This the second time I’m quoting from this book. The first excerpt is in Sound Mind, Sound Body. These Japanese concepts and life philosophies are both practical and human. They’re so workable because they’re natural truths found in life.
Wabi-sabi is familiar to me and I enjoy its presence, even work it into some photography. Ichi-go ichi-e is new in that format, but being present, understanding the value of the moment you’re in, and being able to enjoy moments because there’s an awareness and recall to stay in each moment — that is a universal truth.
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that shows us the beauty of the fleeting, changeable, and imperfect nature of the world around us. Instead of searching for beauty in perfection we should look for it in things that are flawed, incomplete.
This is why the Japanese place such value, for example, on an irregular or cracked teacup. Only things that are imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral can truly be beautiful, because only those things resemble the natural world.
A complementary Japanese concept is that of ichi-go ichi-e, which could be translated as “This moment exists only now and won’t come again.” It is heard most often in social gatherings as a reminder that each encounter—whether with friends, family, or strangers—is unique and will never be repeated, meaning that we should enjoy the moment and not lose ourselves in worries about the past or the future.
The concept is commonly used in tea ceremonies, Zen meditation, and Japanese martial arts, all of which place emphasis on being present in the moment.
In the West, we’ve grown accustomed to the permanence of the stone buildings and cathedrals of Europe, which sometimes gives us the sense that nothing changes, making us forget about the passage of time. Greco-Roman architecture adores symmetry, sharp lines, imposing facades, and buildings and statues of gods that outlast the centuries.
Japanese architecture, on the other hand, doesn’t try to be imposing or perfect, because it is built in the spirit of wabi-sabi. The tradition of making structures out of wood presupposes their impermanence and the need for future generations to rebuild them. Japanese culture accepts the fleeting nature of the human being and everything we create.
The Grand Shrine of Ise, for example, has been rebuilt every twenty years for centuries. The most important thing is not to keep the building standing for generations, but to preserve customs and traditions—things that can withstand the passage of time better than structures made by human hands.
The key is to accept that there are certain things over which we have no control, like the passage of time and the ephemeral nature of the world around us.
Ichi-go ichi-e teaches us to focus on the present and enjoy each moment that life brings us…
Wabi-sabi teaches us to appreciate the beauty of impermanence as an opportunity for growth.
— Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Hector Garcia and Frances Miralles
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