Monthly Archives: October 2015

The intention behind the dog-eared piece of paper

calligraphyWhen the Chinese man placed a long sheet of white paper onto the wooden table, I couldn’t help but notice that the paper was dog-eared and stained. The paper looked old; my first thought was that he was recycling the paper.

During our recent visit to China, we were asked if we would like to have a calligraphy lesson. Yes, please!

So we found ourselves in the middle of a hutong (a cluster of homes in winding, narrow alleys) at a round kitchen table, surrounded by would-be calligraphers. Our teacher sits within us and paints the Chinese characters onto the paper – his strokes are quick: some end with flourishes, and other strokes end with whispers of ink. I am in heaven.

There are many things that give me joy, and watching an artist create is clearly at the top of my list. (I think that when we create, it is really the best of us. That thought gives me joy.) Our calligrapher’s hand is upright as the interpreter explains that one holds the brush perpendicular to the paper. Fully upright! The exact opposite of how a Westerner would hold a brush or pen. His five fingers are grasping the brush as he dips the brush into the ink bowl.

He starts at the top and brushes downwards. He moves from the left side to the right side. Oh, wait. He moves down the centre of the paper and draws a line, but now he surrounds it with two flourishes – one on the left and the other on the right side of the downward stroke. When he draws two boxes – one inside the other, he completes the inside box before he makes the final stroke of the outside box. (Will he give us instructions when we leave? A how-to book? Guidelines? A YouTube site that we can visit?)

The strong black strokes and trailing feathery lines on the white paper contrast greatly, and I know immediately that I am going home to learn this ancient art. I find it beautiful and exquisite.

I’d already bought calligraphy brushes in a beautiful box and now realize that the intended recipient of the souvenir was never going to see them. I knew that I would keep them for my own personal use.

Before I went to China, I had looked on YouTube for videos of calligraphy painting and was rewarded with a prolific number of sites exhibiting the beautifully skilled artists. I also knew that Westerners call the white paper, rice paper, which is not what the artists use. The paper they write on is called Shuan (Xuan) paper. It is rather expensive, so beginners do not usually use it. (My hunch is that our own teacher is using cheaper paper.)

Our interpreter, our own Chinese guide, told us that the calligrapher calls his tools, The Four National Treasures: ink, ink stone, paper and brush.

Wherever we visited one of the many ancient sites in China, my sister and I were always looking for works of calligraphy. Often tables were set up among the vendors and artists were working. Sometimes scrolls were used and the writer would dab at the paint to ensure it doesn’t smear; the painted scrolls were then flung over  string hung from tree to tree, or wooden dowels used as a drying rack. We spent many of our few, precious minutes allowed for shopping, just watching the artists.

Calligraphy prints drying out

Calligraphy prints drying out

Painter selling his art

We noticed that the artists differed in their techniques and I learned when I returned home, that there are five different styles: Seal (Zuan), Clerical (Li), Running (Tsao), Walking (Hsin), and Standard (Kai). I also learned that beginners usually employ the Kai Shu style or Li Shu style.

I read that the success of a piece or the value of a work of a calligrapher is measured by the strength of the stroke or the power within the stroke. In other words, how the calligrapher holds the brush and makes the stroke (where the pressure on the paper is made, or when the brush is lifted) expresses the uniqueness of each piece. And, those strokes and the power within the stroke or the subtlety of the stroke is what differentiates the masters from the others.

Calligraphy

Our own Chinese teacher ignores most of our questions, as he is intent on painting each of us a personal keepsake, or gift.

I ask our Chinese guide if I may receive a piece of paper with the word Longevity inscribed on it as I know immediately that I am going to give my gift to my friend who has cancer when I return to Canada.

When the artist drew the characters onto the piece of paper, I can see that he is pleased to be asked to write that particular word: longevity.

The Chinese are very superstitious, and therefore, many of the Chinese calligraphy works that we have seen translate into prosperity, love, fortune, abundance, long life and health. Not taking any chances, the Chinese surround themselves with tokens that symbolize the good life, the healthy life; hence, works of calligraphy are revered by all.

The broad strokes symbolize different words… short and long sweeps of ink, short flourishes, long flourishes, boxes, dabs, dabs with smears…each denotes part of an object or a thought. Some of the strokes make sense to me – three strokes denotes the number three. (One stroke means the number one; two strokes – two.) One word looks like a pictogram that looks familiar – a tree. Then, he draws two trees, side by side. The one tree does denote the word tree. But the pictogram of two trees actually denotes forest. (Hey, I wrongly assume, isn’t the Chinese language difficult to learn? This is easy.)

Then he draws so many strokes within other strokes, that I am confused and cannot distinguish the end from the beginning. I shake my head. I’ll stick to learning and drawing one, two, three. (Because the number four is not four strokes.)

Finally our calligrapher hands over to me a torn, dog-eared piece of paper and I am grinning from ear to ear when I realize that the beautiful black strokes spell Longevity because I believe everything (especially old, dog-eared pieces of paper) have an energy and I am certain my keepsake is pulsating with the energy of all of us squeezed into that small room: the excitement and appreciation of our group, the ancient history of the art, the knowledge and experience (and gifts) of the artist, himself; the superstition of the Chinese people, along with their well-wishes, and their pride and honour in teaching us something about their country – all these positive energies are stirred together with curiosity, openness, and hope. Each of these energies is powerful when alone; mixed together – super powerful.

All of this accompanied me home when I rolled up my paper and tucked it into my suitcase.

In Canada, my friend accepted my gift in the spirit in which it was given – she overlooked the stains on the paper and only saw the intent of the inscription. And the intent of the artist. And my intent.

Giving and receiving. Both are gifts. And they exist everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing leads to peace and contentment

When I write, I process my world. And I know that most writers write because that’s what they do. And it is through this process that I figure out what really matters to me. It’s as if my writing pares down my life; as if my writing gets rid of the stuff that no longer matters to me, or serves me, or feeds me.

So I write about the things that matter to me: self-care, caring for our loved ones, compassion, love, awareness, acceptance, creativity, expansion, nature, joy, my spiritual journey, Grace, Oneness, and gifts from the Universe.

Pare down or detach. What remains? What matters to you? I’m guessing that most of us care about our families, love, contentment and happiness, health, our pets, our homes, and how we spend our time here on earth – jobs, careers, occupations, service to others, our purpose or life’s work.

Fulfilling our life’s  purpose or destiny is what really matters to many of us. But in a strange twist or irony, I find that letting go or detaching from this pursuit of finding my life’s purpose has taken me to a place of contentment and peace within myself.

When we focus too much on our need to find our life`s purpose, we forget that just in living our daily lives, that is – to live in the Now and appreciate each moment; to become aware of the beauty that surrounds us in all things; to fully appreciate our activities and the people that we meet each day; to listen to others and respond from our hearts, authentically; to accept our reality and let go of control and the need to orchestrate our day; to just flow with the Universe – this is how we live our life’s purpose.

Our life’s purpose is to just be. Doesn’t that sound simple? Well, it is. To just be is authentic and honest. Each of us will just be differently…and that’s why when we accept this humble, so simple act of just being (our best that we offer) that the light bulb turns on! Wait a minute. If I am enough just as I am, then that means that you and you and you are also enough (just as you are!). Whew. That’s mind-blowing. We no longer have to compete against each other. We can let go of the need to be smarter than others, richer than others, or thinner than others. We can let go of the fallacy that we are meant to be the best or to outdo everyone else because the reality is that we are already perfect – we are enough (just as we are).

And since we are enough just as we are, then clearly we are already fulfilling our life’s destiny. We are already on the path. We are clearly doing what we are supposed to be doing. Today I am writing about what matters to me. I am supposed to be writing – I know this because I found my writing passion while caring for my parents who had Alzheimer’s. It was one of many gifts that I received (and now share) during that challenging journey.

It’s why I remind people when they are caring for loved ones, that they are on a journey of discovery – yes, today it is difficult; but tomorrow will be full of possibilities and gifts – all ready to be learned (and then shared) because of the journey that you walk today. I remind them that they were meant to be on this journey of caregiving and I know this because of one simple fact: They are on this journey. It is their reality. The Universe makes no mistakes.

When I looked after my father and then my mother, and when I now volunteer at the long-term care facility where she lived, I know that my simple acts of kindness are directly related to my fulfilling my life’s destiny. I am meant to be there – with my peeps. (My sister’s term when she refers to the residents.) I know this without a doubt for one simple reason – I am truly happy when I visit my peeps. I feel such peace and contentment within.  This is the gift that I receive each time that I visit them.

Whether you are laughing with your loved ones, reading a book to your beloved child or grandchild, teaching students, showing someone how to fix a broken object, telling someone a joke so that they will smile, running an errand for a neighbour…it matters not what you do…but how does it make you feel?

When you are feeling joy well up within or you are grinning from ear to ear (and you don’t even know why) or you are feeling so peaceful, then I am pretty certain that you are fulfilling your life’s destiny.

Ah, the sweet gifts that come from writing: recognition, awareness, attention. All gifts.

 

 

 

 

 

Post-it notes are hurting my brain!

Post-it Notes are hurting my brain. At least that is what Superbrain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being (Chopra, Deepak, MD. Tanzi, Ruldolphe E., PhD.) informs me.

Apparently when I use grocery lists to remember what I need at the grocery store as a crutch, I begin to slow down my recall. It is much better to memorize the list (without using a crutch, the tiny 4 x 4 yellow sheet), and go cold turkey, according to the authors.

Tanzi writes that use of lists begin to slow down our memory skills and we become lazy. Our brain begins to atrophy. Oh, oh. I’m in trouble. I am a prolific user of the Post-it Note. In fact, so much so, I rate the inventors (Arthur Fry and Spencer Silver)  as genius!

And I am not the only one who believes in the inventors’ genius  sticky paper. When I tell my coffee friends that we have to exercise our brains more to keep them in shape and so we need to give up lists, including the Post-it Notes (which all of us over the years have regaled each other with tales of the yellow sticky papers – on windows, car dashboards, computer screens, desk tops, books, inside cupboards, in the fridge…endless tales), well, there is a hush. Then one of my friends states, Unequivocally, that is never going to happen!

We are attached to our sticky notes, healthy brains or not!

But I am attempting to live a life without too many attachments, and so if the brain is healthier by the simple practice of memorization (and not Post-it Notes), then I am willing to give it a go.  (I can already see a huge savings in my bank account. Ha.)

Intellectual stimulation comes from many daily activities and exercising recall is just one of many pursuits to a healthier brain function. I’m all in; after all, both my parents had Alzheimer’s disease so a healthy brain is a number one priority for me.

Since most of the foods that I buy at the grocery store are foods that I eat daily – fruits and vegetables and whole grains – I do not find the task of buying groceries without a list too difficult.  Usually I find myself in the produce aisle asking myself, What goes into my green drink? What should we have for dinner? Both those simple questions lead me to total recall of my list.

But strangely enough, I usually have prolific lists of books when I visit the library and so I find that giving up my sticky notes, listing new authors and new topics that I want to pursue, is extremely challenging. I stand in the middle of the arts section and think, What the heck?  I want a book on Calligraphy but which book was recommended by Nancy? Or, I am in the literature aisles and I go completely blank. Name me an author, please!

I get nothing. Nada! Nil! Nowt! (I’m screwed.) I leave with two books on painting, but neither fits my needs. (Because I don’t paint.) I want to drive home quickly and find my notes. Yes, the multiple Post-it Notes that are in my book bag in the cupboard. Thank heavens I had the wisdom to hide them and not throw them away.

But shouldn’t my pursuit of my passions (reading) come easily to me without the use of a yellow piece of paper? (In my case, multiple yellow pieces.)

When I analyze why I can remember my grocery list, but cannot remember my book list, I am puzzled. Is it because I actually memorize my grocery list before I leave the house? Do I assume that my reading list (translate: one of my true passions in life) is on my default button; therefore, I assume not necessary to memorize? Or is it because that list is particularly long? (I add to it whenever someone mentions a book or an interest of mine, or if I read a review, or read a particularly riveting blog on WordPress.com…I am constantly revising it.)

Hmm…apparently this recall stuff is trickier than at first glimpse. I will need to research more. Google: Why is it easier to recall my grocery list but not my recommended book list? Google: Please list a number of books that you recommend for exercising the recall area of the brain. Google: Please do not list them on a Post-it Note that I can easily download. (Because that would be cheating. Or, would it?)

Now, where did I put that book Superbrain? Apparently I need to re-read a chapter. (Note to me: Re-read Superbrain.)

And, here’s another thing that is bothering me: Why is it that I sat down to write about my recent adventure to China, and yet here I am, writing about recall. And lists.