Design aesthetic, philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, living in awareness

I have a large birthmark on the inside of my left thigh the color of an old person’s mole, as kids (and adults) can be cruel I suffered considerable abuse about it my entire childhood.  My brother and father have the same mark, though MUCH lighter in pigmentation on their arms thus removing any doubt of my paterfamilias despite all other indications that I was switched at birth. Thankfully I was too young for mini-skirts in my youth and modesty kept my skirts longer as I came of age (and to this day) but, still, sometimes when I bath or wear shorts I remember and the ache from ridicule can come back unexpectedly.  The grim truth is that it would make my corpse uniquely identifiable (should it ever come down to it). As dark as my birthmark, I possess a 20 plus year old moss stitch handknit dark chocolate cashmere sweater filled with holes and boasting worn-through cuffs as jagged as an outcropping of rocks but soft like the hems of too-long jeans – in practical terms it is only ‘fit’ for gardening, it is perfect, just as my birthmark is.

My esoteric philosopher girlfriend Jennifer maintains that only people who have endured suffering (of some kind) truly hold interest for her.  Here, I honour her stated preference and provide her with an introduction to the Japanese philosophy and design aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi. Based upon the Mahayana Buddhist teaching of Sanbōin (which is also the name of the Daigo temple and garden surrounding the World Heritage Site in Kyoto originally built in 1115 by Shokaku, reconstructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1598) which is represented by ‘the three marks of existence’ – impermanence, the absence of self-nature and, yes – suffering.

Image“If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.”

Andrew Juniper ~ Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence 

It is the appreciation of things that ‘aren’t perfect’ that subsequently makes them perfect, and this I believe is what draws (some of us) the patina of age, the uneven glaze drip on a piece of handmade pottery mended with gold a technique called kintsukuroi, a twisty road of hairpins and blind spots somewhere in the Scottish Highlands or the beauty mark on our loved one. It is understanding that spiritual longing is a good thing, to bask for a fleeting moment in the white-lightness of reverence and truly understand it for the gift you have experienced.  It is to consider the play of texture and light so evident in a Japanese garden as well as labyrinths and how as we walk these quiet spaces seeking and meditating and praying and questioning that we actually find solace. Image

The essence of the Buddha’s teachings can be found in The Four Noble Truths; suffering exists, it has a cause; it has an end; and it has a cause to bring about its end. Far from being negative, the pragmatism not only allows us to see and deal with the world as it is, but go about ways to rectify suffering.

Just as I hold onto friends who are ‘imperfect’ and see all the possibilities for their greatness I treasure objects that others might view with prejudice for ‘not being new and shiny’ KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAbecause these remind me that decay is natural, that in the end all is impermanent and all we have each day is the endless possibility to live in awareness, to walk toward the light, to not harm and cherish the sublime wherever we find it.

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2 thoughts on “Design aesthetic, philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, living in awareness

  1. Pingback: Mend Me With Gold | Zen and the art of tightrope walking

  2. Cherie McGinn

    Love this — it is a reflection of my personal philosophy. As a teacher, I always tried to find something I liked in every single student. My daughter use to comment that I really liked the “weird ones” (she attended the school where I taught), and she kind of liked that about me. Perfection is boring and, potentially brings one more pain if that perfection is marred in any way. I have bags under my eyes — and have always hated that. I could afford cosmetic surgery. But, I look at photos of my father’s mother and see those same eyes — full of laughter and love. I am now in a period of trying to “love” my eyes — because it does make me different from everyone else around me.

    Excellent writing and expression of your ideas!


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