Photo: Bob Fuhro
Sitting out in the sun today, the day after Alban Elfed, the Autumn Equinox, I noticed how fragile was the warmth of the sun. A slight breeze, a cloud passing, and the warmth vanished, to be replaced by the warning chill of the coming winter.
But how beautiful was this delicate warmth! Like a butterfly’s wing, like a small child we know will soon be grown, like an old person’s smile which we know will also soon be gone, these sights can bring melancholy in their wake, but if we open to them, we can sense such poignancy, such a delicate sense of beauty that compensates for, and indeed exists precisely because of their transience.
We are fragile beings on a small and fragile blue planet, the size of a marble if we are an astronaut looking at it from Space. The miracle is that we are alive.
Autumn is the perfect time to contemplate fragility and brokenness. The Japanese have a beautiful aesthetic that celebrates these qualities. It is called Wabi-Sabi.
Here’s an explanation from the UTNE Reader: “Emerging in the 15th century as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all. In Japan, the concept is now so deeply ingrained that it’s difficult to explain to Westerners; no direct translation exists.
Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.
Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.” Read more.
Do have a listen to this profoundly moving and informative talk by Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand (BBC Radio 4 “Something Understood: Fragility”) in which she talks about Wabi- Sabi and the related idea that underpins Kintsugi pottery; the Kabbalah with its inspiring understanding of fragility; Leonard Cohen’s explanation of his Anthem’s lyrics, “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. The Rabbi’s tender exploration of this question of fragility and brokenness, with musical excerpts and much wisdom, finishes with urging us to not try to erase brokenness from our lives, quoting the Hassidic saying: “There is nothing more whole than a broken heart.” Listening to this half-hour radio programme feels like a gift to the soul.
And here is the sculptor Paige Bradley’s sculpture inspired by Kintsugi