Experiencing the World through Photography
Reflections on Creative Audience

by Lisa Gakyo Schaewe, MRO; LjWinston; David Silver; Susan Williams; Ty Guthrie; and Attila Kass

Featured in Mountain Record 25.2, Winter 2006


Photo by Lisa Gakyo Schaewe


In the summer of 2005, John Daido Loori, Roshi presented a four-day workshop on “The Zen of Creativity” at Naropa University. The class attracted a wide variety of participants ranging from dedicated visual artists to curious dabblers in meditation. The highlight of the workshop was engaging in a process Daido Roshi introduced called creative audience. After the workshop, a number of the Boulder area photographers who attended the workshop formed a creative audience group that has continued meeting over the last year. Gathering at a different member’s house each month on a Sunday afternoon, the participants share and receive feedback on their latest work.

The manner in which members relate to each other about their artwork has deepened over time. Friendships have developed as we have invited each other into our personal experiences. But it is through creative audience and the photographic images we explore together that this connection is sealed. The creative audience is a ritual marking a time when we engage each other with open eyes, open ears, open hearts.

The photographers had already been meeting for several months before I was able to attend my first gathering. The group’s cohesion was evident as I entered the host’s house for the first time. I arrived thinking I was going to be there as “just another photographer.” As people pressed their palms together in gassho and bowed slightly to greet me, I got the impression that instead I was being received as a representative of Daido Roshi due to my role as one of his assistants during the workshop. I felt both honored and embarrassed as I tried to accept with some measure of dignity the role that seemed to have been chosen for me. I was asked to start things off by leading the group in a period of sitting meditation.

Until this point I’d felt self-conscious and pressured to conduct myself mindfully and professionally. I felt a ridiculous impulse to act like a jerk to show everyone in the room that I wasn’t special. Later I came to recognize that the members of this group treated each other with a very natural reverence and mutual respect.

I’ve been impressed with the changes I’ve witnessed in my intermittent participation in the group. Each time I attend, the relationships between members seem more solid, the level of feedback offered deepens and the openness with which it is received broadens. The willingness to be vulnerable and spontaneous in the context of the process creates a supportive and healing environment, which at the same time seems to have everything and nothing to do with the artwork. I now feel honored to be included as “just another photographer” in this group.

Lisa Gakyo Schaewe is an art therapist, Licensed Professional Counselor, and adjunct faculty in the Graduate School of Psychology at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She has been an MRO student since 1997.

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