The Art of Questioning

“Open-Mind”

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

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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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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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