Published on New York Spirit
I got an invitation for a personal exhibition titled ‘Ikebana’ few months back. Flowers have always whispered the sweetest songs in my ears; hence missing it was out of the question. Regarding the name, I just knew that it was a Japanese art of flower arranging. Little did I know that I was in for a grander delight.
It was a calm, peaceful yet ecstatic place. Each stem, bud, twig, leaf were given shapes–slanted, curvy,Life flowing lines, asymmetrical–and put in distinctive vases or kenzan which is a holder with spiked needles. The formation is in a form of scalene triangle representing shin, soe and tai. Bamboo, chrysanthemum, apple leaves, peach, bamboo grass, peony … everything was evoking harmony and a natural rhythm. The creative energy was flowing all over. I could sense the hours and devotion put behind each one of them. It was definitely not a random arrangement. Each style was unique, yet there was something connecting them all together. What was it?
There started my exploration to understand the deeper meaning behind the art.
Ikebana has a profound philosophical meaning aside from just the aesthetics. It is a symbolic language to understand spiritual significance of life. The cycle of seasons, time, birth, growth, decay, and revival is personified through it. It is a disciplined art where humanity, heaven, and nature are sewn together in sacred moments of silence, persistence, and dedication.
Each stem, flower, leaf, vase has a peculiar purpose and bringing them together in a way that looks and feels perfect–no less than practicing Zen itself. It requires intuition, patience, quietness, understanding, love for nature, and passion in heart. Empty spaces between two twigs have the same significance as the filled space. Khalil Gibran expresses it the best: “Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of the heavens dance between you…” Ikebana articulates this through the foliage. The simplicity is the essence and the allegory is the language.
Ikebana teaches us to see wisdom in nature and much more.
Mindfulness – Ikebana is not just any other leisure pursuit to be done while chitchatting about the inconsequential. It is done by observing silence. We get into a trance with Mother Nature’s energy. Our focus is just on the creation and nothing else. We live purely in the present moment. It helps us cultivate mindfulness.
Minimalism – It epitomizes the Buddhist theory of minimalism. The creation comprises of least number of flowers interspersed between branches and leaves. The creation is lighter on the upper side and heavier in lower part. ‘Less speaks more’ is the original eastern philosophy. If it is not arranged with minimalism that touches hearts, sure it can be ‘inspired,’ but it’s not the authentic, sacred form of the art.
Peacefulness – Ikebana helps our mind to calm down. The fragrance, the stillness, the focus, the harmony; all of them lead to a tranquil mind. Interestingly, Ikebana teachers are thought to live the longest out of any other profession in Japan!
Gratefulness – Mindfulness and calmness in turn makes us comprehend our inner self, the self who gets hidden under layers of dust – the appearances and obliviousness brought on by the pressures of society. Once we begin a journey inwards, we learn to be grateful for life and grow by leaps and bounds.
My curiosity and fervor for Ikebana led me to meet Ayuko Kouke, a teacher of Ikebana in Hiroshima who goes by the name Shinonome. I had a wonderful conversation with her about her breathtaking creations and her experiences. Her father suffered a stroke which turned her life upside down. Her drained mind and body found relief in Ikebana in her quietest moments. Her interest in foreign cultures inspired her to travel, for both work and fun. She felt a strong desire to spread the aesthetics of Japanese culture and the manifold meanings behind them. She started teaching Ikebana after she moved to Hungary in 2008.
When I asked what Ikebana signifies to her, she delightfully replied, “Literally, Ikebana means ‘giving life to flowers,’ which infers making flowers look livelier than they were in nature. For me, it is a healing practice. I feel rewarded when most of my students tell me how they have started paying much more attention to nature after they started learning Ikebana.”
Ayuko brings together the entire season in a bowl. Her instinctive style and technique are juxtaposed with a remarkable elegance. That is the way an art from the heart feels like. A slice of nature is taken and something that was not there is added. This is what creation in Ikebana stands for. The outcome is the exclusive expression of the artist. Ikebana creations touch hearts, they speak to you, and they fill your hearts with indescribable joy. While this article is getting published, she is on her way to step into a new phase of her life–motherhood. She has represented life’s perpetual change and renewal through Ikebana all this while, now is the time to feel it through another blessing.
Ikebana, certainly, is a soul nurturing task. I am embarking on a transcendental journey of Ikebana–are you?