Sunday, March 29, 2009

Putting pen to paper

School starts again tomorrow. This past week I've been on spring break, lounging around Boston and getting back to the small details that I've been too impatient to deal with for the past 8 weeks. Things like making my bed properly, doing my taxes [almost done!], cooking a proper meal, making up a batch of cornbread. That's my sign that I'm no longer living consciously: when I grow too impatient and agitated to make time for the necessities in life. Never mind the small joys, if I can't even properly take care of myself because I feel too stressed or harried, it's the universe's way of telling me that I need to stop, reassess, and figure out what's not working, because obviously something isn't working.

The first Saturday of spring break I was filled with ambition of places to see and things to do for my week of freedom, so I hopped the T for Davis Square. Greater Boston is really a conglomerate of smaller city centers, and I'd heard good things about Davis Square. On the way there, on public transportation which I do love from the deepest of my hearts for its ability to let you submerge yourself in the currents of strangers moving past one another, I met an old man from Shanghai, 81 years old now and retired twice, once as a professor at the age of 60, at which point he moved to America and spent another 10 years at a design firm before retiring for good.

These days he teaches taichi to his neighbors in the elderly complex in the streets behind my own apartment building; stops off at Chinatown to grocery shop; takes classes at adult ed centers and Chinese schools around the greater Boston area. But one thing I like, he tells me, is to paint.

What kind of painting, I ask, traditional Chinese brush painting? [known in Chinese as 'mountains and water' because those 2 elements always appear in traditional Chinese brush painting settings]

Yes, yes, he says, that and watercoloring. Neither one is easy, I comment to him.

But one thing I've realized about them, he says back, and about brush painting in particular, is that painting an qigong are one and the same. I had heard that said before, just never experienced it for myself so I couldn't fully understand what others meant by it. But its true. One stroke of the brush - and here he mimics a firm long stroke with his entire arm, as though pulling out the essence of a mountain or a stream with a single line of ink - is exactly the same as a breath of qi.

These were my first attempts at calligraphy, not written with a paintbrush but with a calligraphy pen instead, holding the pen in the exact same way: grasped between third and fourth finger, elbow and wrist never touching the table so as to write with the entire arm, and, by extension, the entire body. The entire qi. Otherwise the intention cannot be transferred to word on paper. It has a meditative quality, this writing of calligraphy, the same word over and over again. Eventually I hope to graduate to writing out entire poems and with a proper calligraphy brush at that. But right now, little rituals are helpful for daily meditation, and for patience, the patience to start attending to daily necessities once more.

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