Charles Chu, master calligrapher, painter and professor, explained to the crowd at the Yale School of Art the ‘secret’ of how to make one’s art, work and life compelling: “You learn the Law and then you break it, according to your own taste and personality. Do it the way you do it. Freedom—this is the key word. Remember, you learn, you practice, then after you practice—create your own. That is the key.”
Many practitioners of Chinese Medicine express themselves artistically in order to stay nimble both intellectually and intuitively. In ancient times it was expected that doctors would practice at least one art form: writing poetry, mastering a musical instrument, and/or becoming adept at calligraphy. A doctor would ALWAYS practice a martial art—tai chi, kung fu, or qigong.
I met Chu before I studied Chinese medicine. We collaborated on an exhibition in which he wrote calligraphy to go along with my photographic images. To be skilled as an artist is one thing, but to be generous with that gift and with life is profound. I remember arriving at his home with my images. Before we began our work, he insisted on cooking me scallion pancakes. While I ate with him and his wife, he laughed, inquired and shared. I later learned he did this with almost everyone who came to his home. Eventually, after finishing the fine food and tea, we climbed the stairs to his workroom (where his grandchildren slept when they visited). I watched as he brushed out small, precise and perfectly formed characters with ease while still carrying on a conversation. He was well into his eighties.
I was lucky to have Charles Chu (1918-2008) as a friend and colleague. Who has touched you with their generosity and inspired you to have the courage to do things your own way? How can you further “break the law” in your life in order to put your unique stamp on the world as you know it? For me, the last months of physical distancing have shown me personal patterns of living that were not in my highest and best interest. I am finding some new ways of being in the world that are healthier. Now is a good time for change as we take some solid steps in the direction toward a personal and collective freedom. We all need it. The world needs it.