Will Lab Inc.
Peeling away my shell of beliefs, one by one
It took me 4 years to finish TOTSUKITOKA. This wasn’t because I was busy or lazy, in fact it was a frantic effort to finish it. In the end it far exceeded the typical 10-month span of TOTSUKITOKA, but my TOTSUKITOKA was about engaging in honest self-reflection through painting, and by doing it in a way that felt true to myself and my biorhythm it ended up taking 4 years.
What’s more, in addition to the 10 TOTSUKITOKA sessions, I also participated in 3 sessions as part of a program for women leaders, so I guess that makes it 13 sessions. But in my mind, TOTSUKITOKA and the program for women leaders were two very different things. TOTSUKITOKA was something I took up in an attempt to challenge myself to answer to the question, “How do I want I be? How do I want to live going forward?” In contrast, the program for women leaders was more about coming up with an answer in the short-term, I used it as a booster to enhance my TOTSUKITOKA experience.
For 40 years I’ve been striving to live up to people’s expectations and look strong and confident, so TOTSUKITOKA was a process of peeling away that shell layer by layer. But that process came with some pain. There was a part of me I didn't want to see or show other people. So when I decided to approach TOTSUKITOKA as a way to become the person I wanted to be, a way to get my life back, there were times when it felt too painful to paint, times I couldn't bring myself to go.
Half way through, I started having doubts and at times I didn't even want to see my pictures. Even with some pictures that look pretty at first glance, I was actually painting something awful. I’ve hung up all the pictures I’ve painted at home, and looking at them reminds me of how I was at the time I painted them. There are some pictures I painted when I was at my weakest point which I didn't really want to see. But now, I like all of them.
It’s not about duty or living up to other people’s expectations, it's about what I really want to do
When I started TOTSUKITOKA I was in the middle of setting up a new company. Every day was manic and I hardly had room to breathe. I didn’t paint for almost a year. I lost a sense of who I really was, and I even ended going to Mount Miwa in Nara where I was born in an attempt to find my core essence. It was a time in my life when I was thinking about the person I wanted to be, and trying to take back control. After that there was another one-year gap. At the time, I was undergoing fertility treatment which was physically exhausting and that resulted in a gap.
This was a picture I painted around that time, “Deeper, darker/thicker.” At the time I felt lost. I didn’t know where my true self was. I needed to understand what was at the core of my being. I remember at the time I had a strong feeling that I needed to dig deeper inside myself.
I felt the need to be honest with myself about the person I really wanted to be, and I started thinking this is was my real issue.
Painting and finding the courage to take the plunge to do what I really want to do
For a while at work I found I couldn't get the results I wanted. I used to manage people by browbeating them into hitting targets and the idea that targets wouldn’t or couldn't be met was out of the question. However, I found myself wanting to be kinder to the people around me, to nurture them and be nurtured myself.
That’s when I painted a picture on the theme “Affection” called “To nurture and to be nurtured.” At that time, I’d stopped putting pressure on myself and the people around me over meeting targets, instead I realized I wanted to accept people around me for who they were. Moreover, I didn't just want to nurture others, I also wanted to become someone who could be nurtured by people around me.
However, professionally I found myself in a position where I had a lot of responsibilities and unfortunately I was beginning to feel the physical strain of juggling these responsibilities with my lifestyle as I was undergoing treatment. I had to accept that I was reaching the limits of my abilities and physical strength, so I had to act responsibly and raise the white flag. I think coming here was in some ways about preparing myself for that decision. I was painting in order to find the resolve to throw everything away, to take the plunge and do what I’ve always wanted to do.
Painting, remembering my free-spirited self
Other participants would often remark how my pictures came across as powerful, but I believe my paintings started becoming mellower around this time. It was around this time that I started thinking I needed some blank space or something like that.
This picture - “To remain there, ‘as it is’” - was about telling the part of me who’d strived to live up to other people’s expectations up until then, that I’d made the choice to live a life true to my real self.
Being true to myself is about going somewhere if I feel like going there, doing something because I feel like doing it. Because it’s about showing myself as I really am, letting out all those things I’d held back until that point - things I felt I couldn't do, things I felt I couldn't say – it was quite a challenge. But from then on my pictures became more cheerful and bright, as if I’d shaken off something. I was able to paint as my true, gentle self. I no longer felt lost.
Painting pictures reminded me how I was the kind of child who hated doing the same thing as everyone else. I was the kind of child who always stood out. I wasn't an especially good child and was never the model student who’d listen to my parents or do what other people said I should do. Thinking back to when I was in kindergarten, I was truly a free-spirited child. So I used to be this free spirited person but as an adult preserving that sense of freedom requires resolve, courage and determination. You have to be aware of whether you’re in an environment that lets you do that, but also be conscious that everything you say or do, isn’t always right. I’ve come to see that even though I have my truth, that’s just something inside my heart. I want to stay true to that feeling while also working with lots of different people to create a better world. Perhaps that’s something I realized through the process of painting.
“Painting” a new life
Facing yourself honestly is tough, and at times a painful process. I’d never imagined a life without children, so when it dawned on me that this was a real possibility I suddenly felt a gaping void. I wondered, “What kind of life am I going to create for myself going forward?” I couldn't see myself continuing to work at my company, and I had no idea of how I’d be able to make a difference in the world. Today it’s hard to imagine, but it was TOTSUKITOKA which helped me fill that void.
As I continue my EGAKU practice, I feel the process itself - going inside myself and painting, expressing myself - is really important. I imagine there are some people who think that if you just keep working hard every day, some day you’ll see the way forward. But I felt a little differently about it.
We can begin to see some things clearer from our everyday experiences, but that’s really just an extension of things as they are now. In the future, companies won’t be taking care of us for the rest of our lives. I don't think you can move forward unless you try to imagine the person you want to be, even if it is a bit of a stretch.
The turning point came for me in 2015 and I challenged myself to try “painting” a new life. EGAKU helped me go back to my core essence, make the decision to do what I wanted to do in this one and only life I have, and envision a new life.
I think it’s important to express yourself fearlessly, from your core essence. For some people perhaps poetry’s their thing or music. I think it’s good to have all kinds of expression but I personally found I liked painting.
As I paint my vision of the person I want to be, I’m also trying to realize this through my business. I don’t want to dream up some kind of pie in the sky and leave it at that. This cycle of realizing the vision I paint in my pictures through business, reflecting, and then painting again is something I’ll continue doing.
*This article is a translation of the original Japanese interview.