A Wise Man’s Tale

Long ago, times were different but the quests of man proved timeless. In every ancient civilization or distant village there was sure to emerge at some point a wise old man.

Once in a remote land, emerged a wise old man. He was discovered sitting under a great big tree outside the bounds of a village. Nobody knew him, yet his ability to offer meaningful, personal messages to any seeker was unparalleled. In fact, word of this wise old man spread like wildfire and before long, groups of pilgrims showed up in the nearby village asking to be led to his whereabouts. Every day, as if by some unspoken agreement, the old man could be found sitting under the same great big tree–silent, yet ready to impart wisdom. 

Even though the wise old man would only give out one message per pilgrim, that did not stop a great line from forming, as people could not help but feel a deep curiosity and wonder for this venerable sage. 

I was such a man. Upon first hearing word of this mysterious wise man, I had quickly made preparations to set off on what was surely to be a great pilgrimage. After all, I had burning questions that just could not wait. 

After arriving in the village, I had spent the next three days in line, trying to get a good glimpse of the old man as he met with each pilgrim. Each meeting would begin in the same fashion. A seeker would approach the wise man who would gesture for him to take a seat in front of him. Then, the old man’s lips would move briefly, followed by a long pause. Sometimes the pause was only a minute; other times it could last 10 minutes. Or in one man’s case, it had taken nearly one hour before the old man spoke again. What had the old man said before the pause? This was a burning question that each one of us pilgrims would soon learn the answer to. 

After receiving the wisdom, some would leave solemnly. “Now it all makes sense,” they would say. Some would leave in tears, “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to hear.” And some would approach the line of waiting pilgrims saying, “He truly is the wisest old man!”

How will I leave? What will I say? I wondered. Slowly, the line moved forward.

Finally, it was my turn. With great anticipation I approached the old man who gestured with his hand for me to sit. Now, I would hear the words before the pause! I thought to myself. Every part of my body felt on high alert. Whatever words were to come, I’d take them in fully and well.  

“Match the stillness of this tree,” said the old man.

“What?” I blurted out.

The old man had already closed his eyes. And so I sat bewildered for a moment before closing my eyes, too. I struggled to swallow as a ball of confusion in my throat could not be released.   

The stillness of this tree.. match it. How, though? He’s not going to tell me, is he? At first I could not control the scattering of my own thoughts. New ones appeared with the momentum that the previous ones had created. Eventually, I came to the realization that every person who had sat here before me must have been able to cope with the same mysterious instruction, and so I decided to give it a try. 

With eyes closed, I began to watch myself go into a deeper inward state. My swirling thoughts remained, but became more distant as if they were children taking their noisy play, further and further away. Soon I was not paying attention at all to the noise of the children, but reaching towards the stillness of the tree in hopes of matching it. 

As I sat very still, I began to notice something. It was like a vague presence or a sensing. What is this sense? And just as if I’d spoken the wondering aloud, a reply came.

Sit in this stillness, and you will get all your answers.

No sooner had I received this piece of guidance, then the wise old man bid me farewell. My eyes popped open to see his hand already gesturing for the next pilgrim to be guided forward. Awkwardly, I thanked him and stumbled away, confused.

I felt many eyes on me as I walked past the remaining line of pilgrims, but I was too confused and in a daze to care how they saw me. As I made my way back to the nearby village, a sinking feeling of disappointment grew from my confusion. Had the old man gotten tired during my visit? Is that why he spoke only one sentence? The more I questioned what had happened back there under the shade of that large tree, the deeper I sank into disappointment. Nothing could erase the fact that I had come all this way looking for answers, and I hadn’t gotten any. 

The trek back to my own village was a slow and solemn one. My will to seek answers to my questions had suffered from this pilgrimage, and it was with a heavy heart–as if something had died in me– that I approached the familiar place I called home. 

I painted a smile on my face as I was greeted by neighbors and friends. Their children pulled at my sleeves to see what gifts I’d brought back. I promised them all the juiciest story about meeting the wisest old man under a great big tree that evening. Seeing their eyes light up in anticipation, my heart began to accept that it had come home again and that all could resume as normal.  

Several days passed, and it was on my walk back from collecting kindle wood that I stumbled upon a little girl from the village no more than 8 years old sitting in the shade of a tree. I paused to watch what she was doing, and soon realized that she was sitting completely still. My heart began to move and thump as if trying to speak to me through my chest. A million things became clear to me as it did. A man could walk for days to meet the wisest old man, and come back empty-handed. Yet, a little girl could listen to a story and explore its wisdom by trying to taste it herself.

Overcome with curiosity, I decided to go and ask the little girl if she had gotten any answers.

The End

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Author’s note:

Thumbnail sketches

When I hear the phrase, “information age” I think of turning to the internet for answers. The power that comes with a simple click of a button connecting us to our answers is beyond seductive. However, trouble arises when we rely less and less on our own direct connection to wisdom and life experience and replace it with the belief that something outside of ourselves has our answers. When this delicate balance of looking outward and looking inward is upset, we can unintentionally give our power away to whoever or whatever we view as the “authority.” In doing so, we can also begin the practice of invalidating ourselves by not turning inward and building trust in ourselves. If this continues, we can lose touch with our own power before it has had a chance to really blossom. 

When this story came through, I immediately identified with the seeker–the man who went out of his way to meet the wise old man in a distant land. Then, as the story unfolded, I took a step back and observed more quietly in the background. Was the wise old man really wise? Or was he wise only when he matched the stillness of the tree? And when the seeker heard the reply to sit in stillness to get all his answers, had that reply come from the wise old man, or the seeker’s own connection to wisdom? At first I wanted to know, but then I saw the wisdom in not saying either way. 

I remember being a little girl and being less conditioned by society as well as still very ignorant to the goings-on of the world. I think I would have loved to hear this story back then. When we are so young and innocent, our connection to Nature is naturally so much stronger. We can listen to a story like this and not for a moment think that wisdom is only for some people depending on their age and or gender. In fact, this story is not a tale about a wise man at all; but a simple demonstration of the wisdom that can be found when we commune with Nature. 

My wish today is that, especially during this time of year, the child in each of us can look at this simple act of matching the stillness of a tree and just know there are gifts–perhaps meaningful personal messages for us–waiting in the light for us.. 

..that just like wisdom, gifts don’t always have to be found outside of ourselves. 

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No matter who or where a story comes from, moments of movement and moments of stillness can be found embedded within it. This precious balance can be seen in any form of wisdom and it is the fundamental key in the ancient human quest for answers. Even the relationship between the state of questioning and the state of having answers can be simplified into this duality of movement and stillness. 

When we sit simmering in our questions, there is great movement within. In matching the stillness of a tree, these questions stop simmering and eventually can become still. In the simple absence of questions, or absence of mental activity we experience while questioning, it is akin to having the answers. We allow ourselves to experience a deeper stillness. Rather than looking for the answers to your questions, what happens when we allow ourselves to stop asking questions? When we practice the stillness that we assume comes after we get our answers?  

Hi, Boris!

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

“No, Boris doesn’t look like that..”

(scribbles)

“Now that looks right-ish.”

“Hmm, but something is missing..”

(more scribbles)

“There. Hi, Boris!”

♦♦♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Gift Exchange

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The Gift Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

Omm Inspiration

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

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

♦♦♦

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Me & Wei Wei 

Charlie Bear’s nose <3 

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