As I dig deeper into the management and business world with my graduate studies, (oh yeah, didn’t I tell you I’m going to grad school? I just felt like I had too much time in my hands and needed something more challenging to do!) I keep finding the topic of mindfulness thrown out a lot here and there.
Mindfulness is a movement in the business world. Managers and leaders are using mindfulness approaches such as focus techniques, breathing exercises, and meditation to help their employees effectively fight stress, relax, be more productive, enjoy life and their careers.
To be mindful is to be fully present in the moment. We are constantly dwelling on the past and planning the future that we miss the present. The Dalai Lama said it best when he said: “Man… he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
I have my department chair asking me if I have the syllabus for September ready. What? Is he serious? I said: “no, I am working on my to do list for today.” He looked at me like I was irresponsible for not thinking ahead. Business and organizations are constantly focused on the future. This attitude gets injected into their employees; leading to people behave and think like the company, completely forgetting about what’s in front of their eyes at any moment. It is indeed irresponsible to live as if there is no tomorrow. In fact, a lot of the world, business, and personal problems we face today are because nobody stopped to think about future consequences. However, if for just a brief moment every day we stop and appreciate what it is in front of our eyes, we can have a much richer life and enhance the experience of being.
The research on the effect of mindfulness is vast and extensive and it is clear that living mindfully is beneficial. But how do you that? How do you live mindfully?
A formal practice of mindfulness is of course, Zen meditation. That’s the whole purpose of sitting in Zazen: to be mindful and aware for a certain period of time. Breathing is a tool used during mediation to reach a state of total awakening and mindfulness. However, Zen practice can be grueling, challenging and not very accessible to many, impeding people from benefiting from such valuable practice. But, mindfulness can be experienced by simply making a conscious effort to stop and experience the moment.
Shodo is a mindfulness practice. Its processes provides us with an opportunity to expand our awareness and attention to help increase our existence. Just like breathing is a tool during Zen practice, the movement of the brush is the tool we use during Shodo to settle our thoughts.
The Kanji for mindfulness is 念 NEN. The Kanji is composed of two parts. The top part is the Kanji 今 “ima” which means “NOW”. The bottom part is the Kanji 心“kokoro” which means “MIND”. Consequently, this Kanji means “mind in the now” or “the mind in the present”.
Because of the nature of Shodo, it is actually not that hard to make Shodo a mindful practice. In fact, you’re probably already experiencing a mindful practice with Shodo and may not even realized it. For example, because of the amount of detail involved when composing Kanji characters, you have to pay attention and be aware of every single hand movement. At the end of a session you may also contemplate what you did. A very simple mindful practice is to go for a walk and simply appreciate your surroundings. Similarly, contemplate and understand that what’s on the paper is a representation of yourself. Do not think whether your calligraphy is right or wrong, good or bad.
A powerful way to brush mindfully is to slow down. I had a student on my last workshop that brushed really fast. I kept telling her to slow down. She explained she couldn’t. She had to brush quickly. I said: “when you do that you’re only experiencing the end of the stroke, you’re missing the rest. Slow down and pay attention to the entire movement of the brush”. If you find yourself brushing too fast, slow down. It’s okay if you end up brushing less pieces during a practice session. Shoot for quality over quantity.
I consider breathing important on Shodo practice. Breathing is a powerful thing. Heck, it is what keeps us alive yet we are so disconnected with this simple body function. When you sit down to brush, see if you can connect your strokes with your breath. Connecting your breath with your strokes is a wonderful way to channel your energy from your body and into your calligraphy.
It’s harder everyday to settle down and walk mindfully, eat mindfully, or brush mindfully. The world we live is moving at high-speed with faster uploads and downloads and constant stream of information. Our daily activities do not provide us with the opportunities to be present in the moment. Maybe that’s why managers and leaders are looking outside of their organizations for mindfulness, because they know the nature of business is not to be mindful.
We have to make a conscious effort if we want our careers, job, training, etc. to enrich our lives. If you want Shodo to bring you to a mindful place you have to make the decision to make Shodo a mindful practice.