Ms. Goldwynn wrote:

Hi, Keiko, I am happy to know you are getting the 2nd [COVID Vaccination] shot, I get mine next Monday… if you can’t come to my place then please let me come to visit you and we can make palettes together. I think you might enjoy all the fun one can have with a tin and some oven bake clay… Here is my latest one… I am going to fill it with the colours that Van Gogh used for his landscapes…”

As soon as I saw the email from Ms. Goldwynn, my heart overflowed with warmth. It was an intensely aesthetic experience. It’s rare for someone to voluntarily make special arrangements to care for strangers. Although Ms. Goldwynn was not a stranger to me, we only met twice through some community events I organized in the past. But this time, I was the one who was participating in a workshop created by Ms. Goldwynn, as part of her Neighbourhood Small Grants project: “DIY watercolour mini palette making”. Being a watercolour enthusiast, I was hungry for this kind of learning opportunity. However, my initial enthusiasm was tempered when I found out that I would be receiving my 2nd COVID vaccination one day before her event, and was concerned I might have some discomfort from unpredictable side effects. Also, I admit I was, as always, thinking about my wheelchair accessibility, including bathroom access and transportation arrangements, even though she had been clear that her backyard was not only accessible but also had a covered, rain-proof gazebo. She was thoughtful and caring. Sadly, I chickened out at the last minute.

Then her email arrived. That expression, “…please let me come to visit you…” really moved me, because I felt not only that special sensitivity to my circumstances, but also a certain poetic quality that I do not normally find in everyday interactions. She could have just offered me some art materials for pick-up, or just said, “Please join us next time.” Instead, she surprised me.

The following rainy Sunday afternoon, she came to my home with a box full of art supplies she had carefully prepared for palette making. As soon as she arrived at my front door, I put the kettle on and rushed to the door, so we could enjoy our company over coffee and cakes I had prepared in advance. Interestingly, we both came from sophisticated tea cultures, Japanese and Scottish, and enjoyed sharing cross-cultural observations regarding hospitality in Vancouver, the city in which we currently live. The hours flew by, but the glow lingered for days.

untitled, 2021, Keiko Honda

The whole sequence of events reminded me of the famous wisdom concerning “secrecy” by Zeami Motokiyo (1364–1444), a Japanese aesthetician and one of the founders of Noh theatre, who set forth his aesthetic principles in the Fūshikaden (風姿花伝), “The Transmission of the Flower Through (a Mastery of) the Forms”. At the end of Fūshikaden, he elaborates on what he means by secrecy, using images of nature as a constant metaphor. “What is hidden will become the flower. What is not hidden cannot become the flower.” He then elaborates on the need for secrecy for audiences.

To begin with, concerning this flower [of secrecy]’s oral teachings, because all people know that simple novelty (mezurashiki) is the flower, when [one] is in front of an audience (kenbutsushū) that anticipates “now for something novel,” even if [one] performs something novel, the viewers (mite) will not have a feeling (kan) of novelty in their hearts. Precisely what the viewers do not know to be novel will become the flower of the performer (shite). Thus, the viewers (miru hito) will see skill (jōzu) only in [things that are of] interest [because such things are] beyond expectation, and [their] not knowing that precisely this is the flower is the performer’s flower. Therefore, the strategy of producing a feeling (kan) that people will in their hearts not anticipate, this is the flower. (Zeami, Fūshikaden, p. 37)

AHA! A feeling (kan), our heart, is the flower. It is difficult to express. Yet we all know that wonderful feelings arise when we least expect them. “The flower” can also be something transmissible between people.

My recent experience with Ms. Goldwynn was what Zeami would call “the hidden flower” moment. It is not about something spectacular and forthcoming; rather, it is about the secret transmissions (hiden) of elegance, gracefulness, and enlightenment that remain obscure in our spheres of awareness. Beyond awareness.

While scientists have mapped out some emotions through bodily sensations (somatosensory feedback), I wonder what sort of bodily sensations we experience with “the hidden flower” and whether computers can measure them. Who knows? In his effort to establish aesthetic principles for the art, Zeami adopted the concept of yugen (幽玄, the beauty of gentle gracefulness), one of the most elegant and mysterious Japanese concepts. Over the centuries, Yugen was enlarged considerably, shifting from the supernatural to the earthly, and from the mystic to the human. Even for Japanese people, the elusive idea of yugen is hard to articulate, which is the whole point, I think. Fujiwara Shunzei (1114–1204), who first conceived of yugen as the highest ideal of poetic expression: the feeling that stimulates an image of tranquil loneliness revealed by finding the truth of nature. I certainly can relate to “tranquil loneliness” during this pandemic.

What deep-seated blossoms lie in my heart, beyond my awareness? And what blossoms might hide in my surroundings and relationships? Zeami talks to us;

The ground of the heart contains the seeds of being

and once the teachings fall like rain, flowers grow. (Zeami, Fūshikaden, p. 37)

Ms. Goldwyn said, with a smile, that caring for others should not be rare. I agree. The impetus for sharing these experiences in this article, including excerpts of Zeami’s Fūshikaden, comes from what I feel as a call for cultivating humanity that transcends boundaries between people. Like Noh players, we need to protect our imaginations by fostering ambiguity with a full awareness of the present moment. That is the secret of having “the flower” throughout life.

DIY Mini Palette I made with the guidance ofMs. Goldwynn

Scientist (Ph.D. in Public Health, NYU & post-doc in Cancer Epidemiology, Columbia University), Founder of Vancouver Arts Colloquium Society, & Social Artist.