There are always a bunch of books lying about our place, and when people drop by, they are often curious to see which ones have been tossed onto our coffee, dining room and bedroom tables. 

But in the 40 or so years since we’ve lived in West Marin, no book has attracted more attention or curiosity than Mike Whitt’s recently published 7×7-inch collection of classic enso circles. These unclosed circles, which in Japanese calligraphy express or symbolize a state of mind, were created in a rehab hospital bed while Mike was recovering from a stroke that laid him low in September 2020. 

Everyone picks up the book, and spends at least 20 minutes pouring through it—30 seconds a page. And that’s a lot of time, given the fact that every page contains but one simple enso ring, some opened, some closed, accompanied by no more than five or six short words.

To chart the impact and course of his stroke, and exercise some damaged nerves, Mike had a sumi brush brought to his bedside, where he began drawing. He created one or more a day, and later attached what he now calls “mutterings”: short, Zen-like observations or humorous quips, such as “Bearing down often leaves one short,” “Enlightenment is not transferable” and “The way to find is to have nothing in mind.”

When his friend Mike Dixon saw a few of the early sketches, he encouraged him to do more. And Mike did, continuing to add to each one a few words describing a state of mind caused or inspired by his stroke. The result is a combination of ancient art and contemporary wisdom at their best. 

The book can be examined and purchased at Monk Estate in Point Reyes Station.