal, spiritual, or whathaveyou) place us along two simultaneous paths of understanding.

1. Everything is special. Distilling experience to the level of recognizing it moment to moment often enables a perspective cognizant of how miraculous life is. All the time. Nothing is ever the same... and there is deep and magnificent, awe-inspiring grandeur in the singularity of experience we enjoy each second. I think this becomes more noticeable when we seek to capture it in some form... pin it down so we can record it and look at it and hold it up to the light.


2. Nothing is special. There is something profoundly simple in everything we might choose to do. All action carries as little and as much import as any other. Walking around a mountain is simply walking around a mountain - whether one chooses to do that one time or a thousand times. And once we move something from a space of unique to a space of routine, it offers the opportunity to better understand how our attachments define our perception of our actions. Particularly in the context of ego and the all-too-common pitfall of comparing our lives to the lives of others... or deciding we can't do something because it is too hard/too much/too big/etc.

There is beauty in seeing something again and again - and through repetition we are aware both of how singularly special everything is, and also how it is all one thing. How the lines of distinction we attach to name, form, substance... the ways in which we categorize or differentiate the things of our lives... how really it's all illusion.

There is no separation. No beginning. No end. It just is. And in that paradox, that circle of never-ending-never-beginning-always-ending-always-beginning, there is a kind of freedom and knowing one might glimpse. A moment of being defined as always/never/divine/mundane in which all things are... well, they just are.

That's my guess, at least. I'll let you know if my perspective changes should I ever walk across a mountain for a thousand days.

May you find renewal in repetition of all kinds. May your dedication (in whatever form it takes) bring you peace.


  1. Did you see Marina in NYC? It was breathtaking watching her just look at each new face arriving in front of her.

    I thought about this a lot in Nicaragua, how, if I had dedicated myself to being an Engineer or a Doctor I would be-of-use in this little, very poor town. But I realized that something I can do with dedication is fall in love again and again and again . The project is still in its infancy, but it's a small mountain that for me has the potential to last 1000 days in lots of different countries :D

    Maybe a less traditional way to be of use, maybe a strange dedication, but it feels right.

    And I love this poem,

    To Be of Use
    Marge Piercy

    The people I love the best

jump into work head first 

    without dallying in the shallows 

    and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.

They seem to become natives of that element,

the black sleek heads of seals 

    bouncing like half-submerged balls. 

    I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,

who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience, 

    who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward, 

    who do what has to be done, again and again. 

    I want to be with people who submerge 

    in the task, who go into the fields to harvest

and work in a row and pass the bags along,

who are not parlor generals and field deserters 

    but move in a common rhythm 

    when the food must come in or the fire be put out. 

    The work of the world is common as mud. 

    Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. 

    But the thing worth doing well done 

    has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident. 

    Greek amphoras for wine or oil, 

    Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums

but you know they were made to be used. 

    The pitcher cries for water to carry 

    and a person for work that is real.

  2. Katrina,

    How amazingly lucky I was to read your email today. Your message came at just the right time and is a good reminder as I sit in struggle today.

    I love Marge Piercy but had not seen this poem. It is so beautiful. I especially like her final line.

    Thank you for sharing your website. I really love it and can totally understand the conundrum in responding as an artist (I think many artists struggle with that sense of not doing enough or not the right kind of thing to help). But I agree the form of dedication and honor you've chosen seem a perfect fit for you and something incredibly beneficial, loving, and compassionate. Success, say I. ;)

    I did not see Martina, but read what I could. Seemed an incredible undertaking... with so many layers.

    Thank you again for your note. It came at a good time. xo