Delving into the Intangibles

   Learning from Flowers  

Paul Joseph Stankard (b. 1943), my favorite American creator of glass paperweights takes a firm approach to his art. He confines delicate, fine shapes of flowers in glass, and also turns his attention to the underground realm by including representations of the hidden roots and bulbs of plants in his glass orbs. Stankard calls them “spirits of the underground”. He says: “All these underground lives make the flowers that bloom on the ground.” This captures his basic stance towards his art: trying to grasp the Intangible Power, the source of the life of flowers. The “Intangible Power” I have been writing about is not so far from the mark, after all. To think like this makes me feel happy, since a master-artist like Stankard is effectively saying the same thing.

Basilius Besler (1561--1629), the famed Nuremberg apothecary and botanist, took a similar approach. If you turn the pages of his codex of colorful floral miniatures, you easily appreciate that he focused not only on the aboveground but also on the underground, where the Intangible Power is housed enabling the flowers to bloom.

Botanically speaking, a flower embodies sexual reproduction, namely stamens and a pistil “making love” to conserve the species. For this purpose, we can understand that they must bloom beautifully to attract birds and insects that act as “go-betweens”. But that alone does not explain why people are attracted to flowers as much as they are. The real reason is that we feel the existence of Intangible Power. For example, I feel touched when I see a brave flower clinging to the top of a stem, trying to stay pretty, before withering away.

Flowers blooming in the sunlight show different faces when looked at from behind. We make a new discovery––not of their beauty, so much, but their strength. I have coined the word “urabana” (reverse flower) for them. According to research, when a flower realizes it has reached the limit of its blooming, it shares the nutrients it has drawn from the soil with a younger one beside it. This can serve as a useful analogy for human beings.

If you feel downbeat, aren’t you more likely to want to look at flowers in the garden or in a field, rather than open up a difficult book? Flowers can teach us a thousand things without requiring a single word. They shoot out buds and bloom, and then wither and die away, having shared any leftover nutrients with their companions. Flowers accept this cycle matter-of-factly, and, at each stage, they are unmistakably “flowers”. Only human beings seem to refuse to accept that there is a time and a place for everything. It’s a pity if a person continues to resist and struggles in vain. Why not try to be a “cool” person at every stage of life––like a flower?

“Omotebana” (the visible, beautiful part of a flower) and “urabana” (the invisible but supporting part): both are doing their jobs nicely. My age tells me that little separates us from the flowers––but only if we agree to live in full conformity with nature. That’s what I have learnt from them.