The Practice of Immediacy

How can we respond to the vastness of the present moment? This is the question we ask each time we take up the Practice of Immediacy.

The Practice of Immediacy, as conceived by Roshi Nicolee Jikyo McMahon, Abbot of Three Treasures Zen Community, is an inventive way to express our experience of the present moment in media. It allows us to utilize art materials or the written word to focus our mindfulness practice in a whole new way. Different from art practice, the Practice of Immediacy does not call upon art training or expertise. In fact, our responses to the present moment in media often have a messy beauty that goes beyond art.

Here’s an example of how The Practice of Immediacy can work. Intimacy with the moment usually starts with quiet listening to the world around us. Then, we can key in to our bodies, and our thought stream. Finally, we take up our pencils, pens, brushes, watercolors, pastels, clay or natural material from our surroundings. And we write, scratch, etch, paint, sculpt, assemble, and glue in response to what comes up.

When I first started this practice on a meditation retreat (sesshin) with the Heart Circle Sangha, my response was tight. Coming from a family of artists, and having spent some time in art school, I was concerned that my Practice of Immediacy results should “look good.” My art training and habits taught me what was acceptable and what was weak. With time, I loosened up and realized how freeing the process could be! Childlike, colorful scribble-scrabble was acceptable—even desirable—as sheer expression. This was an absolutely revolutionary process for me that invigorated my meditation practice and spurred self-discovery.

It’s easy to start up a Practice of Immediacy. Get ready by finding your favorite art material or pen and journal. (I like to select the rich colorful oil pastels that I loved as a child.) Just stay still, tune in and notice: birds, rain, a feeling in your belly, perhaps even your monkey mind. Then, take up your media and freely express the moment in your own unique Practice of Immediacy. Try not to judge, grasp or cling, just let it flow and see what happens!

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