So, we’ve started taking calligraphy lessons. In Chinese culture, calligraphy was considered to be a higher art form than painting. Originating in a history of characters carved into tortoise shells and bones, and evolving into characters written with brushes, calligraphy has six styles. We’re starting our classes with the xiao zhuan (seal) style, where each line is meant to be at the same weight and width, and the characters have a much closer relationship to the symbolic pictures from which they originated than do the modern characters we study in language class.
Our teacher shows us the specifics of holding the brush: all five fingers cradling it, at an absolute 90 degree angle, and pivoting our movements on the lateral bones of our wrists. Tricky stuff. There are specifics to the lines, they way that they’re shaped, and it seems that there really is a right or wrong way to write them.
It’s definitely a bit of a discipline, and a meditative exploration. A stroke usually starts by going backwards from its intended direction, 逆 ni, then moves forward on its path, but then towards the end, it stops to straighten up, 正 zheng. As I practice, practice, practice, I think of this process like treating patients: to understand the problem, we go “backwards” to engage the disease pathogen or imbalance; once we connect to this cause of disease, we hook into it, and move forwards towards health, and before disengaging, we straighten up, to restore the natural body’s order and correct imbalances caused by our treatments.