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Lions Roar : March 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN MArcH 2009 34 Where modernism employs a mecha- nistic view of utility—the house is a ma- chine for living, the library a machine for storing books—wabi sabi takes a more open-hearted view, where “use” means ac- commodating the whole human, body and dreaming soul. And where modernism imposes the perverse demand that form should both follow function and remain untouched by it, wabi sabi values the wear, aging, and deterioration that attend use. This, at root, represents a different view of time. To modernism’s flaming, crusading arrow of a time line, wabi sabi answers with the dark, the cyclic, the mysterious, and the seasonal. To mod- ernism’s obsessional geometries, wabi sabi answers with organic form. To its mass-produced universalism, wabi sabi offers the particular and the idiosyncrat- ic. To its emphasis on the slick and shiny, wabi sabi answers with the crude, the de- gradable, and the degraded. Wabi sabi, in other words, puts time back into beauty, but as friend, not foe— as a scrap of eternity, not a herald of death. I am reminded here of a writer, male, who recently declared he had outgrown the traditional view of feminine beauty and come to appreciate the beauty of age be- cause of the way it brings frailty and tran- sience to the fore. Contrast this regard for the fleeting enchantment of the moment with post- modernism. Although post-modernism has put “heritage” on the agenda, it too often falls into the old modernist trap of forcing the building back to pristine new- ness, undermining the very respect for age that we profess to feel. The same newness obsession under- lies our youth culture; everyone wants to live forever but no one wants to be old. In Wisdom, a recent exhibition, Washington photographer Andrew zuckerman pre- sented portraits of elders, from Archbish- op Tutu to Judi dench to Buzz Aldrin, with Hallmark-style sound bites on the side as if to say, age isn’t really so bad, or so ugly. Age is really just an older version of youth. That is how modernism makes us miss the point entirely. A wabi sabi version would have none of the glossing over. It would, on the contrary, value the wrinkles, using them to sound the depths, to enter the soul of the subject, to mine its wisdom. This newness-obsession is a contem- porary version of age-old slum-clearance programs—programs that cleanse our red-light districts, drug districts, and bo- hemianism out of existence as if there’s a refresh button somewhere to make it all innocent again. As if, in reborn houses with freshly paved streets, people will drop all those bad habits and behave clean, like nice folks. As if you can solve social prob- lems with bulldozers. It’s not just doomed; it’s dangerous. Just as we now know you can over-sanitize childhood, expelling the very bacteria that builds our immunity, we’re also learning that you can over-cleanse cities. And that to do so is detrimental to the health of that city, deterring the very people—tourists and locals both—that cities vitally need. In the shallow world of tourism, wabi sabi translates into something like “au- thenticity” or “local color.” Wabi sabi is the natural ally of anything small, local, old, or textured, and tourism—shallow or not—is one of the few overtly commercial enterprises to recognize such values. We travel to see the real thing, not a plasti- cized, sanitized version. Take that apotheosis of tourist cit- ies, venice. day or night, summer or winter, venice crawls with a thick layer of tourists. Some go simply to watch Modernism was founded on denying time. This is what made it so synthetic, and so tacky. Wabi sabi puts time back into beauty, but as friend, not foe— as a scrap of eternity, not a herald of death. mindful eating A Guide to Rediscovering a Healthy and Joyful Relationship with Food Jan Chozen Bays, MD $16.95 Paperback Includes a CD of guided exercises If you give yourself over wholeheartedly to the practices described here, you will be thanking yourself and Dr. Bays for recovering your life and for enjoying the blessings of food. —Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD Make eating a Zen mindfulness practice and awaken to one of the most basic forms of joy and satisfaction there is. Shambhala Publications Save 20% at www.shambhala.com