Streams are quintessential symbols of wabi sabi.
A stream tumbles a stone and its edges and points collide with other stones. Over time this smooths and polishes the stone, making visible its patterns and colors. Stones in streams are worn into wabi sabi beauty. Wabi sabi beauty is also found in weathered fences, desert dunes, well oxidized tea (oolong and black), and extra old cheese. It is everywhere in nature but especially those areas which experience the ongoing action of waves, wind, water and sand. These are the obvious places, but it reveals itself in areas with different kinds of flow. The flow of years, or work, or wisdom. Once you notice it in your daily life it becomes clear that you are surrounded by it. This noticing, is entering the stream.
Being “in the stream” is a way to describe the “way of elegance.” This is one path that many artists and contemplatives take. It is a way that not only expands a person’s sense of beauty, taste, and aesthetic appreciation, but it can also facilitate the appreciation of sabi as a quality of character.
In this sense being Still in the Stream is a Way of Life. For those who appreciate old stones, bones, and barns; for those who like to stop and be still, in the stream, or feel inspired by the way of elegance, this “way” becomes a strange magnet drawing us deeper in. I believe those of us who take these practices to heart will develop a way to look past the sadness of wear and mature and mellow into elders of flow. We will, in essence, become wabi sabi.
Wabi sabi is a hammer at rest on a work bench when it reveals something of its history, its accumulation of useful moments, in it’s scratches and worn away steel. You may not recognize the importance of a wabi sabi tool until you see the effect it has on your subconscious mind. Wabi sabi can often be discovered in your areas of reluctance, in those moments of hesitation over replacing an old tool, or cutting down an old tree, or trading in an old car.
Sometimes your mind comes to rest on a beauty so common it exists unnoticed in plain view. The wear pattern of a broom, the way a leather chair has been molded by the human body resting on it, the multi-hued stains of lichen on a Terra Cotta pot. Those who see these things, who find their eyes open to the beauty in simple familiar old things, also find that it is a rewarding way to live. Rather than fueling contempt for old outdated objects that you want to replace, wabi sabi produces a kind of thankfulness for the things you already have, a mindfulness of each purchase in the context of your already full life.
This way of life rises from the feeling, difficult to describe, that aging improves things.
It is in the feeling of wonder at the subtleness of organic patterns, it is the joy of noticing something or someone previously overlooked. It is a realization that treasure lies at hand if we will re-examine all that is taken for granted. It can arise as a sort of sadness over change, evolution, progression. But despite its melancholy tones, there is a kind of light in it, a glow like a candle in a quiet room. Muted and earth toned we sometimes apologize for wabi sabi, wonder at our fondness of it. It is an intuitive ache, an understanding of the time that has gone into and out of a thing. It recognizes the value of things that exist and will pass away.
A person who has experienced wabi sabi, even if he or she has not named it, knows a sharp private perception wrapped around some place, person, or object. That perception is something like love when it hurts. But when it matures, the pain grows into an acceptance and peace. It helps us embrace all the things that are impermanent by reminding us we can not own them. When you see yourself as part of the stream of things that come into being and go out again, when you see yourself as part of the flow itself, you start to be still, in the stream.
Try this, if only in your imagination: Take the rope in your hands, step back a few paces, jump out over the river, hang on for dear life. As the pendulum action carries you down towards the surface, look at the flowing water and feel your stomach tingle. When you swing up the far arch feel the sweet spot; that momentary weightless sensations as your pendulum trajectory is balanced by the pull of gravity. Let go and fall into the torrent below. There is a lot of noise when you first hit the water, the bubbles and splash of your contact with the moving liquid and the strange raspy noise inside your ears as water enters them.
Bob to the surface and find yourself being carried downstream. Feel the current push gently at your back and legs and arms. You can relax now, tread water a little to keep your head out, and feel the lovely sensation of traveling in water while the shore slips by on either side. This is being still, in the stream.
We who are still in the stream find a kind of joy, a certain contentment, as we accept genuine unvarnished existence. It brings a welcome clarity and grace. Around this clarity swirl related topics and experiences. The articles and photos’s here incline towards that clarity and attempt to communicate the pleasure and rewards of living lightly the life we are given and finding wonder in this tarnished world.