Origami

David Lister, England

Origami historian and founding member of the British Origami Society. http://www.britishorigami.info/

(Submitted by the author)

“He showed me a little thing the size of a hazelnut in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with my mind’s eye and thought, ‘What can this be?’ And the answer came, ‘It is all that is made!” ( Dame Julian of Norwich, born 1342).

One would think, at first sight, that there would be little connection between spiritual values and paperfolding. Paperfolding is essentially just a hobby or a craft; perhaps, even, an art. How can recreational manipulation of paper possibly have spiritual values?

However, if we consider the matter in more general terms, it is wholly accepted that paperfolding as we practise it in mainstream origami is firmly based in geometry. Mathematics determines its every form and process. And does not mathematics disclose the very Mind of God?

I place an ordinary piece of square origami paper before me. What do I see? At one level I see no more than a piece of paper, a thin compression of plant fibres. But what else do I see? I see the square of paper twisting and turning itself until the semblance of a bird emerges from the paper to stand before me.

And then the bird dissolves again and I am left with my original sheet of paper, now seemingly imprinted with crease lines which form a curious geometrical pattern. Is the bird or its form still residing there in the paper? Was it there before the paper took the shape of the bird? Did it exist as a Platonic idea? Or do these ideas exist only in my own mind? But surely I did not invent the mathematical patterns. Where did they come from if not from God? Vittorio-Maria Brandoni, who founded a school of origami based on Zen principles, believed that origami should not just express an ‘empty aestheticism’, but rather, an attitude to life and nature.

Just as the practice of contemplation in Zen leads to enlightenment, so folding in the right way should lead to a ‘waking up’ of our minds and hearts. But, he adds, origami is only folding paper – he who wants to understand it just has to start .

So, once more, I look at the plain square of paper in front of me. And I find that it is no longer a mere piece of paper. I find that it is a magic casement through which I can gaze at enchanted landscapes and pass to worlds of a higher experience. So, I recall the words of William Blake: “To see a World in a grain of sand, and Heaven in a wildflower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.”

Blake’s words are an echo of those of Dame Julian with which I began this piece. Is not our grain of sand, our hazelnut, just a simple square of paper?

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