Roshi Nicolee Jikyo McMahon is a successor of Taizan Maezumi Roshi founder of the White Plum Lineage. Nicolee Roshi is also Robert Joshin Althouse Roshi’s teacher. She co-founded the Three Treasures Zen Community (TTZC.org) in the early 90's. In 1997 she developed the Practice of Immediacy in the Arts® (PIA) which integrates the arts, music, writing, poetry, movement, beadwork with the wisdom of Zen.
Nicolee is semi-retired but continues to lead and co-lead retreats throughout the year in which she incorporates the PIA into Zen retreats. She is married, has two grown children, a stepson, and four grandchildren. She lives in San Diego, CA, and works part-time as a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice. She’ll be giving the dharma talk on May 8th at Sunday Morning Zen.
June Ryushin Tanoue: How do Zen and studying Native American spirituality flow together and how have you integrated both practices?
Nicolee Jikyo McMahon Roshi: Ken Wilber has a very useful way of talking about spiritual practice: waking up, growing up, cleaning up/shadow work and showing up. I found Zen training to be very skillful at waking up and showing up. Growing up and cleaning up/shadow work, though, is a newer way of looking at spiritual practice and is strongly influenced by western psychology — my sense is this will be a major contribution to the Dharma in the West. The trainings at your center address these 4 areas beautifully, but they were not in place when I began my Zen studies in 1980.
My training with the medicine woman from 2000-2007 was very practical. I learned a lot about waking up, cleaning up/shadow work, showing up. I also learned a great deal about how to connect with the natural world, how to listen very deeply to birds, insects, animals, plants, trees, to the rhythms of my body and how to honor all my relationships. I was part of a women’s group that also met with the medicine woman and we did vision quests on a local Indian Reservation. To prepare for the 3 vision quests I attended meant doing daily ceremonies at my medicine wheel at the side of my house, as well as preparing items that were taken to the vision quest. How I practice now with both these traditions is so integrated it would be hard to pull apart, at this point in my life, they are seamless. But I can say that the understanding and clarification that came through my Zen training is the foundation.
June: You are an artist and developed PIA. How does the practice of art nurture you?
Nicolee: Being creative is essential for my well-being. When I was a child, I was very musical and loved composing music for the piano. In my late teens, the creative impulse went into painting. That continued when I had children, including bead work as well as creating things with my daughter and son.
I love doing the Practice of Immediacy in the Arts (PIA) as it is so immediate, inclusive, playing in the field of not knowing, flowing with what’s at hand. PIA is very integrative and fun for me. I’m amazed at how the pieces emerge they seem to have a life of their own, made up of the cacophony of now. As I’ve been doing PIA for almost 20 yrs., I tend to go into a creative flow more often than when I first developed it. I can truly say that I don’t know what I’m going to create and a finished piece generally surprises me.
June: What are your thoughts on aging?
Nicolee: Most everybody has to do it. My mother (who lived to 88) used to say, “When the body speaks, I salute!” She prepared me for aging in interesting ways — one example is she said to take two things and study them deeply. In her case, that was the universe and the human brain. I love to learn and I like to study lots of new things, but her basic encouragement has always stayed with me. My feeling is we are learning until our last breath and beyond. Practicing with letting go and living my life with no regrets is what I’m currently exploring as I age.
June: What kind of advice do you have for beginning zen students?
Nicolee: Be steady in your practice — you get out of Zen what you put into it.