“I can see you have a great deal of water in your personality. Water never waits. It changes shape and flows around things, and finds the secret paths no one else has thought about — the tiny hole through the roof or the bottom of the box. There’s no doubt it’s the most versatile of the five elements. It can wash away earth; it can put out fire; it can wear a piece of metal down and sweep it away. Even wood, which is its natural complement, can’t survive without being nurtured by water. And yet, you haven’t drawn on those strengths in living your life, have you?”
Today’s sketch is a digital piece inspired by this quote. I found inspiration in some photographs I found online and created a reduction of the colours into black-and-white to highlight the graceful form of a Geisha’s silhouette.
The thought behind this piece was to push myself to draw no matter how I’m feeling during the day. Draw when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m energetic, when I’m not so enthusiastic, when I’m told I’m good at something, when I’m told I’m not good enough. No matter what happens around me, I need to keep drawing. In time, I feel it creates a strong sense of inner identity while helping spread joy to others! So here’s to being more fluid and fearless, like water.
Freehand sketch using Adobe Illustrator
(Send me a message if you would like to purchase a digital copy of this piece!)
“The word “enthusiasm” comes from the Greek word “entheos” which means the God within. And the happiest, most interesting people are those who have found the secret of maintaining their enthusiasm, that God within.” ~ Earl Nightingale.
On the hardest of days, when you’re sad or disappointed with yourself or others, when work is overpowering you, can you still find enthusiasm within you? That’s what Entheos stands for. It isn’t merely “interest” or enthusiasm in the generic sense that is easily wavered by circumstances. It’s that fire that burns deep inside, that sudden ray of sunshine from behind a dark cloud.
When I heard of this word from my philosophy teacher and pondered over how to express it, a school of Koi came to my mind for some reason, swimming with joy and bubbling with golden energy.
Of late, I’ve been focusing all my energy on maintaining my Entheos for life through art and meaningful moments. It’s hard to sometimes overcome the inner critic, especially when you have an idea burning inside but you’re too scared to sketch it for fear of imperfection and criticism. This is one sketch from a project I’m calling ‘The Wabi-Sabi project’ to overcome my hesitation to draw more freely.
For months now, one of my friends had been asking me to watch Midnight Diner, a series on Netflix, knowing the Japanophile I am. I finally got around to watching it and now I cannot seem to stop. It is unlike any other series also because it weaves the lives of ordinary people beautifully into the story of a man who runs a humble diner in Tokyo. Every scene bubbles with warmth, familiar Japanese customs, etiquette and objects. And so, if you love this series as much as I do, this one’s for you!
“Midnight Diner” is the rare show that I love but can’t binge-watch—I need to savor the show’s slow, meditative rhythms. The same goes for the food, which we see the Master prepare, and which always looks delicious. It’s particularly moving when regulars ask him to make their childhood favorites—a reminder of the basic comfort that his diner provides. Nighttime is when feelings of euphoria, or despair, feel particularly acute. Yet there’s a simple pleasure to eating with strangers, and swapping stories, in a small room full of people who can be alone together.
The world is your kaleidoscope, and the varying combinations of colors which at every succeeding moment it presents to you are the exquisitely adjusted pictures of your ever-moving thoughts.
– James Allen
Ever so often, in the middle of a busy day, when I find myself reaching a dead end in corporate corridors, a world with endless expectations, motives and mazes, I find solace in looking at photographs from older journeys. I have been working on a project for some years now that I like to call “Travel Palettes” simply because I believe each of these card I design is like serving up a plateful of delectable colours from the slice of a landscape. A colour for a memory, a shade for an experience.
Updating some more from the recent past. You can find older ones in my earlier blog posts:
Magnificent farmhouses that look like they jumped out of a storybook, large open fields, streams and canals, ponds with koi, lovely porches, unique shops and a magnificent view of the surrounding mountains. All this and more in Shirakawago! Here’s what we will cover in this article:
Getting to Shirakawago from Takayama
What to see and do once you’re there
All about the Gassho-zukuri roofs
Unique values of the village
Links to more information around accommodation, transport, passes
On a cold and rainy April evening in 2015, my friend and I huddled together in a small Washitsu (和室) or traditional Japanese room with a Tatami floor in Takayama at J Hopper’s hostel, getting ready to settle in for the night. We had an early morning coming up and wanted to be sprightly when it did arrive.
We were on a 17 day trip backpacking across Japan from Tokyo all the way south to Hiroshima and on this particular night, we were excited to journey across the snow capped mountains of the ‘Japanese Alps’ near Hida Takayama.
The next morning, at 7.50am we boarded our bus from Takayama bus station headed to Kanazawa crossing the Alps and covering Shirakawago enroute.
Getting to Shirakawago
You could take the bus from Takayama like we did or figure out other ways to reach based on your itinerary and location. You can find all information on buses, Shinkansen and passes at this page on Japan guide (oh-so-helpful website this one has proven to be!)
The bus took us along winding highways that danced alongside a gushing river for many miles ultimately emerging high up in the mountains. Here we stopped for a 5 minute coffee break and were told that the bus would not wait for anyone that was delayed by even a minute! True to their words, they departed exactly in 5 mins (one of the many things I adore about the Japanese). And so if you do take a bus like this one, make sure to keep an eye out for departures and stick to the timetable to be safe!
Arriving at Shirakawago
After a while, we arrived at the drop off point at Shirakawago. We disembarked and crossed the river using a huge bridge and there we caught our first glimpse of the magnificent UNESCO world heritage site amidst the mountains that were sprinkled with snow like powdered sugar on pancakes.
The Shirakawa-go (白川郷, Shirakawagō) and neighboring Gokayama (五箇山) regions line the Shogawa River Valley in the remote mountains that span from Gifu to Toyama Prefectures. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995, they are famous for their traditional Gassho-zukuri farmhouses, some of which are more than 250 years old.
What to see and do
The Ogimachi village is small and can be easily explored on foot like we did. Even though many of the Gassho-zukuri houses have today been converted into museums, they still provide a fascinating view into the rural farm life in Japan found in few other places. Each house that is a museum has opening and closing hours mentioned and an admission fee as well. So make sure to plan ahead if you’d like to cover more than one and head back to catch the bus.
You could stay here overnight in one of the farmhouses to explore the local way of life and really soak it all in or proceed by bus to Kanazawa like we did or back to other bigger cities nearby. In Ogimachi, we ambled through one cobbled street after another looking at the houses up close, entering and exiting souvenir shops, stopping to buy some coffee and souvenirs and taking plenty of pictures. You could even strike a conversation with one of the locals that speaks in English if you’re lucky and get to know some of their stories!
There is an open-air museum and also a viewpoint that you can walk to for a lovely view of the surrounding area. The viewpoint can be accessed via a walking trail as shown below (closed during/after heavy snowfall) in about 15 to 20 minutes from the village center or by a shuttle bus, which stops near the Wada-ke House.
The meaning of Gassho-zukuri
The words mean “constructed like hands in prayer” as the farmhouses’ steep thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks pressed together in prayer. The architectural style developed over many generations and in older times the roofs provided a large attic space used for cultivating silkworms.
Here is some interesting trivia about the roof architecture:
The houses in these villages face north and south, to minimize wind resistance thereby adjusting the amount of sunlight needed in order to keep the rooms cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
The roofs form an equilateral triangle and so any of the three angles makes 60 degrees.
No nails or any metal is used in the construction of any of these.
Straw ropes and “Neso” a rope from Mansaku trees are used to hold the beams down (it is a sight to behold how the entire village gets together every 20-30 years to do this and how they weave giant needles through the roof using the rope as thread.)
The sloping roof is able to let the heavy snow fall off during winters as well as deflecting rain making it easier to maintain. The residents keep a fire burning in the houses through seasons both to keep away termites and insects that may infest the roof and also to make sure that in winter or rains, neither water nor snow ruins the straw.
In summers, the roofs move a little back and forth with the winds since they aren’t fixed down and thus allow for the air to flow through the houses cooling them down!
Isn’t that an absolutely beautiful way of channeling nature’s energy and being in complete harmony with one’s surroundings? This is one of the classic examples of the simplicity of the Japanese way of life since ancient times.
3 rules of the village
These farmhouses were built more than 300 years ago and over time the imminent threat was that of modernization. Many of these houses were demolished and some villages disappeared. In the face of this challenge, the villagers in this area decided to come together to define three rules that would protect and preserve these houses for future generations and for tourism. Those rules are: “don’t sell, don’t lease, don’t destroy”.
The concept of ‘Yui’
One of the most beautiful concepts of working as a community and living in harmony is portrayed by the idea of ‘Yui’ that these villagers follow. The idea is simple: they come together to re-thatch the roofs and share the work. ‘Yui’ thus describes the bonds between the villagers: across age, across gender and across backgrounds. This is what has protected the village too.
There is a fascinating episode on NKH World TV about these houses which I would highly recommend to anyone who would like to relive their trip to this village or to those who hope to visit someday! You can find more information on their website.
Get yourself some treats as you stroll around
Or a little something to take home that will remind you of these farmhouses!
Traditional systems at their best
In a nutshell
Even if you do not get to visit all the houses and the museum in your short trip, just taking a walk through the streets will give you a peek into how the locals live and work. This little village is sure to enchant all kinds of travelers, most of all the ones that have some room in their hearts for simple joys!
“My theory is about moments, moments of impact. My theory is that these moments of impact, these flashes of high intensity that completely turn our lives upside down, actually end up defining who we are. The thing is, each one of us is the sum total of every moment that we’ve ever experienced with all the people we’ve ever known. And it’s these moments that become our history. Like our own personal greatest hits of memories that we play and replay in our minds over and over again.”
– Leo, The Vow
As another year comes to an end soon, I look back at what has been definitely one of the most challenging string of months in a long time. They say everything happens for a reason and though that reason may not be apparent at the time, it can only be understood by connecting the dots backwards. And so, this is one of those connect-the-dot moments though it will be long before I can fully grasp what this truly means.
Whenever someone would share with me their experience of losing a loved one, a family member or something they held close to (even something they had worked really hard for), I would always say “I can imagine how hard that must have been.” Now I can finally say “I understand what that feels like”.
I have learnt so much about myself in the past few months, about relationships, about holding on and letting go, about inner and outer journeys, about disappointment and will power. 2018 has been the year of ‘People’ for me. I have always been deficient in that area choosing to find solace instead in solitude and in nature, in wilderness and in spirituality. It was the first time I was forced into situations where I had to use all of that to find grace and strength in dealing with the people in my life. Bringing my best to help everyone around me.
And it has not been easy.
Without meandering too much into the recesses of my mind that are still grappling with all the events of the recent past, here is an account of some of the things that have stood out to me as lessons / things I need to work on in this difficult hour. I write these knowing fully well that they too may change in future when an older version of myself will look back at them. But for now, I strongly feel that I need to pour my feelings into verse so as to connect with myself and hopefully with someone else out in the world reading this that may need it on a difficult day they’re having.
Often, it is only when we lose someone that we celebrate what truly made him/her special. It is important to take time out everyday to communicate to loved ones what they bring to the world. To talk about their compassion, kindness, tolerance and honesty while also working on how we can respect each other’s points of view. Often we spend more time focusing on our issues with parents and family rather than rejoicing in the fact that we have been given this lifetime to journey together.
There is a lot of strength in immediate family. We may not spend time together or see each other often. We may not even agree on the same things. But they are always there when you need them the most. We realize that even some cousins, aunts and uncles are not outer circle but inner family in moments like these.
We are much stronger than we ever thought we could be. Each one of us is stronger than our circumstances. We just do not know it for ourselves until the moment arrives. We find strength and courage in places we never even knew existed within us.
Grief is personal. Each person grieves in their own way and there is no right or wrong way to do this. It is also something that takes different amounts of time for different people.
No change is real unless it has shown me what I need to change in myself. As long as I make it to be about others, I will never be at peace. All change must come from within me.
The real “Me” lies much deeper than I know. And this is not even a person anymore, it’s a force of nature. Even when I have to let go of something I thought was what defined me, I find a deeper and more lasting part of me that is more precious than any of the other layers that may or may not exist in my life.
Spirituality without the support of religion is far more rare than I had thought it to be. I found immense strength in the ancient collective wisdom handed down to me by my philosophy teachers in these situations than all the words uttered by those who themselves were not sure of how to react to the situation. It taught me that life is so much more than the forms and of our limited vision of how we have been taught to see.
More often than not, we see things the way we want to instead of the way they really are. This is one of the reasons we are caught unawares or so completely lost when something does not fall in line with what we thought would happen.
Moments of intense grief or sadness hold the opportunity for one to see what is truly eternal and what is transient in life. What is real and what is fake. What is honest and what is hollow. What can be counted on and what cannot.
All pursuits that are for the sake of personal accolades and do not contribute to cleansing who I am and how I can be a better human being will eventually fade and bring me no happiness. It is only with inner contentment and humility that I can appreciate the outer milestones I cover.
My center is in here and not out there. No one, whoever they may be, can restore my inner balance. I have to do it for myself and I must choose to find that balance before anything else I may be expected to do in a moment. For without balance, anything else I do will have no meaning.
Surrendering to a higher power or even just accepting that not everything in life can be planned is a huge inner step in itself. Surrender is also not the same as indifference or letting go. It is being active in kindness, discipline, clarity and courage knowing fully well that the eventual outcome is not always for me to define.
Patience is not just about waiting but who I am and how I behave while I wait. I can wait with bitterness and resentment or I can wait with hope and faith. Even when the outcome is not in my favour, I can choose who I am and how I respond. For by then I will know that as long as I have my willpower and determination, it is only a matter of time before I succeed.
Emotions like anger and disappointment are temporary, but my attitude is permanent. It’s okay to vent, to cry, to be upset, to be in pain. But eventually, I can decide how these moments define or destroy me. Most of the time, a negative reaction is a result of me or someone else feeling threatened. It is important to ask what is it that is making me behave this way?
I can choose how loss defines me. Loss can make me harder and more aggressive or it can make me kinder but clearer and firmer from within. It can give me tools that I need to forge ahead but also the kindness to communicate that with others.
All life is movement. Everything around us is continuously moving and is a form of energy. The question is whether we want to move forward or backward for even when we choose not to move, we are basically moving backwards.
Living each day to the fullest is the only thing I can do. I cannot control how or when I die but I can control how beautifully and completely I live. One of the ways I can do this is also by finding meaning in every moment and I will have to work in my own unique way to do this, no matter how much I am convinced otherwise by those that want me to conform.
Nature is powerful. A powerful healer, a teacher and a companion when you need one.
Most of us underestimate the power of planning, foresight and discipline in our day-to-day life because it is convenient to forget what we need to change. Even if there are no immediate results, in a moment of impact when we brace for damage, we realize how much we have been able to salvage simply because we were well prepared for it, emotionally and mentally. Without that inner discipline, we end up being more a burden on others than a force that can sustain in the long term.
The smallest actions can help me be mindful and calm even in the middle of a storm. Whether it is brewing a cup of tea, decorating my home, playing with a cat, making someone else smile, watching the rain and clouds or just focusing on my breath while sitting in the garden. I have the ability to calm myself down even when I think I don’t.
Intense sadness has both the power to destroy my will or the magical ability to renew it. This powerful catalyst shows me what my will is truly capable of, like a strong arm pulling me out of quicksand.
Regret is more damaging than any physical loss. It can drag us down and leave us feeling hopeless and it is only by dealing with regret consciously, with awareness that one can hope to overcome it. The simple question that I need to ask myself is “I cannot change what happened. What can I do differently now?”
Forgiveness is powerful and much needed. Forgiveness of oneself and of others. A lack of this can lead to regret, anger and disappointment.
Not everyone is ready to listen to you grieve, to help you in that moment of impact. Even the people that you counted on may let you down and that is what will show you that the only strength you need is already within you. Not everyone deserves to be in your inner circle.
(What I am working on at the moment) Boundaries are critical to help oneself heal: to redefine priorities, to decide who and what I give time to, to identify where I want myself to go and consciously steer myself in that direction without waiting for the wind to turn in my favour. To take others along and to also be able to amicably part ways with those that decide that their priorities are different. For life is more fragile and unpredictable today than it ever was and every single day is truly a gift.
And most importantly, there is always joy, dignity and beauty to be found even in the most unexpected places!
If any of you have any experiences to share, whether or not it involves the loss of a loved one, a dream you held close, an experience that made you a better person through grief and loss, feel free to drop a note below. Shared wisdom is always more special than isolated thoughts.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
– Albert Camus
‘Balance of life’ | A doodle-turned-GIF I tried to make many years ago