contentment with wabi sabi during times to austerity
Whatever our views on austerity, it is here and may be for a long time. There are great risks that in times of difficulty we get become stressed, anxious, angry or fearful. Any of these fight or flight emotions creates a condition where our body perceives we are in danger, putting us into a survival state. As a result we put less energy into our immune system, healing and general well-being, increasing the risk of degenerative illness. In that sense it is a double hit of, not enjoying life, and eventually becoming ill as a result of the stress. This article will demonstrate you can alleviate these troubles and find contentment with wabi sabi.
From a happiness perspective, it is not the events themselves, but our relationship to them that matter. During a period of austerity this asks the question as to whether we can be happy with less? According to the ancient Japanese practice of Wabi Sabi the answer is, yes.
Wabi Sabi is the artistic expression of Zen, and provides a practical way to enjoy a more simple life. The aim is to develop a happy, contented inner self that constructively engages with the world we inhabit.
The name translates to something like, transient beauty seen through humble eyes. There are two primary principles here. The first is that we appreciate things more if they come and go. For the Japanese it is the cherry blossoms, for us it might be daffodiles in spring. We could ask ourselves if we appreciate strawberries more, eaten all year round or in season?
The second word suggests that we can train ourselves to find the simplest things interesting. For example, how long could I be interested in a pencil? Could I look at it in new ways, feel the texture and shape, examine the way it has worn? If I became able to find a pencil, stone, leaf, petal… fascinating then how much more amazing would the complexities of another person be?
One of the metaphors for wabi sabi is the cracked vase. If we have a favourite vase and it cracks, it just becomes more interesting. The crack will be unique. With our new eyes it is more interesting to look at and there is a new texture to explore with our fingers. The aim is to develop ourselves to enjoy life from the inside, based on the quality of our interactions with the things around us.
In this sense objects that age naturally are prized in wabi sabi. Blistering paint on an old garden gate, a rusting latch, the patina of worn leather, fading denim, the weathering of a stone, the dip in a well used step… all represent the process of life and her many cycles. Indeed our own ageing is part of that, and if we can see the beauty in the cycles around us, perhaps our own journey through life brings a new beauty with each step.
Wabi sabi began around the 1200s with the Japanese tea ceremony. Whilst drinking a cup of tea, we have the opportunity to use all our five senses. We can listen to the sound of pouring the tea, watch the steam twist and spiral across the room, feel the texture and warmth of the cup with our hands, smell the tea and finally taste it. This takes us away from all our worrying, anxious, fearful thoughts, into enjoying the moment.
To enhance the meditative, sensorial experience of the tea ceremony the Zen monks chose very simple, ash fired pottery that made each cup and pot unique. The clay was chosen to have a rough texture and the shapes were created in the moment, from the heart, without striving for perfection or being contrived. If you like, an object born out of a meditative state to help the person using it find there own meditative experience.
Simplicity is employed to create the space to see the beauty without distraction. This time the metaphor is to de-clutter our lives, so that we can focus on those things that we cherish the most.
All this supports a life where we spend more time enjoying it as it happens, rather than fretting over the future or resenting the past. It takes us to a place where we generally feel happy and content, a place where our body feels safe and better able to put energy into our long term healing and well-being. In this sense wabi sabi is the antithesis of rampant growth and consumerism. It provides the practices to be more appreciative of the things we have and can lead to a better quality of life.
So, how do we use wabi sabi in current times?
Get Rid of Clutter
To simplify your home and better focus on what you enjoy most, get rid of things that no longer give you pleasure. Keep items you feel you can engage with, so your home becomes a place where you can enjoy sensorial pleasures. Think about smells, sounds, textures, light, colours and shapes.
Every time you drink a cup of tea engage all five senses and notice the sounds of pouring the tea, the steam, the feel of the cup, the smell and taste. Traditionally green tea was used. Having tasted the tea once, use the same leaves again and describe the differences in the colour, smell and taste of this second tasting. You could also try with any herb teas.
Clear an area in your home that has a surface to display items you want to engage with for a while. This could be stones, sticks, leaves, flowers, feathers… you find in nature or any items that will hold your interest. Change the arrangement whenever you feel like it. See if you can be creative, spontaneous, free and surprise yourself.
Arranging Your Home
Try changing the position of items in your home. Refreshing rooms will make them more noticeable and easier to engage with. You could try with moving paintings, chairs and plants to keep you hime fresh and interesting. Make the changes when you feel content, peaceful and joyful so that you imprint those emotions into the process.
Place a vase of flowers on a clear surface. Everyday spend a few minutes observing the flowers and in particular, noticing how they change from one day to the next. For a while you might notice the petals unfold and open up, then the may wilt, until eventually falling off, onto the clear surface, forming there own unique pattern. Keep observing the petals and you will see them dry out, curl up and change colour as the days go by. Once the cycle has been completed try again with new flowers. The idea is to notice and appreciate the transient beauty.
Simon Brown is the author of Practical Wabi Sabi and runs courses on stress relief, meditation and wabi sabi. His latest novel is Death of a Butterfly.
Contact Simon for help applying wabi sabi to your own life.