When people want to learn how to be they’ll often (and entirely without irony) ask me, what should I do? Well there’s the obstacle right there; you can’t do anything. You can’t enter a state of being by doing. Being shows up precisely when you stop doing.
The reason our egos are willing to perform and not enact our true selves is because we’re looking to a fill a want. We think something’s missing so we’re trying to make ourselves and our lives acceptable to those around us. We want some acknowledgement and applause for our performance. But in the real world we are love, living within love, interacting only with other love. So we don’t need anything. Our wants are merely egotistical ideas in our heads.
In looking after my parents there are many helpful things I can do for them. To them I’m doing something for them, but when I’m healthiest and it’s going best I’m simply being in love with them. If I act from a place of love then my actions are a part of my being, and only then can the products of my active love actually generate real value between us.
This is important when caring for people who need help. Often their interactions with us can be very limited so you truly have to be able to immerse yourself in the simplicity of your relationship. Parents of babies, those caring for the severely disabled, and those looking after very elderly but beloved parents are all examples of people that gain great value from unifying themselves with that connection.
The essential simplicity in that type of care is what exposes its value to the person performing it. Essentially hopeless, these people needs are demanding and they can often limit rewards; the child is very challenging and ungrateful, the disabled person will not improve with better care, and the beloved parent will get worse and die. There is nothing we can do about those things, and so understanding a child or person or parent’s imperfection and impermanence is what leads to acceptance and appreciation.
Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term that’s difficult to turn into English, but it refers to a form of simple beauty that emerges in part from an acceptance of the ever-changing, disordered impermanence of life. So think of a kid on a farm with big dreams of hitting it big in the city. When then they come back home spiritually worn out from adulting, they actually feel the slow pace of life. And it is that new appreciation that allows them to experience their beloved but imperfect parents and siblings in a more profound way.
The feeling of Wabi-Sabi usually refers to those calm but imperfect gardens with the raked stones that you know from popular culture. For a farm person from the west, they get that feeling when they sit having a coffee looking out at the old barn where they used to have to do chores and where they hid as children from their parents.
With enough time and enough memories, as dilapidated and imperfect as it is, the barn gains a certain rustic beauty to it that it would not have were it not for the time needed for all of those memories to grow, and the fact that it may not even be there to contemplate by the next visit. Better to take it in. Better to be with it now.
If I do a bunch of things to help my parents stay alive then I am clinging. But if I am present and accepting of everyone’s imperfection and impermanence, then I can fully be with them. Babies will grow. The disabled will not improve. The aged will die. These are all things to grieve at times but, for the most part, if we can see them from the perspective of Wabi-Sabi then we are engaging with the most beautiful and essential aspects about them.
Do not lament imperfect things and do not cling to certainty. Because after all, it is the very bitter-sweetness at the basis of our feelings of Wabi-Sabi that are what makes the barn worthwhile, the garden beautiful, the baby precious, the disabled person valued, and the parent appreciated.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.