Thinking and Being

Being

I sat across from a particular houseplant recalling that it has two common names: Snake Plant, and Mother In-Law’s Tongue. I don’t think either name fits it, so I sat there just letting it be itself without attaching a name to it. Although I find it’s easier to practice doing something like this with things that we are not as familiar with, it is possible to do so with the familiar as well. I remember I used to practice doing this as a young adult when I was more actively learning my second language: Japanese. A part of me somehow felt it was important to be able to see a thing as having another name and for it to feel real enough that I could associate the quality of the sound of that name and any other nuances with the thing.

After a while of doing this, I began to be able not only to see a thing as having two names in two different languages, but I found a space that existed between the things and whatever names were given to them.

I believe that space is the space of being.

Before it had a name, it just was.

It’s a quiet, still space that lets a thing just be. After years of grappling with the headaches of trying to be a balanced hapa (I’m half Japanese and half white), I began to let myself exist in that space, too. Then, I began to see that people around me could exist in that space. You may speak a certain language(s), be from a certain country, call yourself specific titles and names, and have worked hard to create a certain reputation for yourself, but in that space, we lose all the labels and associations. All of the conceptual, mental weight can be released and you can just be. 

Thinking vs Being

Everyone has a unique essence and embodies a great aliveness. The more we practice experiencing our world from this light, still space, the more it becomes obvious that everyone matters. Not that conceptually we all matter (because that is what is collectively deemed fair and just), but a feeling inside us that grows to just embody this wisdom without needing to put words to it. Our actions become an effortless extension of this wisdom, and we are more able to be honest with ourselves and our current level of maturation as a human being–not measured in years lived, but in this sort of cultivated and ripening inner wisdom. I like to think even if I met an alien from another planet one day, that I am well prepared to see them and treat them as existing in this space of being as well.

What’s been confusing in my own journey of accessing the present moment through being, is understanding that we cannot think our way into being. The thinking mind is something we can detach our awareness from and we can little by little sink into stillness and taste what “being” feels like. 

Discovery on a morning walk.

I had tried the gratitude practice of writing things down that I am grateful for, however, I personally found myself not actually glowing in the feeling of gratitude. I was THINKING my way to the feeling, but the feeling never came. Using the thinking mind to try to get to a feeling can backfire if you are like me and mentally bully yourself sometimes >< We might compare our situation to others, or tell ourselves we shouldn’t feel the way we do, instead we should feel THIS way. The next thing you know you are split in two: the part of yourself that simply feels as it feels, and the other part of yourself that is condemning that part of yourself. 

Greater awareness came when I would immerse myself in creative activities. I realized that I would more easily disengage with my thoughts and all my energy became more fluid and cooperative in whatever it was I was doing. Even though I was still doing something, I was thinking less and was flowing more..coming closer to being

Quick value study in chalk pastel.

Unnamed Being

As most of us rely on spoken language as a means to think, then our awareness may become limited to those things which are already established in the language we speak. However, there are no words for many things. That doesn’t mean the thing does not exist, maybe it is just harder to perceive because there is no paved context. Until our awareness is brought to this unnamed thing, we may go a lifetime being blind to its existence. Examples of becoming aware of these blind spots are abundant also when learning another language later in life as I did. 

I remember the day my cousin taught me the meaning of “otsukaresama” in Japanese. We had just spent the whole afternoon shopping for odds and ends that I would need for my new life in Tokyo. “Is it like ‘good job’?” I remember asking. She said it was a feeling that both people involved felt. We both exerted effort in a kind of togetherness while tackling a task. By saying “otsukaresama” we were acknowledging this feeling. These were my first insights into a phrase that I would continue to hear a countless number of times in daily Japanese life. How could a feeling that is so common to an entire country of people, not even exist in my mother tongue? It was only one of MANY examples of words and phrases that acknowledge situations and feelings that were completely new to me. 

“Otsukaresama.” Read more of these examples in my post, “Hidden Japanese Treasures.”

Of course, you don’t have to learn a second language to have this experience, it is the mindfulness practice behind the experience that enables the shift.

In the “being” state, we may sense many “sights” and occurrences that we don’t have to put into words. We can have other personal “languages” or modes of expression we can funnel the “sights” through. I think music or fine art are examples of such personal languages. 

When I was a teenager learning the piano on my own, I remember imagining being blind and wondering how that could heighten a person’s sensitivity to energy. I didn’t call it “energy” back then, but I knew there was subtle information that a blind person was better at receiving and interpreting in the presence of someone or something. I imagined a blind street musician who you could walk up to and after a moment of reading your energy, they would create music as a means of expressing what they interpreted in that energy–their own unique language expressing your unique energy! 

When you practice using and developing a personal language, there’s a kind of satisfaction that comes with increased fluency over time. The satisfaction may be silent and personal. No matter how much we want others to feel or taste our satisfaction, it may come in a completely different form for another person. This illustrates the futility in attempting to critique each other’s art forms. With mastery over time–meaning a steadfast dedication to becoming fluent in our own unique language(s)–heads may turn and see that quality of our essence shining through whatever apparent sensory experience we have woven. However, I don’t think it is the product itself that touches another person, but the undeniable essence of one’s heart and soul emanating from their work. 

Memory Play

“Mangoscape”

I have painted the same thing three times now. Each time I base it off of one highly charged positive memory from the past. What I’ve discovered is that each version is quite unlike the one before it. How could it be the same positive memory then? Each time I recall the memory and channel it through me into the form of a visual image, it looks completely different. 

After examining the nature of memories a little, I am inclined to view them as a sort of working canvas. A memory does not have to be defined or set in stone. The actual experience that the memory represents is a portrayal of the past that we carry with us, but we can learn to build and layer thought and emotion onto it in a way that helps us move forward with more ease. We do not have to feel that our pasts define us.

In other words, we do not have to give our power now to our pasts.

In my case, the memory that I say I recreated for the third time is more of a representation of my current self than my past self. The current self is the one who expressed itself. No one is still the person they were in the past, although some people can get stuck reliving their pasts–good or bad.

The past is like the language of yesterday. There is always a new language we can be receptive to, today.. right now. The intention behind each of these three paintings was always to depict one seemingly frozen experience from the past, except that since I was predominantly painting a re-creation of the feeling of the joy and magic I had felt then (more so than a realistic image of a thing), my current self was only able to access its current experience of joy and magic because that is where those states of being truly exists: in this present moment. The memory itself has become a trigger for experiencing joy, but that joy is the joy of now– it is not the joy I felt then. Both memories and thoughts can trigger emotion in this way.

When our nervous system is out of balance, we may find that memories and thoughts trigger more emotion than actual present moment experiences. For example, we may be looking at a beautiful sunset or night sky, but the colors are not reaching deeply into us, and the noise in our head and disruption in our hearts and gut may feel more real than what is right in front of us. 

Red Aurora Borealis

Physically, I am here, but as my thoughts and emotions are tied up with some ongoing sense of unfinished business that needs to be dealt with conceptually, I am postponing my access to the present moment. I am not fully present. I am THINKING, not BEING. My awareness– my energy– is scattered.

The JOY and BEING connection

What is more important than joy? I’ve written about the inner smile previously and shared my personal experience of a short moment in time when the most overwhelming amount of joy I’ve ever felt in my life thus far, seeped into every available nook and cranny of my being. It was perhaps overwhelming because my energy was not split. No thoughts or emotions trespassed on that moment. I was more fully present than I’d ever been before with all my awareness just drinking in that glorious sense of peace and well-being.

I was taught a lot by that experience. One lesson was that I had access to a kind of calm and inclusive positive pervading energy that could be experienced without the need to prove anything to anyone else, including my own self. I recognized some of my own conditioning: to seek validation and to seek permission from others to feel good. I think I did that (we do that) because we have experienced gaining the understanding and acceptance granted to us by others that feels wonderful. However, to my great surprise, other people do not need to be a variable in our experience of or access to feeling complete. Joy found me that day and there was no reason for it, I did not somehow deserve it extra that day.  

Joy Bird

There is nothing to prove to myself or others so that I may deserve to feel good in any moment. My body has a wisdom that my mind lacks. A body-mind able to feel joy and pleasure is the mark of true health and well-being. Life is really over complicated when we give our power away to others, by needing them to validate, understand, or accept us as we are. We even bully ourselves, convincing ourselves that because we see an aspect of our self or lifestyle that could use improvement, that joy comes AFTER we fix it. Thus, fixing or improving something becomes a prerequisite to feeling good. 

What is the feeling that safety and support brings? What is the feeling behind getting all our basic needs met? What is the feeling behind the idea of good health? What is the feeling behind having a good reputation, good status, and good merit? Being included? What is the feeling behind being good at something? What is the feeling behind being with a beloved pet? What is the feeling behind freedom and no time constraints?

I think on that particular day, I felt the feeling that all those above questions point to but don’t actually guarantee. To say it simply, we all want to feel inner wellness. However, in creating mental traps that keep us feeding into the idea that we cannot experience certain feelings–be it joy, gratitude, or peace–unless a laundry list of conditions are met, we sabotage our access to the present moment where those authentic real states of being are experienced. We perpetually THINK our way down many rabbit holes believing the answer and the joy is somewhere ahead of us, when really if we learned to stop thinking and just sit in stillness, the peace can find us. 

A practice isn’t always about learning to do something. A practice can be learning to stop doing something. 
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Logic of Felt Senses

“Rakkyo”

One of the great wonders of being an individual experiencing the human condition is having a physical body. Generally speaking, a lot of focus and effort in our culture is placed on the outward enhancement of our physical bodies through fitness, fashion, grooming, cosmetics and the like. There is a common desire in us all to maintain a certain level of physical attractiveness to ourselves and to others. Actually, our desires reach beyond our outer appearance touching as many aspects of our lives as we allow. Wherever there is freedom of choice, there is an opportunity to express the uniqueness of the self.

So far, I seem to enjoy painting while standing better than sitting.
I like to place different plants on the table while I write.

How do we know that we are expressing our own uniqueness and not copying someone else’s authentic voice? My current answer is: the less we know of ourselves, the more we may copy others or conform. This is not a bad thing, in fact, I think it is completely natural. It has been my experience that we are largely unknown to ourselves, even into so-called adulthood. 

How will I paint the experience of seeing/being with this flower?
First RD I tried some new colors, but it was too cold and not “me.”

We are born knowing we are as deep as any ocean, but helpless throughout infancy and babyhood, relying on others just to stay afloat. By time we are capable of fending for ourselves, we will have forgotten a lot about our original state. Everything in the shallows is illuminated for all to see. It’s the depths that remain unknown to us and only are revealed through a certain degree of maturation and the ability to turn inward. Loving attention warms us, and all faces of cold adversity waters us. This happens differently and in varying degrees and speeds for every individual. Even so, in life we all get to feel the grace and awe of the occasional sudden revelation. The physical body looks the same on the outside, but inside we have grown– more space becomes available. 

One way to think of revelations is as a natural feeling response to inner growth. The feeling is a phenomenon we can take guidance and assurance from. After all, revelations feel great! That being said, not all inner guidance is as easy to recognize.

I get a kind of “revelation” feeling when I find the color I am after.

Tiny Inner Bells

Some inner guidance is so faint, like a whisper, but not in the form of sound. There are tiny felt senses that can easily go unrecognized and, thus, unacknowledged. Sometimes inner guidance isn’t a specific message, rather a physical response like that which accompanies a revelation. The powerful feeling lets us know something is very relevant to us beyond just our conceptual understanding of it. In this case, a liberating piece of wisdom feels particularly attractive because it causes something that is already inside of us to resonate.  At times it can be something in our unknown depths that surfaces.

When we read words that ring true or inspire us, we can feel a great sense of validation– like a “yes!” experienced by one’s entire body. We might see a color that stops us in our tracks because it “feels good.” In what way does it feel good? Like the word “resonate” suggests, it can feel like a whole bunch of tiny inner bells ringing in harmonious agreement. 

You could say that just as dolphins and whales use echolocation to discover the position of another sea creature in relation to themselves, humans possess a kind of echoinference mechanism. Except instead of using an echo to locate something outside of ourselves, we experience the echo as a resonating inner feeling which allows us to discover more about our deeper selves through that which resonates and draws our attention. 

The Desire Spectrum

What is your banana ripeness preference?

When I use the word desire, like many things in life, it can shift in meaning depending on intensity, subtleties and nuances. For these reasons, I see “desire” as having a spectrum. On one end is the kind of desire that overwhelms us with its power. It is obsession, fanaticism, a persistent wanting that makes it hard for us to concentrate on other things. Basically, on the extreme end it is a “heavy” consuming feeling– an addiction. Then, on the other end, desire can feel much lighter–more like a preference. We think to ourselves, “I’d prefer to eat a banana that is still slightly under ripe, but if it is a day or two riper, I’ll still eat it and find enjoyment. It’s just not my preference.” This is the realm of desire I want to explore here more in regards to each unique individual’s natural constitution.

A little green on my banana please~

There are biological-related desires like being thirsty or hungry that we cycle through so often, we know very well what we need and want. Then, there are other desires that lurk inside us that are less of a circular nature, and more of an artistic or aesthetic nature. They are lighter little tugs and pulls inside that we wouldn’t maybe associate with desire immediately upon registering their presence. I might describe them as gentle preferences that surface. Or soft yearnings. When I paint, I follow these tiny tugs and pulls. I’ve referred to them before as “breadcrumbs” that only appear in the moment at hand, and require our mind to be open.. (empty?) so we can be guided.

When it comes to being a creator, we want our own unique voice to shine through. When we use our imagination, we want to be able to envision things that genuinely excite us and make the tiny inner bells ring. Being in touch with our own personal preferences is the gateway to true individuality and unique self-expression. These gentle preferences are part of a larger inner guidance system that, in a way, is binary like a computer. Everyone experiences a natural response to any given input. In general, there’s positive stimulus and everything else. As I’ve mentioned before, anything that pulls at you from the inside is a breadcrumb on your path.  

I don’t paint with black, so imagining signing my name with black didn’t feel right. “Rakkyo” is the first painting I felt moved to sign.

Too much eccentricity without respect and care for others can prevent us from connecting in a meaningful way with others, yet too much accommodating or pleasing can mute our desires and prevent us from knowing ourselves more deeply. The way I approach maintaining a balance is largely through self observation. The “deeper” I know myself, the deeper other people become as well. For me, “Know thyself” implies some degree of respect for other people and what makes them unique. It is with this sentiment that I indulge more in learning about my own preferences both on and off the canvas. It’s also the unspoken message behind my every creative act. 

Take time to learn about yourself and to see yourself with more discerning eyes rather than judgmental eyes. This creates space so our attention can branch outward to others with the same caring and accepting heart we possess towards our Self.

-Inner guidance <3

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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. =) 
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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。







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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.



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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 =)  


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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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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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