Clown + Zen: A language of the heart? Kokoro! Conversations with Egyoku

This conversation with Roshi Egyoku took place during my six weeks (Jan-Feb 2007) as an artist in residence at the Zen center of Los Angeles. A few times a week, we would sit down for a half hour chat to examine the relationship of Clowning and Zen.


Clown and Kokoro.

One of the great clowns of our time, CWB founder Tortell Poltrana, says that clown is a “lenguage de sentamientos”, a language of feelings..

M: I am always talking about clown, about where people interpret things. I’m always telling people that their eyes need to be alive leading their expression, rather than their mouth. The saying: “the eyes are the windows of the soul” (which exists in many cultures) is very applicable here. If the humor is in the verbal language, then we interpret with our intellect. If the humor is physical than we are more likely to laugh from the heart. If clown is language of sentiments, than perhaps it touches the heart.

E: Well you know it is interesting in Western culture we are so split, the mind and body split is so clearly defined. So in a way we have to use words like heart and spirit just to remind ourselves that there is a whole other dimension here that we are not honoring. It is not totally cerebral. I look at it that way. Really our language should be inclusive of both, I don’t know what that would be, we are going to come up with something.

M: I agree, it is all involved. What I am looking at here is where does it go first, where are you interpreting it, where is the filter, I don’t know if filter is the right word.

E: Well now here is another dimension, in Zen the brain is here-pointing to the center of the body (just below the bellybutton)-in the hara. So that really becomes your brain after a while. You are listening from here. I don’t know, maybe you do to as clown, you’re pretty centered and grounded.

M: I haven’t thought consciously about that, but if you are a good clown I think that you are doing that.

E: I think it is interesting. There is the term kokoro, heart-mind. In other words, the two can’t be separated. I think more and more we can do that.

M: Is that as opposed to the cerebral mind? Is that a different focus of the mind.

E: It’s the whole thing. It is not just here (pointing to hara) or here (pointing to brain), it’s the whole thing. WE may separate it to talk about it, but it is more than that in our culture, because we only value this part, the head, and we haven’t valued the heart. The opening of the heart for our culture(Americans) is really a huge thing for us. I think that it is really happening now. When you encounter Hispanics around here, they are very heart centered, you can feel their heart centered are different. When I look at all the Hispanic nannies, where all these couples in Larchmont, Mom and Dad, are working, and all the Hispanic nannies are raising their kids, thank Heavens. (Laughter) Because they are giving them all this heart energy, as opposed to all this goal oriented stuff.


The kokoro, heart-mind, means the whole thing, the whole thing. The cerebral, the emotions, the psychology, all of that is a totally integrated being. I think (this is) one of the reasons for Westerners to bring the emotions into Zen practice, (it) is really a big practice for us. Very very important because culturally we are numbed out. So I think we don’t know how to feel. And we don’t necessarily know what emotions feel like, and when they arise, we think that something is wrong with us, because we are so repressed. So a big thing that has to happen for Zen students-of course the first thing that happens when you start to sit quietly is that all the emotions come up, and people will come in and say “I’m doing something wrong”. And I will say “ what do you mean?”, and they will say “I am feeling sad” or “I’m feeling angry.” So they have this idea that we are supposed to be numbed out. That’s not true. So meditators over time, if you are really doing it correctly, feel more deeply, you feel everything much more vividly, just like a clown would. And you are able to just roll it all in.
That it is all part, start to accept it, to befriend all these aspects of oneself.

M: So in meditation when you are feeling that, you just sit with it.

E: You just sit with it. You FEEL it. You feel it. And a lot of people don’t know what it is to FEEL it. Very interesting to work with people, to see how long it takes sometimes for them to get: “ hey I’m feeling anger” or “hey, I’m feeling rage.” “ And you know what, it’s okay I can just sit there and feel it.”

M: You are recognizing it is there, you can be that.
E: We go back to being that. We may not be able to be that, but we may just be at the place where “I am feeling bad”. The observer is still there, the separation has to still be there. Some people can never quite close the gap, but for those who persist, at some point, you can just be that flash of anger.

M: Then it will go away.

E: Then it’s gone. “Hey, where did you go? I was just getting into this ! ” (Laughter)

In our discussions, we discussed how a clown needs to be open to one’s intuitive impulses…..

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