Inner Smile

Recently, I read a passage about the first flower that ever existed reaching towards the sky and blooming. Suddenly one day, the earth may have erupted into thousands of blossoming flowers each displaying vivid colors and spreading a sweet fragrance. The earth would know colors captured in a lively stillness difficult for us to imagine. There were no cameras back then, or people (that we know of). I like to think that in its own way, the creative spirit found a way to capture colors and fragrance as if in a photograph for itself. The creative spirit in humans loves to do the same–capture a feeling through colors, shapes, and anything else available to us. Like a flower, that which we create does not last forever, but the creative spirit continues to move us to create and express itself again and again. 

Third painting of Bird of Paradise

I am learning very gradually what kind of power I have–all of us have. There is a very elementary state of mind that sees a flower and then smiles at its beauty. The mind is used to being stimulated by the outside. When you are born with a blueprint like mine, however, I don’t just want to see a flower and smile, I want to (need to??) create flowers that no one has seen before. It’s as if there are flowers inside of me (or that come through me??) that I myself am blind to, but I just KNOW they are there and it’s my duty to bring them into our lives. Not just flowers, but other forms, colors and nuances.. anything I can learn to manipulate in order to elicit very specific positive feelings in others. 

If you can relate in your own way to the feeling of wanting to create the flowers, then you must also see how this elementary state of mind–alone– is not really sufficient for a life of creation. If I can only smile when something MAKES me smile, then I’m living a life largely dependent on everyone and everything else around me being uplifting, beautiful, and kind. 

Wait though..       

..that doesn’t sound like power. 

Work in progress.

That would mean I’d be limited to feeling good only when looking at a completed painting. (Or completed house renovation, or successful review of a completed work project, or validation from others that we are a good parent, partner, or human being.) ..that I can only feel good around other people who feel good.

Still a work in progress.

The big puzzle –or practice as I like to think of it– is learning how to smile at a blank canvas and each unfinished step along the way.. even during missteps, accidents, and the occasional inner conflict.

I’ve seen the word “alchemy” all over the place these days. For many of us at this moment in our lives, we are facing the task of inner alchemy– to learn what kind of power we truly have over our selves, lives and realities. One transformative concept I continue to practice in my life both on canvas and off is: acceptance.

Acceptance–like forgiveness–isn’t about condoning the behavior and choices of others, it is about detaching your energy and emotion from that which you have no control over.. in other words, it’s about letting go of resistance to what is. Spending energy and attention on that which you do not have control over, usually doesn’t suddenly wield you control later on. We all know this from experience. The subtle emotion may differ and result in different word choices like “worrying” or “anger,” but energetically speaking, what we are doing–spending energy and attention on that which we do not have control over– is generally the same. 

So then, HOW do we learn to summon an inner smile without it being a reaction to outside stimulus?

The paradox: If you don’t believe in it, you won’t see it. If you don’t see it, you won’t believe in it. 

I’ve read that we don’t “create” love or peace, that they are states of being. We don’t create these states of being, we learn to access them. If this is the case, then maybe we can seek to summon an inner smile in the same way. 

Every human is different so the way to make space for an inner smile likely is not the same for everyone. One human tool I can think of to help with this, is learning to use our memories so that they serve us. 

When were you the most at peace with yourself, and surroundings?

When have you experienced the deepest sense of well-being?

For me, these yellow leaves are associated with a strong positive memory.

Ultimately, what I’m calling an inner smile, is a feeling like peace and well-being. We can practice isolating the inner smile, and reprogramming ourselves to see how EVERY human “deserves” to experience the inner smile, and that THAT is truly what feeds the energetic aspects of us just as food feeds our physical bodies. 

My answers to the above questions, surprisingly, had nothing to do with painting. The deepest feeling of peace and well-being I’ve ever felt was when I was practicing stillness and acceptance. I had sat alone and did not ask anything of myself. This experience has since become my personal reference point for growing compassion towards others. There is nothing anyone MUST do to deserve to feel that deep peace and well-being. It felt like an inner “home” that I imagine we all have. You don’t create it, or will it into being, or think it into existence. It’s already there. 

We DO, however, need to be careful about what beliefs we carry around with us. Beliefs become the mental roads available to us. If they are too narrow and rigid, or deny us access to the tools we need to progress in life, then they can sabotage our good intentions and block us from accessing important states of being. It’s a touchy subject, but I’m going to go there briefly: Love. 

In a collective society, a human is taught to “show” love, and naturally, it can become a cultural practice where we have to do certain things to “prove” our love. We’ve made love relational– existing only between certain people. We’ve made it reserved for only those of us who can behave accordingly; often it is only to be exchanged by people of similar proficiency in it. Humans have–as they seem to do best– made sure that love is NOT for everyone. Like a currency, we can even choose to retract love or funnel it elsewhere simply by choosing different behaviors and attitudes. The word “love” now implies far more complexity and intelligence than is even possible for all humans to grasp and definitely leaves love out of reach for other lesser intelligent forms of life in nature. 

My point is: Perhaps it’s actually us humans who have over complicated love.  

Practicing shodo–Japanese calligraphy– allows us to start a fresh new slate MANY times during practice

So, for a moment, let’s strip love of its letters, in fact, let’s start a fresh new slate all together. Any beauty, fuzzy warm feeling, inspiring happening, or generic positive feeling–all of it–let’s call an “inner smile.” And when we smile so big on the inside, naturally, it finds its way to reflect on our outer body in the form of a smile on our face. (Not a forced one, but the kind of smile that happens when we are all alone immersed in pleasantries). 

Learning to reserve a space for that feeling inside is a prerequisite to calling on it at will. I don’t have all the answers, but what I sense is that the way to reserve a space for that feeling inside is to practice acceptance regularly. I’ve mentioned in previous writings how watercolor painting has very much become a kind of meditation for me. The meaning or purpose of meditation may not be something everyone can agree on, however, you could also call it “compassion practice” or “self-observation without judgment,” or “being in the moment.” The main key thing is to suspend judgments of a criticizing nature. 

Practicing something regularly is a great opportunity for inner self-talk examination

Resistance creates tension in the body, so another way to practice acceptance is to work backwards from the pain and tension in the body. Spend some time listening to your body to find the points of tension and then gently stretch them out. As your tension loosens, just pay attention to how much better you feel. Don’t ask anything more of yourself. Relearn what feeling better feels like. 

It sounds silly to say that, but I think it is something a lot of people are out of touch with. Many cultures encourage hard work and sacrifice without realizing just how deeply some people take the message. Another message of recent times is to be optimal, productive, and efficient. None of these messages encourage the kind of stillness, mindfulness, and patience required to cultivate a healthy and happy aligned heart and mind. There is a balance and unity that humans have with Nature that is not being emphasized. 

All we have to do is look around at nature to see so much beauty and awe. Flowers are our ancestors. Their lives are so effortless and yet they bring so much joy. Because we are creative beings, we should look deeper than simply what the world shows us in order to access our power. 

So what power do we have? Perhaps about as much power as a flower.

“Rise” a 10 frame story to celebrate Intnl. Women’s Day https://www.instagram.com/mobearsart/

A vivid green sprout blooming through the cracks of a thick cement wall..

A single pink blossom daring to open in the morning sun on a bloodied battlefield..

A lotus with unfolding petals untouched by the thick mud from which it has risen above.. 

We can embody the wisdom of a flower that does not wilt itself to mirror an onlooker’s feelings, but remains radiant and, therefore, uplifts naturally. If this reality and this life is actually not about what you see, but what you CAN see and come to know looking inward, then each of us has all the power we will ever need.

It is easiest to know love by others showing it to us. But even when they don’t, love is there. It does not belong to anyone, it is a life pulse.. an intelligent one that passes through us when we create the inner space for it. It was there back when the first bud bloomed–like a smile dressed in form, color and scent–and it is still here finding its way through each of us as we learn how to smile from the inside.

You ever wonder what came first, the chicken or the egg? I think neither. I think an inner smile came first. =) 

Behind Color

When I was a junior in highschool, I was lucky enough to get accepted into an artist apprenticeship program. During the summer, several other students and I worked under the guidance of a professional artist and painted a large mural of a fish jumping out of a hole in a concrete wall. Our days began with loading up various paint brushes, rags, and many tubs of acrylic paint into a truck to drive out to the the mural site. We’d swing from the bars on the three-leveled scaffolding like monkeys, climbing up and down to mix more paint and look at our brush strokes and the contrast of value from a distance. It was summer, but luckily we were shaded under a large road above the walking path the mural faced. However, we still needed to keep spray bottles full of water handy to keep our paints moist as we mixed and color-matched.

It was this hands-on experience with a mentor that taught me how to mix colors, see and recreate values of a colored object–light, medium, and dark. We used large brushes, like the kind you paint a house with, and it goes without saying we got paint all over ourselves in the process. I knew back then as a teenager that I was extremely lucky to have been a part of that art program. I learned each day outside surrounded by nature (the walkway followed a winding creek) and around an abundance of painting supplies and passionate artists. 

Real colorful tree bark! 2013 Dole Plantation, Oahu, HI

It was my second summer in the program when I remember suddenly “growing” new eyes. Perhaps it was the many hours of mixing paint that led to my new pair of eyes, I’m not sure. I just remember one day looking at the bark of a tree and seeing every color in it. In that moment I remember it felt like the colors were speaking to me. I had learned to approach Nature as if she were a companion– someone capable of telling me things. I can recall that moment vividly because I’d never seen color in that way before. 

Many years later I still paint, although with a new favored medium– watercolor. When I was younger, I did a lot of replications and painting from a reference picture. Whereas, in more recent years I have been struck with impulses to paint things more loosely inspired by a variety of input. It doesn’t suffice to paint things that closely resemble how they are. There is a steady drive in me to paint and create based on the experience of being a companion to what it is I see. 

Inspired by a white hanging flower

Colors don’t speak to me in words (at least they have not as of yet!). When my mind is behaving well enough, I’ll experience a lot of beauty, wonder, and awe in Nature. In more recent years, I’ll notice an “aliveness” in things that makes me feel closer to them. Not unlike the experience of growing new eyes while looking at tree bark as a teenager. I laughed at myself as I wrote that, and laughed again the other day when I spontaneously admitted aloud that I’m suddenly into birding. Am I opening up to the world, or is the world opening up to me? Whatever the underworkings may be, I just know I now feel a stronger kinship with Nature than I used to. And as a painter, it feels like I’ve been gifted an abundance of kindlewood to keep the inner creative flame burning strong. 

Painting from memories of childhood

So, what is behind color? 


Allow me a Tangent 

Ok, so maybe watching my mother give birth to my little brother is not exactly an “everyday life experience,” but it illustrates the state of mind I want to convey. Watching a human who was not here, “arrive” and make the transition from womb to the same breathing space was a heightened experience. Being with animals, like a pet cat or dog, can bring on the same state of mind–a living companion or other animated visitor that connects with you on some fundamental level. Another example of an ordinary experience that brings on this particular state of mind, is the feeling of floating on water. We can attune to the sense of the water’s surface tension as well as enjoy temporary relief from the every day–every moment– firm pull of gravity.

What is behind these personal examples of heightened experience, is like what I came to notice in or behind color all around me. Perhaps this has something to do with my desire to translate feelings or states of mind using color. 

When one color sits next to another color, and their differing values create movement, it can be so beautiful.. at the very least it is an experience encapsulated in an image. Your eyes start somewhere, move around, and end somewhere. The image may inspire the viewer or stir up associations or general feelings.

This is the work of art.

For a split second, maybe it can make you feel like you are watching a baby come into the world, or that you are sitting with a pet animal, or floating on water. 

We all smile through our eyes. I love to observe smiling alpacas because their eyes are so big!!

I wonder if the state of mind I’m trying to convey is getting through here? I imagine people have their own unique equivalent experiences. I guess trying to paint a picture in words is not so different from trying to paint a picture using paint. Both are a medium that we use to express something of a more direct nature. Creativity and the desire for self-expression in some form must play a key role in that which makes us human. That invisible energy that pervades everything yet only hints at its existence through everything. 

I keep a small notebook for color mixing

One last note on color for today. Like the moon, we experience light and the perception of color due to the reflection of sunlight. This tells me that we are beings of the sun in that much of our experience of life is largely dictated by and relative to the sun. What this also tells me is that there is more to life that we do not see because we are “blinded” by the sun. It is ironic that that which is the foundation for our experience of sight–the sun’s light–is also one thing that we cannot (should not) attempt to witness directly. Our eyes can be damaged by looking straight into the sun. So, sight is largely an experience of a second-degree, indirect nature. 

We believe in the moon, and can see moonlight, yet it is actually only reflected sunlight that we see. We believe in colors and see that objects appear to have colors, yet science teaches us that color exists as it does because sunlight bounces off objects and the wavelengths of reflected light determines the color we see. It’s so crazy to think that something as colossal as vision is to the human experience is of a second-degree, indirect nature. 

What would it be like to see light that is not reflected light from the sun, but light that is emitted by an object itself not in relation to the sun? Like a burning fire flame or glow of fireflies, but from ALL objects. So, when we look at color around us, perhaps we can view it like moonlight, as a kind of hint.. It is second-degree seeing. Does that mean that we can not sense anything deeper and more direct? 

A pair of glowing heart-warmers

To me, the work of art –its function– is to alter our state of mind and state of being so that we can experience companionship and kinship with what is behind color. It’s a quiet presence that our basic five senses lack the precision to experience directly (as of yet). To me, it’s like hearing a purr but never seeing the cat. We can feel the vibration tingle every cell all the way to our center.

Perhaps it’s this purring presence that I first sensed that day when I saw every color in the tree bark. 


「和訳」

色彩の裏

私が高校2年生の時、運よくアーティストの見習いプログラムに受け入れられました。夏休みの間、何人かの生徒と一緒にプロのアーティストの指導で大きな壁画を描くことになりました。壊れかけたコンクリートの壁の穴を飛び越えてくる、でかい魚と小川のイメージでした。私たちは、毎日、まず作業の第一ステップとして色んな筆や、ぼろきれなど、たくさんの絵の具をトラックに載せて、壁画の現場へ向かっていました。3階建ての足場の鉄棒からサルのようにぶら下がってよじ登ったり、降りたりして、ペンキの取り混ぜはもちろん、壁画との距離を作ることで筆力や、色彩の明度の確認もしていました。夏の暑い日々でしたが、壁画に面した道の上に大きな道路があったため、都合好く私たちはだいぶ日陰に入っていました。それでも色整合とペンキの取り混ぜのために、ペンキの水分がなくならないように水の入ったスプレー瓶がとても欠かせないものでした。

アートの指導者とこの実践学習の体験を通して、どうやってある色を取り混ぜられるか、そして物の色彩明度を(ライト・ミディアム・ダーク)再現できるようになりました。家にペンキを塗るのと同じ大きさの塗装用のブラシを使って、私たちは体全身ペンキだらけの毎日を楽しく過ごしていました。

その時、ティーンエイジャーだった私でも、そのアーティストの見習いプログラムに参加できて、ものすごくラッキーだとよく分かっていました。毎日、自然に囲まれたところで(壁画は小川沿いの道に面した)たくさんの絵の具で、ほかの熱心なアーティストたちと一緒に芸術を習っている特別な日々でした。

そのプログラムの二年目の夏、ある日に私には「新たな目」が生えてきました。それまで何時間も色彩を取り混ぜたおかげだったでしょうか、よく分かりません。ただ、その時に見た木の皮にすべての色が見えたという、くっきりした記憶があります。木の皮の色彩が私の心に強く訴えかけてきたことを覚えています。まるで大自然は人生を共にして、ものを伝えられる力を持つ「相手」となってきたようです。言い換えると、大自然は私にとって抽象的な存在から、もうちょっと人間性に似たような、いきいきとした特性を持つようになりました。私はこの思い出がよく覚えているのは、こうやって普通のものにあんなにたくさんの色が見えたことがそれまでになかったからです。

あれから20年以上が経っていますが、私はまだまだ絵を描きます。ただ、好みのペンキ性がアクリルから水彩へと変わって来ただけです。もっと若いときは、有名な画家の作品を再現したり、写真を参考にして絵を描いたりすることが多かったです。しかし、近年こうして写実的な絵を描くよりも、触発された瞬間に出来心で、印象に基づく絵をどうしても描きたくなっています。ものの外見をそのまま描いて、本物そっくりに見えても満足できなくなりました。

――色彩の裏にある、目に見えない「何か」を描いてみたくなりました。

色彩は言葉で私にものごとを伝えるわけじゃありません(少なくとも今のところ!)私は心が穏やかな時、大自然の美しさや、不思議や、畏怖の念などに打たれます。近年、万物にいきいきとした特性が宿っていることに気づくようになって、より大自然との親しみを感じています。これはたぶん、ティーンエイジャーの私が木の皮にすべての色が見えて、自分に「新たな目」が生えてきた経験に似ているのではないでしょうか。←こんなことを書いたら自分でも笑ってしまいます。先日、「野鳥観察が好きだ」と自分で初めて気づいて、世界に打ち明けるように声に出したときもくすくす笑いました。

たとえ大自然の神秘が何はともあれ、私が自然との絆をより強く感じるようになったのは確かです。そして、画家として、心にある想像力のとろ火を大きくするための木材いっぱいプレゼントされたかのようにも感じます。

少し話は飛びますが・・・

私は、母親が弟を生むのを見た経験を取り上げたいと思います。その日までいなかった人が一瞬生まれてくるのをじっと観察することによって、いつもの心境とは違いました。あなたも似たような経験はありませんか?私のと違う「形」かもしれないけど、目に見えない「何か」を感じたことを思い出せますか。私はまた犬や、猫などのペットと一緒にいることによって、この特別な心境が引き起こされます。森羅万象と根底で繋がっている気持ちをさせる日常的な経験は、誰でもあるはずだと私は思います。

個人的な例がもう一つ頭に浮かんできます。それは水の表面に浮くことです。人間は誰でも絶えず、毎日重力という力に縛られています。でも、水の表面に浮くと、体そして心が無重力のブランケットに包まれているように感じます。水の中にいるから、音があまりよく聞こえなくなることと共に意識を高めることがあります。水と互いに一致して、重力から解放されることができて、独特な気持ちになります。色彩の裏をはじめ、こういった様々な経験の裏には、ある「何か」の存在があるように私は感じます。だからこそ、私は言葉で表わしにくいこの「何か」を人に感じさせたくて、紙に向かって絵を描きます。

ある色が別の色のとなりに置かれると違った明度によって動きが感じ取れて、美しいです。人は絵を見るときは、一か所からスタートして、ぐるぐる見回して、そしてそのうちに目が焦点に止まるでしょう。目の動きと共に、個人的なことを連想したり、気持ちも影響されることがあります。これこそがアートの「働き」でしょう。ほんの一瞬の間、赤ちゃんが生まれてくるのを見ている気分にさせられるかもしれないし、ペットと一緒にいる時の心境に戻るかもしれないし、水の表面に浮いて重力から解放されたときの気持ちが思い出されるかもしれません。

私が言葉で表そうとしている心境は通じているかしら。人それぞれは個人的な経験を持って、人によって同じような心境でも、違う「形」で覚えているのではないでしょうか。だから、みんなは紙や、舞台や、パソコンや、教壇などに立ち向かうでしょう。

最後に、色彩について言いたいことがもう一つあります。私たちは、月が見えるのと同じく、光や、物の色などが見えるのは、太陽の光が輝いているからです。物自体には色がありません。すべての物は太陽の光を反射しているだけです。それによって、人間の目と脳の働きで、「色」が見えます。私はこんなことを深く考えたら、我々人間は実に太陽の子供のような存在で、太陽の性質や、きまりでしか人生を味わえないということに改めて気付きました。つまり、私たちが5種の感覚で感じ取れることが限られているに違いないです。ある意味では、太陽の光に目が眩んでいます。そして皮肉なことに、肉眼で太陽を直接見ることは安全じゃありません。人間の視覚というのは、第2度のような間接的な機能です。

昔の人たちは月の存在を知ったのは、月光が見えたからでしょう。でも、月の光がなかったら、(つまり、もし月が太陽の光を反射しなかったら)月の存在を知るにはどれくらいの時間がかかったでしょうか。

ちなみに、太陽に関係ない光が目に見えたら、それはどんな感じの光でしょう。燃え上がる炎に見えるでしょうか、またはホタルの光のように輝くのでしょう。もしすべての物には、太陽と関係ない光が輝いていたら、どんな感じの光で、人の心にどんな気持ちを起こさせるのでしょう。

私にとって、アートの主な働きは、人の心境や、気持ちに影響させることで、色彩の裏にある「何か」との馴染みと親しみをはぐくむことです。色彩の裏にあるその「何か」は、人の普通の5種の感覚で感じ取りにくい静かな存在です。私が想像するのは、まるでごろごろ喉を鳴らす見えない猫の存在のようです。体の細胞を一つ一つぞくぞくさせながら、心までこのごろごろの振動を深く感じられます。

もしかして10代の私があの時に木の皮に初めて見たすべての色の裏には、このごろごろ鳴らす静かな「存在」に初めて気づいたのではないでしょうか。







The Real Stuff of Life

For the past year, writing a blog has been a way for me to share both my art and ideas, however, it is not real, complete communication. I use the words “real” and “complete” because I don’t know how else to describe the deeper, meaningful, and nurturing type of communication that is possible. Real, complete communication is an exchange.

This year I have contemplated often what is key in healthy human relationships. As my art style is surfacing and evolving more and more, so is my understanding of what I want and need human relationships in my life to be.

“Jasmine Tea,” an illustration to a poem I dedicated to my Grandma.

In my experience, we learn about ourselves largely through being faced repeatedly with how we are different from others. During this lifelong process, personal differences tend to make us feel separated from others and alone, but I am told that this is an illusion of the mind. In the case of any negative feelings we have, we project that negativity on the outside world and then deem the world as showing these negative aspects to us. The world is the subject and we are its object. In this way we set ourselves up as being less powerful than we truly are, and less capable of taking full responsibility for ourselves. “What you see is what you get,” was never the full picture. The inner thoughts and feelings you give most of your attention to, is what you see reflected back to you when you look outside of yourself. In other words, “As within, so without.” The only way to know if this is true, is to practice mindfulness, so that when you observe yourself feeding into any sort of negative mind chatter, you can use the tools you have to steer yourself towards a better thought.

On my path as an artist these past couple years, I often see inwardly that I have a choice in how I respond to what comes out of me and onto the paper.

(Left) Basic components of a Zebra Dove; (Right) Painting my experience of seeing a Zebra Dove

For example, rather than think about what other people will find cool looking or interesting, I can choose to focus on creating imagery that reflects who I am and my experience of our shared world.

Who I am, who we all are, shifts and changes, so this is a challenge, but also extremely rewarding.

Following “present-moment breadcrumbs” leads me to a different expression of the Zebra Dove

I do feel there is some kind of essence in each of us that doesn’t change. How big is that essence compared to the other aspects of ourselves, who can say? I also sense that depending on the person or people I am around, this essence is allowed to come through more easily, and often times a great synergy can arise among many people in such a harmonious environment. This brings me back to the theme of real, complete communication.


“Hito kara hito e,” from person to person. Calligraphy by my sensei, Hiromi Peterson

A few months ago, I joined a new community in Honolulu- a small community of Japanese calligraphy enthusiasts. They come from all walks of life, yet love of the arts and Japanese calligraphy in particular, is common ground for us. 

This line is a little too thin and weak, here. When you move from here to there, don’t move too slowly or it is too difficult to control the brush and get a good line.

These are some of the words of wisdom that we get to hear as our sensei, Hiromi Peterson, critiques our work. In this community, everyone is not as good as they want to be. Everyone has good days and bad days. Everyone responds well to encouragement, and everyone knows beauty when they see it arise in their own work or the work of others. ANY community we are a part of is an opportunity to see the underlying aspects that link us all together.

T-shirt design by Hiromi Peterson

Our sensei creates a new shirt with a special message each year, and the message she chose this year is this: hito kara hito e. “From person to person” is the literal translation. It is a very relevant message for the world today, and one I feel compelled to share here as well. 

In a world where we hear about one person creating a successful social media account that hundreds of thousands or even millions of people follow, we see new possibilities of reaching and influencing people on a large scale. It is now normal to know someone who is succeeding in this way. We see that it is possible for any of us to reach people all over the world. I applaud and root for many of them, but at the same time I see how this form of connecting with people is overshadowing real, person to person communication. As a result young people, especially, who have never known a world before internet and social media, don’t have the same experience or “data” that some of us have. Many of my own peers and elders don’t seem to understand what exactly has happened except that oddly, we feel less connected with people despite all the social platforms meant to help us become more connected.

My sensei, Hiromi Peterson’s, brushwork art for 2020, the year of the rat

It would seem to me that we have been given many new shiny tools, but have yet to learn how to use them effectively. Rather than integrating them into our lives, they’ve largely replaced more intimate, effective forms of communication. For me, effective communication would result in healthy mutually supportive and meaningful relationships with people. It is not the case that we need to scrap these new “tools,” rather, I think this next year is a perfect time to revert back to some of the old tried and true tools for real, more complete communication.

In other words, live by my sensei’s message of “hito kara hito e,” from person to person. Not from person to device. Real, effective and meaningful communication such as: face to face conversations, and when that isn’t possible, direct communication via phone or video conversations, and even hand written snail mail.


Some New Words

In order to adjust well to the expanding forms of communication, we could really use some new words that can distinguish differences among the various levels, and types of communication as well. The following are some useful words I’ve come across here and there.

“You have my full attention”

Deep Listening

Listening, from a deep, receptive, and caring place in oneself..It is listening that is generous, empathic, supportive, accurate, and trusting. www.mindful.org/deep-listening/

“I might as well be alone”

Phubbing

Ignoring a person or one’s surroundings when in a social situation by busying oneself with a phone or other mobile device. www.dictionary.com/browse/phubbing


“Non-generous listening”

Pseudo-listening

A type of non-listening that consists of appearing attentive in conversation while actually ignoring or only partially listening to the other speaker. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pseudolistening

Without realizing it, the structure of many social media platforms is built in a way that emphasizes posting our personal status or update and naturally removes a lot of the more satisfying qualities of real, complete communication. 

When we post things about ourselves, we are not in listening mode. We are the “speaker” which often emphasizes the need to hold other people’s attention. A very me-centric state of mind can be unintentionally groomed as we routinely wonder how to attract viewers, likes, and elicit reactions or comments. 

“They’ll have to notice me if I wear this.”
Me-centric state of mind

Generally speaking, most people misrepresent themselves on social media by sharing only positive, attractive images of themselves, when our lives and inward experiences are much more complicated. When people are hurting, they are less likely to be able to reach out to others to offer deep listening or loving attention. They may be hungry or starving on many different inner levels. We cannot know if a friend could use encouragement or supportive words just by skimming their photos and posts. Many people may not necessarily notice the general decline in exchanging meaningful words with each other as this misrepresentation and me-centric behavior has become more encouraged through the structure of most social media platforms. 


The Real Stuff of Life

I hope to practice better communication this coming new year. I want to keep the idea of real, mutual support between friends and family as something that is outside current social media culture. I don’t intend to scrap any of the platforms, but learn better how to put each one in its place so that they serve me much in the same way I choose what kind of brush to use when I paint. 

The new year is always a natural time to reflect and regroup to get a fresh start. For me, I want to revert back to practicing more single object attention. Full focus mode. Let’s dust off that timeless wisdom of “less is more.” Rely less on social media features that hinder harmonious communication, and achieve more. More what? In the case of giving our full attention to others during conversations and other meaningful interactions, we achieve more intimacy and bonding which, in my opinion, is the real stuff of life.



White Shadows

A shadow is an indication of a presence in the physical world. When something visible casts a shadow, the shadow is also visible, though its appearance alters depending on the light source. Assuming that there are things that go unseen by us, wouldn’t they, too, cast a shadow? 

“Emerge”

In the spirit of spontaneity, there is a mix of chaos and genius. I feel like inside peoples’ minds this is also true of the whirlwind of thoughts that chug through. Where do all those thoughts come from anyway? The mind is always trying to make sense of all the stimuli its being fed. To make things more complicated, it’s not just stimuli in the present moment, but recreations of the past and all kinds of variations of futures-some minutes away, others decades away. Does the mind take the time to assess responsibility for the source of each incoming thought? 

Somewhat accurate recreation of  past occurrence 

Less accurate recreation of a past occurrence (less uncomfortable than above version)

Incoming bodily sensation (itchy nose)

A worry about how the near future might unfold (undesirable outcome)

Inspiration

Inspiration. I love it. I live for it. I try to be mindful of it so that when I notice it, I can let the energy color whatever my current experience is.

My “moveable” workspace. I set up wherever has the best lighting. I like corners =)

It is in this way that I haven’t changed that much from when I was a child. Do you remember that aspect of being a child? When something bugged you, you got over it relatively quickly and there you were again enthralled in some imaginary scene you played out with rocks and sticks. Someone would tell you that the rock wasn’t what you said it was, and instead of listening to them, you knew it was your responsibility to show them what you were seeing so that they could see it too (because it was so cool!).. unless of course their idea was even better, then you’d enthusiastically go with that.   

I have never thought of myself as a spontaneous or impulsive person. However, when it comes to painting (with watercolor especially), it is an entire meditation on acting in the moment on impulse! It pulls me out of my thinking head, all those thoughts are not important, it’s just noise, and the only way I know that for sure is because of how inspiration feels.

View from my corner spot

Physical existence loses some of its grip on me.. if I were to express this with art, I’d make the lines of our bodies dotted, or let more of the sky or nature in the background seep into and mingle with the wet paint of the person. We are less “solid” and “defined” when we are in a creative state. More of that which is usually perceived as being outside of us, enters us and mingles with our essence.

Spontaneous painting in one color

As I paint I get to a certain state where I am noticing “suggestions” that seem to appear in the moment. I follow impulse after impulse, each arising from the previous brush stroke or from some general sense of something missing. Each impulse is a breadcrumb that only appears in that very moment, so I have to focus my attention to be receptive in the moment. This particular variety of breadcrumb-present moment appearing breadcrumb- does not leave a trail where you can look ahead or look back.. it forces you to stay in the present moment.. where the white shadows are. 

A whisper of guidance is never far, always reminding me that I am not what I paint, but the heart and mind with which I paint.  It just so happens that my most recent inspirations have been painting focused on negative space and lifting paint out of the painting. Sometimes there is paint on my brush, and sometimes it’s just loaded with water. Sometimes in order to create the thing you envision, you leave it empty. What a strange approach. As I experiment, I discover more about the creative process and it becomes less about learning new techniques or trial and error as it is about observing the quality of the mind that holds the brush. 

Eventually, as a painting emerges from the blank canvas, something else also emerges. The realization of being in a deeper state of awareness. This mindful way of painting focused in the present, and attuning to impulses and spontaneous “suggestions” that arise, has become a kind of meditation that seems to suit me very well. 

More white shadows

It’s as if watercolor painting was a secret practice that the universe hid in this world for me to find. To rise above thoughts and merge with inspiration and stay present in the moment with an open receptive heart and mind is not an easy thing to practice, but somehow it feels like very little else matters in the grand scheme of things. We value the cleanliness of the body, but who talks about the regular cleansing of the heart and mind and how to go about doing that?

The depth of an individual’s uniqueness is immeasurable. In fact, I am pretty convinced that the universe has hidden secret practices for everyone. They are all tailor made to your exact specifications to such a degree that no one but you would know it until you’ve experienced it. You don’t believe me? Maybe, you just haven’t found one of yours yet. 

Or, maybe you have a better idea? Let’s hear it =)  


The Art of Questioning

Is your mind in a state conducive to seeing anew? To seeing what it did not see maybe just moments ago?

We use the word “open-minded” to describe a person who is often able to entertain new ideas without so much emphasis on needing to be “right.” The jury can be out-judgement suspended indefinitely- even uncomfortable ideas that threaten aspects of ourselves can rest in the spaciousness of an open mind. 

What if more of us could find ways to enter this open-minded state more often? To have a loose and relaxed stillness about us that is receptive to the gentle fluttering of incoming ideas?

What I think is not who I am. These words and ideas I write do not belong to me. I have control and lack control. I know and do not know. 

This is the space that exists within each of us. We are capable of a surreal level of inner flexibility. 


Swallowed by the Whale

Early in the morning, I turned on a less favored laptop and the start screen reflected an inaccurate time considering it was early morning. Later, after writing for some time, I got up for a break and walked to the kitchen to see the oven clock reflecting the same inaccurate time I’d seen earlier. There is a lot of humor and entertainment for me in these sorts of occurrences. I like not trusting time. When we can genuinely find ourselves questioning a mechanism that as a collective we have learned to let guide our mental processes, it shakes the ground we walk on a little. It’s a way to elicit a more open-minded state of being that is highly conducive to experiencing creativity.

If I can’t trust time, then where the heck am I? Who and what am I? 

*Poof!* Your mind awakens a little and realizes that you had long before been swallowed by a whale and have been living inside of it. You stand up and though you are blind to what’s outside of the whale, you empty your mind and feel for answers. How is it that despite being there all along, you only just feel the ground beneath you shaking for the first time, now?? 

You were part of something bigger.

Self-imposed Earthquakes

When you question yourself, your experiences and beliefs, you are questioning past conditioning that has been integral in shaping your current perception of reality. You are in effect creating an earthquake in your being. 

“Earthquake 1/3”
(“Maybe I do not know what I’m talking about.”)

Living life with an open mind is like living life balancing on one leg. With two legs planted, time stands still and we feel safety and security in our firm rooted stance. However, we are not moving forward-we are not growing. When we achieve the state of an open mind, we are in effect lifting one of those planted legs as if to say, “Maybe I do not know what I’m talking about.” A lot of the attitude towards the process of growth boils down to this question: Do you see yourself wobbling as a sign of weakness and, therefore, something to be avoided? In other words, are you not able to see past your immediate feelings of discomfort in the moment? Or do you see your instability as the flexibility needed in order for you to take the next step to expand your world? 

What if we asked a question, and then loosened up on our expectations of an answer. Maybe the answer will come, and maybe it won’t. Maybe soon, maybe not. Maybe before the answer comes, we will cease to ask that particular question. This idea, alone, tells me that there is an art to asking questions. There can be beauty, acceptance, and a great wonder in the asking. Maybe even growth itself is mostly achieved in the asking, rather than in the answering. 

This being said, a mind active in constant questioning leaves little room for else. A lot of critical thinking skills we learn in compulsory education encourages positing questions and following through until we reach the answers. What if we built upon this ability by further training the mind to:

1) Be more mindful of the intensity and tone in which we ask ourselves questions

2) Stop asking questions when we decide to; and 

3) Not ask questions expecting (or feeling a sense of entitlement to) an answer more often. 

In other words, what if we practiced wondering?

“Wondering” is a less intense version of questioning. It is not as disruptive or distracting. It also doesn’t consume our full attention with the kind of urgency that often accompanies many questions we may have. “Wondering” feels like a peaceful, gentler way of approaching uncertainty. 

I don’t have the answers, and sometimes I’ll observe myself in the act of questioning not actually expecting to ever get answers to the questions. I ask particular questions to get myself to a slightly different space.. to shift the ground I walk on purposely. My mind is able to wander as I engage in wondering. 


The Birth of Surrealism

Surrealism was born when our minds awoke enough to perceive and give attention to imagery that we’d been conditioned to ignore. It wasn’t invented, it was merely perceived and validated by enough people for the first time. 

“Earthquake 2/3”
(“Seeing anew.”)

It makes me wonder about how the validation of something by the masses occurs. Before anything can be validated, it needs to gain mass awareness first. Surrealism has been described as a movement in the arts in the 1920s in which artists strove to unite their conscious and unconscious realms of experience.* I can imagine that it was embraced by many artists of the time since it was about getting in touch with the sleeping parts of ourselves which hold the key to much of our creative powers.

Intuitively, I can relate to this idea as I have a collection of my own unique experiences with creativity. When I am communing with creative forces, I feel a fluidity in my being-a kind of openness and receptivity. It is no longer a weird idea for me to admit that being an artist is like being an instrument. Whether I am writing or painting, a part of me has learned that it must step aside and kind of melt into the background. I might illustrate this as taking a mask off, or putting a new one on. Either way, the ground that I find a sense of security in, metaphorically speaking, shifts and I experience a wobbling in what I believe to be real. The experience of creativity happens in that surreal wonder-land that the mind awakens into.

Art and the Receptive State of Mind

The art of questioning (the act of asking questions in a certain non-demanding manner) can be a gateway to a more expansive and receptive state of mind. It is ostensibly the act of self reflection and self observation, but with significant creativity-enhancing undertones.

Are you chasing external things that you have put your trust in to give you that deep rooted happiness you sense is possible? Or are you chasing the state of mind you have experienced from time to time, that lets joy in? On that same note, are you the body that experiences sensory input in this world? Or are you the consciousness that perceives the sensory input? If you are the consciousness, then are you the consciousness that is here in waking life reading this? Or the consciousness that strips itself of the body and bathes in a dreamy surreal world each night? Is it possible to be both? ..Or even more than the sum of our realized parts?

Don’t think too hard, just wonder about it with me. Let’s stand on one foot together calmly, in no rush to plant the other foot down. 

“Earthquake 3/3”
Are you the body that experiences sensory input in this world? Or are you the expanding consciousness that perceives the sensory input? Is it possible to be both, and more? 

*https://www.britannica.com/art/Surrealism

Inner Language of Symbols

Maybe we can meet somewhere in between
In a dubstep; a blue world
And float along together
Following a trail of pink

Going in and out
Of that world and this
One we call wakefulness
And one we dismiss

The Dream

Over a year ago, I had a lucid dream where I was in an in-between landscape. No matter how the scenery altered as I crossed it, there was a distinct darkness to the sky and the ambiance it created was truly unique. It was the kind of dark lighting I would associate with dusk and twilight. The little light that illuminates everything is not directly from the sun, but diffused light that somehow exists while the sun is still below the horizon-that kind of dim lighting.

Anyway, I was running both from something and to somewhere when I came upon a steep hill with chalky white and neutral colored giant mushrooms standing in a surreal stillness. Somehow I knew I could hide there right in plain sight and no one would see me, so I did. I altered my mind to reflect the surreal stillness of the mushroom and emptied it of everything else. That feeling I concentrated on became so powerful that the idea I was running both from something and to somewhere discontinued. Now, my awareness was united with these giant mushrooms and their unique powerful essence. 

The last thought I had before I woke up was that I had to memorize the feeling of hiding amongst these giant mushrooms so I could illustrate it. 

“Mushroom Children”

Fast-forward to earlier this month, I was attempting my first digital painting using some new software called Corel Painter. This time I chose another vivid dream to base my illustration off of.

The Dream (2)

We were floating down a darkly lit jungle stream in a small canoe, passing by numerous different sized flamingos. Some poked their heads out from the jungle brush while others stood perfectly still in the stream as we went by. It was very much a trail of pink, until the stream forked into two directions. At the fork, a couple of lone reeds stood there as if in place of a sign. We chose which side of the fork to continue down, and as the boat shifted its direction, I was struck by a sudden realization: these reeds are same as the ones in the book I had in my hands. I held it up and saw that the illustration matched the actual reeds to perfection. I was completely astonished. It was in that moment that I realized I was exactly where I was supposed to be.. WE were exactly where we were supposed to be. 

As I composed the piece loosely, I knew there’d be some dirt in the foreground, but I hadn’t decided how it would look-maybe there would just be some moss or some fern leaves. As I painted, I was surprised how the flamingos ended up staying in the distance-almost going unnoticed. Eventually, when the rest of the composition had evolved, I suddenly knew what would be in the dirt in the foreground: mushrooms. It wasn’t a logic-based decision, my internal symbolism language made the decision for me. After I finished the painting, I think I wondered to myself why I’d put mushrooms there, but I didn’t expect or need an answer. After all, this was a painting loosely based off a dream. Capturing the feeling was more important than the accurate portrayal of what I’d seen. 

“Flamingo Stream”

It has been through these two experiences that I’ve become more aware of what mushrooms seem to symbolize for me. Do you ever get in that mood where you find a song that just resonates perfectly with you at the time so you put it on repeat and listen to it over and over again? I will get like that visually. (It happened with an adorable photo of an alpaca recently). I will become mesmerized looking at something that really speaks to me. It appears that mushrooms seem to be a symbol of this mesmerizing state for me. 


A Unique Inner Language of Symbols

Finding a mushroom in Armstrong Woods, CA

Earlier I mentioned that I let my “internal symbolism language” decide what to paint. As I wrote that, I became inspired to transcribe some of my current understanding of a person’s unique inner language of symbols. The following is a brief description of how I understand it:

We all create a kind of personal almost hieroglyphic-like dictionary of symbols and add to it each day and night of our lives. An object becomes meaningful as we pay repeated attention to it. Then as we notice various nuances such as size, color, texture, and the mood of the environment or circumstances it appears in, we accumulate the pieces we need to translate it further into real personal meaningfulness. Its meaning can become so real that it feels almost tangible the more cumulative attention we give it.

Many of these symbols are unique to us because they were acquired through our own experiences. My memories and experiences with mushrooms have created an inner meaningfulness that may be quite different from yours. Maybe you have your own equivalent of the same feeling of what mushrooms mean, it’s just expressed as some other symbol for you. However, there are many symbols in our internal symbolism language that we share as a collective for some reason or another.


Exploring a Tangent

If you could ask every person you met what Atlantis is like, just imagine the wide scope of interpretations you would receive. The existence or non-existence of Atlantis becomes unimportant, and the symbolism of what Atlantis stands for becomes the uniting principle we can relate to. This is the aspect of language-whether spoken, signed or expressed through symbols-that allows us to feel closer to each other. 

We don’t have to agree on all the details of Atlantis, yet what it symbolizes-that feeling of hidden or lost magic-can exist today for all of us. As a collective, it is these sorts of mysteries that offer to us numerous interpretations and implications about our world. We can all speak different languages, have our own unique life experiences and personal inner symbolism language, yet we can still experience collective unity.

“Ryugu-jo” (Some art from my childhood).
Literally, “Dragon-palace-castle” a famous underwater castle in Japanese folklore. One day in the castle equates to a century outside its walls.

Honoring Our Uniqueness

I think we can experience more feelings of unity when we become more comfortable with and less apologetic about our own uniqueness. Not only our unique gifts or point of view, but our unique needs as well.

Why are you so shy? Why do you avoid social gatherings? Why can’t you hold better conversation? Why aren’t you more likeable? Why don’t you like what I like?

This world we live in is not a one-size-fits-all or even one-size-fits-most. The world does a pretty good job of tolerating a person’s unique needs AFTER they contribute their unique gifts, but not usually before. The world operates on a very linear mode that doesn’t nurture potential, rather it asks for proof before it is willing to invest its tolerance and support. Its eye is on the unique gift aspect of an individual, not the accompanying unique needs.

No matter how clear we can become on who we are, what our uniqueness is and what we need in order to honor it, the world will always be a step behind. This is because it is a physical reflection of previous generations’ past efforts- it has never had you or me in it before. WE have to teach the world who we are and what we need, not the other way around. The world is our teacher, but it is also our student. If we desire to integrate into the world rather than conform, WE have to stand our ground and rewire ourselves to believe it is possible.

Do you believe it’s possible?

Sending you mushrooms today and always, 

Mo-Chan


ROAMoChan: Southeast Asia

One night a few months back, I could feel myself coming down with a cold-the front of my eyes and forehead would tingle and gain weight. In the evening, with toothbrush in hand, I glanced over at my desk to see the pink headphones I wear sometimes. Unexpectedly, they also seemed to tingle..


Inner world affairs always act this way.. you see feelings, hear colors, or might just know you know something new-you just are not aware of what yet.

As I sat on my bed brushing my teeth, I made a conscious note that they “tingled” and then finished getting ready for bed. The next morning as I sat down to breakfast, I grabbed my phone to check the time. 

An app notification asking if I use earphones or headphones was staring back at me from the small screen. Hmm.. Naturally, the throbbing pink of the headphones last night came back into mind. I sketched a rough image of the headphones on a piece of paper in between bites of breakfast. As I finished up, Norm came out of his office to say good morning. I looked up from my bowl of breakfast to see a big sketched pair of headphones on his shirt staring back at me. 

Ok, pink headphones, I’m listening.. 

It was in this curious mind frame that ROAMoChan left for Southeast Asia.


ROAMoChan 2019 Ready to go!

The first morning in Singapore, we woke up before everything else. As we turned new corners and adjusted to the humid morning air, we noticed that we weren’t the only ones up. Roaming led us to a side street where the road for cars ended, but the path for pedestrians did not. 

So what do people do in the early morning, before the appetite sets in, before work and other daily obligations begin? 

First sketch in Singapore

I came upon a colorful temple where a woman was standing-eyes closed-in front of its entrance, her hands pressed together in prayer.

I stood and observed her and the scene, and I listened to it all. I felt something there. It stuck with me, but I didn’t bother to poke or prod it, I just let it be and walked away after awhile.

I listened again the next morning. I stopped in my tracks because I suddenly saw music. A loud speaker on a main street in Little India was playing and many birds sat on a wire bobbing and swaying in dance to it. 

“Birds on a Wire”

On the last morning in Malaysia, I was holding hands with my niece-M- walking around in a small grocery store. Nothing was open yet, so we thought we’d look for the tasty coffee they refer to as “kopi” in many parts of Southeast Asia. “Do you like 3-in-1? 2-in-1?” A grocery clerk was doing her best to help us find the kopi we liked. She gave me a sample in a paper cup which I held in my other hand as M and I continued exploring other aisles in the store. M had something on her mind. She looked up at me and the sample coffee in my hand and asked, “Do you love that coffee so much you could cry?”

The rawness of her emotion pierced directly into my heart. It wasn’t that I listened to what she had asked, it just went straight in. She then proceeded to express her deep love of hatchimals, taking great care to convey to me just how otherworldly the experience of opening a hatchimal is. Essentially, it is the gift of a surprise, you don’t know what kind of magical creature is hiding inside. 

I know that feeling. I’d begun to view my life as an artist in much of the same way. Surprises are always lurking everywhere. Like driving by this short flowering tree just the day before in Langkawi. The flowers were a blazing pink color, not unlike the pink of those headphones..

“Pink Tree” Langkawi, Malaysia

Before I painted regularly, I would feel inspiration or be greatly impressed by things. But it stayed inside or maybe ended up on a page of my private journal. However, now because I go as far as to express a lot of these experiences on paper, I find that I am usually attuned to the potential of receiving incoming inspiration or simply witnessing beauty. To put it in M’s terms, moments in life can become like the hatchimal.

The last evening as we sailed back to Singapore, we ran into our cabin attendant. He surprised us with a hatchimal. Just kidding!! He surprised us with a bottle of champagne. He came from the same village in China that my husband’s parents were from and wanted to wish us well and to enjoy our last evening together. It was a very spontaneous, heartfelt gesture. 

Since then, some internal wandering has led me to the question, “What would the act of giving look like if we took tangible gifts out of the equation?”


“A Blessing in Flight”

Universal Giving

Without material objects, what would giving look like? Maybe it would be reduced to the simple offering of words.. “May you get home safely,” or “I wish you improved well-being.” And maybe we would hold the other person’s hand or touch them physically to further show them the warmth of our thoughts. At that point, our thoughts wouldn’t be just thoughts anymore.. we are offering them to another person, so they transform into something backed with sincerity and genuine emotion.. our energy takes on motion and is imparted to someone else. Perhaps that is what “giving” originally was. 

When I think about it, the kind of energy I summon when I have a feeling I’m trying to capture in a painting, is not unlike the feeling of giving. When you put a lot of energy and concentration into some kind of action, it is an opportunity to practice simultaneous self-reflection and awareness. What am I doing at this very moment? What is the feeling that pervades me? Or perhaps when I am writing, like at this very moment.. something wants to be conveyed, but in order to do so I have to remain relaxed and receptive. 

One of the cultures I come from has a long history of taking everyday actions and through a kind of detailed mindfulness, turning them into art forms.. opportunities to see more beauty, and feel a part of that beauty that you are simultaneously co-creating. Preparing a cup of hot tea for someone, or arranging flowers in an aesthetic way.. even looking at rocks in a garden could all become portals for the heart and mind to align and dissolve into the beauty and clarity of one very long moment. 


Imagine that every time you held a person in your thoughts and sincerely wished them well, a bright colored bird of your choice would soar out of your heart..

Then imagine one day crossing paths with that very bird you had envisioned. It lands on a fence near the table you are sitting at with that very person you had held in your thoughts. How could something you’d never even seen before already be so meaningful? 

How can an everyday occurrence be layered so deeply with significance?

This is how our lives can become art.. we can build many associations into our experiences, and before you know it, there is so much magic in and around everything. Even colors without form can tingle our senses and reach straight into our hearts.


As we watch children and young people experiencing autonomy for the first time, we might assume that because we are adults and we can take care of our immediate needs that there is nothing more to do for ourselves. We have all gone from learning to tie our own shoes, to driving a car, and making a living. However, I think the spectrum for experiencing autonomy is a lot wider than what is reflected in society. What about an autonomy that allows you to create art where the structure or guidelines for it do not yet exist? An autonomy that opens our eyes to more occasions and ways to celebrate life than the current holidays and traditions dictate? Because in many ways, if we cannot do that for ourselves, we may find we are often in a state of “waiting” for beauty or joy to find us rather than taking authentic self-guided action. 

We don’t have to wait for someone to give us a gift in order to see life as a series of unfolding gifts.


On that note, I don’t know how much longer ROAMoChan will be able to roam and compose these travel art posts, but it gives me so much joy to share what catches my eye and persists to tap me on the shoulder. This continues to be such an adventure!

Doing whatever it is you do that lets your heart sing, may we all find it and make time for it~

Me and M

“If Bak Leung was a unicorn, she would live in that sunset because it’s beautiful.”

-M

The Mind’s Home

A fence had an opening in it, leading to a field full of giant apple-like fruit. They had sturdy reed-like stems and some reached just below the shoulders.

In an unfamiliar place, with nothing but the clothes on one’s back, won’t life be too hard?

Before the question could formulate, the answer came- a radiating warmth.. coming from where, who can say? The light in the distance? Not exactly. Somehow, the strange fruits radiated the warmth. Holding on to that warmth, the questions and fears subsided, and truth sat there-in a glorious stillness and everglow.

We all are responsible for building our mind’s “home.” Like a physical home, a mind’s home is the state that your mind can return to that is a warm, loving environment that allows one to just be. You are not in any resistance to what is in your life when your mind is at home. It’s the one place that offers the deepest acceptance of who you are and whatever you may be struggling with. There is only love and acceptance there. The mind’s home enables the body to fully relax and un-tense itself. In doing so, it can then begin to make space for the new by letting go of the old. It is a place of recalibration, reset, and regeneration. You are always enough when your mind is at home.

How can we make a great home for the mind? When building anything-physical or conceptual-we need tools.

Self-Compassion

Maybe it is unfamiliar to think of compassion as a tool, but I continue to be humbled by its power. It is essential in creating the foundation of the mind’s home. It is not a bonus “nice” quality we can work on when we have time. A good character, healthy relationships, and personal meaning in life all stem from one’s capacity for compassion. We may all be created equal, but our capacity for compassion is where we differ greatly. This is because compassion is an ongoing practice. It is like a muscle-it only strengthens with use.

Compassion is tricky. Many of us believe we are compassionate and are told we are compassionate, but actually we still have a long way to go in grasping what compassion looks and feels like-especially self-compassion.

Cultivating self-compassion is about choosing to be honest with ourselves and learning to see ourselves more objectively. How many times have we wronged ourselves? When something didn’t go as planned or we ended up hurting others, how do we respond to ourselves internally? Do we have the courage to face the rawness that exists after acknowledging we’ve done something wrong? Or do we choose pride or victimhood to shelter our fragile ego?

How about the mind that hangs on to a sense of guilt? One that has learned to live in a world of mental and emotional self-punishment.

Or maybe we are a perfectionist in many ways holding ourselves to an incredibly high standard- this alone keeps us from even attempting to do things because we are almost certain we will disappoint ourselves. Is there such a thing as a warm and loving “home” for a mind consumed by fear of failure?

How many ways are there to be unaccepting of ourselves in any given moment?


Resistance

I love reducing life’s complexities to root sources, because it simplifies everything. I see resistance as such a root source to a lot of strife in life. Resistance is both a physical experience and an inner experience- both our mind and heart may pull back at us when in resistance. It is one component of a binary language applicable not only to the artist trying to paint from an inner place of authenticity, but every human being attempting to listen to their heart. (The other component being the inner “yes” tug or flutter.) When there is resistance, there is a hardening of the body-like a blockage. In order to move forward, though, we need to soften up again and get rid of any remaining blockages.

Although I am quite new to it, I can already see that breathwork is a great tool in getting rid of such remaining blockages. Actually, I had recently experimented with a breathing technique called, “4,7,8.” When I’d practiced it for the first few times, I found myself envisioning a red heart-shaped balloon inflating on the inhale, being tied shut during the hold, and then released into the sky on the exhale. On the evening of that same day, as I sat and ate dinner on the lanai, I looked up and happened to see a real red heart-shaped balloon floating off into the sky.

This sort of happening is seen outside of the physical body, but I still “read” it in the inner binary language as a “yes.” There is something  more to this simple breathing technique, I felt. So I decided to illustrate it experimenting with a new chalk-art drawing style.



It’s been suggested to repeat “4,7,8” breathing technique four times in one sitting.

Building a Self-Compassion Practice

Up until recently, I didn’t have the words to describe how watercolor painting has changed me as both an artist and human being. What has made itself more clear, is that for me, watercolor is a method for practicing self-compassion. Let me illustrate this idea by sharing a painting experience I had just the other day.

At a recent urban sketching meetup, I sat and listened inside as I simultaneously observed and acted on the outside. I was at a table of complete strangers, yet I felt a connection there.. the love of self-expression in the form of drawing and painting united us all.

I sensed more reservedness in one young man-he was pushing his limits of comfort in being there, drawing in front of us all-the vulnerability he was forcing himself into made him very uncomfortable, but he was pushing through so bravely.

A couple others were in a flow working very meditatively on simple line patterns exhibiting a sense of comfort, enjoyment, and confidence as if they were simply washing dishes.

Another young man was working on the most intricate of detail inking a bird he’d seen on a hike in the mountains. He went into a state of concentration so deep he appeared completely merged with his work.

This being my first drawing meetup ever, I felt both excited and nervous. However, when I began to open my sketch book and pick up my pencil, I noticed something inside of myself.. SPACE. Despite nerves and this and that, I could distinguish a considerable amount of space inside me that I could work with. I finished my sketch relatively quickly, and then prepared my paints by premixing some colors.

Unlike other paint media, with watercolor, you cannot layer too much before the beautiful transparent effect is lost and/or colors become muddled. It is easy to get in one’s head about how difficult it can be, but in doing so you defeat the whole purpose of painting and art itself, really. So, as I pick up the paint brush to put down my first stroke, I revisited that place of space I’d felt earlier and summoned what I wanted: joy. And it bubbled up as if on command. There I was surrounded by strangers, all of us self-conscious and vulnerable to some degree, all pushing our previous known limits just a bit more and I had managed to make space inside myself for joy.

That was the most powerful part of the experience, and that was before I had even put the paint brush on the paper. I had already succeeded.


The best part of creating a self-compassion practice, is that ultimately we are not judged by ourselves or others-that’s the whole point. When we eliminate a lot of the fear of how others may see us and the fear of failure or not living up to our self-inflicted standards, then what is left? SPACE. And in that space, we can conjure more pleasant things like joy, gratitude, peace, and self-acceptance.

Building Belief

A lot of fear seems to be rooted in two major uncertainties: Am I safe? Am I loved?

If we don’t believe we are safe or loved, we cannot reach our potential and life will be full of suffering. What I often meditate on, is the fact that these two uncertainties are really only answered with belief and not fact. Afterall, even if we are safe, it doesn’t prevent life from happening. And even if people say they love us, it does not prevent complications in relationships. So what we are really struggling with in life, is our perception of reality-of how others appear to feel-and our ability to build mental resilience in response to the inevitable changes life presents us with. Have we made a good “home” for our mind to go to?


I’m an active, conscious student of compassion. The road in front of me stretches out for as far as the eye can see, and each day I’m still here, I intend to push forward. I know that my art and the stories I’ve yet to write can only come alive through my persistent study and practice of compassion- it is the foundation for my art.

Maybe over time as we build a nicer home for our mind, we will start to see the beauty in that which is still unfolding and becoming. We can see what isn’t there yet, but potentially can be in any area of our lives. And even if joy doesn’t always bubble up on command, we can learn to at least not resist what still remains unwritten or unfinished.


Raw Creativity

Very little excites me these days as much as the experience of raw creativity.

I would have described myself as having hermit-like tendencies before. I’d prefer not to be in social situations too much, or in crowded places. I like living in apartments at least high enough away from the ground that I feel I’m safe in a nest in a nice tall tree.

However, the surreal experience of creativity in more recent years has drawn out a new “need” from within. I want to meet others who keep at least one foot in that creative space. I want to talk about it.. as I’m sure each person’s experience of creativity is unique in many aspects. It’s such a large development-like an entire language-you acquire from the inside out and although creativity is accessible to all, some people are more “fluent” than others. It’s a world within the world that remains largely uncharted-well at least for me.

It can feel subtle and both familiar and unfamiliar.. It’s like a direct link.. an eyeball that functions without refraction-an inner eye with endless scope. We can bypass our normal clumsy way of navigating the space our bodies take up with our two hands and feet, and we can sense and see fragments of that which defies all we thought there was and all we thought we were.

Sometimes when we act from the heart-that warm place-it’s as if our arms and hands extend from that center space in our chest. Similarly, when our sensory perception sharpens, little shadows of inner whispers become more detectable.. like tiny inner tugs, pulls, and tingles. Our original arms and hands no longer suffice in visually depicting the creative process we can find ourselves a part of.

There is something else there..

“OctoMoChan”

Maybe you are thinking, “Mo-Chan, are you on drugs??” Nope.. not unless the creative substance of the ether counts, because I’ll admit I actively and regularly circulate that through my vessel-we all do to some degree.

I can’t tell you where you can find it, because I don’t think it works the same for everyone. But I will gladly share with you where I can find it in my own life. It happens in the early morning as the sky sheds its dark night color and for moments is a beautiful piercing deep purplish blue. It happens in the company of great big trees-the older the better. It happens in high places with scenic views-where the raw expansiveness is like a mental elixir-a full system upgrade and reset all in one. In general, it also happens in the presence of things that make you smile deeply from joy.

Happily, no one is immune to quiet joy. That being said, what is also apparent is that no one is immune to the ability to get in one’s own way. I have been in beautiful places and not been able to let joy bubble up from the inside. I have been amongst what would be sacred, yet an impatience and weak mental state aggravates me into a dizzy, irritable restlessness. And I have felt numbness at a scene where others were melting in emotion. We all get in our own way sometimes.


Now, I’d like to share a recent dream I had.

In the dream I was in my aunt’s room in her old house-the most magical room in any house I’d ever been in as a child. There were stuffed animal hippos hung from the ceiling, and a large fish tank sat near the foot of her enormous waterbed-the waterbed that had real hippos living inside, so she swore.

An important note to include about my aunt is that her mission in life has been to rescue wild animals who have been injured by humans or just need help getting back on their feet. In the dream, she was cradling her most recent rescue in her arms: a large bobcat.

Once the bobcat felt more comfortable, it left her side to walk around the room and explore a bit. The next thing we knew, it had perched itself atop the fish tank and was scooping out fish with the intent to eat them. We both dashed around trying to put the fish that had flopped to the floor back into the tank.. but there were so many. In real life, my aunt only had two large creepy-looking fish: “Freddy” and “Krueger.” In the dream, however, there were tons of fish, the most beautiful and magical I’ve ever seen. They had bulbous shaped bodies, and a presence that felt so alive and of a kindred nature-as if they were fellow human beings.

I looked into the eyes of the many fish that were waiting for dear life to be scooped back into the tank, and I felt a strong bursting feeling in me. This feeling is what I’m supposed to remember.


I know we all have these moments. There are things in our lives we have never articulated in words, yet they have been reinforced time and time again by simply reoccurring, or being somehow attached to our inner self by some great attraction. As our experiences build and we find opportunities to reflect and articulate these happenings, we find we have begun some existential process of self-translation.. all these happenings are filled with personal meaning that become evidence or data in this self-translation process. The greater the fluency, the greater the comprehension of the self.

So, back to those places and situations that I have found creativity in. Those sources of quiet joy and awe not only inspire, but reveal to me who I am in “yes” form.  It’s the comfortable way of learning, but by itself, it is insufficient. The other great teacher in life is adversity, and it teaches us in “no” form- through discomfort, stress, and the awakening of inner resistance.  

I’m thankful for the bobcat and fish dream. It was very powerful and I feel strength in walking forward today, with the guidance of that feeling it brought to my awareness. I wonder what feeling is guiding those of you reading this, today? Do you feel you are being guided in life, even if you may not know what is guiding you? How do you experience creativity?

Is something else there for you, too?    

Hidden Japanese Treasures

“Sakana Nami”

New ideas are like new colors to introduce to the brain’s palette. The ideas-or colors- one favors become their primary layer of perception in how they view the world. As an example, if you put your attention and interest consistently in proven scientific laws first and foremost, then that lense may be the primary one you view all of nature’s mystery through. When a new idea bounces into your awareness, you may develop a tendency to view it as relevant or irrelevant in relation to the scientific laws you filter your reality with. In this way, ideas irrelevant or inexplicable by our understanding of current scientific laws may habitually be ignored by our minds. Whereas, if you put your attention on that which inspires and attracts you-the source of which is rooted to your unique natural constitution- your own “personal laws” may surface over time and become the primary layer of perception you view the world.

Because of how amazing our minds are, we can entertain countless new ideas day in and day out, and enjoy the ever-changing scenery that is our unique, subjective experience of reality. Whichever ideas we let paint our reality may make all the difference in feeling small, insignificant and restricted or purposeful, appreciative, and empowered.


Today, I might like to draw on the idea of non-linear time.. and to then play with a couple ideas I was exposed to over 10 years ago during my life in Japan. Through the lense of non-linear time, much like in dreaming, the future-past-present all become available to us and we can experience more freedom.

Japanese idea #1


Kokoro

(mind-heart)

When I say in words that our minds are what entertain ideas, I feel the limitation of my mother tongue. Actually, I want to convey that it is our kokoro. Kokoro is the Japanese word used to translate mind, heart, and spirit depending on its usage. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that English must shift between interpretations of this word when attempting to translate because it lacks a word that acknowledges the connection of mind, heart, and spirit. Kokoro feels deeper and more interconnected, and is a word I wish I could use with everyone.


Koi Fish Pond Yaoyorozu God

Japanese idea #2

八百万の神

Yaoyorozu no kami

(The belief that everything in nature has a correlating god)

There is a god in my pencil, in the monkey pod trees I can see out my window, and even a god in my toilet. This is the idea of Yaoyorozu no kami. I like who I become and I like what the world looks like when I embrace this idea. There are little gods all around us giving a sense of sentient complexity to the inanimate and providing a bridge of understanding to all things in nature which otherwise can appear voiceless and thus expendable.

When we see ourselves coexisting in a world filled with Yaoyorozu no kami, we can live knowing we are never alone, and that divine companionship is different from relationships with fellow humans. What does it feel like? I think the more accurate question would be, “what does it feel like for you?” I believe it’s an inner-world affair that blossoms as we accumulate more moving experiences with Nature. I might choose to describe the feeling as an expansive, floating stillness that comes over us like the warmth of the sun-it does not ask anything of us but quietly empowers us.

Japanese idea #3

儚いものに美を感じる

Hakanai mono ni bi o kanjiru

(Beauty found in the ephemeral)

The main road leading to the campus of the university I attended in Tokyo was lined with cherry trees. In the beginning of April they began to bloom and within days reached mankai-full bloom. They were a breathtaking sight. I learned what hakanai meant when I saw how quickly sakura in full bloom began to lose its petals. And I learned again what hakanai meant when that year in Tokyo came to an end.

Hakanai mono means that which is fleeting and impermanent. Finding beauty in the unrepeatable nature of a moment, especially the ephemeral, is a concept embedded in the Japanese culture that enforces a kind of mindfulness available to anyone and everyone. The ingredient that we may not always willingly embrace in this kind of beauty is the presence of a little sadness.


“The Immortal Qin Gao” by Kitagawa Utamaro

As I mature and grow more, I am excited to come to a deeper understanding as to the nature of ideas and how they find their way into the material world. One impression that stands firmly in my mind is that a person doesn’t actually own an idea. Honestly, if I could change our language usage, I’d like to change the overpowering emphasis of personal (unshared) possession of things in language. Instead of “I have an idea..” or “This is my idea..”  (which implies that others may need your permission to entertain it) it feels more accurate to say, “I received an idea..” or “An idea just surfaced..” To me, noticing an incoming idea is more like tuning in to an incoming message via a signal that your body’s electromagnetic field picks up. As you entertain it, it alchemizes with everything else that makes you, you.

In this way, sharing ideas with a group doesn’t have to feel so personal. If an idea just surfaced and it is later discarded, you don’t have to feel like a part of you was rejected by the group, because we are not “our” ideas. We can carry ideas, embody ideas, and share ideas all without owning them. This is an intensely liberating lense to perceive the world through.

Today, I still entertain the idea that after we let go of the desire to own things, we are left with a kind of mental flexibility that can allow us to live well amongst ambiguity and even paradox.. and maybe even discover our own subjective experience of beauty and joy floating in that foggy mental plane.


I’m happy to have been able to share these hidden Japanese treasures here in this space. As we all move on with our day, may the artist in each of us continue the wholehearted work of looking at all that is familiar around us with new eyes- excited at the task of integrating the new with the old and seeing where our personal laws and powers of discernment lead us.