Focusing on the hara in zazen meditation connected me fully to both gut-wrenching and soaring feelings. Resonating subjects magically appeared, offering to be artistically created… and then the feelings released.

In the structure of our creative audience, receiving observation without evaluation made for a safe space to experiment and share feelings. This helped particularly since it was a bit daunting to be in the company of photographers much more experienced than I. Compounding that, I had major artistic blocks to contend with.

A most fruitful art koan for me was “Expressing your artistic barriers.”

We focused on that for a few months during the winter. I remember Daido Roshi saying this particular art koan was huge, confronting and time-consuming. Was he ever right.

My first photo was of a partially frozen sliver of water surrounded by snow. It was the shape of a body—my body. The group feedback made me aware of some latent feelings. A frozen heart. The next meeting put me into tears and a meltdown. The group was supportive in a neutral, safe way and again made me even more aware of my feelings.

One of my photos was of a setting sun over a sacred hot spring. It was very beautiful, but it also made me sad. It felt like something dying. It was only much later that I connected this image to Trungpa Rinpoche’s distinction between the “setting sun” as the representation of our fear of death and the “Great Eastern Sun” vision based on celebrating life.

Another work was a poster of two tarot cards I pulled after meditation on that art koan. The first card stated the direction I was going in. It was “Death.” The next card expressed the place beyond the barrier—“The Empress,” denoting birth and freedom. The realization I had was that “I” am the greatest barrier to my artistic expression. The way out is through death, to the void, the egoless state, to rebirth. How can you have a barrier when you don’t even exist?

Attila Kassa is a Stillness/Creativity Coach, Psych-K Practitioner and Energy Healer from Boulder.