Kado | Way of the Flower

image credit: Zochi Alonzo Young

Myself and three other community members signed up to take Norma Wong Roshi’s class on kado, the way of the flower, a 2000-year-old Chinese art form often practiced by folks on a spiritual path.

Kado at first sounds like it might be about flower arranging, but kado is more about you than it is about flowers. It’s a practice that helps you see yourself as well as appreciate the finer aspects of nature. How you place daffodils in a vase reflects how you show up in the world. If they’re a little too close together, too far apart, leaning or angular, what does that say about you? The idea is to let the flowers speak for themselves–this means, more or less, that our own intuitive voices guide us through the process.

image credit: Zochi Alonzo Young

We met at the ACRJ offices in downtown Oakland and for about six hours, minus lunch, we concentrated intently on what each flower had to say for itself. There were, by the way, buckets of flowers including, tulips, irises, daffodils, daisies, horsetail, bear grass, curly willow and a slew of others.

Working with each flower presented its own challenges, some had mushy stems, others tended to be upright, floppy, you name it. And still we kept to our purpose, which was to arrange flowers based on a few specifics: Flowers could not be symmetrical, could not be set in the same plane, and all of them had to look as though they were originating from a central place on the kenzan, or “sword mountain” in Japanese, a small, circular metal plate with pointed “nails” that hold the stems of the flowers. In the West, we know it as a “frog”.

The simplest arrangement we made used only three flowers, each of which took on a role (for lack of a better word) that reflected nature: heaven, man and earth.

What each flower does in the arrangement is based largely on its presence. The more presence it has, the more significant its placement in the arrangement. And to be clear, the least significant placement is for man. In kado, man is a part of nature, not above it. And in nature man is small. And as much as we try to control it, we are more influenced by nature than most of us are willing to admit.

image credit: Zochi Alonzo Young

In the end, the arrangements reflected our own natures as well as the fragility and beauty of our world.

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