Monday, 11 November 2013

Insight Calligraphy: Listening and Responding with the Whole Body

"When we practice meditation, we are really acknowledging that in this moment, we are on the road of life. The path unfolds in this moment and in every moment while we are alive. Meditation is more rightly thought of as a "Way" than as a technique. It is a Way of being, a Way of living, a Way of listening, a Way of walking along the path of life and being in harmony with things as they are." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p88.

Traditional Chinese 'Insight' Calligraphy teacher, Paul Wang, outlines the core of his Zen brush method as follows:

(Sōng) - Relax/Let go
触 (
Chù) - Engage/Make contact
息 (
Xi) - Notice breathing
意 (
Yì) - Flow with intention

This process is to be begun before one writes, and is continued as a whole mode of being. As these four necessary conditions are being maintained mindfully, when practicing copying a particular character, one operates from one's whole body - 'listening' in a receptive state with the whole body to what one is focusing upon, and reflecting one's experience back onto the paper as one writes.

In the same way that one's body can effortlessly balance on a bicycle as one moves over the surface one is riding upon, the body can be trusted to replicate the essence of the character one is copying - something beyond aesthetic form - a condition of being laid down onto paper. The 'journey' of writing a beautiful flowing traditional Chinese character can be enjoyed mindfully in the same way that a flowing bicycle ride through the countryside can be enjoyed - balancing intelligently, yet also automatically - relaxing into the flow, and 'surfing' the twists and turns.

This open receptivity - letting go and allowing the body's innate intelligence to operate effortlessly and unobstructed lies at the core of secular mindfulness practice, as well as the traditional Zen Buddhist arts. Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn states in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p227:
"Open and receptive, we find balance and harmony right here, all space folded into this place, all moments folded into this moment."
Paul Wang says that the famous Zen koan "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" produces such a state of mind - listening for the sake of receptivity; opening all of our channels so that the heart/mind can receive, reflect, and respond unhindered by man-made constructs so that true nature can pour out. In this sense listening is done for the state itself, rather than for any particular conceptual answer. Kabat-Zinn writes of this in Wherever You Go, There You Are, p234:
"Inquiry is not so much thinking about answers, although the questioning will produce a lot of thoughts that look like answers. It really involves just listening to the thinking that your questioning evokes, as if you were sitting by the side of the stream of your own thoughts, listening to the water flow over and around the rocks, listening, listening, and watching an occasional leaf or twig as it is carried along."
From this perspective, formal seated mindfulness meditation and Insight calligraphy share the same core methodology.

Here is a recent piece I wrote - a part of the Heart Sutra which translates as 'Neither produced nor destroyed', or 'No birth, no death':

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