Mindful, foldful, Origamiful

GUEST POST: Roopika Sood

Two weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, as I unlocked the Origami room, I was seized by a strange kind of fear – that of being stood up. Unlike the usual screaming, gate-crashing little zealots I faced every other day, today was different – it was a class meant for adults. It had been a herculean task to get them to agree to sacrifice a lazy Sunday morning.

20 minutes later, all eight heads were hung over with shoulders hunched and backs bent. (They reminded me of my parents who drop off for a siesta while watching our Sunday afternoon movies that are a weekly family ritual.) Except that the quick moving fingers here gave away the frisky minds at work. These were far from sleepy. These were agile, alert minds, looking to unearth hidden clues in a maze. Like squirrels working intentionally and intensely, dexterity and precision were the secretly, silently, shared ambition.

I moved around like Mother Hen in a coop, though it felt like I was walking on egg-shells. As I moved around as unobtrusively as I could, I heard a gentle humming. She was glued to her private moment. I would dare touch it or let anyone break that bubble of focus. That was my real role – to trigger, to watch, and finally to protect – a deeply personal moment of creative struggle. I kept a close watch on her but moved away to see two others, relatively animatedly talking. This is always a delicate situation – when two people are struggling together with an Origami challenge. And while they were speaking to each other in near whispers, they hadn’t noticed me shuffling over their shoulders. Total immersion again. As I moved away, I noticed 10 pieces on the table, the eleventh under construction. It was a eight unit model. She was humming something and folding on and on and on. Absolute focus, total immersion. A tender, private moment.

My first brush with Origami was a foldful afternoon hour that had spread to six hours and I hadn’t realised how. It was a turning point in my life – I hadn’t found anything this engrossing in a long while. And I was tired but beaming at the end of the six hours – like a good marathon, a long yoga session or a typical meditation circle.

When someone at office was asked to buy a colouring book (by her psychiatrist, no less!) to calm the tornado of thoughts that were constantly draining her mind, it got me thinking. This was the art therapy fad that was catching on at offices to the point that our CEO went out and bought coloring books for the official Zen Room.

What is it about working with our hands that makes time fly, thoughts pause and our breathing come back to a happy rhythm? Meditation, by definition, does not specify technique – any process that brings the mind to refocus, to calm, to stillness, works. In all my years of teaching Origami, I have experienced this same facet. Folding teases the intellect at first, then wraps the mind in its grip, in its ambition, in its demand of absolute attention.

Does all Origami make time fly? No. With modular origami where identical units come together, I enjoy the repetitive rhythm of the folding sequences, the struggle to zoom in and zoom out periodically while fitting the pieces together and the end result of watching an elegant, colourful whole from various vantage points. With tessellations and corrugations, the creasing of the initial grid is painstaking and pushes me to the wall. Gradually, my mind floats away to other realms while my fingers work as if on auto-pilot. The feeling of surprise at having finished folding all the papers that lay before me hours ago always surprises me.

Immersion. Focus. Concentration. Absorption. Mindfulness. Meditation. These words floated within the conversations between the folds fluidly with people of all sizes. This is what it really is, isn’t it – Focus (on the moment), Forget (any other moment, past or future) and Feel Fulfilled.

The privacy of being completely with yourself and the option of being with others that Origami grants is rare – and precious. Folding sessions often find people hunched down with a little frown of rapt attention as well as people connecting over a shared challenge that is as much a unifier as a conversation-starter. “Mindful, Foldful” is the tag-line in my head for the next wave of mindfulness meditation. There have been umpteen articles and books on Mindfulness and Origami, Zen Origami etc. Try Google and you’ll know that I am not the first to discover this.

Try folding, actually, and you’ll know why. Try it without a watch and you are on my side.


(Roopika loves colour, stories and people. After teaching for nine years in boarding schools, this Delhiite is now in Chennai, reconnecting with city-life, redefining herself, rediscovering the power of art in everyday life and chucking away her CV for good. Watching people have their ‘Eureka’ moment while working with their hands thrills the teacher in her. She blogs about her work on handsonpaper,blogspot.com)