TRCH Soundstage

Chaos Magic: Beginning to Understand Emptiness

10 February 19 words: Caitlin Scott
photos: Caitlin Scott

‘Chaos Magic’ art gallery recently ran a workshop called ‘Beginning to Understand Emptiness’ which focused on the practice of Zen Buddhism. Our Caitlin got down to experience it for herself...

Participants arrived to a room dimly lit by candles and warmed by several heaters. The floor was strewn with colourful rugs and cushions, and there was a friendly welcome and an offer of tea, which most people gladly accepted. Chaos Magic had invited Dr. Rich Goodson, a queer poet, artist, college lecturer, and practitioner of Zen Buddhism to run the workshop, as the event was part of their ‘Queer Spirits’ programme. According to one of the event’s organisers, Joseph Winsborrow, the programme ‘is all about queer identity in contemporary life’. He described the idea behind the event by saying ‘Rich Goodson is a practicing Zen Buddhist and is also gay, so the event is exploring how that fits into his life and how it helps him on a mental level’. Dr. Goodson expanded on this topic during the workshop, explaining how he believes Zen Buddhism works well within the queer movement. He said Zen is useful because it focuses on letting go of personal identity and transcending human ego and our limiting beliefs.

he joked that he used to think Buddhism was about garden centres

The workshop started in a sort of primary school fashion, as everyone sat in a circle and introduced themselves one by one. After this Dr. Goodson began his talk on the fundamentals of Zen Buddhism. Firstly, he told a much-shortened version of the history of Buddhism, which briefly explained the 2500-year journey it has taken. He was full of quips and amusing anecdotes, one of which told the story of a famous Buddhist who cut off his eyelids so he could meditate for days without falling asleep, resulting in all the portraits of him having strangely large eyes. Dr. Goodson laughed and clearly did not encourage this practice. He seemed very casual and down-to-earth, and throughout his talk he encouraged input from the participants. He was also honest about being new to Zen Buddhism, he joked that he used to think ‘Buddhism was about garden centres’.

Dr. Goodson continued the talk by explaining how Zen Buddhism emerged from the original form of Buddhism. It focuses on the practice of meditation and strongly encourages being compassionate. He said there is no journey in Zen. It is about the experience of the present and being the most ‘awake’ that you can be in the moment. After practicing for five years Dr. Goodson said he feels “less angst towards people”, because meditation is a sort of ‘self-therapy’.

In the next part of the workshop (after a short tea break, of course) Dr. Goodson led the group in a meditation taster session. Firstly, he had everyone sit cross-legged, or however they felt comfortable, and have closed or lowered eyes. Next, he led the participants in a body-scan, which involved relaxing every part of their body. There were three one-minute meditation practices which Dr. Goodson timed with a Buddhist ‘singing bowl’. In the first one, we counted our breaths, in the second we focused on breathing, and in the third we just listened to our surroundings. The final exercise was a five-minute meditation where everyone could choose their preferred method. Dr. Goodson explained that during meditation it is helpful to watch your thoughts. He advised everyone to treat thoughts like paper boats floating by, so after seeing what they were you can just send them on their way.

After the meditation everyone shared what they had experienced. Their recollections ranged from seeing a sandy landscape while they meditated, to looking towards their third eye and seeing psychedelic visions. When asked about his own meditation habits Dr. Goodson explained that he tries to meditate for twenty minutes every morning, but he said he “doesn’t beat himself up if he doesn’t do it.”  Dr. Goodson concluded the workshop by handing around postcards with a quote concerning Zen for everyone to have as a keepsake.

There was quite a diverse group of people who attended the workshop, varying in age and familiarity with the practice. However, they all remained equally engaged and interested, and came away looking relaxed and cheerful. Many of them even clapped at the end and approached Dr. Goodson to thank him. The event had an inclusive, welcoming and relaxed atmosphere and seemed to have a positive impact on all those involved.

Chaos Magic's next event is an exhibition called 'Fittings' with work by Richard John Jones and Sebastian Sochan on February 21st, more information is on their Facebook page here.

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