Today’s been a great day. Somehow I was able to get up at a decently early hour to do a bit of reading and Headspace meditation (still only on the 10 min setting though ^^;) and was able to focus quite well on studying my Japanese and related stuff. I really enjoyed the afternoon though. With nothing planned, no need to go anywhere or run any errands… my mind was able to give its ‘practical’ side a break to go into a relaxed, exploration mode. The sort that I love. I still find that often times I’m preoccupied with making use of my time ‘productively’ and while I do feel relieved or a sense of accomplishment whenever I’m able to properly tick those goals off mine off my checklist, I guess the real benefit is that it then leaves blocks of time open for other explorations of the mind.
There’s so much beauty in life, especially things that can be appreciated based on the current season. Learning to look out for such transient beauty and learning to appreciate things is something that I’ve really treasured after coming over to Berlin. It’s my first winter in Berlin and thank goodness, it’s been a relatively warm one. This week’s possibly the coldest that it’ll get. After weeks of hovering around 0-5 degrees Celsius, it’s finally dipped below 0 in the past week and this week went down to -11 as the all time low. In other parts of Europe though, even the UK, there have been lots of snowstorms and far worse weather. Over in Berlin though, the days have been replete with intense clear blue skies, glorious sunshine throughout the days. My spirits have been so high with the abundance of sunshine. And even yesterday when I was walking outside, though it was -6, the incredible thing was that the chill air actually felt refreshing. (My dear Canadian friend L would definitely be proud of me for feeling that way.) Instead of taking the tube for one stop as I had imagined I’d do, I ended up walking about 5 – 10 minutes to my next destination. All the while thinking that despite the frigid cold, that fact is that winter will soon be ending. Spring and its all its warmth and comforting beauty will arrive soon. But perhaps…a tiny bit of me will miss the intense bite of chill air and incredible sense of aliveness provided by the almost too-strong glare of the sun as it blazes through the cloudless sky.
It’s these seasonal features that I love, which I never got the chance to experience back in SG. Though of course sometimes the feeling of putting on 3-4 layers and tugging on those heavy winter lined boots makes me feel tired and heavy already before I leave the house, I don’t miss at all the humidity of SG that can be so overwhelming and suffocating. People might find it strange that I’ve started learning more about Japanese arts since moving here to Berlin of all places. But I knew that it was always an eventuality. The only thing that had held me back in SG really was time. So the fact is that now that I’m here with D in Berlin and have been fortunate enough to have been able to take time off from work etc, I want to make the most of the precious time I have here, to explore all sorts of things that I’ve hitherto been interested in.
Some things that have really made this winter a beautiful one are:
A huge big love of mine right now. It took quite awhile for me to find teachers for Ikebana in Berlin but for now… I’m really thankful to have found a few teachers from different Ikebana schools. I know most people probably just go for one and stick with it for the rest of their lives as they might be ‘supposed’ to, but I don’t see how anyone can make a reasonable decision for something that important without at least trying a few different schools out to see which one resonates with them the most. Each Ikebana school has its different styles and philosophies which are fascinating to learn. Then again, I know only the bare minimum details at the moment because the more I start digging the more confused I get. I’ve come to realise that for the case with any of these arts with such rich history and depth, learning of knowledge requires incredible amounts of time and at the same time, there is a time and place for learning different things (yet another conclusion from Tea lol). Reading of some facts or looking at photos of certain styles can be done as a beginner, but I do think that they will take on more significance and meaning when done with a little more knowledge and experience built up through practice. So I’m trying to be patient with myself in that regard.
What I do love though, is learning how more about the Japanese aesthetic through the eyes of my teachers. It’s a real honour, I sometimes think, to be able to see first hand how these teachers arrange flowers with their trained eyes and sense of beauty. What they chose to emphasize, the lines they inevitably fall back to because it’s been shown to provide a sense of beauty despite its imperfect asymmetry…
On my very first lesson with the teacher of Saga Goryu Ikebana (which I feel is probably the style my heart most resonates with now), she mentioned that the large vase (almost like a round basin) used for the Moribana decoration is like a Universe that we create. With the flowers we choose, the way we decorate and display them is a reflection of our inner universe. We can show love for our husbands (‘your husband’ was the term she kept using for me after finding out about D lol) after he comes back home from work but choosing to use a brightly colour flower which brings energy to the viewer. We don’t have to say anything but our feelings are already conveyed through our flower arrangement. Thought that was a most beautiful sentiment.
This teacher, S-Sensei, I find particularly intriguing. With asymmetrically cut short hair, a section of which is dyed a bright red, she exudes a real energy in her fast paced forceful speech and expressive demeanour. Sometimes she says rather unexpected things which initially I found surprisingly and I’m still getting used to her but as my friend who introduced her to me says, she has the ‘heart of an artist’ which he appreciates very much. That, I can’t deny. Though she arranges flowers in such a fast manner, selecting flowers, snipping off excess leaves, snapping twigs of branches to fit the shape of the vase all with an almost careless nonchalance, every step is well thought out as she explains as she goes along. And in the end, truly, I always love seeing the end result of her Moribana arrangements, for they truly feel like a tiny beautiful universe in themselves.
Certain things I found interesting that she emphasised on in the last lesson:
– paying attention to the tiniest bud. She was so enthused when she pointed the tiniest flowering bud out to me and said she arranged it such that it could be noticed if one paid attention. Despite the roaring beauty of the other larger, more vivid blooms, this tiny one was symbolic of the future (未来) with its budding life force.
– placing rocks in the basin and wetting it with water. She said one of her favourite parts of the process is decorating with rocks at the end. And if visitors are due to come over to visit, wet the stones a little with water, to bring out the feeling of freshness of the scene. It’s the same reason why many stores and even before the tea ceremony, the hosts will sprinkle judicious amounts of fresh water over the stones to welcome their guests. Such a tiny, easily overlooked detail but once noticed, makes all the difference. Such is the Japanese omotenashi.
– creating asymmetry and the use of space. One of the senior students had done a beautiful arrangement with a thick bark resting on an inclined position over the mouth of a tall vase. She helped her to thin out one side of the bark because it was too symmetrical on both sides. Then proceeded to thin out some flowers in order to create some space for the beauty of the asymmetry to show through. Even now, thinking back, that was such an Aha! moment for me, my heart still flutters.
The presence of flowers at home really have been a mood-lifting feature throughout the cold wintry days though. Here’s one of my favourites:
These are actually Peach flowers from my Ikenobo style class. Aren’t these beautiful? They are still surviving now and more often than not, when I walk by, I can’t help but stand there and just marvel at how adorably cute those delicate petals are.
I’ve only gone for a few lessons because these are once a month on Thursday, same day as Tea with T-Sensei so that usually takes priority. But the last session I went for just yesterday felt particularly rejuvenating ^___^ Maybe because I didn’t completely ruin the two tiny paintings we were supposed to do on a small postcard sized paper. The fact that they were much smaller than usual definitely helped with masking obvious flaws in the painting I think.
While it’s pretty enjoyable, I view Sumi-E as more of a way to exercise creativity in another way. I’m pretty sure I remember hearing someone (Tim Ferriss maybe?) talk about doing an almost ‘unrelated’ hobby or interest but as a way to stimulate subconscious connections in the brain which may eventually help. I don’t stress myself out over producing a beautiful painting each time and perhaps that’s why it can be more enjoyable. I use it as a chance to practice brush strokes, practice holding paint brushes, and learning how to adjust the water needed for different strokes which is still my biggest challenge for now.
One thing that I adore about Sumi-E too though, is seeing the seasonal connections that are invariably drawn upon. Each month the teacher decides on the topic and does up a sketch for us. Thankfully, she normally paints flowers and it’s always a thrill to paint the flowers that I’ve used in Ikebana or seen around the florists because they are the flowers of the season.
- January – narcissus (which was the flower used in my very first Ikebana arrangement with S-Sensei…which of course she completely redid. But I love that story nonetheless. ;p)(also saw this at the Tea Ceremony class at the museum in February)
- February – Plum
- March – Rapeseed blossom
For the Narcissus painting, it was my first time trying it out at home because I’d missed the class (and in that way, missed the most important teaching point lol which is basically seeing how the Sensei draws each brush stroke. But this is something to learn as well. 😉 I know it’s not particularly nice, this piece, but in the end, I do hope anyone reading this feels the urge to just try something creative for the joy of it… the joy of letting the mind chill a little.
(Fun fact: Sumi-E ink was actually “invented over two thousand years ago when carbon soot was collected from the inside of the kilns where porcelain dishes were fired”. How cool is it that this was an accidental by-product of ceramics???)
Grateful always, for these opportunities to learn to appreciate beauty and to really appreciate living right here and now. I have no doubt that learning is a seasonal thing as well. Not only is it dependent on our stage of life but it’s also a reflection of our current state of affairs in life. The fact is that while I can, I will do my best to continue learning as much as possible in these areas that absolutely spark joy for me. Perhaps they will form a reservoir of beauty for me to turn to should there ever be stresses or times of need.
Now that it’s Friday, am really looking forward to the weekend ahead with D. Time to help him with dinner now.