On the first of June, without any plan, I drew a zencircle, an ensō, with a brush on a piece of scrap paper.
The next day I drew another, relishing the sense of wholeness and calm it brought. The day after that I decided I’d draw an ensō a day for a whole month. The day after that I invited other people to do the same—since then, it has gone global.
Now, at the beginning of July, with people from the USA to Italy, New Zealand to Scotland sharing the ensō on social media, and uniting to be mindful and creative together, I’ve decided to continue this mindful drawing project for another month, and invite everyone to join.
What is so compelling about these ancient meditative symbols, and why have they struck a chord with so many people all over the world right now?
Ensō originated in the Japanese Zen Buddhist tradition and are considered a sacred symbol that represents infinity and enlightenment, emptiness, harmony and balance. The ensō is made with one breath and with one continuous movement of the brush or pen, and so they also speak of the oneness of life, of completeness, and wholeness, the uniqueness and impermanence of the moment, and of our precious human lives. All our vulnerability, all our strength, all our gifts and flaws are in an ensō.
I have wondered often in this last month if this is why so many people have felt inspired by the Ensō A Day project and have been moved to take part. In a world where, in just the last month, we’ve been confronted by the most terrible hate-crime in Orlando, Donald Trump’s increasingly divisive politics, and in which the UK’s vote to leave the European Union is dividing a whole continent, the Ensō A Day project is all about coming together and feeling our individual and collective wholeness, connecting with a global community that is committed to exploring creativity and mindfulness together.
I shall be continuing to create the ensō for the rest of July, spurred on by the creativity and mindfulness of others around the world, and I’m inviting all elephant journal readers to join me in spreading the creativity, mindfulness and unity a little further every day.
To help you get started, here are some simple “stop, look, breathe, create” instructions for drawing the ensō.
The whole practice can be experienced with just a few breaths—so there’s always time to fit it into the busiest of days. And please don’t worry about making perfect circles, that’s really not the aim. In fact, it’s often the misshapen, wonky circles I draw that I like the best because they reflect my wonky body with its aches and pains, or my tense breath after a busy week of teaching.
Let the circles just be what they are. Let you be just who you are in this moment, and know your own wholeness.
Materials: You will need a sheet of paper, a pencil, pen, stick of charcoal, or a watercolour brush and a thick wash of paint (I’ve been using acrylic) or ink. I like using a simple black, blue/black, or a sepia or ochre colour—but you could make them in any colour you wish.
>> Stop—Even if you don’t have a lot of time, bring your materials together mindfully. Be aware of your body moving slowly. Sit for a moment in front of your paper.
>> Look—Close your eyes and look within. Notice how you’re feeling, what the inner weather of your emotions and thoughts are like in this moment.
>> Breathe—Bring your awareness to your breath. See how it is a circle of in and out. Follow the circles of your breath for a few moments holding your experience within it.
>> Look—Visualise an ensō. See that circle in your mind’s eye, holding a sense of what it it might mean to you today.
>> Breathe—Take your pencil, pen, charcoal or brush in your hand, staying aware of how it feels and how you are holding it.
>> Breathe—If you are using a brush, load it with enough ink or paint to make a circle in one single stroke or gesture – without needing to reload the brush.
>> Create—Draw your ensō on either an in-breath, or an out-breath, or on a full circle of the breath (in and out). Experiment and see what feels right.
>> Stop—Remember this is one moment in time, all that your are, all that is, in one mark on the page.
Sign your ensō and then place it somewhere you’ll see it regularly, so that it can remind you of the importance of mindfulness, of the simplicity of the present moment. Traditionally, the ensō is accompanied by a sacred text, a koan or quote from spiritual texts or sutras. You might also like to add some words to your ensō—a mantra, affirmation of unity, an expression of gratitude, whatever you wish. Or you may leave the paper with just its circle.
If you’d like to share your ensō on social media so we can all enjoy them, then please use the #ensoaday and #stoplookbreathecreate hashtags so we can find them. Many people are posting them on the central hub for this project, the Art of Mindfulness Facebook page. You can see my own ensō there too. I look forward to sharing the next month with you—drawing, breathing and connecting.
Author: Wendy Ann Greenhalgh
Images: Courtesy of Wendy Ann Greenhalgh & Myra Lowe
Editors: Catherine Monkman; Nicole Cameron