There are three main reasons.
First it names a rare and seemingly paradoxical pleasure — the experience of positive sadness. Rare in that it does not happen often for most people, but common enough that most people can think of a time or two in their life when it has happened.
Second, when you embrace sabi there is a shift in the way you see beauty. Once you know that sadness can be positive, you start to consider what other things that you previously thought of as negative or ugly might not be. This is especially true of loss and hardship. You notice your own subjective criticism of “what is” and your desire for “what ought to be.”
Lastly, sabi helps you move into or stay in non-dual thinking.
The word Sabi has changes over the years. Originally it was a slightly longer word in Japanese, the word sabishi. In the simplest terms, that old word meant solitary or lonely. In Wabi Sabi for Writers I traced the development of the word over time and it’s enduring association with wabi. In particular I focused on Basho who I believe coined the shortened word sabi to identify more than just an aesthetic quality. I thought then and still think that Basho used sabi to describe a way to appreciate the pathos of life without descending into despair. I go into how this works in a little more detail here. Essentially it boils down to using a poetic sensibility to see how some (not all) sad situations are actually quite beautiful.
Writers and other creative people who are “sensitive to things” seem particularly vulnerable to despair. Much of literature, especially in the 19th, 20th, and early 21st century, seems to be about the loss of faith and the descent into nihilism. Sabi may be useful for those of us struggling to make sense of our life in this post-modern world.
“Sabishisa in Basho’s poems is often not a landscape infused with the sentiment of loneliness but the fundamental tranquility found in the harmonious fusion of the external world and the poetic mind.” — Peipei Qiu, Basho and the Dao
If you can see a lonely place as beautiful you might also see other places and experiences as beautiful that you previously would have seen as sad or uncomfortable. It is a sort of slippery slope into poetic vision and once you find the pleasure of appreciating the sabi in things, it opens the door to an examination of how our thinking can either enhance or taint the actual events and settings around us. To be able to say, “this moment is filled with sabi” and to then value the moment instead of pushing it away, means that you can accept more and more of life without seeking diversions, distractions, and concoctions to take away the pain. Sabi is not the miracle mindset to take away pain, instead it is a single step in a longer journey to accepting all that is. Why this is important is discussed on this page.
Non Dual Thinking?
Like Basho did with the word sabi, I’m exploring ways to engage sabi at a deeper (or maybe higher?) level, to move it to a larger application, to develop a “sabi paradigm” that can allow me or anyone else to move from loneliness to oneliness.
Or to use more academic language — from a dualistic materialist mind set to a non-dual anatheistic mind set. This is not a simplistic “everything is one” mindset, but instead part of a larger shift from one developmental meme to another. It IS about seeing that everything is one, or connected, or interrelated, but it is also about seeing that dualistic thinking can occur within non-dual thinking, but not the other way around. This assumes a particular type of non-dual thinking that is also dialectic.
The “sabi paradigm” I am suggesting is one in which the pain that comes from classifying some emotions as good and others as bad breaks down. As we embrace positive sadness, we let go of the distinctions and categories that may have some use for group cohesion or understanding complex topics, but also can hold us back from seeing bigger more expansive views that may be the most effective in cultivating lasting contentment. I hope to also explore this theme in greater depth here.