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Why I Do Ikebana - By Ilse Beunen

Ilse putting on a Kenzan

In recent years, I've embarked on a rather delightful and, at times, maddeningly perplexing journey to understand the "why" of ikebana. You see, it all started when Ben, joined my ikebana escapades. Ben, with his inquisitive mind and penchant for probing questions, began challenging me to articulate why I do ikebana and what fuels my passion for it. Our exchanges typically went something like this:

Ben: "Ilse, why do you do ikebana?"
​Me: "Because I love ikebana."
​Ben: "Yes, but why do you love ikebana?"
​Me: "Because I like it!"
​Ben: "That's a bit like saying you like chocolate because you like chocolate. Surely, there must be more to it?"
​Me: "Well, ikebana is rather like chocolate, isn't it? It's just... delightful!"

And so, this riveting dialogue looped on for over a year. We had numerous spirited debates, culminating in a particularly intense session during a class on finding your life's purpose. Then, one day, over a casual lunch, it happened. I suddenly blurted out, "I am a quiet activist." The room fell silent. Ben looked at me, eyes wide, and simply said, "WOW, that's it."

It turns out, my purpose in life is to reconnect people with nature, and ikebana is my chosen vessel for this mission. Ikebana, much like Japanese gardens, embodies the profound principle that humankind must adapt to nature, not the other way around. This is the message I want to share with the world.

As I continued to teach, travel, and engage in endless philosophical musings with my students and peers, I discovered that ikebana is a multi-layered treasure trove, each layer holding different significance for different people. The importance of these layers varies from person to person and from school to school. And yes, my focus has shifted over the years, which, I dare say, is perfectly splendid. Here are the layers I've identified:

Aesthetics: The visual delight and harmonious beauty that first draw us in. For instance, a simple yet elegant arrangement using a kenzan can transform a room's atmosphere.
Spiritual: The deeper connection to nature and the universe. I've found that each arrangement is a form of meditation, grounding me in the present moment.
Inner Peace: The calm and tranquility from the meditative practice of arranging, along with the unconscious messages woven into ikebana. Many students have shared how arranging flowers has become their sanctuary amidst life's chaos.
Creativity: There are boundless opportunities for artistic expression and innovation.
Art: The recognition of ikebana as a legitimate and respected art form. Visiting exhibitions and seeing the diverse expressions of ikebana reaffirm its place in the art world.

Each of these layers can be dissected, debated, and perhaps even melded together or expanded upon. This is just the tip of the iceberg, dear reader. Let's embark on this fascinating discussion and see where it takes us.

We'd love to hear about your ikebana journey and what draws you to this beautiful art form. Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. Let's continue this conversation and grow our ikebana community together!

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