Wabi-Sabi Wednesday: Watching and Praying

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Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailOn Wednesday I post excerpts from my upcoming book about wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and impermanence. The book goes to press this week, amid this deep, wide continuing sadness. Today, I’m having a hard time finding an appropriate excerpt. Today, selling books seems crass.

Wabi, a poetic word used since ancient times to describe a diffuse sense of melancholy, has been translated very roughly as “an old memory of my home town.” Wabi is for later, much later, after the raw footage and the terrifying images are archived. Today is for deep, immediate mourning and watching, for praying and donating to help those who suffer. That doesn’t feel like enough today, but it is what we can do.

One of my favorite Zen stories, unearthed during my wabi-sabi research, is about Kichibei, a common villager whose wife’s illness kept her bedridden. Every day, in addition to caring for his wife, Kichibei cooked, swept and maintained his home. One day a neighbor remarked to Kichibei that he must be exhausted. “I do not know what fatigue is,” Kichibei replied, “because caring for my wife every day is always both a first experience and a last experience. There is no doing it again, and so I never tire of it.”

My friend, Buddhist priest and potter Shiho Kanzaki, has been commenting daily on his Facebook page about events in Japan. He is most often matter-of-fact and includes in his report, as always, the high and low temperature in his home town of Shigaraki. He continues to post photos of gorgeous bowls and vases from his wood-fired kiln. On Sunday he wrote, “After the earthquake, over 10,000 persons were killed. And it's happening nuclear power plant problems. And an interruption of the power supply caused by the nuclear power plant. There are too many problems.”

Today Shiho-san is resting. “Good morning, my friends!” he writes. “It's cloudy, snow later today. I need a rest and calm time. So I will have a day off. Have a wonderful day, everybody!”

Today is both a first experience and a last experience. May we never tire of it.

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Wieden and Kennedy created this print to raise relief funds for Japan. The firm is asking a donation of at least $25 for a print, with 100 percent of the profits going to The Red Cross.