Tag Archives: Wo-logs


Wo week 7

February 17th – February 23rd

10 hours – in shop

8 hours – in class

6 hours – reading the Dhammapada, In Praise of Shadows, What Is Japanese Architecture?, Tea in Japan, Reading in the Brain, Japan: Culture of Wood

3 hours – hot yoga

This week found a busy assortment of assignments for the Chanoyu program.  A mid-quarter response paper to the book In Praise of Shadows by Jun-ichiro Tanizaki was due on Wednesday with a whole class seminar on the text.  Discussions centered around what purpose the use of shadows in traditional Japanese dwellings served, and tied in with our discussions on Ma.  In Buddhism, the idea of emptiness encircles one of the founding principles guiding Buddhist meditation.  Though this idea is not elaborated upon in the Dhammapada, it can be found in the Heart Sutra of Mahayana Buddhism, and is integral to many of the thought experiments within the Dhammapada.  In Praise of Shadows  highlights (no irony intended) the role and development involving the use of low lighting, subtle shading, and deep shadows up until the introduction of electrical lighting systems at the turn of the 20th century in Japan.  The essoteric effect created by shadows invites mystery and creation of interpretation by the viewer through the imagination.  That is to say, shadows allow someone to draw their own lines around boundaries as well as dissolve them, allowing creation through imagination of what actually exists around them.  Lights and objects serve to highlight the shadows, and the shadows in turn serve to highlight the objects.  This, in some ways, is the essence of Ma.  Ma is essentially what the Buddhists would call Dhamma.  So the use of shadows can be said to induce an awareness of Dhamma.

“Perceive the world as a bubble.  Perceive the world as a mirage.” Dhammapada, 47

This week began my sessions of Hot Yoga at the Hog Yoga studio on 4th Ave, Eastside.  It consists of an hour and a half workout containing various yoga poses of the Bikram persuasion in a room heated to about 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  Parallels between woodworking became apparent immediately.  Upon entering, the students are briefed on the foundations of proper practice.  Anitol (the owner and instructor) professed to us earnestly that “it is about the practice, not the product.”  Daryl Morgan (the woodshop teacher) expressed the same sentiment in his introduction to traditional Japanese hand working techniques.  In each, you spend time honing the technique to the best of your ability, striving to do better than you did the day before.  One difference I could infer is that with woodworking, the product often supports their economic livelihood, and so relies on the quality of the product much more.  But the sentiment remains that one can never fully master the techniques because you can always do better than you did before and therein lies the joy of practicing.  In my first yoga sessions, I was unbalanced and fatigued.  It reminded me of first using a Japanese saw as it wobbled and shook as i tried to saw a straight line.  My arms also became tired after hammering and sawing for a time.  I anticipate reaching comfort within the yoga sessions as my technique and confidence with the Japanese tools improved.  Even by my second yoga session, I had more comfort with the routine.  As I became more confident with Japanese tools, my mind became less focused on immediately what was in front of me.  It became intuitive and my mind would wonder to other thoughts or feelings almost unconsciously as I still engaged the woodwork.  Anitol preaches this as one of the values of yogic meditation; that your mind will clear and unconscious awareness pervades you.  Thoughts streams carry themselves to completion without any effort on your part.  It’s a very therapeutic process.

This week we also finished the shoji screen my group had been working on and it is now ready for use in our mock tea house that we set up in the Sem buildings.  In class we continued to practice napkin folding and tea preparation.  These somatic exercises also remind me of yoga.  There is a very particular and precise way of moving, and it is through concentrating hard on carrying out these movements that the moment of meditation comes.  In Bhuddism, it is not somatic but internal, yet still with an emphasis on focus.  It is through the focus that calmness and clarity comes.  The emotional and spiritual effect of the tea meditation, yoga, or tea ceremony come through.


Wo week 6

February 10th to 16th

4 hours – in shop

8 hours – in class learning tea prep and drinking

3 hours – reading Dhammapada, Ma (Insterstice) and Rubble, Ma: Space and Time, In Praise of Shadows , The Poetics of Reverie

This week found less time in the studio but more time investigating Japanese aesthetics.  Both the reading on Ma, the Japanese concept of space in between things (to put it simply) introduced us to the existential background of framing negative space.  We also watched a movie by the author of both articles, Arata Isozaki, that portrays the idea of Ma with a continuous looping side view of a Japanese stone garden.  We had a very long, good seminar on how we, as westerners, can define Ma, since it isn’t intrinsically tought in our culture.  Professor Tomoko told us about growing with that as a Japanese sensibility.  She said it was the pauses you take in speech, the steps you take when going to work, or school, or just walking and thinking.  She said it was difficult to have conversations when she first reached the United States because people would jump in with their words when she hadn’t finished speaking yet, but was just taking a pause.  She also related it to the idea of Fung Shue, more popular in western culture.  Someone stated how it is like having a cluttered room, and instead of taking away objects, you just add more Ma to clean it up.  What we concluded collectively is that Ma, whatever it is, serves to show us that time is fluid, not linear, and that the boundaries we experience are merely constructions of perception.  I’ve attached the seminar paper I wrote for that session.  

Download (DOCX, 12KB)


Ma relates to Japanese architecture in that it is more about framing space than creating it.  There is a goal to reach fluidity between nature surrounding you and the structure itself.  Where in ancient Roman and greek architecture, you can see massive ornate columns and ceilings, a Japanese tea house has simple, elegant posts around the edges.  Furthermore, the complex joinery and latice work that holds the ceiling and walls is hidden behind a simple wall or ceiling.  The complexity is humbly hidden away to give a seemless, timeless, and floating feeling to the rooms.  That is the closest way to express Ma with the architecture.  In decorating, low lights that cast shadows on the sparce objects within also imbibe and invite a feeling of Ma.

This is in line with the Buddhist idea of nothingness, that at the core of all things is nothingness, and from this void, all life sprouts and someday returns to sprout again, yet we are all connected to it always.

Formal construction of the tea house began on Thursday.  We took the rough milled beams and cut them to the working lengths we will use in the tea house.  We also began creating the templates that we will follow for carving the joints.  I didn’t have much to do this day since I am primarily on the joinery and landscaping team, so I helped in laying down a full scale blueprint of the tea house on the shop floor with tape.  It was ironic in constructing it because it was the most hollow thing we’ve made yet, so in a way, captured the Ma of the tea house even more than the tea house will.  But I have a feeling that when the tea house is finished, the physical objects will serve to highlight the Ma even better.  We also finished our groups shoji screen to be used for our practice ceremonies and eventually placed in the finished tea house.  I will post a picture of the finished shoji.

Next week I will began explorations into Yoga and the tea cermony and Yoga and woodworking.


Wo week 5

February 3rd – 9th

4 hours – in class learning and practicing Chanoyu
8 hours – in wood shop
2 hours – reading Dhammapada, What is Japanese Architecture, Reading in the Brain

We began rough milling of the Port Orford Cedar this week.  This is the wood type we will be using for the load baring beams in the tea house.  The beams were acquired from a grove in Portland, planted to commemorate fallen soldiers after WWII.  In the last decade, city landscapers foolishly chopped the tops of the trees off to protect powerlines, an action that ultimately would kill the trees.  So a deal was struck to log and distribute the timber before they rotted and fell on their own.  The school was able to acquire some of this timber and over the last three years it has been drying out in the timber shed behind the art annex.  And this last Sunday, it was finally brought in to dry out even more in the arid micro-climate of the wood and metal shop.  The large ban saw was taken to it to cut out the ruff sizes, and the moisture that was drawn in by the trees’ xylem and has sat there, locked inside the blocky cells of the woody tissue for the last decade or more, was finally released, inhaled by the lungs of students all widdling away quietly, broken by conversations of which plans to go with and what tools to use for the job, which will ultimately sculpt the trees form into a new shape, a Japanese tea house to be used by generations of students who come to the college afterwards.

But until the wood is done curing, and the transformation from tree to wood is complete, we cannot cut the wood any further and so construction must wait.  So in the meantime, we’ve been focusing our time on Chanoyu: The Way of Tea, in particular Chabana, the simple yet elegant flower arrangements placed on an altar for the tea ceremony.  On Monday, half of the class went to the woodshop to build hanaire, vases to hold the flowers, out of bamboo, and the other half stayed in class to make their own floral arrangments.  On Wednesday, we switched.  One principle of Chabana is to use plants that reflect the season, so Professor Tomoko sent us out to collect specimens from around Sem II.  I grabbed a twig, a fern, a piece of small tumble weed bush, a twig with white berries, and a single long blade of green grass.  When we returned, Tomoko had set up the altar space with a Tokonoma, a scroll with a phrase, word, or image that helps set the mood for the ceremony.  The only instruction we had for arranging was to use the aesthetic principle of wabi-sabi, using A-symmetry and natural elements.   It was a fun instinctual experience, where no forethought was necessarily needed, you just had to make sure you weren’t falling into symmetry too much.  Ultimately I picked a long, forking barren twig, the short bushy tumbleweed plant, and the single long blade of grass.  I was satisfied with my arrangement and Tomoko gave me her compliments; she said it captured the barren aspect of winter, yet hinted at spring the addition of the single green leaf.  Everyone else’s Chabana were delightful as well.  Tomoko would correct things or offer improvement not by telling or explaining but by simply making slight adjustments and then letting us figure out why.  I think it was a fun experience for all.  It was a good excercise in tuning into the subtle, subdued, contemplative energy of Chanoyu where aesthetics and kinesthetics blend.


This week: 14 hours

Exploratory texts include

  • What Is Japanese Architecture: A Survey of Traditional Japanese Architecture by Kazuo Nishi and Kazuo Hozumi
  • Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of Chanoyu ed. Varley and Kumakura
  • In Praise of Shadows by Jun-ichiro Tanizaki
  • The Dhammapada interpretted by Balangoda Ananda Maitreya and Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Beyond Boundaries by Miguel Nicolelis
  • Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention by Stanislaus Dehaene
  • The Poetics of Reverie by Gaston Bachelard
  • Doing Goethean Science by Craig Holdredge
  • The Secret Teaching of Plants by Stephen Buhner