By Madeline Bocaro ©
© Madeline Bocaro, 2019. No part of this site may be reproduced or reblogged in whole or in part in any manner without permission of the copyright owner.
“I feel everything is possible when I see the sunrise on the horizon! And of course, everything seems possible late night, too.
You should be in dreamland inbetween. Dream well.”
Yoko Ono, 2019
This is an excerpt from my Yoko Ono biography…
An all-embracing look at Yoko’s life and work in stunning detail.
Read all about the book, see the reviews and
Most artists communicate in visual or demonstrative ways. Yoko Ono works more quietly. Her thoughts reflect Zen Buddhism. (The word ‘Zen’ derives from ‘Ch’an in Chinese, meaning ‘meditation’). Her writings are like haiku poetry. Her music resembles the wind, sometimes howling and often gentle. Much of Yoko’s art is invisible; a whisper, a dream, a scream, a wish, an instruction, half a room – “imagine the other half.” Yoko exists in twilight, traveling light years to reach us. As she speaks, a thousand thoughts glimmer in her eyes. Twitter is the perfect medium for her messages. She has almost five million followers. Her tweets of wisdom should be inside fortune cookies.
I think it’s better to dance rather than to march through life, don’t you?
love, yoko 2014
Yoko’s art is off the wall – literally! It is on the ceiling, on the floor, in the sky and in your mind. You can step on it, burn it, break it, mend it, cut a hole, or let the evening light go through. It is imagining one thousand suns rising, stealing moonlight on the water and a goldfish swimming across the sky.
Yoko’s work is ‘unfinished’ with open-ended instructions. We must use the power of our own minds to complete her work. She is able to invoke limitless imaginings simply by writing a few words on paper, on a wall, or an object. Yoko Ono changed the definition of art. It does not have to be tangible, permanent or static. Art can be a transitory and enlightening experience.
Yin and Yang
In all that she shares with us, Yoko presents contrasting ideas in order to reveal the truth. She intuitively applies positivity to negative experience. This was her method of self-therapy, mostly for her own protection from many harsh realities throughout her extraordinary life; the horrors of war, prejudice, alienation, loneliness and oppression. Yoko has absorbed all the seething negative vibes she has endured for many years, transforming them into powerful energy.
“Well, it happened because I was kind of alone. I wasn’t valued by people, or if they did value me, it was in a particular way. So I started to feel that if no one else loved me, then I had to love myself. I thought, “Darling, you know you work so hard. You are always trying to do good. But somehow it’s not being appreciated. I feel sorry for you.” That’s what I was thinking at the time—and I kind of like myself for being that one who survived regardless… There are two sides of the coin. One side is saying, “Poor darling …” and then the other side is saying, “Hey, you know? You’re right.”
y.o. November 2013
Yoko is like a polished gemstone – radiating after years of abrasion. Even after the final straw – the brutal death of her husband – she never faltered. Her inverted wisdom serves her well and helps her to heal.
“I think one of the reasons that I’m surviving is the incredible negative power that was trying to erase me…
What is teaching me is the fact that we have to learn how to turn around negative energy into positive energy. On a very small scale, for instance, people used to call me Dragon Lady. And I didn’t answer that one. And one day I said, Thank you for calling me Dragon Lady, because the dragon is such a powerful animal. And thank you for thinking I’m so powerful. From then on nobody called me Dragon Lady.”
y.o. July 29, 2010
Duality is a theme in the ancient Chinese philosophy of Yin and Yang (dark-bright / receptive-active / female-male) and of Zen Buddhism. Koans are provocative perplexing statements meant to induce thought by presenting opposing ideas. These impossible riddles enlighten us to see that we ourselves are the answer. Humor and laughter are other aspects of Zen that Yoko draws from.
“Common sense prevents you from thinking.
Have less sense and you will make more sense.”
y.o. July 2015
As a modern samurai using serenity and intelligence, Yoko truly believes that our minds hold the key to reality. If we all hold positive thoughts at all times (“Think peace, act peace, imagine peace”) we will achieve world peace. She is probably right.
“Shed light, and darkness disappears.”
– y.o. 2005
There is no other artist who cares about us so much – urging us to wake up and remove our blockages. Yoko shines a light – shows us the truth, knocks down walls, opens doors and sends us on a pathway to enlightenment. Nothing is impossible and she is unstoppable. In the ultimate words of empowerment, she tells us…
We are gods & goddesses who forgot that we were and are responsible for anything happening to us
– plurality and inconsistency included.
“Is truth always positive? Of course. Once the truth comes out, you know, it’s all right. We’re scared that if the truth comes out that it’s not all right. It’s the other way around.”
Our magical beings
Deflecting negatives with positives and inverting values and roles are wise and useful tactics. We know that objects with like charges repel each other and that ‘opposites attract’. However, it is doubtful that Yoko’s thoughts are scientific. In her mind, it is obvious that opposite actions are actually complementary, interconnected and interdependent in the natural world. She sees that opposites inter-relate and enhance each other. Yoko expressed her belief in magic.
“They talk about magic and that there is no such thing as magic. They have not yet discovered how magic is set up, that’s all.”
y.o. April 2009
“We must believe in the magic of our beings and what our minds can do. Our world is a reflection of our magical beings and our minds. Together, we are creating what we all want – heaven on earth – which is actually, here already.”
I’m sorry, I can’t tell you everything I’ve learned. I have to be careful.
y.o. July 2010
Fantasy is Reality
Reality is created and projected in our minds…
“People think of fantasy as different from reality, but fantasy is almost like the reality that will come. Everyone creates the fantasies, so everyone creates the reality. If you look at it that way, then George Orwell will create 1984. That’s the general trend of the male species, I think – creating that kind of fantasy.”
– Yoko, to David Sheff, Playboy December 1980
All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview
It’s strange that we are have been conditioned to be driven away from the natural things that are healthy for us.
” We are all so perverted (that we have unnatural cravings). We don’t know any more what natural really means. Maybe we have a craving for our mothers’ breast rather than a bottle and that craving is still within us. We transfer that craving into something else so we don’t know where the craving is coming from but the craving naturally, is an emotion that came originally from all the things we were supposed to have gotten on a basic level, on the physical level that we didn’t get. Even if you get something, then you are going to dream of something else because you never got that one and you can never get it. So there is always going to be that craving…it’s a never ending thing for all of us…”
Return To Earth
Yoko points out that we design rituals to distract us from essential and natural things that we missing in our lives. Despite them being for our survival, these rituals are usually unhealthy, taking time away from our happiness.
“Breast fetish, among many other sexual fetishes in this male society is of course, the result of being nursed with a milk bottle when the real need was to be nurse-fed by Mother…
Most of the things in this society are things we don’t really need for our existence. We must return to Earth. Dreams and aspirations are alright as long as they go along with the basic necessity of living our lives in a way so that all of us could have a happier existence, and to make the society work better. But there are so many rituals created which are not only unnecessary but sometimes harmful…”
Simple and Complex
Yoko’s messages trickle down gently like a light snowfall, blanketing us in quiet, slowing us down – instilling in us that less is more. That we should sublimate in order to become sublime. Have ‘a quiet revolution’.
“…. At this point, what art can offer (if it can at all – to me it seems) is an absence of complexity, a vacuum through which you are led to a state of complete relaxation of mind. After that you may return to the complexity of life again, it may not be the same, or it may be, or you may never return, but that is your problem.”
“Most important things are simple, like breathing.”
When you are known as a small power, it’s easier to do anything.
You may think I’m small, but I have a universe in my mind.
“I keep my head empty…”
Stemming from a war-torn childhood of transience, another strategy is letting go; of possessions, of husbands, of a child and of thoughts… and they all came back to her. Yoko encourages us to empty our heads and not to block wisdom with too much knowledge.
“It’s all inspiration. One of the reasons that I get so many incredible inspirations is because I keep my head empty without crowding it with, I don’t know, quotations of Shakespeare. I like to forget everything, just have it empty, and a lot of incredible information comes in.”
We should always leave a welcoming open physical space to be filled, allowing our wishes to be fulfilled.
“You should place beautiful bowls around the house, because an empty bowl is asking to be filled… with love. It becomes a conduit to bring love into your space.”
Mind Over Matter
Yoko’s work is heavily influenced by Japanese thought. She can clearly see negative space and hear silence. She is in touch with mu (無 nothingness) considering that which is not there. Mind over matter is the focus of the instructional pieces in Yoko’s book Grapefruit and in her exhibition title, This Is Not Here.
“History is not what happened,
the most important thing is what didn’t happen.”
Twitter – September 12, 2018
“The present moment can be an eternity in time.
History can be a blip in your memory I don’t separate the two.”
Twitter – January 23, 3016
“…When war comes, the ones who die have no voices.
They don’t come back and shout at you. It’s very scary.”
– Yoko, I.K. (Instant Karma) fanzine #29
Menus in the Air
Yoko’s imaginings stem from a devastating childhood memory. All children were evacuated from Tokyo to the country for protection from deadly fire bombings during WWII which killed 100,000 people. Hiding in a countryside farmhouse, the Ono siblings were starving. When she saw her little brother’s sad face light up when he visualized the food on her imaginary ‘menu’ Yoko’s spark of imagination was ignited.
“Lying on our backs, looking up at the sky through an opening in the roof we exchanged menus in the air and used our powers of visualization to survive.”
I realized that we were very wise when we were young.
We are getting a bit doubtful of ourselves now. Don’t be.
The child in you will save you.
The Verge of Madness
By the age of twelve, Yoko had been brought to the United States by her parents at different times; first to San Francisco at age three when she met her father (whose banking job landed him there). The family later moved to Scarsdale, New York where Yoko attended Sarah Lawrence University at age nineteen. (The title of Yoko’s first book Grapefruit (1964) is a hybrid of lemon and orange. She thought of herself as a cultural hybrid – merging her native Japan and her new life in America).
At college, Yoko was misunderstood by teachers and by her peers – no matter which medium in which she tried to express herself. She felt as though she did not fit in. Rather than hide the fact that she was on the verge of madness, she acted out the madness so that she would not become insane. This was the genesis of Yoko’s work. It seems irrational, yet it carries a very sane message. She felt the utmost need to share her therapeutic exercises and revelations with the world. One such therapy was watching a lighted match burn until the fire went out – a study in impermanence. Years later, she learned that this long period of misunderstanding was actually good for her creatively.
“A severe wind of not being understood was blowing in my life for some time. I don’t think that it was necessarily bad for my creative work. In fact, I worry about being understood. It’s like I was drinking coffee without sugar, and now suddenly there is a lot of sugar in the coffee. Is that good for my creative health? I must learn how to deal with this period.”
Read my story here: Fluxfilm No. 14 a.k.a. Match
“Well thank god they criticised me instead of ignoring me… Can you imagine if everyone was saying ‘she’s so good’. I’d be dead by now!
– y.o. 2016
A ‘Yes’ from a place of ‘No’
Yoko’s ‘Yes’ was the koan that John Lennon had been searching for all his life. He walked up the white ladder at her Indica Gallery exhibition in London to read the small letters on her Ceiling Painting with a magnifying glass.
“(When I made the Yes painting in 1966) I was in a totally difficult situation in my life and I thought, what I need is a Yes, and so I put the word on the ceiling. I never thought it was about to change my whole life by 180 degrees (by meeting John).”
“I was not happy with my life, so I wanted to say ‘yes’ to me. Yes, Yoko don’t worry. I wasn’t expecting anything. But it worked, didn’t it?!”
See my story: Ceiling Painting:
The London exhibition in 1966 at Indica gallery (where she met John Lennon) was titled Yoko Ono: Unfinished Paintings and Objects. Their first sound collaboration was called Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins.
Her work is far from finished. There is no end. Yoko’s universe is infinite. Her thoughts are boundless.
“I have always believed in unfinished work.
I got that from Schubert, you know, the ‘Unfinished Symphony’.”
Imagine the other half
In an exhibition called Half-A-Wind (1967) only half of the objects were present, cut in half – with the other half missing. The materials used in Yoko’s exhibitions are white, transparent or glass. It’s no wonder that she was a struggling artist. Wind, whispers, invisible halves and holes could not be bought or sold. There was an obvious emptiness – a deliberate use of negative space, and a void that she is constantly trying to fill. We must “Imagine the other half.”
“My half-a-room will never get truly whole until we all become whole. We are getting there.”
See my story: Half-A-Wind Show – Lisson Gallery
Yoko is a messenger of the unseen, opening our eyes to the invisible half.
“There is a saying that a glass is half empty or half full, depending on how you look at it. Well, we all know that one. But we cannot just say, okay so half full is how we should look at things. No. We have to go even further in our observation and realize that the glass is actually 100 percent full: 50 percent with water and 50 percent with air.
Our minds have to become more sensitive than what it was in the past centuries and realize things in a deeper way – and they will. We will be aware of invisible threats and blessings: silent help and attacks we have not been aware of . Think of everything that comes to you as a blessing and everybody that comes to you as an angel. Then figure out why they are. By doing that, you will not miss the positive opportunity which is being presented to you”.
“…A lot of the important things are invisible – like the air we breathe. Hopefully it is invisible. If it is very grey or yellow, it is going to be very difficult! There is a very large area of invisibility that we have not pursued yet, a very interesting area because it might be an area which has some effect on our lives.”
As she is Japanese, Asian thought and culture infuse much of Yoko’s work. Ancient and modern Japanese people are masters of indirect communication. Yoko is greatly inspired by nature, by Haiku poetry and by Buddhist thought. Some of her music reflects vocal techniques from Kabuki and Noh theatre. There is a Shibui (simple, subtle beautiful) aesthetic behind her ideas. Yoko conveys underlying meanings that affect us quietly. She asks us to see what is not there. Listen to the silence. Feel a phantom presence…
“I’m not conscious of myself as only Japanese. But occasionally I try to communicate on a level with telepathy. I was thinking in terms of kehai vibrations…it’s like the presence of a person behind or around you, although you don’t see them.”
Awake and Dreaming
Yoko’s main emphasis has always been the power of dreaming. The lyrics to her song ‘Now Or Never’ insist that we all must dream together. John echoed her sentiment exactly in his song ‘Imagine’
A dream we dream alone is only a dream
But dream we dream together is reality.
You may say I’m a dreamer / but I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us / and the world will live as one
Your dream world and your real world.
It’s all you.
Be thankful that you have two lives.
It’s more interesting than one.
“My mother used to wave her hand in front of me and say,
‘Yoko are you there?’
Well, if I were always there, I would not be me, would I?”
“I am always awake and always dreaming.”
Less Is More
Yoko stands four feet ten inches tall.
“On TV an interviewer once asked her how tall she was, and she said, “I’m very tall. He said, “Well… what do you mean?” She said, “Well when I look down at the ground, it’s far away.”
– Bob Grue
“You may think I’m small, but I have a universe inside my mind.”
“Sometimes, I feel so scared, I want to shrink myself even further. I think that’s what happened to us gods and goddesses. Like the dinosaurs, we realized that it’s too dangerous to be so large. So we kept shrinking ourselves to what we are now. We might get even smaller. I see the sign in the engineers making smaller gadgets, smaller and smaller. Pretty soon, our fingers will be too large to operate them. So what are we doing? I trust in the human wisdom. We are incredibly intelligent beings. So we might know something without thinking that we know…”
Although most of us exist in our own realities with a small world view, Yoko lives in infinity and eternity. We exist within our home, our neighborhood and our planet. Yoko envisions infinite universes. Her thoughts are boundless.
Besides the trauma of the evacuation her home in Tokyo as a child during wartime, Yoko’s life brought even more tragedy. Her daughter was later taken by her husband – they absconded to join a cult. She endured hatred, racism, sexism and ageism when she was married to ‘a Beatle’. Yet extreme positivity has always inhabited her body and mind. She yearns to share this wisdom with a world from which she is distant.
“I am a Furaibo (風来坊 – a person who comes like a wind)…
It is extremely scary when I recognize that I am a root-less human being.”
“When I daydream, I go all the way to the end of the Earth, and come back.
It’s a nice exercise.”
Earth Piece VIII
Imagine two billion universes.
Visualize yourself on a planet in each universe.
Imagine what all of you are doing and thinking
in this moment in time on the different planets.
– Yoko, 2012
Yoko remains alone – outside. We have kept her there because of ignorance. We would treat aliens the same way. Aliens would scoff at human stupidity, but Yoko still cares about us. She is now comfortable outside, floating in the ether – not trying to come back in. She is too preoccupied with sharing wisdom – always trying to show us the truth of the world, and that we are all the same. It is OK that Yoko is usually rebuffed – her goal is not to be admired, but to communicate. She invites every human in the world, and every being in the universe to participate in her art.
“Misfit is supposedly a derogatory word, but I think of it as positive. I have a strong sense of being an outsider… An outsider’s point of view is good because you can bring things into society. I feel comfortable in that position.”
A schoolmate at Sarah Lawrence college described Yoko as “Quiet, retiring, wistful, wispy – floating by – on the edge somewhere.”
– The Real Yoko Ono, Japanese documentary.
I still feel that I’m an outsider. About two days ago I was thinking, it’s wrong to think I’m an outsider. I’m just part of the world.
She also can see the brighter side from outside;
“Being an outcast/outsider is actually a more powerful position than being in the center of things. You can observe much more, and from a clearer perspective.”
You and I are together. Trust that.
And our shared spirits will change the world.
A Sixth Dimensional World
Sometimes Yoko evades time, space and consciousness, coming to us from another dimension.
“I discovered, that by instructionalizing art, you did not have to stick to the two-dimensional or three-dimensional world. In your mind, you can be in touch with a six-dimensional world, if you wish. You can also mix an apple and a desk.”
“I want to deal with the world that is in subconscious. Not the world in consciousness
but underneath the consciousness. That is where I am.”
A lonely childhood in Japan’s culture of repression and of strict privilege restricted Yoko to be quiet, demure and unassuming when she was dying to scream out – to share her valuable insights. Although she was suffocated, repressed and alienated by Japanese customs and traditions, Yoko highly respects their power.
“Tradition has power, and it can help us if we use it wisely.”
“My brother and my sister were both very different from me. I’m the Robinson Crusoe, alone on the island that I was born on… I think that there are two ways of going. One is to be so upset about being alone or loneliness so that you start to change yourself. And then the other is that you just get used to the situation.
But each time you discover something more, you move away from other people, you become more distant and different.”
For my childhood I was mostly alone – it gave me the power I have now.
From her autonomous position, Yoko created a culture of her own, sharing wisdom from her imagination to ours – re-defining art as something alive, in flux, and in us. Our participation is necessary to complete her work. We are not meant to admire it, but instead to use our minds. She is showing us that we can change the world.
“Idea’ is what the artist gives, like a stone thrown into the water for ripples to be made… Instruction painting makes it possible to explore the invisible, the world beyond the existing concept of time and space. And then sometimes later, the instructions themselves will disappear and be properly forgotten.”
We must think of how we determine value. For instance, in actuality – water is more valuable than gold. Water thinks, feels and heals. Art should have an intrinsic worth over monetary value. In her early works, Yoko displayed irreverence for conventionally valuable objects. She would use an expensive dress to wash her face. During performances of Cut Piece, she wore her best clothing for people to cut away.
See my story about Cut Piece:
This instruction piece from Grapefruit shows disdain for placing a high value on art.
COLLECTING PIECE II
Break a contemporary museum into pieces
with the means you have chosen. Collect
the pieces and put them together again
Another Grapefruit piece asks us to reconsider the value of artworks:
PAINTING TO BE WORN
Cut out jackets or dress from acquired
paintings, such as Da Vincci, Raphael,
De Kooning. You may wear the painted
side in or out.
You may make underwears with them as well.
Kite Piece (I, II and III) instruct us to make kites out of the Mona Lisa and of paintings by De Kooning, Klein and Pollack – and to fly a photograph of ourselves.
Male and Female
In her clever satirical 1973 essay for Fujin Koron magazine The Saga of Japanese Men Sinking (“A social parody. Complete role reversal between men and women…a fierce criticism of contemporary Japanese society and customs”) Yoko cites the role-reversals in animal societies; “The queen bee is the worker, the mantis and dragonfly eat their mates after copulation as they are then useless, and a male seahorse carries the eggs.” An early activist for feminism, Yoko continues to empower women and calls for men to use their feminine instincts to run a better world.
In a prior essay written in 1971, she proposes The Feminization of Society.
“The ultimate goal of female liberation is not just an escape from male oppression. How about liberating ourselves from our various mind trips such as ignorance, greed, masochism, fear of God and social conventions?…
In the last two thousand years, men have repeatedly shown us failure in their method of running the world. Instead of falling into the same trap that men fell into, women can offer something that the society never had before because of male dominance: that is the feminine direction. What we can do is to take the society which contains both masculine and feminine characteristics, and bring out the more feminine nature in the society, rather than the masculine one now at work as a negative force. We must make more positive usage of the feminine tendencies of the society which, up to now, has been either suppressed or dismissed as something harmful, impractical, irrelevant and, ultimately, I am proposing the feminization of society; the use of feminine tendencies as a positive force to change the world.
We can change with feminine intelligence and awareness, into a basically organic, noncompetitive society that is based on love rather than reasoning. The result will be balance, peace and contentment. We can evolve rather than revolt, come together rather than claim independence and feel rather than think. These are characteristics that are considered feminine and which men despise in women. But have men done so well by avoiding the development of these characteristics within themselves?”
y.o. – published 1972
Yoko often inverts ideas in order to communicate. She has debunked and upended Marshall McLuhan’s famous saying, ‘The Medium is the Message’ (from his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964). In his social theory, McLuhan states that various forms of media (rather than the actual message) psychically affect society. Yoko, insistent that the message is most important declares the opposite, ‘‘Message is the Medium.’ She uses many forms of media to communicate. Yoko appreciates our intelligence and communicates directly, knowing that most of us cannot be brainwashed by the media which feeds us filtered or manipulated information. She invites us to participate and to find our own meanings in the intuitive information she is transmitting.
“Somehow all the things that come out of me-like words or music or whatever-seem to not be my doing. It just comes in and I immediately write it down, and I catch it if I can. If I don’t, it’s not there. So the activity is something comparable to psychic understanding or mediumship. It comes from somewhere else, and I’m just catching it. When it comes it’s very quick….
In a way-I don’t think of it as talent necessarily. I think of it like a good radio. You can turn the channel and also it’s of things come. And I have an antenna that sticking out there, and this antenna is catching something. It’s a big opening that’s open to the stratosphere. It’s easy to come in and come out, there’s no blockage. That’s the way I feel about it.”
– y.o. 1986
WAR IS OVER! (If You Want It!)
The simple message of John & Yoko’s billboard campaign in 1969 is similar to Yoko’s instructional art pieces – asking us to imagine something that is not yet true so that it can potentially materialize. The minimal poster design is perfect in every way. This iconic branding of peace was made by John and Yoko. The fleeting thought of peace being a reality is John and Yoko’s gift to us all. A glimmer of hope and a wish. The ad implements the ultimate power of positive thinking. In smaller print at the bottom, they wish us a Happy Christmas. Yoko continues to spread the message… in many ways.
Confuse the Enemy
Our peace warrior is more effective with her ‘quiet revolution’.
“I like to fight the establishment by using methods that are so removed from establishment-type thinking that the establishment does not know how to fight back.”
“ …A lot of people look back at someone like Yoko Ono for example and fail to understand that in the mid-‘60s she was an agitator, a revolutionary, who used peaceful techniques to shock us into a reaction. Her message has always been about saving the world. …Smashing a guitar may seem as pointless as singing inside a bag, but the point is that art itself has to find new ways of shaking people out of their stupor…Art must shock, agitate and even irritate. It isn’t for putting on the wall, That is decoration, equally valid, but a very different thing.”
– Pete Townshend 2015
You can be very wild and still be very wise.
‘Surrender To Peace’
Instead of fighting, John and Yoko campaigned for peace by surrendering, by staying in bed (Bed Peace) and by employing other quietly abstract strategies. Instead of taking up arms, we should ‘Surrender to Peace’. On April 1, 1973 (April Fool’s Day) John and Yoko declared a conceptual country called Nutopia – symbolized by a white flag of surrender. The ‘Nutopian National Anthem’ (1973) is completely silent. Yoko coined a more recent slogan, ‘Peace is Power’ (the title of her 2018 exhibition in Leipzig, Germany) indicating that peace is not a fragile concept, emphasizing the power of peace.
“Place your body under the blades.”
A lesson that Yoko learned as a child from hearing an old Japanese warrior speaking on the radio taught her not to flee from an attack but to place oneself in the center of it and to move strategically, sort of like a dance.
The warrior said,
“…From behind a tree, I witnessed a famous old warrior surrounded by enemy swordsmen fighting for his life. The warrior kept twisting and shifting his body, placing his body under the enemy sword in an angle in which it was difficult for the blade to slice the body. He kept placing his body in that angle as the swords kept coming down on him. From where I stood, it looked as though he was dancing a graceful dance. Suddenly, I noticed that he was in a very different position. I did not see it happening because it was done so gradually and subtlety, but somehow he removed himself from the center of the circle of swords. His enemies were now behind him. After the battle, he showed me his clothes and his body. All his clothes were shredded into pieces, but his body had only small cuts he called scratches. That’s when he taught me how to place your body under the blades…”
“This story helped me, at one point in my life, when I was attacked from all directions and had to make series of quick decisions and moves. Tell us if there is any story that helped you to survive.”
Sean Ono Lennon explained his mother’s way of handling the antipathy; by “practicing a kind of psychic jujitsu.”
“When people have asked her how she has dealt with all this hate that’s been focused on her since she met my dad and the bad press and the misunderstandings and the blaming of her for things that were outside of her control, I have heard her say, ‘Well, it’s all just energy.’ I do think in a way that she does thrive off of energy—whether it’s good or bad—and she manages to somehow refocus that impulse into something positive.”
– Sean Ono Lennon, Vanity Fair 2017
* Jujutsu aka jujitsu is a 17th century Japanese martial art – a non-competitive method of close combat for defeating an opponent using a short weapon or none. Jujutsu was developed to combat Samurai in feudal Japan.
‘Ju’ is a concept – to be gentle, to give way, to yield, blend or move out of harm’s way. It also means soft, supple, flexible and pliable. The second part of the word is Jutsu – the principle or the action. In Japanese it means science or art. It is the philosophy of manipulating the opponent’s force against itself by yielding, rather than confronting force with force. Manipulating an opponent’s attack unbalances him, preventing his ability to resist.
Cleaning Piece from Grapefruit tells us:
“Try not to say something negative about anybody for three days,
for forty-five days, for three months.
See what happens to your life.”
“If someone is unpleasant to you,
draw a halo around his or her head in your mind.
He/she is an angel who came to teach you something.”
“I’m the king now.”
As a child, whenever she was sick in bed with a cold, Yoko would read the Chinese classic novel Three Kingdoms (Saimbokushi).
“I was not interested in violence and killing – I was interested in the way the kings mind works. And I’m the king now! I always remember what I learned from Saimbokushi.”
During a press conference for her first exhibition in China at age 82 (Golden Ladders, Beijing 2016) Yoko spoke of reading Three Kingdoms and how the characters used their brains and imagination to overcome their opponents.
“That really affected my whole life. Japan is so near to China. We get everything from you. We are very, very thankful with special love.”
Recently, I got a message that I was a king, and I should stop the battle, and appreciate my victory.
Well, I should listen to this one.
And you, too, my friend. We are all kings.
The battle is the battle of goodness winning WORLD PEACE.
I love you!
yoko – In the early morning of September 12th, 2007 NYC – overlooking the Central Park from my desk.
At all times, find something that makes you laugh.
Laughter is the best workout!
Chimpanzees are wise to it.
The Dance of War
In home movies of Yoko as a young child, she is always dancing. There are many instructions about dance in her works, such as her 13-day Dance Festival outlined in the second edition of her book Grapefruit, which was to take place in in London 1967 – in your mind. For one pound (or one-pound worth of flowers) the Yoko Ono Dance Company would send you a card of dance instructions each day for 13 days. This would be performed at the same time by all the ‘dancers’, communicating by mental telepathy. The instructions had nothing to do with dancing at all. The first three days consisted only of breathing. Other instructions were to ‘draw a circle in the sky, watch the water dance in a fountain, count the clouds and name them, send something you can’t count, swim in your dream…’
“For many primitive tribes, war was only a ritual like a game or a dance, to exert their exuberance, and very little actual killing was done. All animals become violent when they encounter an event that goes against their nature…”
“Please understand that when you march,
You’re very serious and you’re angry as well.
And people can shoot you if you are marching
But when you are dancing – could you shoot a person who is dancing?
Go with dancing. If you’re gonna have a life, just dance – not march!”
Art vs. Entertainment
Entertainment was never her goal. Yoko’s messages are much more urgent, although she does involve humor in much of her work.
“(Filmmaker) Jonas Mekas once said that if the audience all walked out of your show, it meant that you were successful… It was a sentiment shared by many of us in the avant-garde world at the time. It meant that you did not stoop so low as to try to entertain the audience but made a successful attempt in evoking strong emotions they were not ready to handle. It was Art vs. Entertainment.”
– y.o. 1988
“It’s an age where people are only interested in entertainment. People are just entertained every day, like crazy, and that’s all they’re doing. And they say: ‘This is boring – let’s see something else.’ We are all kings and queens now, asking others to entertain us. It’s a very sad situation, because there are many things that we have to do if we want to survive.”
“The difference between entertainment and art; people just love to be entertained, and in order to entertain them, you have to do things in a way that they understand. So automatically, you have to go to a certain place, and I wasn’t doing that… I really think that any invention or discovery cannot be done unless you are totally free — free of those people.”
My story: Getting to the Bottom of Film No. 4
Opposing the old Japanese custom that one should not smile in a photograph, Yoko deliberately smiled often as a young girl. One of her most famous works is her Film No. 5: Smile. The only action is John simply smiling. The actual time lapse is three minutes, elongated to 52 minutes. The effect is John smiling in super slow motion – like having a light painting on the wall. One of Yoko’s early ideas was to have a snapshot taken of every person in the world smiling.
Whispers and Screams
Yoko’s music comes in whispers and screams – despite her classically trained background. Neither sound can be underestimated, as we cannot comprehend what she had to experience to create those whispers and screams.
“One time I did Whisper Piece in the Destruction in Art Symposium in 1966 in London. I was interested in the delicate way that things change – in that kind of destruction which, in a way, is more dangerous. I whispered a word and the word went around and got destroyed.”
“The older you get, the more frustrated you feel. And it gets to a point where you don’t have time to utter a lot of intellectual bullshit. If you were drowning you wouldn’t say: “I’d like to be helped because I have a moment to live… You’d say, ‘Help!’ but if you were more desperate you’d say, ‘Eioghhh,’ or something like that. And the desperation of life is really life itself, the core of life, what’s really driving us forth.”
– y.o. 1971
As much as she freed John Lennon from the restrictions of popular music, John gave Yoko something extremely important. A beat. She discovered the heartbeat of music which grounded her. She began writing lyrics and speaking in a formal language – for the sake of total communication.
Yoko built the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland in 2007. The Light House was once a concept which appears on a merchandise order list in Yoko’s book Grapefruit, published in 1964:
“A house constructed of light from prisms, which exist in accordance with the changes of the day.”
On their first ‘date’, John Lennon had asked her to build one in his garden. However, at the time (1968) it was virtually impossible.
Yoko: “He wanted to build that in his garden. I said, ’It’s very sweet… but it’s conceptual’.”
Yoko’s conceptual exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1971 also became a reality in 2015.
My story: Yoko @ MoMA
Passages for Light (2008) is a 19-minute video documenting Onochord and the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland, two of Yoko’s pieces which use light to spread the message of love and peace throughout the universe. Onochord is a small flashlight. The instruction is to tap out the message “I Love You” (i ii iii) as in Morse Code.
Passages for Light – Watch:
Carry an empty bag
Go to the top of the hill
Pour all the light you can into it
Go home when it is dark.
Hang the bag in the middle of your
room in place of a light bulb.
Raise your hand in the evening light
and watch it until it becomes transparent
and you see the sky and the trees through it.
Stand in the evening light until you
become transparent or until you fall
Look at life in nature. Budding branches, a shining river.
The light that shines on everything shines on you, too.
Fear Is Necessary
Yoko believes in the water experiments of Masaru Emoto, finding that water can think, feel and heal. Emoto has also spoken about fear; “We should look upon fear as a gift. It is a survival mechanism. The most powerful people in history have endured the most difficulty. If you change your thoughts, you change your reality.” – Masaru Emoto
How do you get rid of a fear you’ve had your whole life and just can’t shake?
You are a powerful being. You can get rid of anything you don’t like about yourself. The fact that you are sticking to that fear, may have a practical reason for it. May be if you got rid of that fear, you may walk right into the car coming at you. So keep anything you seem to want to keep. You never know.
How to stop fear from controlling my life and every choice I make?
“Fear is a protective measure we are given from the day we were born so we don’t stick our fingers in a burning fire, etc. Don’t be macho and be fearful of your emotion.”
“When I was in elementary school in Japan they had a textbook with a picture of a Japanese warrior who asked to be given seven sufferings and eight disasters, because he wanted to take over everybody’s suffering and disasters.
It’s a courageous thing to do, and I was only a little girl and I thought that sounds good and I wanted to be like him. Do good for the world in the sense of taking everyone’s pain away. I asked for the seven sufferings and my life became terribly difficult. All sorts of misery. And when it got to around 1979 I thought, ‘what did I do wrong?’ So I said I’m going to change it. Give me seven lots of luck and eight treasures. My disaster became my treasure. I reversed it.”
– The Telegraph, London March 1, 2018
Thankfulness and love for all people and our planet is probably the core of Yoko’s salvation. A ritual of blessing those who have wronged her has led to freedom from anger. It’s all in her song “Rainbow Revelation”. This is Yoko’s delicate gospel hymn from Starpeace (1985) reworked on Rising (‘Revelations’ 1995) blessing us for all of our negative energies and showing us how to transform them in a positive light, illuminating exactly which rewards we will receive for each.
Remember, even if you feel that nobody in your life loves you, Yoko loves you!
…Count your blessings every day for they are your protection
Which stand between you and what you wish not
Count your curses and there will be a wall
Which stand between you and what you wish
The world has all that you need
You have the power to attract what you wish
Wish for health, wish for joy
Remember, you are loved
I love you!
Open Your Box
Yoko asks us to think outside of the box – to imagine or to implement things that may seem impossible. Know that they are highly possible. Yoko knows that if we all think and work together, everything will be alright. She has the innate and undying wisdom of knowing that there will be peace. She has never stopped fighting for it, in her own ways, with her eternal partner John still helping her.
“He was my lover. He was my partner. He was an old soldier who fought with me.”
“I just think it’s wrong not to pursue the possibility of anything.”
“Our collective consciousness is working even when we don’t believe in it.”
“Keep imagining. You never know what will come true!”
Who has seen the wind?
I have spent lots of precious time with Yoko. She really is magical. She makes everyone feel beautiful, positive serene – and she will always make you smile. You will feel a gentle calming wind when she is near. You will feel that she IS the wind!’ A wind of change – of awakening. She makes us see things differently. Yoko bewilders us with a message or instruction so absurd that we wonder if she really believes that such miracles can come true – but it’s impossible to doubt her sincerity.
Many times, Yoko has taken both my hands in hers and closed her eyes in concentration, channeling her inner light through to me – as a blessing. And I do feel blessed. – mb
My Yoko Ono art collection:
Dreams, skies, smiles, love and wishes.
I breathe and dance every day.
I listen to the snow, see the wind, count the clouds and imagine peace.
What do you think my collection is worth?
I think it is priceless!
This is an excerpt from my Yoko Ono biography
In Your Mind – The Infinite Universe of Yoko Ono
by Madeline Bocaro
An all-embracing look at Yoko Ono’s life, music and art – in stunning detail.
Read all about the book, see the reviews and
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