Now and Zen – Calligraphy in 2016

Now and Zen – Calligraphy in 2016

Put down that tablet and pick up that pen – calligraphy is making a comeback.

In our hurly burly, stressed-out world, people are looking to disconnect from the digital and reconnect with the authentic.   Some of us do that by baking, others by crafting or buying vinyl records.

Yet for some, reconnection comes with calligraphy, whether we’re trying penmanship for ourselves or watching someone else create something beautiful.

One of calligraphy’s new stars is an artist called Seb Lester.  His YouTube channel has more than four million views and his Instagram account has a million followers.   A million!

I have a feeling that this new interest in calligraphy is tied to the popularity of tattooing, where beautiful lettering is a must – the word comes from the Greek for ‘beautiful writing’.  Who wants to walk around with Comic Sans permanently inked on their arms?

Of course, we must remember that calligraphy is an ancient art that’s been practised for thousands of years.   

While we’re probably all familiar with the idea of mediaeval scribes producing illuminated scripts, and Arabic calligraphers inscribing intricate passages from the Koran, there’s another form of the art that many might not be aware of.

Hitsuzendo is calligraphy that sprang from Zen Buddhism.

From what I understand, Zen Buddhists practise being in the moment, using meditation and mindfulness to try to calm the mind.  The idea is to stop the mind running off into the future or getting stuck in the past.

I believe that in one particular Zen tradition called Rinzai – known for being the kind of Zen that the samurai practised – calligraphy is used as a way for people to centre themselves in the now.

The idea is that the lines and characters you draw represent your state of mind.   A perfect line doesn’t have to be beautiful, but it must almost be drawn without thought.  You can see parallels with elite sportspeople who say they don’t remember thinking about scoring a goal or breaking a record, it just happens in the moment.

And maybe that’s the real appeal for calligraphy in 2016.  It isn’t about YouTube channels, or picking up a new hobby, it’s about realising that through practice and concentration we can break away from the stress and strain of everyday life and create something beautiful as well.

Best of all, unlike baking, crafting or record collecting, is that all you need to start is a pen and paper.    

What are you waiting for?


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