Sutra calligraphy involves tracing/copying the sutra.
I was introduced to sutra calligraphy by my mom a long while back during a greatly distressed period. I didn't know why but I did it anyway and treated it as writing Chinese calligraphy (actually more like calligraphy tracing, shown in the picture above, since I had never learned calligraphy before). For some reason, it calmed me down a lot when I did it, perhaps because of the focusing on producing the right stroke thickness for every word to look pretty.
Just recently, I started doing something different before I start writing; I'd read through what I've written before starting to write. Even though I (still) didn't truly understand what I've read, I noticed the shape of my calligraphy. At times, it's really sloppy, and I'd think "oh dear, I must be really impatient at this time." And other times, it'll be really stiff, "that looks like I was trying too hard."
Sample of my (not-so-nice) calligraphy
This made me conscious about my state of mind while I was writing. I noticed many things: if my heart/mind wasn't peaceful or calm, or that I wasn't mindful of my strength on each stroke, my writings definitely reflect sloppiness. On the other hand, if I tried so hard to trace the word, or hold my brush too tight, the strokes wouldn't look natural at all. Every word is a constant balance of being mindful and alert, but calm and relax at the same time.
I realized that this is exactly what life is about.
Venerable Master Hsing Yun shared in this Chinese article about the importance of the "Middle path" as a form of practice. In his words "凡事不要太左也不要太右，不要太紧也不要太松；能够不偏不倚即为「中」。" Roughly translated as "Whatever you do, don't lean towards either sides; don't be too tight nor too loose. Being impartial is the middle path." He offered four guidelines to practicing this in our daily life:
Don't work too stressfully. We should work hard but should also know to rest when needed. Being stressed for a prolonged period would affect future performance, and ultimately be unsustainable.
Don't overindulge in desirable experiences. Having basic enjoyment is necessary, but constantly seeking out overly pleasurable experiences, especially ones driven by material desires, will not lead to lasting happiness.
Don't interact with others too harshly. We should always be kind and considerate to others; treat others the way we'd like to be treated, or even better, be understanding of others while being strict with ourselves. Don't be overly harsh or overly unrestrained of other's behaviors.
Don't consume too lavishly. We should buy what's needed and useful, in amounts that are adequate for our daily needs. Some may enjoy shopping, while others may insist on branded goods. Don't be slaves of materialism; having too much stuffs is also a type of burden.
Just like my calligraphy, I should always be finding a sweet balance between the extremes in every aspect of my life (mentioned above; work, experiences, social interaction, consumption). This requires being mindful of what I'm doing. Am I stressing myself too much, or am I too lazy? Am I working too hard or overly indulging in my guilty pleasures? Am I setting too high standards of others (and myself) or am I too loose with my expectations? Am I being overly thrifty or too wasteful? That's why self-reflection, like how I re-looked at my past writings, is extremely important to find the right balance. It's only through constant reflection and self-calibration that I can find the right balance.
The good news is, I realized this. The hard part? To continually practice self-reflection and calibration.