Today is supposed to be the last day of my sabbatical. Usually sabbaticals are restful; then again, usually they’re also a paid period of leave. For me, neither of these has really been the case. Sure, I’ve earned a lot of things that money simply cannot buy–a certain sort of peace that I did not have before–but I’ve also worked myself to the point of abject exhaustion on more than one occasion, and the work on the new house (especially my office/studio) seems to be neverending (which is now stressing out the cat, in addition to me!). So instead of this being the last day of my sabbatical, I’ve decided it’s the first day of a new sort of life: a hyggelig life.
Hygge, and by extension, its adjective form, hyggelig, is a Danish/Norwegian concept that has become more than a bit of a fad here in the U.S. over the past year. Pronounced hoo-gah, I first stumbled upon the term when researching decorative motifs for our new home. I wanted a definite coastal vibe (in homage to Njordr, and also so that our house would feel like a permanent vacation-home), but with heavy Scandinavian motifs (so that our whole house would represent our Heathen/Pagan Faith), and a comfy, cozy Mid-Century Modern ease-of-living. When you Google Search all of that, you’ll likely be surprised how often the word hygge comes up. I certainly was, to the degree of thinking “where has this been all my life?“.
Like the word love, hygge has that rare distinction of being at the same time both a noun and an adjective. Also like love, it is a feeling. I’ve heard it argued by some that “if you treat hygge like it’s a verb, you’re doing it wrong”, but honestly, I think it has that in common with the concept of love, too: hygge really isn’t hygge until you can give it away; until you can share it with someone else who is dear to you.
So what in the hoo-hah is hygge? It is a consciousness–a mindfulness, if you will–of being fully present in a moment of coziness, specialness, and that indescribable feeling that is home. In its most basic form, hygge is homecoming. I don’t mean that in the sense of you’ve actually just come back home from having been somewhere else; I mean that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you finally arrive at a place or a moment where you deeply know this is where you belong. You may get that feeling sitting in candlelight drinking a warm cup of tea, or you may get that feeling relaxing on the couch papercrafting. The most important thing is that you build it into your life somewhere. We could all use some hygge now and then….
An interesting thing about hygge: etymologically, it traces back to the term hugr. Sound familiar? You may remember it as one of the four aspects of the Norse “soul”, which I talked about previously in this blog post. The Hugr would best be understood by us moderns as the “inner self”: a person’s personality as reflected in their conscious thought processes; very much in line with the oft-misquoted Buddhist ideal of “what you think, you become”. In a very real sense, hygge is food for the soul. I made a conscious decision a long time ago that that is my business in life: the feeding of people’s souls. But how to do that?
Since we changed the angle of this business to papercrafting and digital art a year ago, it has been no secret that I have often felt very at-sea over exactly how to keep us rolling in that direction, while still remaining passionate about both my business and my life. When we made that change back in July 2016, our initial tagline was Remember To Whimsy. What I didn’t know then, but have discovered over the course of this sabbatical, is that what we really meant was Infuse Your Life With Hygge. Ultimately, that is what every product we design, every blog post we write, and every interaction we have in this business–whether creating votive art, or sharing our spirituality with others–has been designed to do. We want to remind people to live in their most precious moments–those moments of homecoming–and be mindful of the warmth and joy they feel there. We’ve never just wanted to sell people things; we want to give people feelings, that they can come back to again and again.
Most folks are familiar with the old saying “give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you can feed him for a lifetime.” I can give you a nifty set of digital papers and elements, and keep you busy for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon, but if I can teach you to be mindful of your most treasured moments in the first place, and maybe couple that with a recipe here and there for something yummy to imbibe while you’re crafting, plus ideas for your home that make it a more enjoyable place to craft in, then I can help you find hygge for a lifetime!
Which is why I say today is not the end of my sabbatical, but instead the beginning of a new, hyggelig life. It’s a life I intend to share with all of you, and hopefully spread the hygge as liberally as butter (or in my case, cheese!) on bread. But before I can help you learn to infuse your lives with hygge, I’ve got to start the process of infusing my own. That starts with the “unplugged mornings” that I promised myself when we first moved in; mornings which I was doing a great job with for the first week we lived in our new house. After that first week, however, I fell sick, so I’ve been sleeping in most days. On top of that, I have a rather unrealistic gaming schedule that keeps me up til 1am four nights a week–which doesn’t exactly promote getting out of bed before 9am! Sleeping late means that by the time I finally do crawl out of bed, I’m in an urgent rush to hop online and let my Beloved know that I’m okay, which then leads to being locked online til noon. So my real day doesn’t start until 1:30 in the afternoon! On most days, that means I have around three hours to get everything I want to get accomplished in a day actually done, which isn’t nearly enough time to do those things without feeling like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs! Needless to say (I hope), that leaves very little room for hygge.
So I would like to invite all of you to join me for unplugged mornings. If that means you have to get out of bed a bit earlier than you normally would, by all means, do so: it’s worth the sacrifice. Wake up, stretch, make yourself a cup of hot tea (or coffee, if that’s more your style), and then just sit and drink. Most importantly, remember to enjoy that moment. Bask in it. Depending on your work schedule and everything else, it may be one of the few such moments you get all day, but it gives you a touchstone moment that you can come back to again and again throughout the day, when things get nuts. Leave that cell phone on the counter; leave that computer in the other room; don’t turn on the TV. There will be plenty of time for those things later. For the length of that cuppa, just be present in the sweetness of that moment; just be you and the tea (or coffee, as the case may be). This may seem like a trivial change in your schedule at face value, but like that famous quote from the movie The Crow, nothing is trivial…..
For those of you who are unfamiliar with any sort of Asian spirituality, Samsarameans “the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound.” It’s a Sanskrit word, having its roots in Vedic traditions (read: India), which is fully explored as a spiritual practice not only in Hinduism, but in Buddhism as well. Samsara is viewed as a cyclical wheel, from which we desperately need to be liberated: the ultimate spiritual ideal is to achieve Nirvana (Buddhism) or Moksha (Hinduism), essentially breaking the wheel of Samsara. This is accomplished by finding one’s True Self, knowing one’s own Soul, thereby ending the suffering of ignorance, empty desire, and the unethical actions to which both of those things lead. For those of you familiar with my other work, and with my daily spiritual practices (Druidic Heathen), it may come off as a bit odd that I’m suddenly creating art with a Buddhist-Hindu “backbeat”. For those who know me best, however, it comes as no shock at all that I needed to “get this art out”, or that I needed these assets myself, to be able to fully express the depth and breadth of my spirituality fully.
Regardless of the shell I’m wearing (I artist journaled about that yesterday; see below), on the inside of all of that, I’m a Chinese-American, with a heavy influx of Norwegian and German bloodlines. My first faiths, as a child, were Buddhism, Taoism, and Episcopalian. When I first began my journey down this Druidic Heathen Path on which I’m presently travelling, it gave me great comfort knowing that the Celts, Germanic Tribesmen, and even the original Norsemen all shared an Indo-European cultural root: the same cultural root which also gave us Buddhism (and Hinduism). That sort of let me know I was “in the right neighborhood”. Truth is, there is a large amount of my Buddhist/Taoist root that I’m just never going to “shake”, nor do I wish to. It’s perfectly congruent with everything in which I so deeply believe.
As a Chinese-American, my artistic roots also lie in Asia: my first forays into art were with traditional Chinese Watercolor (to which I desperately need to return at some point!), and most of my earliest pen and ink drawings were of dragons and martial artists. As I’ve evolved into a digital artist, I haven’t left those aesthetics behind. Taking the leap into the world of creating digital assets that enable others to express themselves artistically through digi-scrap and digital (and hybrid!) artist journaling was a bit of a rude awakening to my cultural sensibilities: almost everything that is out there on the market that is supposed to have “Asian flair” has a tendency to be non-Asians’ idea of what Asian art looks like, rather than authentic. You wind up with a lot of cartoon pandas, and fortune cookies, and Chinese takeaway boxes. While I hate the term “cultural theft”, because I think it leads to a certain level of pomposity, and most of the time only serves to further divide and segregate what should be a globally multicultural society, what I found “out there”, in the “digi-scrap/AJ world” was stereotypical at best, and offensive at its worst. I needed to do something to make that right.
While all of this was floating around in my fevered brain, in November of 2016, panic struck America. I don’t like to get political in this blog (or anywhere else), because generally in the wake of the last election, I’ve found being political only breeds firestorms, and firestorms only breed a certain vapid level of hatred, rather than the peace I’m oathbound to promote, but regardless of which side of the aisle you or I are on, I think we can all agree that in November 2016, something on the level of meteoric catastrophe hit the world’s psyche, and pushed it off of some previously undefined edge. I was immediately reminded of the history of the Cultural Revolution in China (which, for those unfamiliar with the term, was decidedly not a revolution, in the positive sense of that word, but actually a cultural apocalypse), and I knew: Samsara‘s time had come.
Samsara’s time had come, but unfortunately, so had Christmas/Yule, which meant “holiday selections” needed to be our primary focus at Iaconagraphy, and my “passion project” would need to temporarily take a backseat. So I bided my time, finding things that were suitable for extraction, and made the first draft of the artist papers that would eventually become the ones you find in the Collection today. Then January rolled around, and it was time for the first Gathering of 2017, and I was forced to continue to bide my time, eeking out an element or a piece of word art in between, as I needed them while I was creating pages to help us make the shift from strictly digi-scrap to an artist journaling focus. Finally, here we are in February–almost four months later–and I can finally show Samsara to the world.
But this set is about far more than digital do-lollies that will make your pages look pretty; ultimately, this set is about breaking the wheel. Now, more than ever, the oath I took in March of 2016 as Rigfenneidh of this Grove are important, and I find they suddenly aren’t just important to me, as one individual: they are important to all, that everyone might learn to live that way, and perhaps fix this world in the process, and get it offthe wheel, for once and for all. It’s so easy for me to sit here and type that, but how does one live that way, when they aren’t Rigfenneidh of some teeny, tiny Grove who considers themselves responsible for the welfare of other people?
Newsflash: we are all responsible for the welfare of other people!
And we’re all living in a time when everybody is itching for a fight, but few are willing to fight the right way, or for the right things, or sometimes neither know nor care what that means. That old adage of “the best defense is a good offense” is leaving the whole world blind, and scratching and gnawing at each other in its blindness. The best defense is love and kindness. Admittedly, that sounds very tra-la-la. But let’s face it: if love were easy, we’d all be in it; we’d all have it; it would be everywhere, and it’s not. Likewise, if kindness were easy, we’d all be doing it. The modern ideals of love and kindness are sanitized concepts that have more to do with rainbows and unicorn farts than with the actual concepts of what love and kindness really are! Love is not chocolates and flowers and romantic sweet-nothings whispered in some lovely’s ear, and kindness is not smiling blankly and saying “have a nice day”. No, love–real love–is a willingness to put yourself between something dear to you and danger, no matter what that might ultimately mean for your welfare. Love says because, not despite, even when all of the becauses suck out loud. And kindness–real kindness–is an inner will to do what is best for others especially when the other person doesn’t deserve it. It’s a form of practiced grace, for all of you out there with Christian backgrounds who actually understand the New Testament implications of that word. Neither love nor kindness has a single thing to do with being nice. Nice is just a very benevolent way of saying “clueless”. Both real love and real kindness can call us to fight with righteous fury, but the keyword in this sentence is righteous, not fight….
Peace is another one of those words that we have over-sanitized; we can mostly thank the Flower Children of the 1960s for that. In our society, we tend to have this vision of what that word means that includes some idyllic setting, with everyone “making love not war”, amidst enormous clouds of vaporous smoke (possibly of an intoxicating variety). But that is no more real peace than our over-sanitized view of love and kindness are real love or real kindness. Real peace is Truth. Not my truth, not your truth; The Truth. Real peace is freedom from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, and obsession. How do we break free of all that? By learning The Truth: that all things (including people, even the unpleasant ones) are connected, and deserve to be treated with compassion. There’s another word we’ve over-sanitized: compassion. We tend to view it in modern society as a sort of “pet-pet-pet” mentality, when in reality, it is something far deeper (and somewhat darker) than that. Compassion is “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate that suffering”. That’s right, folks: compassion demands more of us than band-aids and kissed boo-boos; it requires us to actually feel something, and then, beyond that, to actually do something about our feelings! While that may not sound terribly peaceful by our modern standards of that word, it’s the only way to bring peace. If we could ever stop to realize that everyone is going through the same thing–the same suffering–just on different levels and in different ways, through different things, we would be much less apt to get annoyed by others. We wouldn’t be as easily distracted from The Truth by all the shiny bells and whistles that society tries to throw at us in an effort to get us not to feel such things. Our anxiety levels would diminish (because there really is something to that old Southern saying that “misery loves company”), and we would become far less obsessed with chasing after the things we think are going to make us happy, and instead focus on what actually will: doing the right thing by other people and ourselves.
Which brings us to the doing of all of this: teaching those who need teaching and helping those who need help.
In our society, we’ve so often cast the teacher as the “know-it-all” with the loud mouth and the striking ruler who bases everything on logic and reason and their overabundance of mental capacity that the very words teach and teacher have become near-synonymous with forcing knowledge down someone’s throat or into someone’s brain. But in the earliest societies–some of which I draw from in my Druidic Heathen practice–one could not teach unless one was also a poet, an artist, or a storyteller. In those societies, it was understood that it was the heart, not the head, which needed to learn lessons. Former priest and spiritual author Matthew Fox made a beautiful statement about this:
“The Celtic peoples, for example, insisted that only poets could be teachers. Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous; it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners. What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow?”
“Knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous.” That aforementioned view of the teacher as a pompous force-feeder of knowledge (whether we like it or want it or not!) is born largely out of our tendency to teach from the head, not from the heart. When we stay caught up in our own brains, we gravitate towards a facts-and-figures way of living that leaves little room for the compassion that is required, if we want to have peace, love, and kindness. In other words, it leaves little room for The Truth. There is also absolutely nothing whatsoever compassionate about force-feeding anyone anything, knowledge or otherwise. Force-feeding is, in fact, in and of itself, a form of power trip, and such power trips can be soul-crushing. It’s important that we move from such force-feeding toward teaching those who actively need teaching, rather than teaching the ones we think need to learn a lesson. There’s a very big difference between those two things! People who actively need teaching are those who have already shown, through their actions, words, and deeds, that their heart is “operating on the same wavelength” as your heart, whereas those we think need teaching tend to be the exact opposite: they’re the ones we have unceasing wars-of-words with, who never seem to come out on the other side of those conversations one bit wiser than when they first strolled in. But why teach those who actively need teaching, if they’re already “on the right track”, so to speak? For that matter, what does one teach such people, if they already know the basics enough to be on the same wavelength in the first place? Shouldn’t we instead be exerting all of our energies on the people who clearly don’t have a clue, even if we have to hold them down if necessary? No! At its best, true teaching is an exchange of ideas–a process of questions and answers which goes all the way back to Ancient Greece, and the Socratic Method. It requires a dialogue. Those who are unwilling to engage in true dialogue cannot learn a blessed thing! For those people, we have a different teaching method: teaching through example. And that doesn’t just mean setting a good example in the way that you behave and speak, that also means employing the simplest form of education known to humanity: teaching through symbology. Why do you think pre-school children respond best when taught through play, or through picture books? Because those methods of teaching use symbology to get the point across when language fails us. Symbols communicate to the heart in a way that sometimes words cannot. This requires a return to the artist, the poet, and the storyteller–lofty goals by modern standards for many of us. But there is a poet within all of us; an artist; a storyteller. Every human being is a collection of stories; every doodle or artist journal page or bit of digi-scrap is the work of the artist within. We are all forced to become poets when something is so wondrous it defies normal words, whether at the birth of a child, or at first falling in love, or when the sky turns to porcelain after a February snow.
Everyone needs help. Those who trouble us most need it most of all. That person who makes you so angry that your blood boils just thinking about them: that is a desperate cry for help. Again, this teeters woefully on the edge of tra-la-la. When we say “help others” in our modern society, we get caught up in images of “hands across America” (or wherever else); “hands touching hands”…it very quickly becomes a Neil Diamond song, and we’re all swaying with our own hands in the air at a Red Sox game in Fenway Park. Yet again, that is not the true meaning of the words to help:
help: to save, rescue, or give succor; to make something less difficult or easier; to contribute to; to facilitate; to give or provide what is necessary to accomplish a task or satisfy a need; contribute strength or means; render assistance to; aid; cooperate effectively with; assist; to be useful or profitable to; to refrain from; to avoid (usually preceded by cannot); to relieve or break the uniformity of; to correct or remedy.
Yes, that “hands touching hands” sense of the word is in there, but what most find surprising are the last bits of the true definition: to refrain from; to avoid; to relieve or break the uniformity of; to correct or remedy. Sometimes the best help for someone is not a loving pat on the back, but instead a swift kick in the rear! Continual allowance of letting a person make you so angry that just thinking about them makes your blood boil isn’t helping you, or them. Chances are, it’s not hurting them, either, though it is hurting you. When I say that their continued behavior is a desperate cry for help, I don’t mean help of the “pat on the back” variety; I mean that second kind. Perhaps if someone refrained from being in their presence, or avoided their attitude, or maybe even went out on a limb and relieved or broke the uniformity of their behavior, by calling them on it–by correcting them–it would remedy the situation, and help them become a better human! Certainly, such forms of help need to be undertaken from the viewpoint of the heart, not the head, so that they do not become dangerous power trips of their own, but correction is a form of help. Just sitting around “bitching about it” isn’t helping anyone, however: it’s not helping you, it’s not helping the person who listens consolingly as you complain, and it’s definitely not helping the person or situation causing you to feel this way in the first place! One can only accomplish this “second sort of help” if one is also actively living a lifestyle that promotes that more “traditional sort of help”, however: you need to correct yourself, by living a compassionate life, before you go off correcting others.
This is the only way we can break the wheel:
Understand The Truth: we are all connected, and everyone and everything deserves to be treated with compassion.
Defend The Truth through love and kindness, with vehemence when necessary.
Understand that Peace is Truth. Spread it accordingly.
Teach those who need teaching through dialogue; teach everyone else via life-example and symbology.
Help everyone, including your Self.
I invite all of you to grab some digital assets (that freebie we released yesterday comes with a 30% off coupon for your next total purchase!), and create an artist journal page (or even a Facebook Meme–Canva can help you out with that!), and come on over and post it to our Facebook Page (or even to your own profile with the hashtag #Iaconagraphy). Spread The Truth; break the wheel!