The Ensō

Japanese for "circle"

One of the things you would notice first if you were to enter my actual office would be that one of the walls is adorned with dozens of 4 x 6 inch picture frames, arranged in a grid like the orderly blocks of a city’s streets. Within each frame you’d see the black inky line of a hand-drawn circle, earlier painted from a single brush stroke by one of my clients, created (most often, but not always) at the conclusion of our counseling relationship. In Japanese, the word for these circles is “enso” and it is considered the quintessential subject matter for Japanese calligraphy. An enso symbolizes completion, totality, and an individual’s inward and outward relationship to the universe and all within it. It is even said that the singular stroke that comprises an enso captures in time the entire essence of the artist who painted it, much like a spiritual self-portrait.
No one can draw a perfect circle, at least not free hand. When we push the brush across the parchment, our hand may wobble or turn according to our individual nature, expressed and alive in the moment. The ink inevitably leaves a flawlessly accurate trace of our human quality, innately imperfect, as a quiet, almost silent, proclamation that, “This is me.” What is left on the paper cannot misrepresent us.
Some clients may paint a large circle, others small. Some may press the brush firmly against the paper, others lightly. Some may move the brush quickly, others much more thoughtfully. No two ensos are identical, just as no two people are precisely alike. Although we share infinite similarities, our differences are equally numerous. The enso captures and celebrates both, that which distinguishes us from others and that which we hold vastly in common. After all, we’re human, each in our own way.

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