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


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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
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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.


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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?    

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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.



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Aloha Spirit


Back in 2012 shortly after Norman and I moved to the island, we were told that “transplants” like ourselves would either thrive here or be rejected by the island, and that usually it took people about 2 years to figure it out. In 2015 we found ourselves packing up to leave for a lot of reasons, yet when we tell the story now, we both say that neither of us really wanted to leave. It’s not that the island had rejected us, but it hadn’t felt like we were thriving either.

Our taxi driver had arrived and we moved our suitcases into the hall to prepare to load them into the elevator. As we went to push the elevator button, the fire alarm in the building went off, seizing the elevator and leaving the staircase our only option for exit. Luckily, there wasn’t actually a fire, but who knows why the alarm suddenly went off?? Our taxi driver was sympathetic to our story and assured us he knew the fastest way to the airport from our condo.

No sooner had he reassured us then we came upon a police blockade on a main road leaving us no option but to find an alternate route. The final showdown was a highway lane closure truck in front of us preparing to close the lane as we attempted to merge onto the highway. Our taxi driver sensed our nerves at that point and raced in front of it. I don’t know that Norman or I had ever experienced a direct feeling of the island rejecting us.. but that day we both clearly felt that the island seemed to reject our decision to leave.

We only lasted a year off the island and then upon our return it’s felt like the metaphorical arms of the island have stretched wider to welcome us back and hug us tighter.

Here, I am home.


In life, we all experience coincidences and chance happenings that turn into memories forever laced with a unique kind of gravity. They have the power to help us become more in touch with the world of subtle energy. Practicing a form of art is a great opportunity to explore such subtleties. Since colors evoke feelings and the position or posture of something can be interpreted much like body-language, the reverse is something we can experience and experiment with as well. We can look at the body-language of something and translate it with the movement of color, and best of all, the process of doing this doesn’t have to be premeditated, it can just come upon us like a spontaneous sense of meaningfulness.

On New Year’s day, Norman and I spent time in Waikiki which is where I bumped into what looked like an orchid chandelier flower. On many occasions I find myself speechless and extremely attracted to a lot of the nature here, and perhaps because I’m a “transplant” myself, the absence of familiarity accentuates nature’s ability to leave a strong impression on me.

I spent a couple days painting the chandelier flower, and then following its completion, the empty space in the composition begged for a word or short phrase. For the rest of the month I worked on other projects and looked at it from time to time waiting for inspiration. Today, it finally came.

In 1986 Hawaii created the “Aloha Spirit law.” Aloha Spirit is defined as a person’s mind and heart acting in unison, leading each person to the self. The law elaborates on how aloha is a kind of harmony that is important in all life interactions and that we must think and send good feelings to others for the good of our collective existence. The word aloha is not just a salutation, but means to hear what is not said, see what cannot be seen, and know the unknowable.*

Without knowing a word to describe a feeling, how do we understand what we feel or probe it? Aloha is a word that illustrates a kind of timeless sentiment that we all carry with us. Many things live as an unspoken, unseen subtlety. These things are not easily understood, yet we cannot deny their impact as they have the power to impart meaningfulness to our lives. Thus, when we discover what is personally meaningful to us, it is an acknowledgment of the union of our actions, mind, and spirit. In other words, that inner harmony is what it means to live aloha.  

Living aloha is not a location or culture-specific ideology. It is an evolved sentiment of holistic compassion that is extremely relevant to us all today. It is the Golden Rule, self-realization, harmony with nature and all that is numinous.

I hope that this deeper meaning of living aloha reaches people, even if it is called something else. And I hope that people are not satisfied in merely knowing of its meaning, but reconnect with that inner universal unspoken sentiment we all carry-the one that makes us want to wake up and shed the repressive to make space in order to see anew.


“Yellow”
“Live Aloha”

*https://www.hawaii.edu/uhwo/clear/home/lawaloha.html

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Hi, Boris!

On a recent plane ride back home the cabin was dark and most passengers were trying to catch some zzzs. But for me, an idea had come to mind earlier that morning while waiting for our delayed flight, and it was the juicy sort of idea that feeds you as you pursue it.

“No, Boris doesn’t look like that..”

(scribbles)

“Now that looks right-ish.”

“Hmm, but something is missing..”

(more scribbles)

“There. Hi, Boris!”

♦♦♦

Don’t settle, and yet don’t pass judgment.. only discern.

This is how I would express in words what I practice repeatedly these days as an artist both in life and on paper. It’s also the perfect reminder for me as I think of all the potential this new year holds. Ever since discovering the power of discernment, I’ve been able to peel off layer after layer of old thought patterns and learned behavior that haven’t been serving me. It takes a lot of mindfulness and effort, but little by little reality shifts and aspects of myself seem to shift as well.

Between the “ah-ha” moments in life when everything feels right and makes sense, there is a lot of blank canvas. Of course, who doesn’t love progress? It’s not that difficult to feel good when you make progress. It is much more of a task to learn to patiently abide in the spaces between progress.

How does this look like for me in the context of doing art and being an artist?

Well, anyone can do art, but it takes repeated effort to BE the kind of artist that I aspire to be. I want to live with the above-mentioned flexibility that lets me remain open-hearted between brush strokes. If we spend our energies feeding into mental narratives of self-doubt, worry, making excuses, perhaps some finger pointing, and unreasonable expectations of ourselves, then we don’t give ourselves the permission and proper conditions we need to grow.

When I can look at a scribble without passing judgment, and only discern what looks “right-ish” (or perhaps that nothing looks right-ish) and know it simply in my being, I succeed in keeping my mind and energy serving me.

There is a process to everything, and at present, I choose to believe that with effort, there can always be room inside us to celebrate it. We can be both engrossed in something and not take it too seriously.

I’d love to ask past creatives about what heart and mind they would bring to the paper or canvas. In order to superhumanly persist at something for the better portion of one’s life, what would the heart and mind of that person look like? I imagine such a heart and mind would be in alignment and take action from a congruent space where a person’s unique energies are free to flow.

In this world, all heartfelt-action will not look the same, and only some people’s heartfelt-action will be understood, celebrated, or perhaps admired. That is just the way it goes. So, whether you are raising a child, tending a garden, starting a business, or drawing a pig, remind your mind that it is here to serve you.

May the new year bring us all closer to more heartfelt action and authentic being. Cheers!

 

 

 

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The Gift Exchange

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The Gift Exchange

A year ago in November, as I was walking back from the library under a long line of monkey pod trees on Kapiolani Blvd, a story popped into my head. It entered quite effortlessly although a bit jumbled-like a folder full of disorganized files. After I got home, I sketched it out and “file” by “file” every small element made its meaningfulness known to me in the flow of the process.

The main character looked like my little sister Suki from childhood wearing the same light blue nightgown and having distinct shaped hair. Her posture-unsure of herself-wasn’t an accident and wasn’t just her posture, it was my posture, and was to represent the struggle shared by many souls in this world trying to awaken and step fully into their truth. Every step is unfamiliar, you are unsure, and you have a thirst for a kind of support and reassurance that the world cannot quench.

Due to personal circumstances at that time of my life, I was made ready to step more fully into my own truth: that I am an artist. Why was it so hard to get here? Why is it so hard to come alive? To really wake up? I don’t know. But there is an overflowing amount of joy that seems to self-generate simply by my living my truth. The world is my ball of clay to fiddle with. And it’s not about the end result, it’s about the joy you feel holding that ball of clay and entering into the creative process.

In life we have roles, and I was always playing out numerous ones like daughter, sister, wife, teacher, and friend, but in the midst of all that I wasn’t living my truth. It’s a very spiritual feeling that is difficult to describe aside from the special kind of “knowing” you just experience directly from the heart. It’s not like I’d never heard the saying that you should “follow your heart.” I think a lot of us do. However, I now feel a kind of pull that suggests that true authenticity means aligning one’s choices and actions more fully with the heart. It isn’t enough to follow it in its general directional pull, we can aspire to merge with it to really “satisfy” our unique nature and constitution. What that looks like for me-an artist and storyteller-is always going to be different from what it looks like for others on different paths, but what is the same is the bravery it takes for us to hold fast to our respective truths in a hyper-stimulating world of endless influences.

Line by line as I scrambled to illustrate this story in time for Suki’s birthday last December, I held tight to that truth and watched myself really surrender to the creative process for perhaps the first time. It used to be about working hard, but now it’s about working hard to surrender. We are not our thoughts, or emotions. We are our nature: the language of the heart and soul. We need to listen to that language and become fluent in order to really grasp the capacity we all have to give of ourselves in the most meaningful way. It is my intention for the “If souls could talk” visual narrative series to attempt to touch on some of the universal symbolism of that language.

We are now in the midst of the “season of giving.” It can be a synonymous time with feeling that we aren’t giving enough, and sensing that the amount we really want to give is sadly beyond our capacity. This year, let’s not feel that way. May we all find joy and thanks in being ourselves and knowing that that is enough <3

 

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Omm Inspiration

Today my sticker pack “Mindful Mermaid” came out in the LINE app creator’s sticker shop! There are several different color tailed mermaids, a shark named “Norman,” and their statue friend “Omm.” Check them out!

I remember sitting down to draw Mindful Mermaid and wondering what friends to give her. A shark companion felt right, but something was still missing. I found myself giggling as I was experimenting with Norman the shark’s gums and teeth. I think in that moment when I felt a kind of endearing feeling, my family’s dog Wei Wei came to mind, and his very distinct sitting posture. He became the main inspiration behind Omm the statue.

♦♦♦

When I heard my parents had taken in a second dog, I was overjoyed and spent the days leading up to his arrival as if a niece or nephew were about to be born. Wei Wei was his name. Someone my mother knew was trying to find a new home for him since she traveled a lot and couldn’t give Wei Wei the love and attention she felt he deserved. So my mother-who comes from a lineage of animal lovers and rescuers-decided to take Wei Wei in. Besides, Charlie Bear-the family’s goldendoodle-had been a big hit. Picture a teddy bear, add curly golden locks so thick they almost hide his eyes, and a lush plum nose. Wouldn’t a second be like icing on the cake?

When I walked through the door and was greeted by Charlie and Wei Wei for the first time, I had to stop in my tracks. Something shifted inside me. “Hey.. wait.. so THIS is the new dog??” I think I said. In all honesty, I thought he was one of the ugliest dogs I’d ever seen. Why would my mom say yes to THIS dog? Had she met him first before saying yes?? A lot of questions came to mind, but I eventually pushed them aside because what was done was done. Wei Wei was already here.

Of course, someday when I get a dog I wouldn’t get a dog like Wei Wei, I’d get an adorable one like Charlie.

This is the internal narrative I had with myself at the time. And I’m QUITE sure I wasn’t the only one in the family with such thoughts.

Fast forward years later. I don’t think anyone in the family even remembers how it happened, but Wei Wei had somehow grown on EVERYONE. He was given a distinctive human voice and we’d narrate his thoughts. My youngest sister would zip him up in her jacket like a baby kangaroo. And we’d all tilt our heads when imitating his reaction to hearing the word “popcorn,” his favorite treat. My oldest brother’s daughter considers both Wei Wei and Charlie her brothers.

At some point I had started hearing a voice inside me saying I wanted a dog, but not one like Charlie Bear..I wanted a small “ugly” one like Wei Wei. I wanted the big bug eyes, underbite, cow chin, and awkward sitting posture with legs strewn to one side. Wei Wei had changed me, or brought something out in me. I don’t exactly know. And despite being oceans apart, Wei Wei’s spirit (and Charlie Bear’s too!) is definitely alive in me today <3

From Left: Charlie & Wei Wei, Omm, My sister Min carrying Wei Wei

Me & Wei Wei 

Charlie Bear’s nose <3 

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ROAMoChan: Paris

It’s 3:29 AM and I’m up communing with my favorite early morning sky. I did so in Paris as well, only those times I was perched on top of the toilet seat with the bathroom door sealed so as not to wake Suki. As mothers get up at all hours for their infants, so too do creatives make themselves present to incoming inspiration =P

One of my quiet internal simmering hopes for this Paris trip was to be exposed to the lives and works of creatives from the past. More than just seeing a painting of theirs, I wanted to see artists’ studios, gathering commons, and walk the streets that inspired Chopin, Fitzgerald, Monet, Van Gogh, and more! So many artists found themselves living in the “City of Art” even for just a brief period of their lives, and here I had the chance to go with my artist sister to see what kinds of inspiration still lurked on those old streets.

However, upon meeting up with Suki in Paris, our own little shared world  came into being and those simmering hopes took a backseat. Suki and I entertained each other with plenty of goofiness as seems to be the trend in our sisterhood. Plus, being greeted multiple times daily, “Bonjour madame,” gave me happy goosebumps, as did many run-ins with street musicians using their gifts to spread the love. Actually, among my siblings I am known to burst into original song when the mood is right.. and the mood was often right in our Paris world.

The last portion of one phrase from such a jingle: “Someone’s a Little Crazy and That’s Ok with Me,” became very useful in processing all the foreign encounters we had. For example:

“Oh, you gotta open these train doors yourself.. (and that’s ok with me)

“French people don’t readily smile so much..” (and that’s ok with me)

“This museum directory is inaccurate..” (and that’s ok with me)

“Hmm, this towel wasn’t clean..” (and that’s ok with me)

“It appears we bought the wrong train ticket..” (and that’s ok with me)

“The hot water ran out..” (and that’s ok with me)

“Oops, we missed our stop..” (and that’s ok with me)

“I don’t know how to say…” (and that’s ok with me)

“Wow, it costs a whole euro to use this tiny toilet..” (and that’s ok with me)

Paris, like any travel destination, was an opportunity to practice life.

♦♦♦

One thing I’ve come to love deeply about watercolor painting is that it asks the painter to take joy in spontaneity by remaining in the present moment being a creator in a state of receptivity. It is like keeping one’s composure whilst navigating through a large moving crowd of people. Little openings reveal themselves only when you are already there in that very moment looking for what is next. Somehow you can harness its unique properties to blend and flow where other media would not, and create an atmosphere like a memory or fragments of thoughts. It asks you not to premeditate too much, and bring a flexible open heart to the blank paper..with a willingness to go with the flow.

Eventually, there is a ‘final product’ and you put the brush down. But as a mentor artist from my teenage years said, “The real art is not the finished painting, it is the process. When you are done painting, the art is over.” Now, through watercolor, I finally understand what he meant. The message is no different from those who have said that one’s life is a work of art. With what mind do you wake up at 3:30 AM from a loud neighborhood rooster’s crow? When impatience besieges you when the many lines you stand in each day move slower than usual? When other people want to share their perceived problems with you?

As with watercolor, in life we are all co-creators. As the day unfolds, no matter how tightly we’ve constructed our schedule and repeated our intentions, something greater unfolds that we are merely a part of. To cultivate the flexibility and willingness to roll with life’s punches and learn to see the little openings that appear out of the apparent chaos is real life magic. The end product is always just a shadow indicating the real presence: the heart and mind behind the action.

All an artist really is, is a finder of this magic.

I am deeply thankful for the many opportunities to roam the globe this year and learn to see my perceived world through watercolors. Also, I am grateful to have shared these roamings with very special people. This entry concludes my ROAMoChan 2018 travels (I think).

I don’t know what I will paint next.. and that’s ok with me~

Boat on Monet’s lily pond; Giverny,  October 2018

“La Pie” (The Magpie) by Claude Monet; Musee d’Orsay, Paris

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