The Enso Quilt Project
This gets long. It's a project I did with my Mom during lockdown.
So, yeah, my Mom wins. You're just going to have to deal with it being slightly long.
The world of facilitation seems, at times, overly influenced by the Tech Bro stickie notes approach.
Nothing wrong with stickies notes, and the world owes start-up innovation a hearty thank you for its contribution to our collective understanding of collaborative skills and processes.
And yet, the Wisdom Traditions, ancient philosophy, and Pacific Northwest Indigenous knowledge have deeply shaped how I understand this thing we currently call facilitation.
I wanted to acknowledge and make available traditional wisdom that had worked its way into the marrow of my bones. I wanted to integrate traditional wisdom into facilitation contexts in a way that is true to me, true to the traditions, and genuinely contributed to human beings sharing with and understanding each other.
From this urge, the Enso Quilt project was born.
The Enso Quilt sits on the floor, in the middle of a circle of seated people.
A Listening Circle is based on the North American Indigenous practice of a Talking Circle. Talking Circle practice was passed on to me by my elders, Patrick Delorme of the Cree Nation, and Marvin Paul of the Metis Nation, within the practice’s appropriate context, community. Patrick, Marvin and I were part of a small faith community in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside in which settler spirituality, and indigenous spirituality were, in open discussion, held alongside Hebraic and Christian texts.
The quilt is a physical artifact whose presence reminds those gathered of the way we expect and aspire to be present to each other.
Speak bravely, listen well. Withhold judgement, notice what is emerging.
I commissioned my good friend and Tasai member, Kisyuu-sensei, to draw the character 無 (mu) inside of an enso circle. My mother and I then embarked on the process of recreating Kisyuu-sensei’s art in the form of a hand-crafted quilt. I say “my mother and I,” but, yeah, I was project lead, and my mother did almost all of the hand crafting. An eye for uncompromising excellence, along with hands that held a life time of quilting, meant my mother could do nothing other than create something of absolute elegance and beauty.
I hope you get to see it in person someday. It is stunning.
Every bit of felt material, the black circle as well as the character in the centre (無), were hand stitched on by 94 year old hands. Every. Individual. Little. Black. Spot. The entire piece has been filled with quilt batting, and then hand stitched using traditional quilting techniques. Kisyuu-sensei’s signature (lower left) is hand stitched in red thread.
"I loved doing every bit of it. I loved planning, thinking through next steps, figuring out how to design the challenging parts." ~ Loreen Frost
What does it all mean?
How do you write about that-which-cannot-be-written-about? Well, I’ll try. The word 無 (mu) is usually translated simply as nothing. In truth, it is a culturally rich term that is difficult to translate, absent of that rich cultural context. This is particularly so in philosophical and meditative contexts, which is what I am drawing upon. In simple terms, Mu could be thought of as a significant nothingness. It points to a reality beyond existing categories or dualistic reasoning. Mu is beyond simple yes/no answers. Mu is an invitation to be both silent and still.
Mu’s presence on the Enso Quilt speaks to a kind of emptying. An emptying of ego needs, of expectation, of the need to fix and to control. The collective emptying of those gathered actively holds space for something new to emerge, from among us. From the centre of us. Those gathered are listening from the centre. From the centre of ourselves, and the centre of the circle. While listening from the centre we collectively ask, What is emerging from among us?
You may have seen a circle, like the one above, used as a logo at a local sushi shop. An open circle drawn with a brush is called an enso. As a daily meditation practice, drawing the enso belongs to a small branch of much larger Japanese Zen Buddhist family tree. Drawing the enso involves drawing a single circle in one continuous brush stroke. It is less about the drawing at the end, and more about being present to a moment in non-judgment. The practice is called 筆禅道 (hitsuzen-do) which can be loosely translated as The Way of Zen Through the Brush.
Like mu, a lot more ink could be spilled writing about the enso. Briefly, its presence on the quilt is representative of The Mindful Circle, a modern spin on ancient wisdom developed by Akshay Kapur and I. It is about a commitment by those gathered around the Enso Quilt to be in brave open awareness, present to now and each other, in non-judgement.