How drawing an Ensō can heal you

Weeping. Shattered. Mithu* (name changed), sitting opposite of me on a chair, tells me her experience of a relationship she’d recently. Empathetically I listened for hours, only to understand her socially anxious mind efficiently helped her pretend to move on. When I reason with her, she confesses that she is still deeply attached to her ex.

The case of Mithu to be known is not new, nor last. Verily that we’re not trained to master the art of detachment, despite being curiously schooled since childhood. When looked around, we see the commodification of our emotions; we’re taught to acquiesce to rat-cycle, we’re socializing without valuing the art of listening properly, we’re busy, we’re wanting to fill ourselves more than empty our state of mind.

No, I am not generalizing individuals like Mithu. All said is a lived experience, commonly seen, or felt, isn’t it?

Moving ahead in this case, I simply requested her to draw a circle without pausing in between. Nothing else I instructed because I wanted her Ensō — which is calligraphy in Zen Buddhism — to stay aloof from any schema.

In the flow of her mixed emotions, she followed and finished drawing Ensō circle in 5 seconds. I smiled and said it was “perfect”.

“Hey, it’s weird! I don’t think it’s perfect”, she responded.

“Perfection is not in drawing an Ensō circle, but it’s when you’re drawing it from starting till the end without pausing in between.”

She was feeling flummoxed with what I said, and before she anticipated me expressing any koan, she interrupted me and insisted on a deeper explanation of her drawing.

I explained: “this Ensō circle manifests that everything that has a beginning, has an end, and it’s continuous and it does not stop because its’ form is void and vice-versa.”

“I got the first part that every origin has an end, but what’s the later part?”, she questioned.

“As known that everything that has an origination will have an end. Buddha, after his enlightenment, taught that everything is subjected to change because everything is impermanent and thus everything will be subjected to decay because everything is interdependent. This chair you’re sitting on is an outcome of everything-ness of a tree, paint, human labor, etc. and so it lacks an identity of self and therefore it is empty of itself because this chair is lacking an inherent as well as intrinsic existence of itself”

“Wow! You’re blowing up my mind now”, she gets curious.

“So, are your emotions! You are crying for someone who left you because you’re attached to him. Knowing that your relationship has an origination, why do you believe it will not end someday…whether through mutual separation or any other means of annihilation?”, I asked her gently.

She is not triggered by my explanation. “Go ahead, I am liking this.”

“Take a look at your Ensō circle. You sketched it, without any pause, because you subconsciously have this idea that time does not delude to stop itself. In a single shot, you sketched it perfectly because you’re already aware that it’s imperfect and therefore you’ve come to subtly realize that the art of mindful living comes in appreciating the imperfection as it is. Celebrate yourself because this moment will not return.”

She smiled; she heaved a sigh of relief, after decoding the meaning of Ensō circle, aftermath this conversation.

Extending the above abstracts about this circle, in her blog Nina Jay elaborates:

a) The white space within the circle can indicate emptiness or it can take on the idea that it contains all it needs within its centre. Also, depending on the interpreter, the middle of the circle can represent presence or absence — similar to a glass half full or half empty scenario.

b) On a social level, the Ensō circle can be seen to symbolize harmonious cooperation between one another, acceptance of oneself, or the pursuit for personal development and self-improvement.

c) As a reflection of life and nature, the Zen circle can reflect the idea of how one perceives their life and whether it’s full or void and empty. It shows the mindset of the individual and their satisfaction with where they are at in their life’s journey.

I too draw this sketch and, in my view, it’s therapeutic. I don’t draw to make a perfect circle. Instead, I draw to appreciate the beauty of an imperfect circle.

The Ensō is a manifestation of the artist at the moment of creation and the acceptance of our innermost self. It symbolizes strength, elegance, and one-mindedness, and helps us to master the art of letting go of expectations.

Barbara Bash, author

Having said that, the Ensō circle is interwoven to upgrade our mental health status. It can work differently for different individuals but in my case, this Zen circle teaches me that the mind is something that does not exist on its own. It is interactive with what I eat, what I think, what I speak, what I feel, what I watch, what I don’t express, etc. Like this circle, our mind is momentary. And, this circle can help us enable to unlearn that nothing stays static and there’s beauty in imperfection.



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A libertarian professor based in Mumbai, youtubing at times, and reading books all-the-time. I write too. Dhamma practitioner.