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.

“I might as well be alone”


Ignoring a person or one’s surroundings when in a social situation by busying oneself with a phone or other mobile device.

“Non-generous listening”


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

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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