Here's What Happened When We Tried Out 'Mindful' Origami
The Debrief: Rule 1: don't get cocky
Still spending your evenings colouring in? Old news, my friend. This year origami is the craft trend that’s taking over.
It’s said that the art of folding paper – origami, as we know it – first became an art form in Japan in the 6th century, but paper was invented in China around 100BC so it’s difficult to establish exactly where paper-folding originated. Origami stimulates the brain and helps with things like hand-eye coordination, concentration and memory. But this modern take on an ancient art form is a very 2016 mash up - origami for mindfulness; the idea of being aware and ‘in the moment’.
Nick Holmes has been a member of The British Origami Society for 30 years and co-ordinates their Twitter account, so I asked him about the benefits of origami. 'Creating something using only a piece of paper and your hands means you can focus on just the paper, blocking out your surroundings,' Nick explained. 'This can become very relaxing and almost meditative. Origami has been used for many years in therapy and rehabilitation, for example improving hand/eye co-ordination.'
When The Book of Mindful Origami by Samuel Tsang landed on my desk, I decided to give it a go not least because I was pretty much a pioneer of the colouring trend (which I did a grand total of twice but thoroughly enjoyed both times and that’s what counts) so origami seemed like the obvious next step.
Tsang is quick to manage the reader’s expectations in the introduction; the ignorant might think origami is easy. Folding paper? What of it. ‘Is it reasonable or rational to believe that we should be able to understand every concept or grasp a new skill on our first exposure to it?’ Of course, the answer is no and Tsang wants us to remember that.
He also stresses the importance of taking note of the process of folding - i.e. being mindful as you're doing it. He calls this, ‘mindFOLDness’. ‘Work calmly and steadily through each step,’ he advises. ‘Check the step you have just done before moving on. As you fold, study the paper, the lines and the colours. Feel the texture of the paper between your fingers and notice the sound as you make each crease’.
He advises reading through and practising each of the folds and bases that will be used in the book. There are 15 different folds and and four bases. I immediately feel stressed out and don’t do that. I have fallen at the first hurdle, immediately bypassing his advice of ‘you must learn to walk before you can run’. Because I am that person.
1. The Envelope
This is the first origami in the book and therefore the easiest. The blurb tells me to ‘meditate on the kindness in the act of giving to another person’ because the envelope is traditionally the bearer of gifts.
I didn’t do this, of course. I was too preoccupied with nailing my first origami shape that all I could think about was whether my valley fold was in the right direction. I get slightly panicked at the penultimate step because I can’t quite grasp what a 45 degree angle is and I get confused with which way my fold should go.
Not quite the relaxing experience I thought it would be. But I persevere and produce an envelope, proudly showing it off to my work mates. They seem underwhelmed.
2. The House
I decide to take this one a bit more seriously. Headphones on. I’m very mindful of being mindful. Is that a contradiction? Even better is that I decide to use coloured paper for this one.
Anyway, I’ve moved up, I’m making a house which is logical because I’ll never actually be able to buy one.
My folds are getting more complex: the mountain fold is now a part of my skill set. NBD. I end up with a blue house that our deputy editor, Jess, tells me looks more like a mushroom from Mario Kart. I ignore her.
3. The Tree
I’m getting into it now. This has nine steps; three more than my previous PB. I wonder if I’m getting cocky because I start to realise that it involves quite a lot of folds (stressful) and it’s not always clear where exactly they should go.
Alas, I make it to the end. I have a tree. But I’m starting to get a tension headache.
4. The Piano
I skip the next design: paper aeroplane? Boring. Piano on the other hand? In to it.
I do it without too much struggle and draw some ‘keys’ on it. Apparently it’s totally kosher to draw/paint/decorate origami because it brings it to life.
Once that done I decide that a Boomerang of me ‘playing’ it is totally necessary because it’s a teeny tiny piano and what’s better than that? I realise it’s at odds with the whole mindful part. Instead I’ve gone straight for the jugular: social media kudos.
At this point I discover some paper templates for certain designs in the back: I’m smug but annoyed. I’m labouring away free-hand whilst others use a shortcut. Amateurs. I quickly realise that I should give up work because this is what I was born to do. With that in mind, it’s time to bring out the big guns.
5. The Lotus
I’ve done it again. Running before I can walk. Textbook origami error: I was warned.
I’m okay until Step 6: the rabbit fold. I flick back to read what it is. There is no description of a rabbit fold. I’m in unchartered territory and my square looks far too small. Panic sets in but I try to stay calm. It’s futile.
I don’t know left from right, up from down, what side up my square should be. It gets awfully fiddly too. I spend a good 20 minutes trying to work it out before giving up. No lotus for me. Not yet.
I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve been able to manage in a couple of hours and it feels good to create but did I feel mindful? Not really. But there’s where one of Tsang’s ‘14 steps to mindFOLDness’ come in: ‘Repeat the model until you can make it by heart and then you will be able to purely focus on the meditation.’ This is key.
It’s true that all I could think of when I was making them was the act of folding, but it wasn’t peaceful because I’m a total novice. And I didn’t actually take the time to learn the techniques. I can imagine that once you do get good the methodical repetition could send you into a trance like state, allowing you the space to meditate as you do it. But thanks to my intense beginner’s session I finish up feeling headachy and spaced out instead.
Anything can be mindful if you choose it to be: putting out your washing, chewing a raisin, colouring in. And origami's a good thing to attempt mindfully because it's fun; it’s novel to create objects out of paper. But take it from me: don't get ahead of yourself. A healthy mind is not a cocky mind.
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