News Flash: Wabi Sabi Simple Published. Regular readers of Richard Wabi Sabi World will be pleased to know that my long anticipated book, Wabi Sabi Simple released in December and is selling well. The book is a practical and inspiring guide to incorporating the beauty and wisdom of wabi sabi into daily life. For an introduction to the book visit www.stillinthestream.com and the book’s description page listed there.
Working Definition: Wabi Sabi is a way of life that appreciates natural beauty, values simplicity, and nurtures an authentic self. It acknowledges that nothing lasts, nothing’s finished, nothing’s perfect, including you, but affirms that contentment is possible when you accept genuine unvarnished existence, with clarity and grace.
“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.”
“When we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs is our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea cup.”
Okakura Kakuzo – The Book of Tea
That Old Ace in the Hole
Lovers of Wabi Sabi probably already know about Annie Proulx. Her book, The Shipping News, is filled with textured and aged Newfoundland images. Sven Birkerts, writing in the Jan/Feb 2003 issue of Book magazine says of Annie’s new book, “The prose may be slow and demand care from the reader, but Proulx repays our attention with a thousand shocks of charged recognition.” And isn’t that what we all want in a Wabi Sabi novel?
In Love with Meaning
prickle of rust set in dust
lips as dry
rustle of flight inside words
out of their mouths
light of a fire of silence and sound
echoes of flames between teeth
rains of age on garden throats
gargling crops of pain
alone on the field of memory
hoeing the weed-eating words
stone full of water
spit full of clay
cracker dry speaking
feather tongue squeaking
words are birds
An Unlikely Hero
Fred Rogers died today. I remember being 17 at Matthew Farris’ house listening to a record by a group of comedians that made fun of the Desiderata and Fred Rogers, among other things. For teenage boys the sappy sentiment of Desiderata and the effeminate way that Rogers talked were funny in themselves but the spoofs by the comedians had us reeling with laughter. 20 years later I started to revise my opinion of both. I read the Desiderata with renewed interest, surprised to find that I no longer found it trite and wishy washy but rather melancholy and stoic. I had been watching Fred, too, and found in him now a strange sort of hero. Here was a man who had convictions and education and who quietly implemented a way of relating to children that was radically different, and from all reports, effective. I researched his life and found that he had touched many people profoundly and actually shaped our culture. I am sad that he has died, but glad that he lived and had the courage to be a very different kind of man; the kind of man I hope and pray the world sees more of. Well done Fred!
Just read that Blogger has over a million people using their service. I guess that makes me one in a million.
The Art of Humility
My son has a penchant for both humor and self-deprecation. The combination of the two was delightfully exhibited last night while we were playing Balderdash around the kitchen table waiting for the new year to arrive. Graham was in last place and feeling pretty bad about it. He started saying, “I’m the worst, I’m so dumb,” and other negative things. Finally he got up from the table with a sigh and sought solace with the cat who was sitting on the living room floor. Matthew seeing an opportunity to cheer up his brother calculated the last round and artificially inflated Graham’s score. “Look Graham,” he said, moving Graham’s game piece to second place, “Your in second place.”
There was a small silence and then we heard from the living room floor Graham’s despondent voice, “Yeah, I’m in second place if everyone is on the same square.”
Hot September afternoon, I’ve just backed into my parking spot at home, opened the door, and stepped out onto the dusty gravel. I’ve just moved the seat forward and am reaching in the back seat to get my brief case.
“Guess what?” a voice says. It is a high, excited, little girl’s voice.
“What?” I say lifting out my brief case and turning around.
“I’m in school.” The voice says.
There is a circle of little girls on the grass under a tree on the neighbor’s lawn, and detaching herself from the rest is one of the youngest of the group. “I have homework,” she says holding up a pad of paper in the shape of a book of tickets. She is beaming.
I take the book from her to look at it. It is 5 layers of tracing paper stapled to a piece of cardboard on which, in large careful schoolteacher printing is the word, Heather.
I look down at Heather and say, “oh, this is for you to practice writing your name?” and she nods. It is an excessive nod. The kind of nod that looks like it might hurt it is so big and jerky.
But Heather is still beaming. “My teacher gave it to me.” There is something in the way she says it, something in the way she emphasizes the word “my” that makes me realize that this is not a chore, not a burden to be rid of so that other things can be done, like playing with Barbie’s or talking with her friends. This is a badge. Heather owns this task, she is proud of it. She wants to write her name on a piece of paper until it is as neat as her teacher’s example.
One of the other girls is standing beside Heather now and holds up a piece of tracing paper that appears to have been torn from the others. This is Hannah, one of the older girls. “See,” Hannah says, “she gave us one.” And Hannah emphasizes the word “Us.” I look back and forth between the two girls. I am glad they picked me. They are sharing their life with me. They don’t know this, of course. But I do. I tell Heather that it looks like she was very careful when she wrote out her name. And she just nods that big nod and returns to her friends.
I stand for a moment trying to remember when I was that openly proud, vulnerably unaware of the obviousness of my feelings. I have learned over the years to ration my outbursts, control them, and not give too much away. When, I wonder, will Heather be teased for her exuberance over schoolwork? This blindness to the potential for ridicule worries me. She will be hurt, I think, when someone, probably an older boy, says something, perhaps not even to her, “She wants to do homework, she can’t even write her name yet.” I am thinking of the neighborhood boy most likely to say this. I can see his face, can see his friends laughing, can see Heather’s face dropping. But perhaps Heather will not care; perhaps she is made of stiffer stuff. I hope so, but I doubt it. As I walk into the house, leaving Hannah doing summersaults on the grass and one of the other girls climbing the tree, I say a little prayer, not for Heather, though as I write this I feel guilty that I didn’t. No, all I do is smile to myself and utter the word, “Thank you,” remembering that the world moves fast, and I have felt it stop, if only for a moment.
What is it about the margins that attract us? Not just the margins of pages but all the margins between the cluttered riotous “where its at” and the mute lonely “no mans land”? Think of the Hebrew prophets in their caves, the early Christian monks erecting huts in the desert, the Tibetan Buddhists in their high mountain cities. We as humans, at least some of us, seek out places where life seems the most hard-done-by. Sure the rainforests are beautiful, cities exciting and fun, but barren places seem to speak to us, or open us to that kind of beauty that comes from hardship. For me it was the alpine meadows of Kokanee Glacier Park.
As a young teen I made the journey with my parents and family friends. We all loved the place, its wild rough grass, house size boulders, audacious flowers and miniature trees. We enjoyed the squeaking of the Picas and the calling of the Marmots. Humming birds zoomed around. They seemed much larger in this environment where scale is extreme. Alpine trees take a long time to grow, the alpine growing season is short, and so when the sun is warm every living thing shifts into high gear and the frenzy to store food for the next winter is as earnest as plants and Picas can be. But do I want to live there? I did, for many years, until the hardship of actual survival became less an adventure and more a drudgery. Still the question is valid. What is it about these places, this harsh spare environment, that attracts us?
For me it is this: Life keeps trying.
There is something fundamental in life that attracts me, and while I know that all life is really just a creative use of an ultimately dwindling energy, still what life does, in the raw and merciless zones of desert and mountain, is make an art out of entropy. And that, for me, is something worth learning.
Book Recommendation: Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: Why intelligence Increases When You Think Less by Guy Claxton, published by Fourth Estate.
The author explores how business centred cultures that value high productivity and fast analysis, foster active thinking that renders the world as problems and solutions.
This is the Hare brain; analyse the problem quickly, prescribe a precise solution. But the actual complexity of life limits the usefulness of conscious, deadline driven ways of thinking. Hare brain solutions and prescriptions work in the short term, sometimes, but often lead to a recurrence of the problem or a manifestation of the problem in other ways. What is really needed is the Tortoise mind.
The Tortoise mind involves mulling, reflection, contemplation, gut feelings and intuition. Given time to work these slower processes offer better solutions to complex problems.
So why is the Tortoise Brain undervalued? Partly because life is viewed as a race, but also because race-conscious individuals now hold the power and control in society.
A more subtle issue has to do with what it means to really understand something.
“Knowing emerges from, and is a response to, not-knowing. Learning – the process of coming to know – emerges from uncertainty. Ambivalently, learning seeks to reduce uncertainty, by transmuting the strange into the familiar, but it also needs to tolerate uncertainty, as the seedbed in which ideas germinate and responses form. If either one of these two aspects of learning predominates, then the balance of the mind is disturbed. If passive acceptance of not-knowing overwhelms the active search for meaning and control, then one may fall into fatalism and dependency. While if the need for certainty becomes intemperate, undermining the ability to tolerate confusion, then one may develop a vulnerability to demagoguery and dogma, liable to cling to opinions and beliefs that may not fit the bill, but which do assuage the anxiety.” – From the book.
Yesterday Marilyn bought “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Reaching Your Goals” by Jeff Davidson at Value Village for $2.99. She says it is the best $2.99 she has ever spent. She showed me the various sections she had highlighted and stopped to read a paragraph on how to sort out wishes from goals.
I asked what the different colors of highlighting were for.
“I usually highlight in yellow” she said, “but the person who had the book before me used yellow already.” Then she laughed and held up the book to me saying, “Here is where they stopped highlighting.”
I looked down at page 66, about ¼ of the way into the book, and observed the last highlighting by the anonymous previous owner. To Sleep Per Chance To Function.
It looks like they never got back out of bed, except perhaps, to discard the book in the value village contribution box. I guess setting goals was more of a wish than a goal for that person…
done cleaning the fish
dad’s thermos of steaming tea
cup warming my hands
dad likes Orange Pekoe
says mom’s Earl Grey tea tastes like
his childhood hay loft
thinking of parents
I stand in Overwaitea
six long shelves of tea
I’m downstairs putting wood on the fire. I pet the cat; ask him if he likes the heat from the stove. He yawns and puts a paw on my hand. I put on my sheep skin slippers and head upstairs. Half way up, the light makes me blink. The room is filled with light from the snowstorm outside. The flakes are rolling round and round in little eddies and the sun is backlighting the clouds. Although I know it is cold, must be because the flakes are so light, the brightness makes it seem like the fog in the bathroom after a shower. Now the flakes are going up, the wind drives them across the field and they arch over the house. Fast, at first, and then back to that soft dance.
It is pleasure profound to see the wind.
I came across this poem tonight. I have worked on it on and off for over ten years. It belongs here.
Our first fall together
waxwings ate rain
marks as bright as berries
what I looked for I still look for
stretched out across the cooling lake
Our second fall you collected rotten apples behind the grey house
stuck out your tongue at them, rinsing your hands quick
me and the grass laid down by the rain
orange poppy petals
silence about them
that year we had no friends
When we lived on the hill, fall was in the lane
I stood, hands in pockets, in a light rain
while someone else talked,
looked up and saw you in the window, poking floss taut into Aida cloth and the winter white light
your hands quick
the proper tension
Finally we hunched our shoulders
a cat put out in the rain
while the leaves tumbled cold
brown feather caught on Autumn
dappled and hungry
clutch thorns with their toes
Looking out of the St. George House
orange cat in the grass
picks its way through the color
paws coat steps with silence
only eyes quick
How many falls now?
second pregnancy a two story house
In out of the rain, petals under the porch curled dry
Slocan river moves as I think about it
Finally this year, after seeing smoke from our own chimney
I roll my wheelbarrow full of red leaves and two giggling boys
and am able to smile
knowing this cold flame of joy
has a name
This is the mug that is sitting on my desk as I type this. I have had it since I was fifteen, when I first started drinking tea in my room. That was over twenty five year ago. There have been many different desks in many different dwellings but the mug has traveled with me from place to place.
It came into my possession in my childhood home and no doubt my mother bought it. Perhaps she liked the flower pattern. They remind me of poppies. I like poppies. It seems that my mother and I have the same taste in mugs. On the bottom in black letters is the word, “Japan.”
It has a nice handle. This mug is Wabi Sabi. If I had to run from the house in a fire and the mug was near by I would grab it and when I was sitting in a new house I would set it down and have a mug of tea. Wabi Sabi is this way that things define us. It is the casting back and forward that objects do to us. Old things hold more than new things do. This mug holds more than tea. And it is I who too hold it.
I’m in the truck waiting at the stop sign for the traffic to clear and I see the bicyclist. First thought, “I’ll have to wait for her, too.” Then, as she passes in front of me I see the shopping bags hanging from her handlebars, I glace up at her face. She is sitting straight peddling with strong strokes, wearing a safety vest with the luminous reflective X on front and back. She has the serene and slightly amused look of someone enjoying a thought. And then she is past and the traffic clears and I head out into the street and I think, “Good on you!”
“And while zero emission electric cars have died in the marketplace, electric bicycle sales, according to Electric Bikes Worldwide, rose sharply to 2.1 million units in 2000. A typical car emits about one pound of carbon dioxide for every mile driven, so every auto outing replaced by a trip on a wto wheeler eliminates a lot of green house gas.” – Sarah C. Greene Discover, August 2001 Vol 22 #8. pg. 11 (By the Numbers)
Stumbling into Wabi Sabi
Such Joy! I got a new book from the library today that I had called for and I started reading it tonight after vacuuming and tidying up. Page 12: “There are two fundamental principles which permeate Chinese and Japanese art and culture: The concepts of “wabi” and “sabi.” Wow, fundamental principles, that’s big! The author goes on to explain:
“Wabi means, quite literally, ‘poverty,’ although this translation does not begin to convey the richness of its true meaning. Poverty, in this sense, means not being dependent on material possessions, rather than simply not having them. A person who is poor in these terms can still be inwardly rich because of the presence of something of higher value than mere possessions. Wabi, therefore, is poverty that surpasses immense riches. In practical terms, wabi is exemplified in the contentment of a family living in very Spartan conditions with simple food and few possessions, but surrounded by and in tune with the events of everyday life. In intellectual and artistic terms, wabi is found in the person who does not indulge in complexity of concept, over-ornate expression, or the pomposity of self-esteem. He, or she is quietly content with the simple things in life, which are the sources of their everyday inspiration.”
“Sabi, on the other hand, denotes ‘loneliness’ or ‘solitude’, although in aesthetic terms, its meaning is much broader. An antique element is also implied, especially if it is combined with a primitive lack of sophistication. The utensils used in the traditional tea ceremony of Japan are a good example of sabi. The essence of sabi, therefore, is gracefulness combined with antiquity.”
“In addition to wabi and sabi, there are seven other characteristics which are regarded as expressive of Zen in a work of art, and which link the concepts of Wabi and Sabi. These are: asymmetry, simplicity, austere sublimity, naturalness, subtle profundity, freedom from attachment, and tranquility.”
Cool. I love this stuff. And it is like this big thing! How come I haven’t heard of it before? I’ve lived on the planet over 40 years and only heard about this idea several months ago. It is introverted, stoic, but balanced and serene. It is where I want to be. Is this what happens when you get older? The question now is, how to accomplish it without getting severe and aloof. Perhaps the Bonsai will help me find that way.
(The book I refer to is: Bonsai Masterclass by Peter Chan)