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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ROAMoChan: Southeast Asia

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


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

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

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

Ok, pink headphones, I’m listening.. 

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


ROAMoChan 2019 Ready to go!

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

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

First sketch in Singapore

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

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

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

“Birds on a Wire”

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

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

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

“Pink Tree” Langkawi, Malaysia

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

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

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


“A Blessing in Flight”

Universal Giving

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Me and M

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

-M
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ROAMoChan: Singapore

Norman and I found ourselves in Singapore for a week in January thanks to genuine interest, some free time, and hot plane ticket prices. We stayed in the most obscure little loft apartment in a very convenient area. It was so small, we didn’t see the entry (a single glass door) even when we were standing right in front of it. It was a perfect little cubby-hole abode for a pair of travelers like us.

We took turns being jet-lagged (ok, it was mostly just me), and during my solo time, I’d put on my earphones and listen to some Joe Satriani while sketching in my watercolor field journal. I knew I’d be turning the paper vertical, after just one day taking in the abundant green growing in and around Singapore’s city buildings.

 ♦♦♦

I was born into a fast-paced world. To the authentic “me” that has struggled to maintain my own pace amongst all the busy-ness, even travelers and vacationers seem so busy. My natural disposition is to be that person who says, “I’m fine with whatever works for the group,” and “hmm, let’s see where this current takes me..” Because on the inside, what makes me come alive is less about material particulars and more of an intrinsic nature.

Maybe while out, I’ll see a random brick that speaks to me. Then I’d probably start hearing stories in my head and feeling the inner me weaving new fabric made of future-present-past inklings, daydreams, nightdreams, and thoughts that are always floating around. This kind of thing (inspiration?) is what bubbles up constantly and me being an artist at heart, cannot feel content until I express whatever it is on a blank sheet of paper. This is my inner “digestive” cycle. My subjective experience of life has largely been one attuned to this creativity cycle as it has given me a thorough kind of fulfillment in life that is difficult to articulate let alone find a substitute for.

I imagine any kind of expression of one’s authentic self will be of a creative nature and have healing properties. It’s not the case that some people are creative and others are not. It’s just some forms of self expression (like painting or playing an instrument) are more recognizable to the masses and shareable than others.

When I meet people, there is a kind of excitement stemmed from a curiosity as to what makes them come alive. Whether the conversation will move in that direction or not keeps things interesting. When it does though, I can often tell, because their eyes light up and their energy dances. It’s one of the coolest discoveries we can make, and it doesn’t require the purchase of a plane ticket.

Singapore at dusk, January 2018

 

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