The third characteristic of Japanese art, according to Addiss & Seo, is “empty space allied with asymmetrical compositions.” Within this space, there can be movement and a sublime expression of emotions. It asks of us a willingness to forego the safe and secure. It evokes a sensation of vastness and the possibility of everything.
This aspect of practice challenges me most. I have a love, an obsession, with symmetry. Of course, it’s all only an illusion of balance. Yet, it served me well when the world was chaotic and unpredictable. The idea that I could force a sense of equal weight on either side of the axes that ran through the desk, room, house, and surroundings acted as a mental force field, keeping the Wild away. Each time it failed, I would desperately try to find the right axis which could hold a balanced distribution of emotions, thoughts, feelings, sensations. I’m not sure I’ve learned to live with the uneven distribution, the mis-allocation of energies but that’s likely tied to my belief that the accounting will even out – or as my father used to say, “It will all come out in the wash.” Sometimes, however, like the painting I practiced on the left, the weight of the effort is intended to unbalance the frame so that what is fragile or delicate can rise.
Recently, I was listening to a dharma talk about fearless compassion. It struck me that compassion is always uneven and, being that, it requires fearlessness to embody it. There is no quid pro quo; there cannot be because that renders compassion ineffective or, at worst, misguided. Compassion is asymmetrical. And if I look closely I think I would see that the other three bhrama-viharas are also asymmetrical. There is beauty in the off-kilter though I may never appreciate it to the degree it deserves. The ear is given a real test of generosity in allowing the lines of haiku to wobble 3 – 5 – 3. The eye must open with equanimity to the wabi-sabi simplicity of ladle and clay. The weight of fearlessness grounds the experience and, in that space, synchronistic joy rises.
If I take away the grid lines that order my life, what might fill the unrestrained space?
Thank you for practising,