Airport Tai-Chi anyone?

“People who look at you might think you are crazy” the Dutch policeman says to me in the outdoor plaza of Schipol Airport. Grey morning clouds, wet pavement, umbrellas, deep rain spouts, the drops multiplying exponentially as the grey expanses of cement and asphalt disappear in an opaque cacophony of silver bullet lines.
I was in the middle of the Cherokee “Dance of Life”, or some variation on that theme, a Tai Chi’ esque ritual offered to the four directions ( wing, over the big mountain, tree, energy from the ground to the sky, energy from the sky to the ground).

Well I often do some form of stretching before long flights and stuck moments, sometimes the ritualized version if I feel so inspired, other times more straightforward yoga/chi gung style exercises.

I was quite surprised by the negative, near street fighter energy of the short wiry near shaved head policeman. Two had approached me under the huge awning of the all glass wall of the terminal. The two men who approached me in their blue uniforms surprised me, I was deeply engaged. I guess that after twenty years of the practice, and much philosophical reflection on the value of doing such actions in the public forum, that I had come to the conclusion that my actions were not worthy of security considerations. Even in these heightened security alert times, only once has any security official wished to check the nature of my actions.

This time however I am subjected to the good cop/bad cop treatment. I am honored, and perturbed. Resisting sparks of argumentative nature surfacing, I let the smaller cops attitude wash over me. Still when he came up with the comment about people perceiving my actions as crazy, I felt the need to reply and did, in a respectful calm way. I told him that I resented his comment, his suggestion that I might be looking crazy I told him was his judgment, that people usually wanted to know if I was doing Tai-Chi.

I thought that would be the end of it, after all I showed him my ticket and passport, and certainly what I was doing had no illegality about it. However, the little guy started questioning my ability to speak Dutch, what was I doing in the country, did I visit a lot and so forth. Eventually he ran out of questions, or maybe got tired of giving me a hard time. So I asked if I could finish my stretch. Both policeman told me it would be best if I didn’t. There was a hint of threat in the answer, like maybe they would be taking me in for more severe questioning if I attempted to continue.

There had been considerable discussion with friends during my three day stay in Amsterdam about how stricter the police had become in Holland, and that was a reflection of the shift in government towards a more conservative right wing stance. Most of that discussion had focused on how the city was cracking down on it’s free wheeling bicycle tradition, issuing tickets for traffic violations and not using bicycle lights at night, something that would have been unthinkable when I lived in Amsterdam twenty years ago. Well I guess everything changes…

About airport stretching:

Of course it is not that accepted a practice to stretch outside, or inside airports. Having a bad back ( I wear a brace for long flights), the stretching is essential to my well being, especially when there is a show to perform at the other end of the flight. I have often thought that there should be yoga lounges in airports. The consideration if it is a proper thing to do in a public forum seems like a no brainer to me. After all people jog in public streets all the time, and stretch in all ways imaginable. Public parks include plenty of facilities to enhance the activities, so why not airports.
Taking the thought a bit further, is it not the role of the clown to do just that, to do actions like mine in public places. Isn’t it part of the role to make people question entrenched attitudes and cultural/public moral values. Wouldn’t a logical conclusion to a philosophical pondering of my actions be a positive outlook towards the practice. Certainly airline officials at countless boarding gates have smiled, quipped, and offered encouragement of my practice. No doubt they understand a little better how that cramped airplane seat feels like after five or six hours.


Clown,Heyokas and Zen @ZCLA’s 40th anniversary celebration

Heyokas, and the 40th anniversary of the Zen Center of Los Angeles.
by yoowho, photos by kuku cunningham (
this story took place in May, 2007.

He is tall and wears a baseball cap, thick smoky glasses. He is tall, did I say that. I try to remember the cultural aspect of native tradition that I read about, not to look in a person’s eyes when they are speaking, then dang he is looking straight down at me as he speaks. Pete who came with his partner, is part of the fabric of this 40th anniversary celebration. He is a Lakota man who spoke earlier, about the parallels between Zen and other eastern traditions, and those of the native peoples. He spoke of colors, of directions, of rituals and other things that I did not catch in the Sunday morning open mike session: ‘what zcla has meant for me’.

A lot of the speakers invite in humor to their tributes, some of them have the sangha in stitches. It’s the last morning of the gathering, a major celebration this 40th, that brings together all the teachers of the White Plum Teachers, the lineage of the Maesumi Roshi who founded the center in 1967.

The tributes continue. I stand next to the redwood trees, above on the little hill, removed from the action on stage. Pete has come over to talk to me. Funny enough I have a desire to talk to him too. I am little versed in Native lore, though oh so interested in the presence of clown in indiginous cultures of the earth. I am curious what he knows.

He opens the dialogue, telling me that he has been watching me these past two days, and he wants to know what role I am playing in this gathering. I tell him ‘clowning’ and briefly describe the existence of the order of disorder, i.smacc and such things, creating these humorous interventions

He then starts talking about the Heyokas, the sacred clowns of the Lakota. He is figuring that I am playing that clown role at this gathering.
I tell a few of the stories and ask him for a few too.

i ask about the directions, North and so forth, telling him about the dance of life that I practice, that I learned so long ago from Txi Whiz, one that is offered to four directions. He chooses to tell about how his direction in life is west, and how that can be viewed as a blessing, or as a curse. That is the direction of the Heyokas, amongst other things, but that he would not really want to take on the Heyoka pathway. He tells me that you have to do what the intuitive voice tells you, even if that means dancing naked in public. Pete does not wish to be caught in such a situation.

Our discussion is interrupted by loud Mexican music coming from the brick apartment building bordering the tent where everyone has gathered. The residents of course are used to the outbursts of music that often break through the open space with domination. However it is jolting, and suddenly difficult to hear the speaker. Pete veers his attention high up towards the third floor windows where the sounds seem to emanate from.

I try to draw him back into the conversation, as we have barely discussed the west, and there remains three more. I explain to him that this is normal, part of the barrio behavior, and the center is dealing with it. His response to my attempt to smooth the waters is: “you are about to have one angry Indian on your hands.’ He walks off to go find someone to talk to about the situation.

Clearly he finds it offensive, a lack of respect for the ceremony which is taking place. His seeking to redress the situation has me seeking my own form of intervention. I take back on the clown role, straightening my tux tails, and my sparse hair, with distinctive humorous gestures, and veering off to investigate the noise factor.

I spot the task force of two women heading, with flowers and an event t-shirt intended as presents, towards the offending apartment block. I am quickly informed that they had visited the night before as well. They agree to my proposal to join in after I suggest that magic tricks for the kids, el payaso, might just be the peace offering that is required. Time for a little sacred mischief.

The trio, one in full zen robes, one ‘civilian’ and me in black tux and all, head around the corner into immigrant worker housing land. The building entrance is disheveled, a little off kilter, with a heavy scratched wood and dirty glass door is slightly open, and we head in.

The heavy Orkin super strength pesticide stench assaults all my senses as we tread down a stained grey carpeted hallway past numbered doorways, pausing at one that the women believe is the right door. A Marx Brothers moment as we lean our ears into hear for the loud sound, but there is none. A few takes and double takes later, a little whispered conspiracy we head out the outside door to take a hear, indeed no more loud music.

Trepidations about what to do, a random conversation in Spanish with the one man we meet when we head back inside. The conversation, in Spanish, is well received, but he knows nothing. We leave the flowers in front of the doorway and head back around the block to the garden and the redwood trees.

Clowns without Borders in New Orleans


all my talk of  travel and performances are trivialized, as they well should be, by great actions going on down in New Orleans right now. after reading through and posting journals on the CWB website from Mindy and Deven, who were down there in late June, and Selena, who is there right now, with Alice Nelson, i feel the need to write this post and urge you to take a read of what they are experiencing.


Speaking of Sacred Mischief. The Rebel Army @g8

Walked out to the market this morning, here in Amsterdam, and a big color photo on the frontpage of the NRC Handelsblad,

surprised me, then filled me with a big smile.

Talk about sacred mischief. Here is what i am guessing is the rebel clown army in action at the G8 protests. You can have all the security you want, but heck got to love it, the headline says ” Who is stealing the show” which i imagine is referring to the level of protest going on right now at the talks….

a bit of mischief. los angeles may 19-20

(photos by peter cunningham)

Even though one might not get a clue from previous posts, this blog is called Sacred Mischief for a reason.

Wondering just what is Sacred Mischief?
One might consider it an act (or action) of sacred clowning.
Just what is sacred clowning?
I like Egyoku’s observation about the Hoxua when she saw a video of these sacred clowns of the Kraho of the Amazon basin:” they’re ‘just human’…but ‘JUST human’…. Hence one might conjecture sacred mischief to be humor that reaches our very essence. Well that is a lofty goal. Perhaps we just shouldn’t give it such deep consideration.

Hence straight to the matter at hand, the 40th anniversary of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, ZCLA. In the spirit of Sacred Mischief. I am invited by the abott Egyoku to Clown ZCLA’s Anniversary Celebration. She says “bring Yoowho”- in other words: come and ‘clown’ the event , bring levity into the environment.

I have been teaching workshopa at ZCLA for a number of years now. the last two years have seen different incarnations of a clowning institute there, currently called i.smacc, the institute of sacred mischief and contemplative clowning. Hence the invitation for
the 40th anniversary of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, and the White Plum Assanga (Maesumi Roshi’s lineage) Teacher’s meeting rolled into one. Lots of Zen Masters and teachers visiting Los Angeles for three days. Some rituals, ceremonies, bell ringings and robes swirling. Lot’s of laughter and earnest conversations.
There is also a contingent of the Order of Disorder, OD, present. What is OD? hard to say in a few words. There is an entire web page:
Here is a photo of FoundOD and ElderOD touching noses, an OD ritual.


To get an better idea of an OD action, you might take a look at a little photo-montage of the OD action at Buddha’s birthday celebration this past April.

So once more, back to the subject at hand:

As the elder of the Order of Disorder, OD, I have convoqued an OD action for the second morning, Saturday, of the 40th to do . Egyoku and I have agreed that the inteverntion should be at the end of the panel discussion, which is about ‘Zen in America.’
Taking on the ‘fool’s’ hat to contemplate OD possibilties: an image of multiple laptops bubbles right up. Every Zen master I know carries one around it seems.
At 9 am I put out a call for OD participants. My request: 7 people and 7 laptops.
At 10:30 , we are 13 with 8 laptops and 1 yellow cardboard folder.
I supply the rest with a variety of bells-Tibetan, Swiss, Austrian.
In a 20 minute brainstorming creation, we create a lttle ritual around puntuated bell ringing and various images of laptops stuck together.


We process in hiding behind the laptops shaped like an arrow pointing backwards. The bells stop, we stop. We peer over the laptops. The bells ring, the laptops become a circle. Pause…Bells ring laptops are slowly moved through space into an absurdist shape. Bells ring, laptops recreate the arrow, pointing the other way, we process out in the opposite direction. Short sweet and hopefully to some point.

There are other smaller actions until the Sunday morning brunch.


Accompanying people to the evening awards ceremony with different sized umbrellas.


Early in the ceremony, when Roshi Bernie gets called up for an award, I accompany him by holding a paper cocktail umbrella over his head. He immediately goes into a clown walk and plays the moment.

At the tribute to ZCLA on Sunday morning, I attempt a short speech. I am led ontstage by a large orange sunflower. When I can’t get a word out of my mouth, the flower takes over and makes the speech, then drags me off stage, all at lightening speed.




does it look like Stockholm? If you have ever been there you would probably say no. Does it matter, not to me. This spot is a good 30 minutes outside that amazing archipelago gathering of islands they call Stockholm. This spot is an outskirt, there are project highrises visible from where I am staying, a little apartment that is part of a tower at the end of one building that comprises the circus complex housing the national circus school as well as the modern circus ‘Cirkus Cirkor.’ There should be photos, but I deleted a whole slew by mistake. I am here with 19 other clowns without borders people, from 9 different countries, for our 3rd annual summit. Slowly the group moves from a meeting of rather separate organizations in 6 countries, to one where we are discussing projects in common, and looking to officialize a Clowns Without Borders International. Yours truly is the international ambassador, and fascilitator and moderator for the meeting. Three days in the circus environment, our meeting room right above my little apartment, a tower at one end of the building.


The meeting room is full of light, windows on all sides, and the discussions are full of light as well.


that’s Jonathan Gunning of the new Clowns without Borders Ireland making a point, with humor. the plastic hammer in the foreground is our talking stick and moderation tool-if anyone gets out of hand, the hammer bomps with a loud obnoxious squeek, everyone laughs and we move on. The hammer barely gets any use all weekend. This is to say that there are lot’s of positive discussions about how to cooperate more, and get more laughter into places where it is needed.


the circus school is quite a story in itself, a few trailers are parked in the lot outside the building, with some students living in them. The school is very active, offering professional training as well as an alternative high school path. Sorry no photos. but here is a link to their site:

Behind the school are the woods,


and a few minutes away is a small lake, a complex of small apartments, all painted in yellow, and community gardens.


I get caught up in taking a photo of blue chairs in front of one of the yellow apartments


In the middle of my artistic deliberations, I am interupted by a voice from the balcony. There is a man who wishes to know just what I am doing. A long discussion about just why I am taking the photos ensues. He doesn’t like my answer that I am taking the photos because I like the blue chairs. He doesn’t laugh when I put on the clown nose, however it does disarm him a bit; enough to ask if I am taking pictures because i am interested in buying the place (whether he likes it or not). Evidently the clown nose is not enough on it’s own, but my words of reassurance allows the conversation to end on a pleasant note.

There is this beautiful old mansion, also yellow, with a clock tower, and baroque fringes that is very intriguing.img_1207.jpg

I pass by it everytime I go to the big yellow house, another one, not as fancy, next door, where everyone in the clown world is staying and eating . It has some kind of official purpose, and some mystery associated with it as well.


I am told that this is a work place of sorts for people who have to do community service. Well dang, Sweden has something going on here that is looking good, at least from the outside.img_1217.jpg

There is also a broken down boat in their gardens. who knows.


I am told that they are working on it a lot, but it sure doesn’t look like it. Then I spot another boat, upright in good shape it would appear, covered by a tarp. Perhaps that one looked like this a year ago. Who nose?


F-X from Canada, and Heiko, from Germany.

Countries at the Clowns Without Borders meeting: Spain, France, Sweden, Canada, USA, Belgium, along with new members: Ireland, Germany and South Africa.

Sevilla to Salzburg

I ask him if he was born in La Algaba. Yes Yes. And how was it different back then?
Everything was orange groves he tells me as we drive the 6 kilometers into Sevila. He gestures across fields to a myriad of housing projects and suburban developments, and the occasional holdout orange field.
It used to rain he says. It wasn’t this hot. When I was a kid people slept outside, where ever they felt like it, no one locked doors.
When I discussed the rain with a few locals as we assessed the evening sky, and I asked if they thought it would rain. “Va venir el agua” he tells me, the water is coming.


Unexpected sight as the hotel van crosses the bridge towards town, the vibrant elder driver points out this strange metal grey dome. ‘Christopher Cololumbus’ he tells me, as the active churning of wastewater treatement plant directly below the bridge attracts my attention. The only holdoever from the world’s fair, the driver tells me and as we pass by, from another angle, there is a huge statue of the man. I have the hotel ‘Torre de los Gussman’ 11 am 2 euro shuttle into town to myself.


Ah the beauty of Sevilla. After three days in La Algaba, I am swept up by the colors of the town, plunging immediately into the small side streets. I come across a house with straw shade shutters, seemingly old traditional style. My camera claims my attention.



i am drawn into this walkway near the Bullfighting ring, a must see i am told. I am not too enthused by the whole drama and gore of the bullfighting world, and a sudden swarm of tourists as i round the corner to the entrance, and the 7.5 euro entrance fee has me back exploring the sidestreets.


the esthetic of the arches calls me in closer


my eyes brighten at discovery
circus in other contexts.

images of beauty of Sevilla…





what’s inside these archways?



Well in Salzburg they do not call the rain the water, however after a very dry spring, they are not complaining about the heavy soaking rains that graced most of my time there. Two fun shows for the thirtieth anniversary of the ST Virgil Bildingshaus (Learning Center) and then a two day workshop with 16 motivated participants seeking to ‘humor their human’.
From the dryness of Sevilla to the green wonder of the nearby alps.



Wet Wet Wet, no photos of the Salzburg beauty, the huge castle on the hill and more green onioned churches…ah but the main shopping street…

a ittle bit of sacred mischief?





Next up, the meeting of Clowns without Borders, International, in Stockholm. 20 clowns and administrators from 9 countries….

Positive Humor Helps !