Meditation Can Happen Anywhere and Anytime
Sitting is fine, but it’s not the only or best path to enlightenment
In the decades that sketch artist Art Lien has covered the U.S. Supreme Court, he has been the eyes of the people. At the nation’s highest court, where there are no cameras allowed, the sketch artist for NBC News and SCOTUSblog sits through hearings with a small pad of paper and a bundle of colored pencils. He watercolors the images immediately afterward in the press room and scans them for publication before the rest of the reporters have even begun typing their stories.
You might imagine that an artist as skilled and accomplished as Lien would feel supremely confident. But in my time as a reporter covering the Supreme Court, it became clear to me that wasn’t true. Lien once told me that he’s still plagued with doubt, sometimes telling himself, “Oh shit, I can’t draw anymore.”
So to get his work done, he stops thinking.
When a hearing begins and he starts sketching, Lien becomes fully absorbed. He stops listening to his internal dialogue. He lets the pencils find their way around the paper. Within the limitations of time, space, and subject, in the ruts of routine, creativity is somehow unleashed. And from this, an image emerges — something from nothing.
That’s applied meditation. It is Zen practice in action.
Sitting still is often seen as the standard way to meditate. And sitting still for a spell can certainly be a good corrective in a scurrying culture.
But sitting is not the only way to meditate nor is it the pinnacle of spiritual discipline. On the contrary. In Zen Buddhism, it’s labor — doing things — that illuminates. The classic path to liberation involves action and alchemy, channeling philosophical understanding into the practice of a craft.
In his seminal 1957 book The Way of Zen, philosopher Alan Watts posited that emphasis on zazen — or seated meditation — has been greatly exaggerated over the centuries. In fact, he argued, it was just a practical innovation unrelated to spiritual liberation. As Zen became institutionalized, and monasteries filled with unruly young men to train, education increasingly centered on sitting still because it kept the…