The Japanese view of life embraced.  A simple aesthetic
that grew stronger as inessentials were eliminated
and trimmed away.

-architect Tadao Ando

“What do you want?” , he asks.

“Peace, peace and tranquility”, she replies.

I’m becoming more reflective in my mid years. I think about almost everything and the importance of each thought; the importance of my surroundings, my existence in this world. I weigh each activity and determine if it’s just being busy, or being purposeful.

I can’t stop thinking and reflecting; thinking and reflecting and taking inventory of what is most precious to me; what really matters.

It’s not stuff. It’s not money. It’s not what I’ve accumulated and saved over time.  It’s not that some things don’t have a sentimental value, but when I look around and survey the whatnots that I’ve collected over the years, I reconsider what importance they had from the beginning.

Photographs: Yes, definitely important; optical memories of occasions and persons that imprint the spatial part of my brain that holds the treasures of my past.

Furniture and collectibles : A few antique or semi-antique pieces handed down from grandparent to parent to me, that decorate the tabletops, bookcases, and walls; filling the once empty spaces and surfaces of my home with their decorative contribution. Add these to what my husband and I have purchased over time and the house becomes a home, the couch becomes a nest for rest, the dining table becomes a ledge to perch the food and drink consumed by those who gather at it’s perimeter and whom I love; making yet more memories.

Clothing: Where to begin? None of it really matters. I’ve even discarded my wedding dresses. Yes, I said dresses…there were two. Clothes that mark decades of fashion, years of  “figure transformations” and some styles that defy any reason for purchase. Closets and drawers that contain more than I will ever wear.

Wabi-Sabi. Wabi-Sabi. . . . I like the sound. I like even better it’s meaning; it’s translation as best as a westerner can understand it.

Sounds deep, but not too deep. Wabi-sabi’s roots lie in Zen Buddhism, which was brought from China to Japan by Eisai, a twelfth-century monk. Zen, with its principles of vast emptiness and nothing holy, stresses austerity, communion with nature, and above all, reverence for everyday life as the real path to enlightenment. Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came.

Wabi stems from the root wa, which refers to harmony, peace, tranquillity, and balance. Generally speaking, wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate, and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, unmaterialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature. Someone who is perfectly herself and never craves to be anything else would be described as wabi. A wabi person epitomizes Zen, which is to say, he or she is content with very little; free from greed, indolence, and anger; and understands the wisdom of rocks and grasshoppers.

I am fascinated by rocks. (Remember from my previous post, An Ugly Truth, that I keep a gray, jagged and ugly rock  on my windowsill to remind me that the edges of my human nature to judge, need to be worn away by the hands of my creator, until I’m smoother and more loving). On my daily walks, I study the surfaces of rocks; their shape, color, size, imprints and age. They mark the history of the earth and hold the secrets of it’s formation. I’m truly in awe and can’t help but stare and question where did they come from and like a child I wonder, will God be making more?

Sabi by itself means “the bloom of time.” It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust-the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled. It’s the understanding that beauty is fleeting.

Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn bough. An old car left in a field to rust, as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, could be considered America’s contribution to the evolution of sabi. An abandoned barn, as it collapses in on itself, holds this mystique.

Over time, the patina of my life  is evident on the surface of my skin and the lines that define the passage of time on my face reveal the joy and sorrow that I carry in my heart, and as time peels away the layers of clutter that I wear,  I choose to be free of greed, indolence and anger becoming the person content to be herself.

“What do you want”, he asks.

“Wabi Sabi”, she replies.


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