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Welcome to Still In The Stream, a website to explore sabi, Wu-wei, poetry, and letting go.

I’ve been paddling lakes on Vancouver Island for the last seven years seeking sabi in the ancient tradition of kanjaku. Kanjaku is a Japanese word that joins leisure or idleness (kan) with loneliness or stillness (jaku). Lonely idling, or leisurely stillness. This was the term that the renowned Japanese poet Basho declared should be the state in which “one’s mind should stay.”

Peipei Qiu writes in Basho and the Dao, “Sabishisa in Basho’s poems is often not a landscape infused with the sentiment of loneliness but the fundamental tranquility found in the harmonious fusion of the external world and the poetic mind.” Not merely loneliness, sabi is the clear awareness possible in solitude. In this state nature is accurately perceived through the serenity of poetic vision.

I believe that sabi can be a source of strength and meaning for people who have turned from self-deception, delusion, and wishful thinking to face what is. Sabi helps us feel all the emotions that come with living an unvarnished life. I hope you find a welcomed difference here. Please feel free to comment and engage me in discussion. I’m interested in hearing from others who have found this obscure but satisfying way of being, still in the stream.

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What Does it Mean to be Still In The Stream?

Original Site Banner

Streams are quintessential symbols of wabi sabi.

A stream tumbles a stone and its edges and points collide with other stones. Over time this smooths and polishes the stone, making visible its patterns and colors. Stones in streams are worn into wabi sabi beauty. Wabi sabi beauty is also found in weathered fences, desert dunes, well oxidized tea (oolong and black), and extra old cheese. It is everywhere in nature but especially those areas which experience the ongoing action of waves, wind, water and sand. These are the obvious places, but it reveals itself in areas with different kinds of flow. The flow of years, or work, or wisdom. Once you notice it in your daily life it becomes clear that you are surrounded by it. This is being, still in the stream.

creek3
But being Still in the Stream is also a Way of Life. For those who appreciate old stones, bones, and barns the appreciation of wabi sabi and the incorporation of the wabi sabi ideal can become a way of life. Those of us who take it to heart look past the sadness of wear and decay and see character and a subtle kind of value. A hammer at rest on a work bench reveals something of its history, its accumulation of useful moments, in scratches and worn away steel. You may not recognize the importance of a wabi sabi tool until you see the effect it has on your subconscious mind. Wabi sabi can often be discovered in your areas of reluctance, in those moments of hesitation over replacing an old tool, or cutting down an old tree, or trading in an old car.

Sometimes your mind comes to rest on a beauty so common it exists unnoticed in plain view. The wear pattern of a broom, the way a leather chair has been molded by the human body resting on it, the multi-hued stains of lichen on a Terra Cotta pot. Those who see these things, who find their eyes open to the beauty in simple familiar old things, also find that it is a rewarding way to live. Rather than fueling contempt for old outdated objects that you want to replace, wabi sabi produces a kind of thankfulness for the things you already have, a mindfulness of each purchase in the context of your already full life.creek2
This way of life rises from the feeling, difficult to describe, that aging improves things.
It is in the feeling of wonder at the subtleness of organic patterns, it is the joy of noticing something or someone previously overlooked. It is a realization that treasure lies at hand if we will re-examine all that is taken for granted. It can arise as a sort of sadness over change, evolution, progression. But despite its melancholy tones, there is a kind of light in it, a glow like a candle in a quiet room. Muted and earth toned we sometimes apologize for wabi sabi, wonder at our fondness of it. It is an intuitive ache, an understanding of the time that has gone into and out of a thing. It recognizes the value of things that exist and will pass away.

A person who has experienced wabi sabi, even if he or she has not named it, knows a sharp private perceptions wrapped around some place, person, or object. That perception is something like love when it hurts. But when it matures, the pain evolves into an acceptance and peace. It helps us embrace all the things that are impermanent by reminding us we can not own them. When you see yourself as part of the stream of things that come into being and go out again, when you see yourself as part of the flow itself, you start to be still, in the stream.

creek1Try this, if only in your imagination: Take the rope in your hands, step back a few paces, jump out over the river, hang on for dear life. As the pendulum action carries you down towards the surface, look at the flowing water and feel your stomach tingle. When you swing up the far arch feel the sweet spot; that momentary weightless sensations as your pendulum trajectory is balanced by the pull of gravity. Let go and fall into the torrent below. There is a lot of noise when you first hit the water, the bubbles and splash of your contact with the moving liquid and the strange raspy noise inside your ears as water enters them.

Bob to the surface and find yourself being carried downstream. Feel the current push gently at your back and legs and arms. You can relax now, tread water a little to keep your head out, and feel the lovely sensation of traveling in water while the shore slips by on either side. This is being still, in the stream.

We who are still in the stream find a kind of joy, a certain contentment, as we accept genuine unvarnished existence. It brings a welcome clarity and grace. Around this clarity swirl related topics and experiences. The articles and photos’s here incline towards that clarity and attempt to communicate the pleasure and rewards of living lightly the life we are given and finding wonder in this tarnished world.

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Wabi Sabi for Writers

Wabi Sabi For Writers
Find Inspiration. Respect Imperfection. Create Peerless Beauty.
by Richard R. Powell,
published by Adams Media

What if deep poetry flowed through your day-to-day life? What if writing that poetry was a path to enlightenment? Basho, the grandfather of haiku poetry, named this path, “the Way of Elegance” because it connects you to grace and fills your life with subtle beauty.Cover From Wabi Sabi for Writers

I began writing Wabi Sabi for Writers, to communicate the significance of this path for writers, but I ended up with a book for anyone who wants the poetic light inside them to penetrate the darkness that surrounds them.

Basho knew the central defining quality of his culture was: “a sensitivity to things,” and he deliberately and thoughtfully crafted practices to support and deepen that sensitivity. These practices allowed the quality to expand his life.

Unfortunately he found that while “a sensitivity to things” expanded his awareness of beauty it also expanded his awareness of suffering. This heightened awareness of both beauty and suffering leads some people to despair. This is because our capacity to tolerate suffering in those around us seems to decrease as our awareness increases. When faced with an increase in awareness of suffering, many people instinctively turn away from sensitivity and become hardened, detached or distracted.

The Buddhist culture around Basho taught non-attachment as the correct approach to suffering. Non-attachment was not a turning away from suffering, but a calming of the emotional reactions to suffering through practice of the eightfold path. All other solutions were seen as delusions or deceptions.

Contrary to this prevailing belief, Basho demonstrated that we can avoid developing hard hearts without practicing non-attachment if, instead, we experience our attachments in a deeper way. Basho’s interpretation of wabi sabi made this possible.

Quote from Wabi Sabi For Writers about Point of ReferenceOne way to understand Sabi is to see it as a step beyond sensitivity to things, to see it as a deep awareness of the poetry at the heart of all things. The curious magic of this literary awareness is that while you are focused on the poetry in each object of attachment, your ego is quieted. To have a sabi mind you allow ego to rest in this un-voiced poetry. This new understanding of Sabi as an antidote to despair was Basho’s most important discovery. Sabi, he realized, was central to the Way of Elegance.

The Way of Elegance encourages a creative response to challenge and difficulty and produces eccentricity, pluckiness, fortitude, and resourcefulness. Yet sabi by itself can be overdone. The depth and character that comes from this clear-minded approach to life can make you feel mature, seasoned, and even superior. This is where wabi comes in. Wabi is the humbling factor, the stabilizing reality of the vastness and complexity of nature and our own place in it. When the two are balanced, they produce a lightness in a writers work which Basho called “karumi.”

Wabi Sabi for Writers, presents wabi sabi as a balanced set of principles that help a person face into the winds of change, look on the imperfect world with acceptance, and find, mixed within the dark elements of existence, bright strands of joy. Through examples and stories the book illustrates how to expand your sense of beauty until each moment brims with light.

One of the key concepts on the way of elegance is “furyu.” Basho discovered in his life of reading and thinking and wandering and teaching and writing that all of these things contributed to Furyu which literally means “in the way of the wind and stream”. It is putting yourself in the traffic, launching yourself into the action, not necessarily as a player, but deliberately, as the eyes and ears and taste buds and sense of smell. Furyu is a powerful tool that shows you what you like, and also what you love.

Basho adopted Furyu as his central attitude and orientation and found that it generated inspiration, poetry, and enlightenment. An ancient Japanese word with roots in the Chinese language, Furyu describes a stance or approach that puts a person on the path of elegance. If you would like to learn more about how to develop Furyu in your life, about how to naturalize your creative activities and find transcendence through harmony with nature, then Wabi Sabi for Writers if for you.

Wabi Sabi for Writers is divided into 9 chapters. Chapters 2 through 5 discuss ways of being that are mirrored in chapters 6 through 9 which discuss acts of doing:

1 – Wabi Sabi for Writers: an introduction
2 – Inspiration: to make an impression, write with your feet
3 – Education: find your voice by moonlight
4 – Wabi Sabi Beauty: let poetry flow from your attachments
5 – Enlightenment: lose yourself in writing with a language older than words
6 – Motivation: imitate a yak and share something wild
7 – Community: in a group of friends you can write from the heart
8 – Wabi Sabi Elements: flowing words reveal constant content
9 – Craft: guidelines for developing a saving style

Amazon Reviews: http://amzn.com/1593375964

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What is Wabi Sabi?

“Sabi was refined over the years to emphasize a state of receptivity, fostered in remote natural settings. This positive aloneness was joined to the wabi appreciation of the understated and unrefined to form a phrase with deep resonance for the contemplative mind. People would dream of living in simple enlightened appreciation of nature.”

– Richard R. Powell from Wabi Sabi for Writers (pg. 7)

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Richard’s Old Haiku Blog

Richard's Wabi Sabi World

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

I water his bonsai –
the trees
whisper

Monday, May 22, 2006

son’s paper route
the same child’s marbles
on five different driveways

Saturday, May 13, 2006

the littlest guppy
finally
finds the food

Saturday, May 06, 2006

after cutting the grass
I hear the neighbour –
cut his

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

holding her hand –
dark sky over black water
all those years ago

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Beyond the gate
his school path
blurs with growth

Friday, April 28, 2006

alone on the bench
but eventually
a Towhee

Sunday, April 23, 2006

fifth week of rain
still when I mop it
the floor dries

Saturday, April 22, 2006

dried paint on my hands
green spring leaves
already open

Friday, June 24, 2005

spring breeze
the climbing rose
does Tai Chi

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

the alley narrows
squeal of thorns
against the truck

Thursday, April 28, 2005

the winch on their PC
yet soft words
these female police officers

Thursday, April 07, 2005

bright green leaves of spring
again

Monday, February 28, 2005

on the dying alder tree
old initials
new catkins

carpenter – silent on the roof
points his hammer
at the sunset

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

right into her hand
the stick
the dog brings

Thursday, February 03, 2005

from frozen forest soil

an ember

with wings

Saturday, January 22, 2005

heavy rain

even the fog

has trouble rising

Sunday, January 09, 2005

first snowfall

the pleasure of seeing

my footprints

News Flash: Wabi Sabi Simple Published. Regular readers of Richard Wabi Sabi World will be pleased to know that my long anticipated book, Wabi Sabi Simple released in December and is selling well. The book is a practical and inspiring guide to incorporating the beauty and wisdom of wabi sabi into daily life. For an introduction to the book visit www.stillinthestream.com and the book’s description page listed there.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

pause in the Christmas rush

a fisherman

his long slow cast

Friday, November 19, 2004

see our breath

yellow leaves strike the concrete

punctuation

Sunday, September 19, 2004

the old fear

retired immigrant harvests

more beans than he can eat

Thursday, August 26, 2004

door held open by the wind

styrofoam cup

clops across the parking lot

Saturday, August 07, 2004

half asleep

mystery scents from the flowered cuff

of mothers party dress

Thursday, July 22, 2004

mother’s nurse

high school friend

I didn’t recognize

Monday, June 21, 2004

first day of summer

clouds the shape of jelly fish

sting the sky

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

waiting in the bank

the rubber foot on her cane

compresses

Monday, May 24, 2004

three neighbourhood girls

run down the lane

inside a hula-hoop

Thursday, May 06, 2004

smiles at everyone in line

on her finger

sparkling new ring

Friday, March 19, 2004

morning wind

finch stops among plumb blossoms

to eat one white petal

Thursday, March 04, 2004

at the stop light

in the car in front of me

little dog’s head still bobs

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

noticeable bump in the tightly cropped hedge

undisturbed bird’s nest

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

theological debate

very telling

which side listens

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

frosty morning

hanging from the school yard fence

a lavender bra

Thursday, January 29, 2004

click after click

face after face

the train passes

Friday, January 23, 2004

giant snowballs rolled together

melt in the rain

to a ring of leaves

Thursday, January 08, 2004

in the wind

one leaf

my son

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

clinging to the spiders web

needle snowflakes

Sunday, December 28, 2003

under the memorial bench

in the cracks between the stones

wet leaves

Christmas

inside the aquarium

guppy lights

Saturday, December 27, 2003

My Teapot

Thursday, December 11, 2003

quiet house

children sick in bed

wrong kind of silence

Monday, December 01, 2003

he waves at the pretty receptionist

with his cane

I thank the volunteer

she thanks me

twice

morning

light frost light

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Cenotaph wind

in a woman’s black hair

dry brown leaf

Sunday, November 02, 2003

between the office computers

white clean safe

Halloween spider’s web

Thursday, October 23, 2003

getting wet

the girl beside the bus stop

in the shelter, two boys

Monday, October 06, 2003

on the coleslaw bag

my writing deadline

the expiry date

Friday, September 26, 2003

to keep a promise

as well as the sun

rises

turning to face me

as I stoop to face her

jumping spider

Thursday, September 25, 2003

in the library

watching people

read

in the second hand bookstore window

my old book

Tuesday, September 09, 2003

Working Definition: Wabi Sabi is a way of life that appreciates natural beauty, values simplicity, and nurtures an authentic self. It acknowledges that nothing lasts, nothing’s finished, nothing’s perfect, including you, but affirms that contentment is possible when you accept genuine unvarnished existence, with clarity and grace.

Friday, August 29, 2003

lost in talk

outside the tea shop window

son silently mouths, “lets go.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

putting on sweat pants

the luxury of coming home

Monday, August 25, 2003

not home til midnight

the northern lights

kept distracting us

his heels flat

I hold the ruler level

pencil in the date

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Son’s bike

The right socket still on the wrench

proudly shows me

the skateboard

his bleeding leg

children’s hushed voices

discuss best ways to avoid

being over heard

Friday, August 22, 2003

evading our paddles

grey feather the heron dropped

Monday, August 18, 2003

The pen in open

The sky in skylight

The wind in my window

Distant street lights wink

dark trees sway and sound like surf

through open windows

“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.”

“When we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs is our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea cup.”

Okakura Kakuzo The Book of Tea

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Smoke

Monday, August 11, 2003

flat shelves of shale

the dwindled august river

water shoe highway

ribbed stone cup

in the river smooth stone

ammonite, gone

Monday, August 04, 2003

blond brittle grass

lights this summer evening dusk

dry as fire

De Courcy Island  – July 2003

Sunday, July 27, 2003

friends in lawn chairs

hillside graveyard

fireworks

blackberry bushes

elderly man in a straw hat

lips purple

Wabi Sabi Forum, Moderated by Richard, now available at Delphi:

Sunday, July 20, 2003

to watch the birds

slow cat maneuvers herself

a gap in the thorns

Saturday, July 12, 2003

black asphalt path

a trail of wet paw prints

and the place the dog shook

Sunday, June 29, 2003

communion service

pastor talks, mother and baby

nurse

Saturday, June 28, 2003

wave undulates along the curve of stone

reveals, then hides

starfish

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

silver trout scales

stuck on the hood of my truck

hear his laugh again

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

spring walk in the woods

clinging to his dark blue sleeve

bleached leaf skeleton

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Mother’s Day

my neighbor

talks through the lilac branches

our winter broken

Saturday, May 03, 2003

That Old Ace in the Hole

Lovers of Wabi Sabi probably already know about Annie Proulx. Her book, The Shipping News, is filled with textured and aged Newfoundland images. Sven Birkerts, writing in the Jan/Feb 2003 issue of Book magazine says of Annie’s new book, “The prose may be slow and demand care from the reader, but Proulx repays our attention with a thousand shocks of charged recognition.” And isn’t that what we all want in a Wabi Sabi novel?

Monday, April 28, 2003

business meeting

outside the window two sparrows

mating

Monday, April 07, 2003

In Love with Meaning

prickle of rust set in dust

lips as dry

as iron

rustle of flight inside words

out of their mouths

birds

light of a fire of silence and sound

echoes of flames between teeth

rains of age on garden throats

gargling crops of pain

alone on the field of memory

hoeing the weed-eating words

stone full of water

spit full of clay

cracker dry speaking

feather tongue squeaking

words are birds

Friday, April 04, 2003

finding the store closed

spilled across the floor at home

the last of the nutmeg

Sunday, March 23, 2003

holding open the wind

I prick my finger on brown

sparrows wing

Monday, March 17, 2003

polished white mustang

glints in the driveway

of the delapidated house

beside the swollen Chase River

smelling and then finding

violets

Saturday, March 15, 2003

from the house I watch

one son’s elaborate gestures

other son sits on the ball

March snow melts in rain

lift the white bucket cover

bonsai’s new leaves

Monday, March 10, 2003

Hope of spring blurs

White plumb blossoms

disappearing in falling snow

Thursday, February 27, 2003

An Unlikely Hero

Fred Rogers died today. I remember being 17 at Matthew Farris’ house listening to a record by a group of comedians that made fun of the Desiderata and Fred Rogers, among other things. For teenage boys the sappy sentiment of Desiderata and the effeminate way that Rogers talked were funny in themselves but the spoofs by the comedians had us reeling with laughter. 20 years later I started to revise my opinion of both. I read the Desiderata with renewed interest, surprised to find that I no longer found it trite and wishy washy but rather melancholy and stoic. I had been watching Fred, too, and found in him now a strange sort of hero. Here was a man who had convictions and education and who quietly implemented a way of relating to children that was radically different, and from all reports, effective. I researched his life and found that he had touched many people profoundly and actually shaped our culture. I am sad that he has died, but glad that he lived and had the courage to be a very different kind of man; the kind of man I hope and pray the world sees more of. Well done Fred!

Monday, February 24, 2003

Fat black dog chases seagulls

Short legs and tail

blur

Thursday, February 06, 2003

night scents the dark street

someone baking, someone bathing

dryer going

Friday, January 31, 2003

mother and daughter

browse greeting cards together

same smile lines

man skates lazy circles

round and round

his 4 year old

here on the frozen lake

I remember

paddling our yellow canoe

where have all the pens gone?

cat sleeping happily.

Thursday, January 30, 2003

Just read that Blogger has over a million people using their service. I guess that makes me one in a million.

outside the theatre

two men smoking

no guns

on the frozen pond

last summer’s water bugs

now skate and spin

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

The Art of Humility

My son has a penchant for both humor and self-deprecation. The combination of the two was delightfully exhibited last night while we were playing Balderdash around the kitchen table waiting for the new year to arrive. Graham was in last place and feeling pretty bad about it. He started saying, “I’m the worst, I’m so dumb,” and other negative things. Finally he got up from the table with a sigh and sought solace with the cat who was sitting on the living room floor. Matthew seeing an opportunity to cheer up his brother calculated the last round and artificially inflated Graham’s score. “Look Graham,” he said, moving Graham’s game piece to second place, “Your in second place.”

There was a small silence and then we heard from the living room floor Graham’s despondent voice, “Yeah, I’m in second place if everyone is on the same square.”

Saturday, December 07, 2002

winter ironwood

one solitary brown leaf

soft as a cat’s chin

Friday, November 29, 2002

sun behind cracked clouds

on this cool winter morning

I think of china

In line at the bank

little girl jumps with both feet

over a bug

Sunday, November 24, 2002

teenage boy walks down the hill

at the corner

meets my neighbor’s daughter

Saturday, November 23, 2002

smelling the rosemary

hours later

on my hands

someone else’s pen mark

by a poem

I don’t like

Monday, November 18, 2002

winter rains

strip the trees

of blazing autumn leaves

waiting for my children

fir needles on the windshield

redirect the November rain

first sip of the Kenyan tea

so bitter!

hours after, wanting more

Laying in bed half asleep

My toe keeps beat

To my wife’s printer

to keep pace with her friend

on each second push

she drags one skate blade

Tuesday, November 12, 2002


watching the gerbil

eat the November raisin

my son eats one too

Cenotaph on Remembrance Day

war planes fly low

then two seagulls

Sunday, November 03, 2002

ambling autumn walk

looking up at yellow leaves

he misses the turn

Sunday, October 27, 2002

in fallen yellow leaves

he pilfers old fence boards

for his plum tree fort

Friday, September 13, 2002

Getting my keys out

Under the buzzing porch light

Gentle moth thumps me

Heather

Hot September afternoon, I’ve just backed into my parking spot at home, opened the door, and stepped out onto the dusty gravel. I’ve just moved the seat forward and am reaching in the back seat to get my brief case.
“Guess what?” a voice says. It is a high, excited, little girl’s voice.
“What?” I say lifting out my brief case and turning around.
“I’m in school.” The voice says.
There is a circle of little girls on the grass under a tree on the neighbor’s lawn, and detaching herself from the rest is one of the youngest of the group. “I have homework,” she says holding up a pad of paper in the shape of a book of tickets. She is beaming.
I take the book from her to look at it. It is 5 layers of tracing paper stapled to a piece of cardboard on which, in large careful schoolteacher printing is the word, Heather.

I look down at Heather and say, “oh, this is for you to practice writing your name?” and she nods. It is an excessive nod. The kind of nod that looks like it might hurt it is so big and jerky.
But Heather is still beaming. “My teacher gave it to me.” There is something in the way she says it, something in the way she emphasizes the word “my” that makes me realize that this is not a chore, not a burden to be rid of so that other things can be done, like playing with Barbie’s or talking with her friends. This is a badge. Heather owns this task, she is proud of it. She wants to write her name on a piece of paper until it is as neat as her teacher’s example.
One of the other girls is standing beside Heather now and holds up a piece of tracing paper that appears to have been torn from the others. This is Hannah, one of the older girls. “See,” Hannah says, “she gave us one.” And Hannah emphasizes the word “Us.” I look back and forth between the two girls. I am glad they picked me. They are sharing their life with me. They don’t know this, of course. But I do. I tell Heather that it looks like she was very careful when she wrote out her name. And she just nods that big nod and returns to her friends.
I stand for a moment trying to remember when I was that openly proud, vulnerably unaware of the obviousness of my feelings. I have learned over the years to ration my outbursts, control them, and not give too much away. When, I wonder, will Heather be teased for her exuberance over schoolwork? This blindness to the potential for ridicule worries me. She will be hurt, I think, when someone, probably an older boy, says something, perhaps not even to her, “She wants to do homework, she can’t even write her name yet.” I am thinking of the neighborhood boy most likely to say this. I can see his face, can see his friends laughing, can see Heather’s face dropping. But perhaps Heather will not care; perhaps she is made of stiffer stuff. I hope so, but I doubt it. As I walk into the house, leaving Hannah doing summersaults on the grass and one of the other girls climbing the tree, I say a little prayer, not for Heather, though as I write this I feel guilty that I didn’t. No, all I do is smile to myself and utter the word, “Thank you,” remembering that the world moves fast, and I have felt it stop, if only for a moment.

Thursday, August 22, 2002

On the dry Island

Red rose hips round as marbles

Still warm at moonrise

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Margins

What is it about the margins that attract us? Not just the margins of pages but all the margins between the cluttered riotous “where its at” and the mute lonely “no mans land”? Think of the Hebrew prophets in their caves, the early Christian monks erecting huts in the desert, the Tibetan Buddhists in their high mountain cities. We as humans, at least some of us, seek out places where life seems the most hard-done-by. Sure the rainforests are beautiful, cities exciting and fun, but barren places seem to speak to us, or open us to that kind of beauty that comes from hardship. For me it was the alpine meadows of Kokanee Glacier Park.

As a young teen I made the journey with my parents and family friends. We all loved the place, its wild rough grass, house size boulders, audacious flowers and miniature trees. We enjoyed the squeaking of the Picas and the calling of the Marmots. Humming birds zoomed around. They seemed much larger in this environment where scale is extreme. Alpine trees take a long time to grow, the alpine growing season is short, and so when the sun is warm every living thing shifts into high gear and the frenzy to store food for the next winter is as earnest as plants and Picas can be. But do I want to live there? I did, for many years, until the hardship of actual survival became less an adventure and more a drudgery. Still the question is valid. What is it about these places, this harsh spare environment, that attracts us?

For me it is this: Life keeps trying.

There is something fundamental in life that attracts me, and while I know that all life is really just a creative use of an ultimately dwindling energy, still what life does, in the raw and merciless zones of desert and mountain, is make an art out of entropy. And that, for me, is something worth learning.

Tuesday, April 30, 2002

car door creaks open

echoes off dark houses

only the moon is still up

Sunday, April 28, 2002

Book Recommendation: Hare Brain, Tortoise Mind: Why intelligence Increases When You Think Less by Guy Claxton, published by Fourth Estate.

The author explores how business centred cultures that value high productivity and fast analysis, foster active thinking that renders the world as problems and solutions.

This is the Hare brain; analyse the problem quickly, prescribe a precise solution. But the actual complexity of life limits the usefulness of conscious, deadline driven ways of thinking. Hare brain solutions and prescriptions work in the short term, sometimes, but often lead to a recurrence of the problem or a manifestation of the problem in other ways. What is really needed is the Tortoise mind.

The Tortoise mind involves mulling, reflection, contemplation, gut feelings and intuition. Given time to work these slower processes offer better solutions to complex problems.

So why is the Tortoise Brain undervalued? Partly because life is viewed as a race, but also because race-conscious individuals now hold the power and control in society.

A more subtle issue has to do with what it means to really understand something.

“Knowing emerges from, and is a response to, not-knowing. Learning – the process of coming to know – emerges from uncertainty. Ambivalently, learning seeks to reduce uncertainty, by transmuting the strange into the familiar, but it also needs to tolerate uncertainty, as the seedbed in which ideas germinate and responses form. If either one of these two aspects of learning predominates, then the balance of the mind is disturbed. If passive acceptance of not-knowing overwhelms the active search for meaning and control, then one may fall into fatalism and dependency. While if the need for certainty becomes intemperate, undermining the ability to tolerate confusion, then one may develop a vulnerability to demagoguery and dogma, liable to cling to opinions and beliefs that may not fit the bill, but which do assuage the anxiety.” – From the book.

Friday, April 19, 2002

Swift spring mountain stream:

black rubber boots against legs

pebble sounds below

Sunday, April 07, 2002

Goals

Yesterday Marilyn bought “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Reaching Your Goals” by Jeff Davidson at Value Village for $2.99. She says it is the best $2.99 she has ever spent. She showed me the various sections she had highlighted and stopped to read a paragraph on how to sort out wishes from goals.

I asked what the different colors of highlighting were for.

“I usually highlight in yellow” she said, “but the person who had the book before me used yellow already.” Then she laughed and held up the book to me saying, “Here is where they stopped highlighting.”

I looked down at page 66, about ¼ of the way into the book, and observed the last highlighting by the anonymous previous owner. To Sleep Per Chance To Function.

It looks like they never got back out of bed, except perhaps, to discard the book in the value village contribution box. I guess setting goals was more of a wish than a goal for that person…

Sunday, March 24, 2002

Tea

done cleaning the fish

dad’s thermos of steaming tea

cup warming my hands

dad likes Orange Pekoe

says mom’s Earl Grey tea tastes like

his childhood hay loft

thinking of parents

I stand in Overwaitea

six long shelves of tea

Saturday, March 16, 2002

Unexpectedly Light

I’m downstairs putting wood on the fire. I pet the cat; ask him if he likes the heat from the stove. He yawns and puts a paw on my hand. I put on my sheep skin slippers and head upstairs. Half way up, the light makes me blink. The room is filled with light from the snowstorm outside. The flakes are rolling round and round in little eddies and the sun is backlighting the clouds. Although I know it is cold, must be because the flakes are so light, the brightness makes it seem like the fog in the bathroom after a shower. Now the flakes are going up, the wind drives them across the field and they arch over the house. Fast, at first, and then back to that soft dance.

It is pleasure profound to see the wind.

Sunday, February 17, 2002

I came across this poem tonight. I have worked on it on and off for over ten years. It belongs here.

Wabi Sabi

Our first fall together

waxwings ate rain

marks as bright as berries

what I looked for I still look for

stretched out across the cooling lake

Our second fall you collected rotten apples behind the grey house

stuck out your tongue at them, rinsing your hands quick

me and the grass laid down by the rain

orange poppy petals

silence about them

that year we had no friends

When we lived on the hill, fall was in the lane

I stood, hands in pockets, in a light rain

while someone else talked,

looked up and saw you in the window, poking floss taut into Aida cloth and the winter white light

your hands quick

the proper tension

Finally we hunched our shoulders

a cat put out in the rain

while the leaves tumbled cold

brown feather caught on Autumn

In Victoria

winter starlings

dappled and hungry

clutch thorns with their toes

Looking out of the St. George House

orange cat in the grass

picks its way through the color

paws coat steps with silence

only eyes quick

How many falls now?

second pregnancy a two story house

In out of the rain, petals under the porch curled dry

Slocan river moves as I think about it

Finally this year, after seeing smoke from our own chimney

I roll my wheelbarrow full of red leaves and two giggling boys

and am able to smile

knowing this cold flame of joy

has a name

Sunday, February 03, 2002

My Mug

This is the mug that is sitting on my desk as I type this. I have had it since I was fifteen, when I first started drinking tea in my room. That was over twenty five year ago. There have been many different desks in many different dwellings but the mug has traveled with me from place to place.

It came into my possession in my childhood home and no doubt my mother bought it. Perhaps she liked the flower pattern. They remind me of poppies. I like poppies. It seems that my mother and I have the same taste in mugs. On the bottom in black letters is the word, “Japan.”

It has a nice handle. This mug is Wabi Sabi. If I had to run from the house in a fire and the mug was near by I would grab it and when I was sitting in a new house I would set it down and have a mug of tea. Wabi Sabi is this way that things define us. It is the casting back and forward that objects do to us. Old things hold more than new things do. This mug holds more than tea. And it is I who too hold it.

Saturday, January 26, 2002

blogger.com

Wabi Cycle

I’m in the truck waiting at the stop sign for the traffic to clear and I see the bicyclist. First thought, “I’ll have to wait for her, too.” Then, as she passes in front of me I see the shopping bags hanging from her handlebars, I glace up at her face. She is sitting straight peddling with strong strokes, wearing a safety vest with the luminous reflective X on front and back. She has the serene and slightly amused look of someone enjoying a thought. And then she is past and the traffic clears and I head out into the street and I think, “Good on you!”
“And while zero emission electric cars have died in the marketplace, electric bicycle sales, according to Electric Bikes Worldwide, rose sharply to 2.1 million units in 2000. A typical car emits about one pound of carbon dioxide for every mile driven, so every auto outing replaced by a trip on a wto wheeler eliminates a lot of green house gas.” – Sarah C. Greene Discover, August 2001 Vol 22 #8. pg. 11 (By the Numbers)

Monday, January 14, 2002

Stumbling into Wabi Sabi

Such Joy! I got a new book from the library today that I had called for and I started reading it tonight after vacuuming and tidying up. Page 12: “There are two fundamental principles which permeate Chinese and Japanese art and culture: The concepts of “wabi” and “sabi.” Wow, fundamental principles, that’s big! The author goes on to explain:

“Wabi means, quite literally, ‘poverty,’ although this translation does not begin to convey the richness of its true meaning. Poverty, in this sense, means not being dependent on material possessions, rather than simply not having them. A person who is poor in these terms can still be inwardly rich because of the presence of something of higher value than mere possessions. Wabi, therefore, is poverty that surpasses immense riches. In practical terms, wabi is exemplified in the contentment of a family living in very Spartan conditions with simple food and few possessions, but surrounded by and in tune with the events of everyday life. In intellectual and artistic terms, wabi is found in the person who does not indulge in complexity of concept, over-ornate expression, or the pomposity of self-esteem. He, or she is quietly content with the simple things in life, which are the sources of their everyday inspiration.”

“Sabi, on the other hand, denotes ‘loneliness’ or ‘solitude’, although in aesthetic terms, its meaning is much broader. An antique element is also implied, especially if it is combined with a primitive lack of sophistication. The utensils used in the traditional tea ceremony of Japan are a good example of sabi. The essence of sabi, therefore, is gracefulness combined with antiquity.”

“In addition to wabi and sabi, there are seven other characteristics which are regarded as expressive of Zen in a work of art, and which link the concepts of Wabi and Sabi. These are: asymmetry, simplicity, austere sublimity, naturalness, subtle profundity, freedom from attachment, and tranquility.”

Cool. I love this stuff. And it is like this big thing! How come I haven’t heard of it before? I’ve lived on the planet over 40 years and only heard about this idea several months ago. It is introverted, stoic, but balanced and serene. It is where I want to be. Is this what happens when you get older? The question now is, how to accomplish it without getting severe and aloof. Perhaps the Bonsai will help me find that way.

(The book I refer to is: Bonsai Masterclass by Peter Chan)

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Glossary

Aware Pronounced ‘ah wah ray.’ Sensitivity or emotional receptivity. A sensitivity that is informed by an internal knowledge of the ephemeral quality of natural beauty.
Fueki Ryuko ‘Constancy and change.’ The enduring patterns in the ever changing stream of nature. Sometimes understood to be the eternal truths that poets try to communicate.
Fuga The elegance of poetry. Fuga is made up of two root words: ‘Fu’ which means the habits and manners of the common folk and ‘Ga’ which refers to the grace or gracefulness of ceremonies at court. Ga is in the qualities achieved by a poet who is experienced, recognized, and advanced in artistic studies. English words that convey a similar quality are ‘cultured’ or ‘civilized’. The renowned Japanese court poets tried to express ga with idealized and romanticized images. Thus ga is sometimes thought of as artistic and spiritual purity. With this in mind we might translate fuga as ‘common ways with grace’, or ‘blue-jean eloquence’ or even ‘spiritual art grounded in reality.’ Writers who wished to create literature that was fuga would follow furyu and retire to nature for solitary contemplation.
Furyu Literally ‘wind and stream’ or ‘in the way of the wind and stream.’ A way of living that gradually expands your sense of beauty, taste, and aesthetic appreciation. The poet Yosa Buson re-introduced Basho’s concept of furyu after it had fallen out of use. A master of both poetry and painting, and a leader of the haiku revival that occurred between 1765 and 1785, Buson refocused Basho’s concept in what he called ‘the principle of rizoku,’ which meant ‘transcending the ordinary.’ To achieve transcendence Buson said a poet should study classical verse, distance herself from the realms of commerce and competition, and contemplate the simple beauties of nature.
Haibun Basho’s famous Narrow Road to the Deep Interior is an example of the literary style called haibun. Haibun in a broader sense existed before Basho in the form of prefaces, notes accompanying hokku, and short essays written by haiku masters. Basho decided to use this combination of prose and poetry for something more substantial than simple explanation and exposition. He experimented with this form throughout his life, but it was not until after his noted journey to Mutsu that he consciously developed it into a new genre in an attempt to deepen the expression of the haiku spirit. He coined the word haibun and it is the extrapolation of Basho’s haibun form that provides the theoretical underpinnings for Wabi Sabi for Writers.
Karumi Karumi was the most notable characteristic of Basho’s mature style. Karumi literally means a ‘light beauty with subtlety’ and was a quality Basho saw in higher levels of sabi. With karumi the loneliness of sabi opens into a contented acceptance. When asked to describe karumi Basho said it was a “shallow river over a sandy bed.”
Mono no aware Literally ‘sensitivity to things,’ Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), carefully scrutinized the 4,500 poems in the classic text Collection of Myriad Leave made at the beginning of the Heian period and concluded that the quality unifying these poems was a sensitivity to things in nature and the transient beauty of such things. He declared this concept to be absolutely central to the Japanese national character.
Sabi Sabi describes an object or setting which evokes a receptive state of mind, usually with a melancholy feeling that is pleasurable. Sometimes sabi refers to the quality of character obtained with age, or courage in the face of the change. It generally is experienced when alone, or evoked in objects which convey loneliness or solitude. See this longer post for a more detailed discussion of sabi.
Wabi Literally ‘poverty.’ Wabi has come to mean freedom from the distractions of affluence, freedom from the glut of possessions, and release into appreciation of simpler things.
Wabi Sabi A kind of beauty that exists in weathered or worn objects that contain deep patterns, patina, character, or qualities of authentic individuality. People who appreciate such beauty recognize that nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, and nothing is finished. Nature is in constant change but within this every changing kaleidoscope is a constant elegance. Fueki Ryuko describes this aspect of wabi sabi objects. If this aesthetic is acknowledged and cultivated it provides a balance to the frenetic pace of modern life and affords freedom from the distractions of affluence. By noticing every priceless moment this way of looking at the world produces a lovely lonely mood or melancholy feeling. In its fullest and most expansive form it involved a clarity of perception in which a person sees a thing for what it is without feeling any need to repair or arrest the effects of time, experience, or age. Wabi Sabi sits at the centre of a way of life that moves beyond the pursuit of youth, perfection, and permanence. This way of life was first articulated by the haiku poet Basho and developed into the “Way of Elegance.”
Way of Elegance From two Japanese words michi (way or path) and fuga (the elegance of poetry). The elegance referred to in this phrase involves a combination of courtly grace and rural charm. Think of the well educated farmer. The Way of Elegance involves following furyu, and practicing artistic expression as a form of spiritual discipline.
Yugen Pronounced “You Gain.” The word most often associated with wabi sabi refers to a deep mystery behind or beneath things. Several large volumes in Japanese are devoted to this word, particularly in relation to the Noh drama. A haiku contains yugen when it suggests subtle profundity or hints at a meaning beyond words. Yugen can not be described directly but emerges from a poem that captures the surface of a moment through which the deeper, often darker, wonder is glimpsed.

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About

My Name is Richard R. Powell, author of Wabi Sabi for Writers. If you were looking for my outdoor blog about canoeing, it is at 100lakesonvancouverisland.blogspot.ca.

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