Secondary Benefits

I said on the “Why is Sabi Important” page that there are secondary benefits to embracing sabi and moving into a way of looking at the world through a sabi lens. Here I will, in the coming months, unpack this in more detail.

Accepting All That Is?

Well, maybe not all that is, but I have found that much if not most of our suffering comes from wishing things were different than they are.


Haecceity (from the Latin haecceitas) is usually translated as “thisness.” Duns Scotus is believed to be the first person to use the word to denote the wholly unique components that make a person or object unlike any other person or object. In a certain sense it is the emergent quality of a thing that we recognize as being one of a kind and therefore worth great value.


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A sensitivity to “thisness” is one of the central muscles of a poetic mind. With it we move out of categorizing all stones as “stones,” which is a time saving device, into contemplation of this particular stone, which is a time occupying device. We pick up the stone, we turn it over, we appreciate it for it’s thisness. This of course is not a muscle exclusive to the poetic mind. The scientific mind also requires this working, this using of effort. In thisness the scientist and the poet stand together — in curiosity, in wonder sometimes, at the profoundness of this one unique thing, this anomalous data-point varying from all other data-points, yet clustering into that cloud of similarity that evokes the classification.

We make sense of the world by placing each thing into these clouds, these clouds of similar qualities, or similar appearances, or rigorous distinctions. Species, elements, personalities, types, kinds — the categories at least less numerous than the objects inside them.

The scientist must contemplate an objects thisness to determine which clouds the object belongs in, creating complicated Ven diagrams to nudge the object into understanding. Understanding arising out of the process of classification.

Thisness for the poet, however, is more about gratefulness, appreciation, and delight in somethings particular charm. While all rainbow trout are beautiful, this one is a little deeper in the belly, has a little larger tail, and those combinations make THIS trout more beautiful or significant or trouty than the others.

Finding the unique in all things is not possible for us, but perhaps is the pleasant task of God.

A Definition of Sabi

In Wabi Sabi for Writers I said that sabi “was refined over the years to emphasize a state of receptivity, fostered in remote natural settings.” The legendary Japanese poet Basho was among the first to use the word and he did so to distinguish his style of poetry from others. There existed a different but similar word, aware, which described the state of being open or sensitive to things. Aware is pronounced ‘ah wah ray’ but coincidentally has a similar meaning to the English word aware, as in awareness. The English word aware, comes from the German root, which is more about wariness, than artistic sensitivity, so we can’t quite equate the two.

Buttertubs Marsh

Both sabi and aware have to do with an openness to poetic qualities in an object or place, especially when we are unhurried or alone. The emphasis is on sensitivity and emotional receptivity. Aware was part of a popular phrase, “Mono no aware” which is translated as “an awareness of the poignancy of things.” The poignancy comes, usually, from a things impermanence or transience. Howard Rheingold in his book, They Have a Word for It, writes of aware: “Would cherry blossoms be as poignantly beautiful if they bloomed all year round, or if they were as tough as walnuts?” Seeing the cherry blossom with the awareness that they are only here for a few days each year, makes them more valuable.

Basho taught his students that sabi was the color of a poem and gave examples of people who showed pluck or stamina. What makes sabi different from aware is that it includes a deliberate acceptance of things as they are. This deliberate acceptance makes sabi more than awareness, more than sensitivity. For sensitive souls, poets, song writers, artists, etc. sabi is more “spiritual” for lack of a better word. A person might experience aware when she sits in misery contemplating a fallen soldier, too young to have savored the freedom for which he gave his life. She is wracked with the pathos of the scene. Her sister, adopting a sabi mind, sees the same scene and feels the same pathos but moves it towards an aha moment.

Aware is the “ah” or “oh” of sorrow, and sabi is the ‘ah” or “oh” of insight.

For an excellent discussion of sabi in the work of Basho, see: Sabi, Nature, and the Relationship by Riley B. Irwin