André Narbonne’s book nominated for the Giller Prize

André Narbonne’s book, Lucien & Olivia, is on the longlist for the Giller Prize. His friends are not that surprised, as they have long known what a fabulous writer he is.

Laura Repo’s new album, This Is My Room

My cousin Laura Repo has just released her new album, This Is My Room.
It features beautiful, sparse arrangements and to my ear her best lyrical offerings yet.

You can check it out on Spotify for now, and it can be pre-ordered or bought when it’s released on Itunes around April 5th.



My friend, the artist Misha Horacek, has a beautiful new website:

Felt Sense and Nonsense: Zen and ‘zen’ (updated)

It is common to think of meditation as a technique of sharpening and strengthening concentration, and also as a way of attaining mental silence, of taking a holiday from chattering thoughts, bothersome emotional tides. And, of course, that’s part of it.

Zen, Buddhism in general, and similar spiritual modalities, such as Sufism perhaps, are often seen as cryptic, maybe elegantly mystical, as opposed to (what is often perceived as) more dubious ‘new age’ approaches. Meditation as such can often immediately come to be associated with the latter however. But what do we actually mean by new age, or Zen? What makes them different or even perhaps the same? Could ‘zen’ sometimes be even more truly ‘new age’ in the popular, denigrating vision of ‘new age’, than other ‘new age’ stuff? Conversely, might also some element or representative of what seems new age actually be more truly Zen than a more overt seeming example of ‘zen’? Isn’t there some confusion here that could be cleared up?

The line is fuzzy isn’t it? Even genuine Zen, or the sneaky sayings of Rumi, or the Hinduism-laced pronouncements of Gandhi, might be burdened with the ‘new age’ taint. Aren’t they, in fact, so tainted? Often someone in the Zen (or similar) camp will fraternize with someone in the new age camp, and vice versa. Who is who then?

After all, that seeming Zen elegance, that fashionable one hand clapping, can at bottom be seen as being a somewhat more respectable yet similar phenomenon to ‘new age’ varieties of spirituality. Or in any case, the reasonable way to think about it tends to be: we might just dip into ‘zen’ (or a more overtly ‘new age’ variety of) meditation, to get some admittedly useful skill in concentration and mental chatter taming, and then get on with the real business of being a responsible and competent worker, boss, partner, parent, friend, artist, etcetera, because, really, that is the only aspect (mental chatter taming) that has any tangible worth in such things.

And that’s it, that’s all there is to it…

What is going on here?

We are using language.

In language, Zen becomes ‘zen’, new age becomes ‘new age’, a packaged set of information hooked into our shared collective mode of thinking, which, though it seems to merge inextricably with an objective, immutable collective space that describes the way things are, is still for each of us our own private version of a collective language, or culturally influenced inner dialogue. It becomes our version of what the cultural world in our heads calls ‘zen’, or ‘new age’; Zen becomes, without our generally noticing it, a thing, hard and tangible, like a doorknob on a locked door.

This actually makes nonsense of Zen, or of new age for that matter, while appearing to be perfectly sensible.

Sub-vocally say a loved one’s name, if you will.

Stop for moment and notice what you feel, what you sense inwardly in saying that loved one’s name.

Say the name a few times. Pay close attention to the images, the feelings, the flashes of memory.

There is the name, and then there is all that which is the inward sense, the deeply complex richness of inward experiencing which that name, as symbol, simply points to. Probably many people share that same name. We can actively and very straightforwardly focus on that inner richness, that felt sense as philosopher Eugene Gendlin calls it, and this is not a thing exactly, but is instead the true backdrop and actually the essence of experiencing, which we must and always do refer to in making sense of anything.

Someone asks us what our loved one is like. “So, what’s she like?” To answer, we must refer to this inner complexity, this all-at-once knowing-experiencing, turn inward to it, and out of the intelligence we’ve gathered from that well, we offer up word forms, symbolizations, to our questioner. And we might have to go on for a while, sometimes correcting what we have said, “Oh…actually, no, she’s not really like that exactly…,” we might say, again and again referring to that inward complexity that is our felt sense of her, “Yeah, no, it’s not really that she’s shy. It’s more like she’s very sort of…circumspect about everything, very careful how she steps around things, you know what I mean?” And that questioner will be referring to his or her felt sense, giving us a blank look or nodding, checking in on it, seeking to get what we’re saying. In the end we may not actually say that much, in words. But we both might feel like something deep and rich has been conveyed, may both even feel very touched by this putting the loved one into words. We will see it in each others eyes and feel that shared understanding.

Perhaps a rock is simpler.

Is it though?

“What is a rock?” Someone might ask, oddly enough.

Perhaps we will humour the questioner though, stop for a moment, and look inwardly at what rock means. A whole implicit landscape of rocky experiences is there, isn’t it? All our experiencing of rocks is there, in our felt sense of rock: geography lessons; throwing them; being hit by them; sitting on them; skipping them over lakes; primal childhood memories of gazing at them; their strange, captivating graininess when looked at closely; collecting interesting ones from the beach; precious stones; mountains.

But all those details come out of a felt sense of rock that is there all at once, though not in a fixed way – that felt sense can be changed with new experience and in fact must continuously be changing – but, nonetheless, the nature of felt sense is to have this all-at-once accessibility, as intimate as our own body.

And really it is a body, an awareness/thought/feeling body.

We can directly access it in a way that is actually the same as accessing our body, like when we feel inwardly for that sense of our hands, our lips, our feet inside our shoes, or bare, standing on a warm rock.

And as we look inwardly at that complexity of our loved one, or of ourselves, as we grip the warm rock with our bare feet, we have the option of noticing that inward movement of knowing, right on the spot, as it moves, all in one motion, as our very own, all-at-once awareness.

What happens then to the normal categories of language we think in? What happens then to the collective cultural dialogue we each have a version of in our heads, that dialogue which quickly sums up everything we encounter in our experience, including ‘zen’?

It doesn’t go away, it hasn’t become discarded, but it has new depth, its true intricacy is uncovered, and it is thus rendered suddenly radically more flexible, also somehow sacred, at least for the duration of that strange all-at-once movement of insight.

What is our felt sense of what our face looked like before we were born, or of the sound of one hand clapping? What if we gazed with steady concentration on that strange inward complexity, at the miraculous cleverness that is our own innate and taken-for-granted awareness/experiencing/intelligence, for a concentrated period every day. And what if we began to notice it in every day activities, talking to our loved ones, walking along the rocks at the shoreline, reaching out to grip the doorknob? Maybe then ‘zen’ would begin to grow into Zen, and perhaps, thought of this way, we might realize that we already have a certain handle on Zen, to whatever degree. We might realize that Zen is a natural capacity arising from the way experience actually works; it is our birthright, not owned by any institution or figurehead.

I think relatively recent developments in western philosophy, such as phenomenology* have a lot to offer in elucidating and making accessible to westerners a mode of meditation with an elegance and depth that stems from the nature of experiencing itself; a kind of art of experiencing emerges, a philosophical instrument that may be of use alongside, or inside, any life activity, a Zen in the art of anything whatever.

“Beyond words and letters, there is a transmission. This transmission does not belong to any culture. This transmission is the nature of human awareness.”
– Bodhidharma

*Here in this short essay, I am especially drawing on Eugene Gendlin’s phenomenological insights: See “Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning”, by Eugene Gendlin; and also see “The Field of Zen” by Daisetz Suzuki, for a good introduction to Zen.
With regard to meditation practice, focusing on the inner lower abdomen (right in front of the final few inches or so of the backbone’s end), the Hara (Japanese), Dantien (Chinese) or the well (as I call it, simply to give it an easy western name), while calmly maintaining awareness of natural breathing, is a very healthy, tried-and-true concentration/yoga technique: thoughts/sensations/experiences in general come up; you notice them clearly, but you don’t try to suppress or alter them, regardless of whether they are good bad or in between, nor do you try to elaborate and follow them; you just keep bringing the attention back to the well and to breathing, for, say, twenty minute sessions to start, longer with experience if that feels right. This kind of practice works well with Zen/philosophical insight, as explored above. A more detailed exploration of meditation techniques can be found here on this blog site:

TWO, the new film by filmmaker Chris Spencer-Lowe, to screen in the Vancouver and Montreal festivals

See TWO’s Facebook site for details:


Fellow Wired Monk Jenni Blackmore wins first prize in the young adult novel category of the NS Writers’ Fed contest


Transfer screening at the Manchester International Short Film Festival

Transfer appearing at Moviate

Transfer, the short film I co-wrote with filmmaker Chris Spencer-Lowe, is appearing in the Moviate Underground Film Festival.

Nova Scotia Film Industry Tax Credit

Please sign this petition to help preserve the NS Film Industry Tax Credit:

CBC’s ComedyCoup has voted to put Depflies into development!

The comedy team my sister Lise Vigneault is a part of, Depflies, has been voted to be put into production by CBC’s ComedyCoup. Originally there was going to be just one winner, but they decided to produce Montreal’s Depflies as well as Vancouver’s Human Town.

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