Just as the grief journey is a transformative process, origami, the art of folding a perfectly square piece of paper into a beautiful sculpture can be transformative in creating a state of mindfulness. Making precise and repetitive folds requires focus, concentration and attention to detail, creating a peaceful environment of relaxation and reflection.
The traditional paper crane is probably the most famous of all origami models. It’s designed based on the Japanese red-crowned crane which, in Japanese mythology, is known as the “Honourable Lord Crane,” the wings of which carried souls up to heaven. The Japanese name for this model is “Orizuru” which simply means “folded crane.”
An ancient Japanese legend promises that anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes (the lifespan of a crane in years, according to the legend), will be granted a wish by the gods. The wish could be for happiness, health or good luck.
The paper crane became an international symbol of peace after Sadako, a Japanese girl who developed leukemia following the bombing of Hiroshima during WWII, set a goal of folding 1,000 cranes while terminally ill in the hospital. The ending of the story varies. Some say she far surpassed her goal, ultimately folding approximately 1,400 of the paper birds. Others claim she fell short and that friends and relatives folded the difference after her death. Regardless, today, thousands of origami cranes are on display, as symbols of peace, in a variety of locations that have experienced unrest or violence, including the 9/11 memorial in New York City and Pearl Harbor.
Folding a paper crane is relatively easy, but precision plays an important role in the look of the finished product. Still, there is no need to strive for perfection for this to be a relaxing exercise. The simple act of folding can do wonders for the soul, even if the beak is a bit crooked or the wings aren’t quite right. In fact, many Japanese practice wabi-sabi, a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. This aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete," perhaps mirroring our own experiences of grief.