This ancient Japanese mindfulness technique can easily be practiced from home
Shakyo, an ancient form of Buddhist meditation, is used to deal with everything from grief to depression and anxiety.
It’s hard to imagine that just a few weeks before we heard about the novel coronavirus here in the United States, my friend Emily and I were preparing for a long-awaited trip to Japan. It was late January and the whisper of the coronavirus was in the air but seemed so far and far away from us at the time. ‘Are you nervous?’ I texted Emily the night before our nonstop flight from Newark to Narita. ‘I think we will be alright? ‘ she answered unconvincingly.
About halfway between Tokyo and Kyoto, we were en route to Gotemba – a town in Shizuoka Prefecture (or state) best known by hikers and adrenaline junkies as the next starting point to climb the mountain. Fuji. Not as well-known to westerners as its counterparts mentioned above, Gotemba is a treasure trove of unique cultural and culinary experiences alongside the country’s largest premium outlet center. Home to some of the oldest family owned green tea plantations in Japan and the Kirin whiskey Distillery that sits on the south flank of the mountain. Fuji, here Emily and I did a crash course in an ancient Buddhist practice called Shakyo.
Shakyo, a form of Japanese mindfulness, is the study of hand-drawing sutras (or letters) to focus the mind. It’s a technique that has been around for thousands of years and is still used today to help people cope with everything from the grief associated with the death of a loved one to depression and anxiety.
I didn’t know then how much I would be dependent on Shakyo in the months that followed. But there we sat, two New Yorkers in a Buddhist temple in the middle of Japan, for an hour in complete silence with nothing but a sheet of paper and a brush. At first we giggled nervously, noting our lack of coordination and skills necessary to complete our sutras. However, the longer we sat and enjoyed the necessary silence and concentration, the more I began to understand how therapeutic this practice is.
The history of Shakyo, which dates back to the 7th or 8th century, emerged before the advent of the printing press as the primary means of spreading the Buddha’s teachings. It was also a way of teaching young monks how to “calm their minds” while doing “good and virtuous deeds.”
Today this technique is practiced not only in the sanctuaries of Buddhist temples, but by anyone looking for honest art therapy. It’s a simple but lovely exercise that has been a relative lifesaver for me over the past two and a half months and can easily be done anywhere, as long as you have a quiet room, some tracing paper, and a pen or brush.
If you are looking for a new quarantine activity or need a little mindful meditation, you can start practicing Shakyo from anywhere in the world today.
Step 1: get your materials
Traditionally, Shakyo is traced with a piece of washi paper, ink, a brush and of course the sutras or letters. you find Transparent Paper, Ink and a pointed brush relatively easy at any art or craft store online, or you can also opt to buy a shakyo kit that includes all of the materials you like in places. need Etsy or Amazon. It’s also important to note that it doesn’t necessarily have to be sutras that you trace. You can track anything you want as long as you accept the steps in this exercise and focus on the tracking task at hand.
Step 2: find a quiet place
The key to practicing Shakyo is to have a quiet and uncluttered workplace. If you have the luxury of doing this exercise outdoors this is ideal, otherwise you can clear away your desk or the place where you are most comfortable. Wherever you choose to do this exercise, it is important that it be calm and free from distraction.
Step 3: set up your workspace
Once you have decided where to practice Shakyo, make sure that you prepare for success. There shouldn’t be any clutter or fuss in your work area. The only items should be your materials, which includes a piece of tracing paper, your ink and pen, and the sutras or picture you want to trace.
Step 4: get the right mindset
After you’ve got your supplies, found a quiet place in your home, and set up your workspace, you’re ready to begin your practice. No matter how much time you want to devote to your first practice, I would recommend turning off your phone or just turning on do not disturb. Before you begin, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Thank you for taking the time to practice this. Now you are ready Sit down, enjoy the moment, and don’t be discouraged or surprised if your hand shakes a little on the first try. The idea is to focus on each letter and sutra.
Step 5: enjoy your artwork
Japanese letters and calligraphy are incredibly beautiful. When you have finished the day, close your eyes and take another deep breath. Thank you again for taking the time to practice. Now you can enjoy the artwork you have created. If you haven’t finished it yet, you can always come back. My first Shakyo hangs proudly in my bedroom at home and every time I look at it I am immediately reminded of this temple in Gotemba. It was an easier time then, but it’s a reminder that you can still find silence no matter where in the world you are.