When I first discovered Asian cooking ingredients like lemongrass and ginger, it was as though I were a child who had found a whole new spectrum of colours inside her paint box. Ingredients like galangal and tamarind, found in the bins and on the shelves of Asian grocery stores, are inexpensive, packed with exotic flavour, and have a transformative effect on noodles, seafood, and vegetables. Old, familiar foods such as chicken and pork became exciting again, and capable of surprises.
Just as new flavours can alter and enrich our appreciation of the food that we put in our mouths, new ideas and philosophies can give us a new insight and appreciation for the every day world around us. One new way of seeing things that has caught my interest over the past couple of years is the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi.
Although difficult to explicitly define in Western terms, it is a philosophy about embracing the imperfect nature of life. According to Wiki Wiki Web (http://c2.com/w4/wikibase/?WabiSabi), the central concepts of wabi sabi “correlate with the concepts of Zen Buddhism, as the first Japanese involved with wabi-sabi were tea masters, priests, and monks who practiced Zen.” Although difficult to precisely define in Western terms, it is a philosophy that teaches us to appreciate the value and beauty of “things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” In a refreshing change of pace from the values most of us have been brought up with, it teaches the value of being “modest and humble,” and the mysterious beauty of things that are “unconventional,” “irregular,” “intimate,” “unpretentious,” “earthy,” and “simple.”
According to Japanese friend of mine, wabi sabi teaches us to see the extraordinary quality inherent in ordinary things. It is a way of seeing the unique beauty in a shabby, threadbare couch, and the amazing complexity in a gnarled and twisted tree trunk. The spiritual guru Jiddu Krishnamurti has said that each of our souls is made of the same paper, but it is our individual experiences, the folding and crumpling of this paper that occurs over a lifetime, that gives each of us our unique character. Wabi sabi teaches us to love the lines, cracks and imperfections that make each of us, as well as the objects that surround us, in some way special. Imagine how much richer and more contented our lives would become if we truly took this way of thinking to heart. What a different relationship we would have, for instance, to the physical “imperfections” and emotional “oddities” of ourselves and others.
Too often we live our lives searching for beauty and excitement. We wait for the next spectacular, breathtaking experience to come our way. We live our lives with blinders on for most of the time, going about our daily chores and activities, then spend two weeks driving off to the Grand Canyon or hiking up an volcano in Hawaii in search of the spectacular. Too often, we see laugh lines in our faces as a loss of youth, rather than a gaining of experience. What wabi sabi teaches us is that inner and outer beauty surrounds us all the time, wherever we are. What we need to do is develop an eye for appreciating it.