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Zen calligraphy exhibit at Spirit Room generates light in times of darkness

American Buddhist monk Daishin McCabe will demonstrate Zen calligraphy to the public on Saturday, Jan. 23 at the Spirit Room. Special to The Forum 1 / 3
“’Light of the Buddhas: Generating Light in Times of Darkness’ is on display at the Spirit Room until March 13.” Chelsey Engelhard Ewen / The Arts Partnership2 / 3
Daishin McCabe uses the art of Shodo, a Japanese calligraphy technique that uses a large brush, sumi ink and rice paper. Special to The Forum3 / 3

January can be a tough time in our region. Now that the holidays are over, we have at least three more months of dark, cold winter to wade through until spring.

To cope, many of us (this writer included) retreat to our daily robotic routines, waiting for brighter days to come. In doing so, we often take each day for granted and forget to fully live in the moment, no matter how dark, cold and unpleasant it may be.

But January is also a great time to embrace new thought processes — like being more present and aware of our actions — that make our lives brighter in a different kind of way.

To be more present in our lives is to channel the concept of Zen, as explained by Eric Daishin McCabe, an American Buddhist monk and Zen calligrapher whose artwork is currently on display at the Spirit Room.

McCabe and local lay Zen teacher Nancy White specifically chose this time of year to showcase his artwork because it reminds us "that seasonal darkness eventually gives way to light, and that regardless of religious affiliation, we all have the inherent ability to experience light in times of darkness," the project description says.

McCabe's exhibit, titled "Light of the Buddhas: Generating Light in Times of Darkness," features images of Buddhas and sayings written in Chinese characters that produce a feeling of calm for observers.

White, who has known McCabe for more than 15 years and helped bring his exhibit to Fargo, says his calligraphy is unique because it incorporates a mixture of cultural influences from China, Japan and the United States.

"This exhibition is a brand new experience for (McCabe)," White says. "He has experience as a calligrapher, but not as a Zen artist with an exhibition to an audience that is not steeped in all the same traditions that he is."

Rather than using a quill, McCabe's calligraphy uses the art of Shodo — or The Way of the Brush, a technique he learned while teaching English in Japan that involves a large brush, sumi ink and delicate rice paper.

But the writings that result in Zen calligraphy depend on what's happening the moment they're created, McCabe explains. Every movement that takes place — from holding the brush to making a mark on the paper — is filled with intention and awareness. "Zen calligraphy is all about letting go of previous experience and knowledge. With calligraphy, you only get one chance," McCabe says. "You can't touch-up your writing after it's complete. You have to accept it as it is, in all its imperfections."

"A 4-foot piece of calligraphy may take only one minute or less to complete, so I have to be totally present to each stroke and really feel the brush on the paper," he says.

McCabe, who currently lives in Iowa, was ordained as a Buddhist monk in 2004. He teaches Zen philosophy, meditation, yoga and calligraphy to people of all backgrounds — particularly to those who battle anxiety and depression.

For him, calligraphy is not just an art form, it's a "path toward healing," he says.

During the artist reception at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 27 at the Spirit Room, McCabe will offer insight into Zen practice, reveal the deeper meanings of his artwork and demonstrate Zen calligraphy to the public.

Audience members will get to choose a Zen saying for McCabe to create and get to take the artwork home with them.

Then, starting Sunday, Jan. 28, White will begin hosting a weekly meditation group at the Spirit Room that will include references to McCabe's work.

Overall, McCabe and White hope the exhibit encourages people to be more present in their lives and inspire them to be more positive and compassionate, especially in times of darkness.

"No one can live our lives for us," White says. "Only we can do that."

"Light of the Buddhas: Generating Light in Times of Darkness" is on display at the Spirit Room (111 Broadway) until March 13.

More information on the exhibit and meditation groups is available at spiritroom.net or by calling 701-237-0230.

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit theartspartnership.net.

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