Saturday, November 22, 2008

Have a Wabi-sabi Thanksgiving!


This sounds like a new dance craze ("Come on everybody and do the wabi-sabi!"). Or perhaps an annoying Star Wars character that you want to kill two minutes into the movie. Or baby talk for the word wasabi ("Does widdle Jimmy want a widdle bit of wabi-sabi on his sushi-wushi?").

It's none of the above. In reality, wabi-sabi happens to be THE over-arching aesthetic and religious principle in Japan. You might be slightly disappointed it's not something more cutesy...but let me explain.

Before our chankopalooza last weekend (see previous post), our friends led Tim and I on a two-hour hike up a mountain and back down to a local temple. Hiranosan warned us that the hike would be "dangerous". We thought he was kidding. Perhaps he had chosen the wrong word?

No such luck.

Overcast and drizzly, I about broke my neck a dozen times sliding on the thick carpet of wet leaves covering the trail. As we descended the treacherous side of the mountain, we wandered upon a more discernible, stone path. On the left side of it was a craggy rock face covered in moss. Trees in autumn garb, with their branches arching over the path, lined the other side.

Hiranosan stopped and gazed at the scene around him. He announced that the quiet scene of rock, trees and moss leading up to a sacred place was "the center of the Japanese heart", otherwise known as wabi-sabi.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), wabi-sabi has no direct translation. The best I can come up with is "harmony in nature, perfect in its imperfection, transitory yet timeless". Someone smarter than myself described it more simply: "nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."

Interesting. Nothing lasts. Nothing is finished. Nothing is perfect.

Generally, we westerners tend to think that everything good must last...that the mission is accomplished...that perfection is attainable with the "right" ingredients and superior methodology. Both mental constructs (Eastern and Western thought) have their pros and cons and work for and against the cultures to which they belong. I could go on about that forever.

But I have a challenge for you today--this most wonderful holiday of Thanksgiving.

In addition to being thankful for your beautiful families, the roof over your head and the plentiful food on your table, consider being thankful that nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect.

Although unsettling, getting older is an amazing process. It's astounding what new views you can see through the bare branches, after the beautiful leaves have fallen to the ground.

Although that rock face was carved out a millenia ago, it's not "finished". The emerald moss covering it will degrade the surface over time. The change might be imperceptible to us, but another thousand years from now, the path will look much different to those who follow us. They will be in awe of it, nonetheless.

Although manicured, symmetrical gardens are gorgeous, the tangled chaos of nature is ever so much more. Striving to be/do better is desirable but not if we forget that we are imperfect beings in our original design. Imperfections remind us that we are limited and not always in control. This makes us human. And to quote Martha Stewart, the grand poohbah of perfection: "It's a good thing."

On the subject of good things, I hope you all enjoy plenty of traditional turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie this holiday...with a little bit of wabi-sabi on the side. I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!

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