Ensoes by Beth Moskal Milligan


(The 2000 year-old art form of Japanese brush painting is spiritually rooted in Zen Buddhism.  My friend and fellow Zen student, Beth Moskal Milligan has practiced both Zen and Sumi-e and finds that the two disciplines are mutually supportive in her spiritual growth.  I have asked Beth to be a “guest blogger” for this post.  I think you will find her piece, found below,  a fun, informative and inspiring read. It is also a great example of the “Genjo Practice”, as described in the previous post. Steve Wilson)

Leaping Fish by Beth Moskal Milligan



Zen tells us to wake up! How does one do that?  One way is to leave a totally familiar environment and move to a strange, new one. That’s the way I started the process-leaving almost heaven-West Virginia for heaven-Southern California. Ocean, desert, palm trees, odd flowering plants, low humidity, altered seasons, day after day of sunshine, multiculturalism, surfing, avocados, abundant wealth (seemingly). I knew 2 people-the friends I was renting from. The rest was an adventure awaiting. But first I had to fall apart. And then in the process of finding the pieces and putting them together in a new way, I came to Zen, specifically the Vista Zen Center.  My son, Ryan, came to live with me and was a practicing Zen student of the San Francisco Zen Center. He had his sitting practice and I was intrigued. I was from a strong Lutheran background and had been involved in the Christian charismatic movement and later became very interested in meditation and the labyrinth, both of which introduced me to the value of silence. When I entered the Vista Zendo (meditation hall)  for the first time, I knew I belonged. A welcoming, strong silence was present there and there were people who believed in its value. I knew this was a place where I could grow from the bottom up, and explore the possibilities that had presented themselves in my new world. The pieces began to come together.

Landscape by Beth Moskal Milligan

One of those pieces was art.  I had been an art major for a year in college but had dropped out after my freshman year. I dabbled in drawing and watercolor a little bit in my adult life but always had a problem with being too judgmental of the work and not able to enjoy the process except for a few brief periods of inspiration. But the desire to create was there, just buried. It was awakened in an art workshop taught by Alessandra at the Zen center and the spark became a flame when I discovered Japanese sumi-e painting. Minimalist and nature-inspired, a technique where every brush stroke counts and taught in a classroom in which the Japanese teacher, Takashi Ijichi,  creates a peaceful and concentrated environment, the focus of which is finding your vision and putting it on paper. The focus is on the process, the result is fun and interesting and occasionally  even looks good. Everyone’s creation is different and uniquely theirs. It is a discipline but it is not onerous.

I take Tuesdays as a day off from work and attend painting class in the afternoon and sit at the Zendo in the evening. The two complement each other;  PRACTICE, DISCIPLINE, FOCUS, DISCOVERY—AND JOY.

Practice Ensoes by Beth Moskal Milligan

PRACTICE  Practice, practice, practice”  my Sumi-e painting teacher, Takashi Ijichi tells us.

“Practice, practice, practice”  my Zen teacher, Jiyu Roshi tells us.

Practice is repetition, repetition is practice.

Practice Bird Heads by Beth Moskal Milligan

"Three Cranes" by Beth Moskal Milligan

DISCIPLINE   Discipline enables the practice, it brings us to the practice in time and in place. It makes the decision for us to come to the practice.  Make the time, prepare a place, enable the process: the painting, the sitting, in the art room, in the Zen Center, at home where the place is ready and waiting, for painting, for sitting.

Beth's Meditation Space

Beth's Painting Space

FOCUS  Pay attention. Be the hawk perched and watching, the flower blooming,  the horse galloping, the mountain standing, the fish swimming and leaping, the enso circling. Be one in the moment with the subject of the painting. Be one in the moment in the stillness of sitting. Practice and Be.

"Bodhidharma Bird in Contemplation" by Beth Moskal Milligan

There are 3 main elements to both my painting practice and my Zen meditation practice. The teacher, the meditation practice, and the Sangha (spiritual community) .  One on one relationship with my teachers is a very valuable part of both practices. During our Zazen sessions, I meet individually with Jiyu Roshi to discuss my practice and progress. During my painting classes, I meet individually with Takashi Ijichi to carefully observe his painting technique as he paints on my individual tablet and answers any questions I might have about the subject.    Sitting meditation occurs in the quiet Zendo. Sumi-e painting is also a form of meditation, we practice in a community library setting.    And each activity involves a Sangha, a group of people dedicated to practicing that unique meditative discipline and who become intertwined with each other through that unique practice.

DISCOVERY   I have discovered that the process, not the results is the important part of these activities. Living in the process and not living for the results enables me to live in the present moment, immersed in the activity. This is very refreshing for body, soul and spirit. And the results are not completely under my control and the results are more often than not, surprising. In a painting, the ink may be absorbed by the paper in a very interesting way or the lights and darks of the ink formed a wave of water or a flower petal that I did not plan.  In Zazen practice, calmness in the face of a difficult situation or a solution to a previously unsolvable problem may present itself unexpectedly.   The terms ‘beginner’s mind’ and ‘non-grasping’ come to mind to describe these occurrences.

"Ocean Waves and Rocks" by Beth Moskal Milligan

JOY   Joy results in being in the process, in creating, in relationship with my teachers and in relationship with the other students and Sangha members, being a part of a long and honored tradition, passed on person to person, no technology needed! Simplicity indeed! Learning, growing, focusing, practicing, discovering. relating—Life.

" Galloping Colt" by Beth Moskal Milligan


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  1. The show includes displays of traditional Japanese flower arrangements, a tea ceremony, a fashion show,and performances by Japanese dancers and musicians.Highlights will include demonstrations of brush painting by Takashi Ijichi. Check out site:

  2. I loved reading Beth’s blog, just as I do Manoj’s blogs. Both are taking their Zen practice and applying it to other areas of their lives. I could also say they are taking their creative expressions (whatever form that might be) and applying it to their Zen practice. To me, this is the highest form of practice. We can become good at one, or the other, but when we bring both worlds together the experiences becomes more than either one can become alone.
    The following quote from Beth’s blog I find to be a wonderful summation for both her art and her Zen expressions.
    “Pay attention. Be the hawk perched and watching, the flower blooming, the horse galloping, the mountain standing, the fish swimming and leaping, the enso circling. Be one in the moment with the subject of the painting. Be one in the moment in the stillness of sitting. Practice and Be.”
    I hope other readers of this blog will approach Manoj and want to share their creative experiences just as I hope members of the Vista Zen Center will do with me and other members of the Center. We learn so much by listening and sharing with each other. This is how we learn and extend our lives for everyone in our efforts to become wiser, more compassionate in all of our activities.

  3. I wanted to leave a comment on the “talent myth ” article — but i didnt see the bubble to click? (HI PAT, TO AVOID SPAM, THE SITE IS SET UP TO NOT ALLOW COMMENTS AFTER A TWO WEEK PERIOD, SO I’VE POSTED YOUR COMMENT HERE. THANKS, STEVE)
    i think it is very cool to be more mindful – and not be wrapped up in the results =
    That is when most of my growth happens , – I am aware of this choice – yet i often find myself not trusting i willl receive guidance , clinging to old behaviors of , – grasping at some shred of certainty , of playing it safe.- – I think I am really only doing that so i can have someone else to blame – so i can break my conscious connection to the universe- , by expecting a result or forcing my views, and beliefs as “right”, I judge the universe , and therefore myself -and this distorts my perception, it’s like I put on dusty glasses.

    i therefore blind myself to all the beautiful colors and paths available to me
    My universe reflects the words , and thoughts that I project outward.What I project is basically what I think of myself, and waht I believe of myself is hard to change , because it operates at the subconscious level , and there fore below my awareness , UNTIL NOW. ! 🙂

    For me , art and creative activities are very cathartic , and possibly that is why I am changing careers to a more creative trade.

    the universe is only all to willing to provide me with more opportunities to see it is not about being:” right ”
    it is not about “results” it is more about the process, about what I can give , not what I can “get”.

    When I base my experience on what others think , or compare my experience to others, I takes myself out of the moment , and I take myself out of the present, and I lose my connection , my awareness of all that is , and how i am a part of it.-
    If I work on being grateful of the process, no matter how awkward or frustrating, – and not focus on the result perhaps , I get back in touch with my subconcsious beliefs , I can forgive the ego that wants to defend my old beliefs based on shame , and doubt. or fear, I can keep connected to my source .

    As I give the universe patience and trust. I become patient and trusting.
    – one moment at a time