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. 

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. =) 

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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