This is the last post on the Asian inspired ideas, and I want to share a way of thinking that has really captured my interest. One of the things that really inspires me is the Japanese way of showing gratitude and an appreciation of beauty in everything, down to the smallest thing, the tiniest detail. There are some words in Japanese that have no literal translation into English. It takes a paragraph to convey the meaning. Think about a cold December day, dawn over the east mountains seen from our verandah, the architecture of the bare tree branches, the color of the sky, and a tinge of sadness at the transience of the scene. There’s a feeling of gratitude for being alive, for witnessing the scene, for living in this place at this time, for being in the moment. I take a moment to capture the image on my camera, then I put it down to live in this moment as long as I can, and be grateful for all the blessings in my life, for the journey that brought me to this moment. Ichi-Go Ichi-E is translated loosely in English to mean “one opportunity, one time”, or “one meeting, one opportunity”. It is used to speak of appreciation of every interaction as it only happens in this way and in this time once. Live each day to the fullest.
There are many ways to express gratitude that exist in the Japanese culture. I really like the concept of Itadakimasu, an expression of gratitude for a meal and all that went into it, from the sacrifice of the living things to provide sustenance, the time and effort of the chef to prepare, and to the person that served the meal. In formal situations, the hands are placed together and the word is said with a slight bow. In the less formal, only the word is used. Certainly it was appropriate for this meal, a gorgeous Sweetheart Roll I had for dinner at Champa, a local Thai-Japanese restaurant. This beautifully presented meal was part of the inspiration for this Asian inspired series of posts.
Itadakimasu is usually only used for food and meals (or in certain situations for other tangible things), and is only used before the meal is eaten. When addressing the chef, the word Otsukaresama is used, literally meaning ‘you are tired’ acknowledges the effort that went into the preparation. To express appreciation after a meal, say “Gochisousamadesu!” to say ‘thank you’ to those who made the meal, served the meal, or to the friend who paid for the meal.
Sunlight through the trees is called komorebi, but it is more than just the light. The word conveys the feelings of appreciation for the wonders of nature, the blessings of warmth and light. One of my favorite quotes is from naturalist John Muir who said “Most people are on the world, not in it” (John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, 1938). When standing in the green of the forest, with the sunlight coming through the trees, you cannot help but be in the world. That feeling of being connected, of the restorative effect of being in this light is called shinrinyoku, literally taking a “forest bath”.
Yuugen communicates the connection of the universe, and the emotion felt when thinking about our place in it. Another quote from John Muir – “When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken, to everything in the universe.” Certainly last August with the solar eclipse, being in the umbra zone, we felt this as the world went to twilight. I sometimes get this feeling when looking at the stars on a dark, moonless night, that feeling of awe, and the totality of the scale of the universe.
Wabi-sabi conveys a meaning of appreciation of imperfection, and the transience of beauty in things with a tinge of sadness. Flowers bloom beautifully, but are enjoyed only a short time then they fade. There is a component of melancholy and loneliness in the original meaning that is conveyed in the words as well. It is a celebration of that which isn’t perfect, that which is authentic in its flaws. The cycle of life of growth and beauty, leading to decline and return to dust, the totality of that whole is part of the meaning. There is beauty in a broken bowl that has been repaired, in its imperfection that speaks to its history and use, and its continued use after the repair which adds to its character and makes it unique.
Shoganai means “it cannot be helped”, or there are situations beyond an ability to have any control. This is the one that I am trying to think of more as I am still bothered by things in the past. Two situations in particular, both deeply hurtful to me, but beyond my capability to do anything about. These still trouble me, sometimes keeping me awake in the early hours of the morning, but I really do need to let them go. Both situations occurred over a year ago, and despite my efforts to resolve have not been and now never will be, but still it is easier said than done to let it go. But I am turning the corner, and soon hope that I will put it behind me and move on.
Tsundoku is a word meaning collecting books that aren’t read, literally ‘to pile up’ and ‘to read’. This one is funny to me, as I never thought there was a particular word for this common condition of book
hoarders lovers. I just like having a library. In our previous home, I had these in a bedroom space with chairs for reading. That smaller space began to have that wonderful smell of a library after a while, that combination of ink, paper, and book binding glue that I associate with a room full of books. Real books. Unfortunately, that is lost in our present home, as the ceiling is vaulted above the second floor in this space. Most of these have been read, but there are several shelves of not read yet on the left end bookcase.
While I have close to 300 books in the house yet not read, I will eventually get to them, at least I hope to. I am a voracious reader, but I might have collected a few too many cozy mysteries, LOL!! Some of those may get donated and not read. This shelf is stacked two-deep for most of the space.
These are just a few of the concepts that have my attention right now. I want to enjoy each day, each season, all things in their time. I will strive to live in the moment, letting go of the past, savoring the present, looking forward to the future. We can all take a moment each day to stop and breathe, listen to the rain on the roof, appreciate the fragrance of a fresh flower or a delicious meal, delight in that moment which is unique to that day and time and will not come again in exactly the same way. Cherish family and friends. Be kind to strangers.
My last Japanese phrase for you is Arigatou gozaimasu (thank you very much) for reading my blog!! I hope you enjoyed the Asian inspired series.