I’ve used the term Wabi-Sabi in a previous post. There’s something about Japanese philosophies that attract me. Perhaps, it was my early karate training. Perhaps, it’s just one of those past life “things”. They say when we’ve left something unresolved in a previous life that it affects us in our current life. Ask most people and they’ll claim they were a Queen or some such other royal figure. Me? I probably picked up the horse shit from riding Samurais for fertilizer.
In any case, it’s ironic that on our journey south from Toronto, we ended up couchsurfing in Livingston Manor with a poet that also has a love of Wabi-Sabi, Susan Deer Cloud. Susan is mixed Native American heritage and discovered that she’s part Jewish too. Native and Jewish with an attraction to a Japanese aesthetic makes perfect sense, right?
The term wabi may have once meant poor or lonely, but poetically, it has come to mean simplicity and peace. When the judgement about possessing little is removed (a task that is quite foreign to our Western minds), the term is elevated to the Zen status of peace with what exists, a monk that has little and needs little. Sabi implies the effect of time or age. It is the patina on an antique desk, or the weathered look of an old temple.
Somewhere along the line, Japanese artists put the two words together because it has a catching prosody. It sounds nice together, and it ties together “simple” with “time”. The school of wabi-sabi appreciates simplicity, imperfection and impermanence. It finds beauty in the ephemeral designs of nature and imitates that. It appreciates art that is in tune with Nature, the true Mistress of Time.
Google searches in the English language turn up articles on how to make your house wabi-sabi. In the Western world apparently, it’s replaced feng-shui as the new fad among interior decorators. This is not the wabi-sabi I was looking for.
Reducing everything we owned into a portable life is an exercise in wabi-sabi. Simplicity is key to packing. One traveling couple we met never unpacked their bags. Their theory was that if you take out what you need and put it back at the end of the day, you always know where it is.
For the moment, we don’t have it quite right. Currently, we’re traveling in our van, and it has
more than enough room to store what’s left of our possessions. Humans that we are, we’re not motivated to scrunch down even further as long as we have that roomy van. Someday, it will die on the road and we’ll be faced with the decision of what to jettison. That day, we’ll hone our packing skills with the sabi of world traveling, the patina of experience.
Susan has published a beautiful poem called Place of Blue Smoke, in which she writes this beautiful traveling metaphor:
“But once when I said lovemaking
is a kind of traveling, you half-echoed traveling is lovemaking.”
(Susan Deer Cloud)