As I exhaled into my first brushstroke, I was suddenly very aware of my body, my rapid heartbeat, my sweaty palms. As I intentionally tried to slow my breath, what I exhaled felt like hot fire straight from my belly. I looked down at the paper to find thick black strokes of Sumi ink expanding almost outside the borders of the page.
My teacher, Norma Wong, looked at the paper.
“You’re going to need a bigger canvas.”
This year, I picked up a new meditation practice: the ancient art of Shodo, a style of calligraphy paired with breath. Japanese Samurai would practice Shodo before battle as a way to gauge inner stillness. You inhale as you raise your brush, exhale as you paint a character. What is left on the paper is an energy imprint in ink, a brief snapshot of your energy in that moment. It was in my first lesson that I saw how much energy had been bottled inside me, that it couldn’t be contained on the page.
Since taking up this practice, I’ve observed that I don’t need to have a brush in my hand or ink on a page to notice the energy imprints I make wherever I go. It’s in my cat’s pout if I squeeze too hard, on my partner’s face when my insecurities seep out, with my colleagues if I make a decision too fast. Every day comes with its little battles. We don’t need to be Zen masters to see how our innermost feelings and habits affect us and, by extension, those around us.
Whatever energy we put into the universe never dies; it cycles into life around us and beyond. Which is why, as leaders, it’s crucial to be mindful of the imprints we may leave on those around us.
If you’re a leader in your workplace, take note of how your different emotions imprint on your team, especially if you’re in a position of privilege and power. Maybe today your energy is bold and vibrant, maybe tomorrow it’s bold and anxious. Our energy is contagious, both the negative and the positive. This doesn’t mean “don’t feel your feels” – by all means, please do. It’s just an invitation to tune into them.
By practicing awareness, we make more conscious decisions about the kinds of energy we put into the world. Our awareness gives us clarity for our daily battles. There’s a lot of negative energy already out there. Do not forget that positive energy can spread, too. Let’s circulate the stuff that energizes us, not that which depletes us.
So next time you catch yourself with a fiery belly, take a pause, inhale deeply and let your exhale be one without regret.