Continuing To Be Still In The Stream

Shortly after the publication of my first book on wabi sabi in 2004 I created a website called stillinthesteam.com. I maintained a full site with contests, articles, and news, for 10 years, then transferred my domain name here in July of 2015. I want to shift my focus from the wider wabi sabi ideal, to the application of sabi in everyday life. I still believe that the the phrase “still in the stream” captures the paradox and joy I’m following, and also searching for. When I started my 100 lakes project it was a way to more deeply explore sabi through a practice known as Kanjaku. The 100 lakes blog has largely been a series of travelogs with the occasional post of my philosophical musings.

Canoe on Anutz Lake, near a stream inflow

Over the years I launched new blogs to try and chronicle some of the inner journey I have been on, but as is often the case for me, and those with similar personalities to mine, I don’t seem to make much progress after the initial inspiration. But this is what it means, in part, to be still in the stream. Still, in this sense, equates to “continuing to exist, or persist” in the stream. Mid stream really. “Nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, nothing is finished.” And the nothing being finished part, like the rest, is not a bad thing. We want perfect lasting completion. We want to be able to relax out of striving, seeking, and working into accomplishment, answers, and rest. For me, those qualities are not bad, but the exploration of wabi sabi had confirmed for me that goals promise satisfaction and contentment one day, and as attractive as this sounds, it is an illusion. Because satisfaction and contentment are as transitory as all other feelings in life.

So, being still in the stream is being ankle or knee or even waist deep in the flow — in the process. But there is another kind of stillness that is not persisiting-in-the-moment-ness but more along the line of persisting-in-the-momentlessness. This is the stillness which we think of as being without movement. The stillness of a meditator, of a person in reverie, and of objects that reside in one place for a long time. It is the air that seems not to move in a forest glade, the water that seems not to move on a calm pond. We love the look and feel and experience of this kind of stillness. And most of us know it is a relative thing. Even when the mist is rising off a glassy lake, and the reeds and rushes stand like sentinels, we know that the mist is swirling is very small movements of air, and rings appear on the water from fish moving below the surface. Stillness of this kind is really a reduction of motion, a quieting of frenetic activity which seems somehow to hush our mind, to create a mindful state in which we can let go some of the burden we seem to be carrying. I’m realizing now that letting go, is perhaps as important to sabi as being still. And also, there is the stream. Always the stream. More on this as I go along…

Wabi Sabi for Writers

Wabi Sabi For Writers
Find Inspiration. Respect Imperfection. Create Peerless Beauty.
by Richard R. Powell,
published by Adams Media

What if deep poetry flowed through your day-to-day life? What if writing that poetry was a path to enlightenment? Basho, the grandfather of haiku poetry, named this path, “the Way of Elegance” because it connects you to grace and fills your life with subtle beauty.Cover From Wabi Sabi for Writers

I began writing Wabi Sabi for Writers, to communicate the significance of this path for writers, but I ended up with a book for anyone who wants the poetic light inside them to penetrate the darkness that surrounds them.

Basho knew the central defining quality of his culture was: “a sensitivity to things,” and he deliberately and thoughtfully crafted practices to support and deepen that sensitivity. These practices allowed the quality to expand his life.

Unfortunately he found that while “a sensitivity to things” expanded his awareness of beauty it also expanded his awareness of suffering. This heightened awareness of both beauty and suffering leads some people to despair. This is because our capacity to tolerate suffering in those around us seems to decrease as our awareness increases. When faced with an increase in awareness of suffering, many people instinctively turn away from sensitivity and become hardened, detached or distracted.

The Buddhist culture around Basho taught non-attachment as the correct approach to suffering. Non-attachment was not a turning away from suffering, but a calming of the emotional reactions to suffering through practice of the eightfold path. All other solutions were seen as delusions or deceptions.

Contrary to this prevailing belief, Basho demonstrated that we can avoid developing hard hearts without practicing non-attachment if, instead, we experience our attachments in a deeper way. Basho’s interpretation of wabi sabi made this possible.

Quote from Wabi Sabi For Writers about Point of ReferenceOne way to understand Sabi is to see it as a step beyond sensitivity to things, to see it as a deep awareness of the poetry at the heart of all things. The curious magic of this literary awareness is that while you are focused on the poetry in each object of attachment, your ego is quieted. To have a sabi mind you allow ego to rest in this un-voiced poetry. This new understanding of Sabi as an antidote to despair was Basho’s most important discovery. Sabi, he realized, was central to the Way of Elegance.

The Way of Elegance encourages a creative response to challenge and difficulty and produces eccentricity, pluckiness, fortitude, and resourcefulness. Yet sabi by itself can be overdone. The depth and character that comes from this clear-minded approach to life can make you feel mature, seasoned, and even superior. This is where wabi comes in. Wabi is the humbling factor, the stabilizing reality of the vastness and complexity of nature and our own place in it. When the two are balanced, they produce a lightness in a writers work which Basho called “karumi.”

Wabi Sabi for Writers, presents wabi sabi as a balanced set of principles that help a person face into the winds of change, look on the imperfect world with acceptance, and find, mixed within the dark elements of existence, bright strands of joy. Through examples and stories the book illustrates how to expand your sense of beauty until each moment brims with light.

One of the key concepts on the way of elegance is “furyu.” Basho discovered in his life of reading and thinking and wandering and teaching and writing that all of these things contributed to Furyu which literally means “in the way of the wind and stream”. It is putting yourself in the traffic, launching yourself into the action, not necessarily as a player, but deliberately, as the eyes and ears and taste buds and sense of smell. Furyu is a powerful tool that shows you what you like, and also what you love.

Basho adopted Furyu as his central attitude and orientation and found that it generated inspiration, poetry, and enlightenment. An ancient Japanese word with roots in the Chinese language, Furyu describes a stance or approach that puts a person on the path of elegance. If you would like to learn more about how to develop Furyu in your life, about how to naturalize your creative activities and find transcendence through harmony with nature, then Wabi Sabi for Writers if for you.

Wabi Sabi for Writers is divided into 9 chapters. Chapters 2 through 5 discuss ways of being that are mirrored in chapters 6 through 9 which discuss acts of doing:

1 – Wabi Sabi for Writers: an introduction
2 – Inspiration: to make an impression, write with your feet
3 – Education: find your voice by moonlight
4 – Wabi Sabi Beauty: let poetry flow from your attachments
5 – Enlightenment: lose yourself in writing with a language older than words
6 – Motivation: imitate a yak and share something wild
7 – Community: in a group of friends you can write from the heart
8 – Wabi Sabi Elements: flowing words reveal constant content
9 – Craft: guidelines for developing a saving style

Amazon Reviews: http://amzn.com/1593375964

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

Evolution In The Stream

In 2004 I started a website called “Still in the Stream.” The idea was to build upon my books about wabi sabi and explore the wider artistic, philosophical, and lifestyle components to the wabi sabi aesthetic. Then I embarked on my 100 Lakes project and have been focused on that for the past 3 years.

Over Christmas I started listening to the podcast series, Evolutionary Christianity, with guarded interest. The experience has proved to be more stimulating that I had hoped and I am re-energized to explore the confluence of Evolution and Spirituality.

Wabi Sabi has proven to be a deep and consistent set of concepts and values that have some evolutionary echos. The function of this blog will be to explore and record my thoughts on the subject. It will be largely a text-based effort, but I’ll try to include relevant images from time to time.