Rough Waking – the project and the book

Zen meditation and yoga for those imprisoned and homeless

L ife limits your freedom and your security.  From a certain perspective we are all imprisoned and we’re all ultimately homeless. There are certain people however, who live these truths more intensively. Under the motto, “Change your body; change your mind; change your life,” Zenways has been sharing meditation and yoga practice for over five years within a homeless and prison charity, the St Giles Trust. In this field we’ve seen how powerfully beneficial these practices can be. Now we want to expand the work.

Our volunteer design and edit team have created “Rough Waking”, a book intended to spread the word, begin fundraising and get more teachers involved. Sharing their stories and their responses to this shared human predicament of confinement and insecurity are the book’s three contributors:

Change your body; change your mind; change your life

Prize-winning photographer and meditator, Laz, uses words and images and an intimate knowledge of homelessness to illustrate his path through brokenness to creativity.

Inspired by Zen Master Shinzan’s joke that Zen life combines prison and homelessness, “Autumn in the monastery and other poems,” by Julian Daizan Skinner depicts pains and joys arising through his three decades in the Zen world.

By Kazuaki Obazaki; numbered limited edition shikishi card print

Zen artist Kazuaki Okazaki who, after eighteen years incarceration on death row was executed last summer, contributes a sequence of images depicting a spiritual journey from lostness and wandering, through the intense confinement of Zen training, and then onwards into a new homelessness – a vastly expanded realm of liberation and service.

The whole book underscores the Zen emphasis on direct confrontation with reality and how for all of us that alone leads to liberation. Zen Master, peacemaker and homelessness activist Bernie Glassman wrote of Rough Waking:

Whether you’re behind visible or invisible bars, whether your addiction is to alcohol, sex or to the self — right where you are is the path. In each word in this book there is a quickening. In each page Kwan Yin beckons you. Plunge into not-knowing and find compassion. I wish a Rough Waking to all.

How you can support this project

  • Please contribute to our project by making a donation here
  • If you’re a meditation and yoga teacher and want to get involved, we’re opening the door by sponsoring specialized trauma awareness training – a vital foundation for this work. We’re creating an information pack on teaching possiblilities. Also you might consider running fundraiser events.
  • If you can help with fundraising and administration – come and volunteer for this project. Make a difference. There’s so much more we can do with a larger team. As well as supporting the existing work, you might also help us in working on our charity registration.
  • If you’re a booklover – please spread the word. Get in touch to sponsor books to go to prison and other libraries, your old school, presents to literary and artistic friends… anywhere else you’d like.


Rough Waking

Fresh and forthright poems, photographs and drawings from three collaborators working to help the community. Julian Daizan Skinner’s poems are well balanced with the illustrations, and there is plenty here to help you meditate and consider the homelessness and confinement that we all experience to some extent in our lives.

Sally Evans; Editor, Poetry Scotland Magazine

This book takes you from shock and deep sadness to redemption, peace, and a sense of empathy and connection with humanity. We are forever thankful for the reflection and repair that Zenways provides, helping us at St Giles to do our best work on the street, in prison and with our local communities.

Maria McNicholl Head of Prison Work, St Giles Trust.

The poems in Rough Waking  are sparse and self-aware; simultaneously safe and dangerous, like holding a father’s hand (to borrow one of the similes in the book). They refuse to make a fuss. The illustrations, though figurative, appear less like the images of things than the effect of light and shadow by which the substance of things can be felt. Rough sleeping is a disempowering condition. Rough Waking  is vulnerable too, but constantly freeing itself of investment in power relations, gently

testing our inhabitation of the perceptible and imaginable world.

Vahni Capildeo, winner of the 2016 Forward Prize for Poetry

In the summer of 2002, after receiving dharma transmission from my teacher, I left the monastery to start a Zen group. In Osaka, I realised I could not afford to rent a flat, even less a space to share the practice. On a walk through the park I saw hundreds of homeless people living under the trees. The next day, I was living and meditating in a tent in the same park. Had my teacher not died six months later, I might still be living there now. I am glad to see the publication of Rough Waking. In these pages I rediscover parts of myself. Let this book help you cut to the heart of the question at hand: the question of your life here and now.

Muhö Nöelke, abbot of Antaiji, Japan’s premier zazen dojo of prison work