Sumi-e PetMassage

Japanese Ink Painting

I had an intriguing lesson last weekend. I attended a short workshop on Sumi-e painting. I rediscovered and reclaimed a freedom that I had nearly forgotten.

I was so eager to take this class. This was something that I’d wanted to learn since my age was still in single digits. I knew I would take to it as I had to Tai chi, when I’d finally gotten the opportunity to take that class 25 years ago. I’ve been playing Tai chi ever since and I’ve seen how profoundly it has reshaped my life and work.

Sumi-e is a 2000 year-old art form of Japanese brush painting which is spiritually rooted in Zen Buddhism. Sumi-e’s earliest practitioners were highly disciplined monks trained in the art of concentration, clarity, and simplicity. These early Zen Masters adhered to a rigorous schedule of meditation in preparation for painting. Entering a deep contemplative state was at the core of their creative process. The rituals of preparing the inkstone, grinding the Sumi ink, loading the brush (fude), culminated in releasing the brush stroke on rice paper or silk scroll. Mastering the nuances of the black sumi ink required consummate skill.

Throughout its long and venerable history, Sumi-e has been held in high esteem and became a powerful way to inculcate the values of Bushido, the Samurai Code of Conduct. For the swordsman, composure on the brink of battle had its artistic parallel in the calm and tranquility essential before the fearless release of a brush stroke.

Workshop Introduction and Materials

After a short historical introduction we were informed that we would not be learning the small brush skills I thought were the basics. I was a little disappointed to find out we were not learning to paint bamboo, rocks, herron, carp, waves, and torturously romantic scraggy cliffs.

The brushes we used were massive. Their handles were of horn with brass fittings. So cool! The bristles were either of goat hair, horse hair, or rooster tail feathers. Oh, yeah! We didn’t have time to grind our special ink on ink stones so the ink we were provided was prepackaged; poured for us into plastic containers. We painted on art store watercolor paper. Newsprint would have worked, too.

No Way

We were instructed not to have any preconceived plans for the design. So much for my rocky cliffs in the mist. We were to approach our paper with no intention other than releasing energy. The Sumi-e magic would only happen with no-mind. We’d simply allow the ink to interact with the paper. Easier said than done.

Moving From Your Source

The Sumi-e is a statement. It’s an exercise in allowing intuition to surface: moving from the hara, your energetic center, using your shoulders and arms to move the brush, balancing black and white, negative and positive, full and empty, male and female, solid and space.

It’s All About That Bass

A lot like abstract expressionism, it is all about the energy and the rhythm of the one or two strokes. That which is created is simply a documentation of what we are experiencing this moment, with this stroke. Each effort proves you are here; that you are aware of your here-ness.

After a couple of self-conscious efforts, I enter into the Sumi-e zone. There is no judgement. There is neither good nor bad. Neither right or wrong; correct or incorrect. Whether one is better than another is wholly in the eye of the observer. Some are more aesthetically pleasing; some, more challenging. Some were easy to love; some were unsettling. Observing each effort engages ancient emotional reflexes.

Intellectualizing Gets In The Way

In fact, when you “try,” you leave the meditative, contemplative zone. If you attempt to force a design, it doesn’t work. It’s like having a dream and then attempting to recreate it in your waking state. Having it was a natural phenomenon. It was purely experiential. Unadulterated. Recreating it is an intellectual exercise. Identifying it, you are separating from it; approaching it from the outside. Reconstruction from bits and fragments makes something essentially false. It is contrived and synthetic.

Sumi-e PetMassage At First Blush

During a PetMassage I have enough trained muscle memory to trust that my hands will go where they need to go and be present enough there so they can be guided to do what they need to do. While I’m there though, I open myself to the uncontrolled freedom of the Sumi-e. My no-mind expression of energy plays with the natural flow of the dog. The two are the same no-culture. They share the same no-language so “work” gets yes-done.

The Courage Of Touch

In practice, my first touch connection with the dog is always a bit precarious. Its like approaching a blank sheet of paper. So many options. So much potential for grace, restoration – and missing the proverbial boat. The first touch takes courage. It is a commitment. It’s the first stone you are laying in the foundation of your Practitioner-client relationship. It is the irreversible touch of your palm to dog; your brush to paper.

We Get Engaged and Face EAST

Then, when you are in the zone, the creative process takes over and movements take on an expression and journey of their own. PetMassage is a process in which we engage, witness and facilitate. My energy mixes with the energy of the dog. And in our mindless interaction, splashing about in the Etheric Akashic Surf and Turf, we are both transformed.

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