Folding, Unfolding

(c) Latiche / Wikimedia Commons

I was 12 when I became hooked on origami. My ninong (godfather) taught me my first lesson, the famous origami crane, some weeks after he arrived from Japan. I was in sixth grade and it was a creative adventure. At the time, aside from cheap plastic toys sold along the sidewalks near the school entrance, there were origami kits: a set of 3 sheets of colored square paper and a printed instruction on a particular origami shape. I bought many kits and learned as much as I could. Most of the shapes were animals, so I learned how to make paper penguins, whales, swans, dogs and frogs. Some of them were easy to do, while others were too complicated. Years before that, my friends and I only knew the basic paper airplane, paper boat and paper spaceship. When these kits were sold, for us it was a fresh exploration on origami, a once part of my happy childhood.

Although I can find countless video instructions and manuals over the internet, which I did some years ago, I am yet to get myself seriously focused on origami. But I am still fascinated to its magic and yearn to master this craft. I have seen in some video clips how many Japanese creatives demonstrated their genius in folding paper, to a point wherein they have created magnificent paper sculptures and durable structures. They even mastered creating sheets of waterproof paper to achieve long-lasting origami shapes. I admire such ingenuity.

Being so much curious about the history of words and things, I tried to discover what origami means. In Nihongo, ori means “folding” and kami means “paper”. That is quite literal, yet I was more struck by its cultural origin. Japanese people are known for their organic simplicity as their sense of arts and aesthetics. They were largely influenced by their indigenous religion Shintoism and its gentle blending with Zen Buddhism. This combination has a lot to do with how they create and express their art forms. Origami is one of them. You can see its simplicity and beauty. And there is something more to folding paper that the naked eyes cannot see.

In this process, the creator comes in union with what he or she creates, and both become the creation.

It was said that the ones who started origami were mostly Zen monks. Paper was as precious as silk, and to waste it like we do today was then unimaginable. Thus, they folded sheets of paper not as a hobby but as a ritual, and they use origami as a religious or ceremonial implement. Origami in itself is a form of ritual, a prayer in action. Zen monks are known to have a high regard on every artistic process. For them, art is not the outcome but how the outcome was made. In this process, the creator comes in union with what he or she creates, and both become the creation.

One form or another, an origami is not possible without a series of folding. Here, early origamists likened these folds to the face of the Earth. A valley fold shows the side of the paper where a V-shape appears, like a valley in the foot of the mountain. A mountain fold shows the other side that looks more like a mountain peak. Both display physical and natural truth. There is high and low, up and down, height and depth in this rhythm and artwork of life. Perhaps as an origamist folds the paper, he or she sees that the whole shape of the art is the harmony between these opposites, that on one side is the valley and the other is the mountain. That they are different, but they are one.

Dominic’s pics /

In this simple folding of paper is an unfolding of wisdom. The inseparability of mountains and valleys in our experience teaches us to see the sides of Life as we create something from being flat to being full. That in these folds and creases, there comes real shapes and forms. This truth, which I was not able to articulate as a child, is perhaps a strong reason why I was drawn to origami. It taught me to see beauty as each paper animal becomes alive in its serene stillness. It taught me to see that in every fold I make on colored paper, there is something beautiful waiting to unfold. It taught me to pay attention to each fold, of transforming something perishable into something eternal.

After so many years, I forgot folding all those paper animals, except for one: the paper crane. It is a sort of nostalgia. It brings a part of me that nourished my creativity. I make one whenever a sheet of paper is handy. In fact, I had one recently, using a disposable paper envelope that once contained some sweets I bought. Instead of throwing it a way, I saw something more. This is just among the many I have made in a span of almost two decades. I have not yet reached a thousand cranes like the unfulfilled dream of Sadako Sasaki. Born two years before the bombing of Hiroshima, she was afflicted with leukemia due to nuclear radiation and died at the age of 12. She tried making cranes until her death to fulfill one wish: peace in the world. More than making a thousand cranes, I deeply share the same intention of peace. In those thousands of folding and unfolding are sacred rituals of my silent prayers. With the newest origami crane I made, I am being reminded. Wherever I write, I put this crane before me, to help me remind the unmoving beauty and wisdom of origami.

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