Updated: Apr 6

I was tasked with photographing, for our website ( the deep ocean blue ceramics made by Adam Stinson and which we have for sale in Gallery 9.

When I looked, in particular, at his lovely, flat pebble-shaped vases, I first thought about gay and rather kinky photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's rather more innocent side-line: flowers! I remembered one photo of some irises that he had somehow balanced in a similarly-shaped vase.

I rushed out, on the crest of a belated brainwave, and bought some oasis. This is strange nasty stuff that I have never really trusted (I suppose ever since I was dragooned, in a moment of feeble-mindedness, onto the village church flower rota back in '86). And now I remembered why. I realised anew how hard this was! I searched for guidance, and lo, there was Ikebana! Here was something I could really relate to!

The Japanese art of Ikebana is both minimal flower arrangement (the more minimal the better for a gal like me!) and a route to enlightenment!

Listen up, ladies of the rota! This simple art, this meditation if you like, invites us directly towards that which Zen masters (as well as Jesus, if only we knew it) have been pointing, for centuries, in their wry, playful and devastating way!

Here is earth, man and heaven above. Here is life’s basic arrangement, utilising all the offerings of nature, of life, whether symbolised in one exquisite bloom, the soaring of a bamboo leaf or a piece of twisted wood from a dying ivy tree. All these represent, to the master, the is-ness of life.

The many manifestations of life on earth, all coming and going, all impermanent. Heaven, the master tells us, is in fact all around us, in the space outside and inside.

And yet here we are, looking outside ourselves and forever finding that nothing lasts, nothing stays the same. And often, because we cling on to those transient things we think will make us happy, we exist in a living hell. We focus everywhere but the centre. And thus we lead fragmented lives. The Japanese archer, poised and focussed, understands this. And it is interesting that the Greek word for sin, 'hamartia', is an archery term, meaning "missing the mark". Make of that what you will!

In practicing Ikebana, we seek to express this understanding; that life in its essence is perfect in its very impermanence, and that peace cannot come until we at last learn to stop grasping the ungraspable. For in the centre, there is something unchanging!

Haiku, a traditional Japanese three-line poem, is another art form that illustrates the is-ness of life that we all want to deny. Our existential anxiety cannot allow us to accept the loss of material things, relationships, experiences. They represent to us a form of necessary solidity that we hang on to for grim death.

And yet, Ryokan, the poet, says,

The thief

left it behind:

the moon in my window

What can Ryokan mean? The moon illuminates the darkness of night, its light reflected from the sun, the giver of life. The unchanging. And so he says, “Solely focus on the light, the unchanging, if you are to live a life without suffering.”

This is not to say there is not loss, grief, pain, in life. But, he implies, even in the midst of these things the state of mind of suffering can be transformed into radical acceptance. We can feel pain, he suggests, but not suffer. Life just is, he says. Life does not follow the edicts of our expectations; it merely seeks to be. And life is always growth!.

But in our insistence on taming it it becomes a discontented domesticated pet.

One can never be sure of such a pet. One morning we may find it gone. It found that it could not endure the confines of the four walls of our ‘home’, and so it found an open window through which to escape.

And it thus joined the moon, outside, padding its way through the white light illuminating the fields and the meadows.

Radical detachment!

Detachment is not indifference. It is the knowledge that, with or without this object, this person, this experience, I remain … myself. I don't rely on those things to feel whole. I remain the unchanging Self that still shines within me behind the conditioning, the opinions, the ego.

Just as the moon continues to shine behind the clouds that fleetingly obscure it, so my Self remains.

O snail

Climb Mount Fuji

But slowly, slowly!


flowers blooming

in the stones


Clouds come from time to time--

and bring to men a chance to rest

from looking at the moon.

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