Tuesday, August 16, 2011

still-sound 1. Begin

How do you start a blog? I've been asking myself this lately as I've been collecting photos and tossing around different ideas for the title. I suppose you just begin. And I decided to start with this picture.

This is a porcelain incense holder I made sitting next to the incense I recently bought. As this blog will focus specifically on the things I make on the potter's wheel and the incense I burn, this picture seemed to be the right one to kick things off. Although pottery and incense are not obviously related; they're not peas and pods or even peanut butter and jelly - I somehow associate one with the other. 

I've been making things with my hands for a long time (mostly sculpture) but I haven’t thrown clay on a wheel until this past January. The materials, methods and tools are foreign. Learning pottery when you have a background in sculpture is like learning Spanish when you can get by in French. Some words are similar but it's not just learning words, it's discovering a culture and way of thinking differently. I am starting this blog partly to keep track of my fumblings, discoveries and fascinations as I learn what to do on a wheel.

And incense... I've always had a particularly close relationship with the sense of scent. I just like to smell things. The Fragrant Arts (I think I may have just made that title up) are perhaps the most effective in telling stories in a profound, immediate and unintellectual way. I have been increasingly interested in (particularly Japanese) incense not only because of the pleasure I receive from the scents but because it helps me focus when I meditate.

The incense holder was one of the first things I made when I started throwing porcelain in the spring. I started off with simple, small objects. It’s a little bit obnoxious of me to show my rudimentary porcelain next to Sho ran koh by Kyukyodo, commonly referred to as a masterpiece in Japanese incense and according to Japanincense.com, the very 'essence of Buddhism'. But it's my most recent discovery and I feel honored to have it begin my blog. When I received it in the post I was immediately impressed with the kiri wood box, gold-speckled label and well, its size. The sticks are so much longer than I had expected, in fact half a stick is more than adequate at a time. The scent of the unlit bundle was surprisingly edibly-spicy.

And the burn? I didn't really form an opinion at first. In fact, several burns later I still don't really have a definitive take. This is the problem with anything with a superlative reputation - you expect the earth to tremble, maybe hear the voice of God and suddenly have a new view on life. I was so busy asking myself 'is this it? is this it?' that I barely noticed the scent. It's an incense that whispers -it does not have a thundering voice. It's slightly sweet. 7-Up?  Pond's Cold Cream? It's slightly aromatic and every now and then a trail of aloeswood appears.  When the stick goes out the scent seems to disappear - it's not a lingering house guest.

Although I still can't describe with any confidence the scent of the incense, I can say that it definitely transported me to another time and place. I found myself in the house where I grew up. Suburban Philadelphia, as a young teenager, maybe 1987. I don't think the incense is even slightly reminiscent of the cologne I wore at the time (especially as it was Drakkar Noir) or the smell of my house itself, but I was transported nonetheless...like portal-transported. At times the wisps of smoke resembled the sweet, chalky smell of the smoke machines that fog every school dance - after a hissing sound accompanies the opening chords of 1999 by Prince. I don't know if the koh artisans from Kyukyodo are Prince fans or if they went to school dances.

I can tell that Sho ran koh is going to challenge me. It's elusive, quietly beautiful and I am burning it regularly now in the desire to understand it better. I know this with certainty however; whether or not it's the power of suggestion, the meditations I had while this incense burned were some of the most focused, fundamental and complete meditations I've had so far. The very essence of Buddhism?

No comments:

Post a Comment