Sunday, November 22, 2015

Wabi Sabi and Resilience

Wabi sabi, with its recognition of imperfection and its acceptance - even embrace - of decay, may not be the first reference or aesthetic to turn to clarify the concepts of resilience. The whiff of mortality that is central to the principles of wabi sabi brings a rationality to the discussion of resilience that is missing in efforts to defeat mortality or create a material, structure or organization that is purported to be maintenance-free or at the very least, state of the art. Also, when pondering challenges that test one's resilience or confidence, it is reassuring to work from the premise that nothing is permanent - including failure and adversity.

The eternal assertion that the next technology to come down the pike will bring the answer to one particular problem or challenge withers with time and the recognition that technology has been more often used to give the hucksters something new to shill to those clamouring for eternal youth, cool or beauty rather than answers of any lasting form or substance.  The efforts to suggest the ineffable and fleeting can indeed be not only lasting but also available for purchase conjure false hope and discourage people from looking within or acknowledging the cycles of life.  The suggestion that solutions can be bought or invented undermine our willingness or ability to deal with the challenges that we will encounter.

The "solutions" that are so inviting actual invite us to favour independence over interdependence and surrounding ourselves with objects rather than people to address our needs.  Further to that, there is the chance that those technological solutions are for the most trivial of problems. These technological solutions for the less than the essential can leave us unprepared for the great challenges in life because they can encourage us to assume that there is a simplistic, perhaps binary, solution to each problem. It is not to say that consumerism leaves us grasping for the ideal purchase or latest technology for the most challenging problems we face, but it might leave us less certain of our own inner potential or with the means to deal with particular challenges or the solutions that we may need.

On a material level, there are far too many wonder substances that have been purported to have remarkable strength and resistance to the elements or the passing of time, only to prove that their decline is far less pleasant or even aesthetically pleasing a decay as the gradual erosion of paint off of a well-handled surface. Think of vinyl or aluminum siding that has outlived its lifetime guarantee and does not cohere to efforts to restore it or improve its appearance. Think of other materials that have come along and disappeared. Plastics, acrylics and other materials have all come and gone and if there is any nostalgia for the likes of Corelle dinnerware, it may be outweighed by a certain disdain for the dated and out of style.

More significant than simple materials that have been consigned to some form of disregard, there are just as damaging systems or solutions that people have bought into as a form of self-improvement. With many of those there is a degree of self-discipline required, which is not part of the sales pitch for those solutions.  In other instances, there is also a first-come, first-serve aspect that only benefits the first few to get in on the program (or pyramid scheme.) When we encounter people who have bought into those solutions or systems to improve their lives, we find that we regard them as well with a certain distaste that is not borne of sour grapes but rather than sense that their route is not one we would want to adopt, especially because of their hard sell that "it is the answer." It smacks too much proselytism, no matter how secular it may be.

Wabi sabi's tolerance for ambiguity and reflection imparts a calmer and more integrated approach to the problems that we may face and encourage the development of inner resources that do not come off the shelf.  There is no need to come up with a common or popular solution to our problems or, beyond that an assumption that a problem or challenge is off the shelf, either.  With reflection and contemplation of the ambiguities that we face - in one instance the assertion that with failure there has been progress and lessons to adapt into future efforts or iterations - there is the opportunity to recognize what can be done and proceed with the confidence and assurance that there is alternative approach that we can take.

Apart from that mindset, there is an emphasis on remaining in the moment and letting the passage time have the effects that we are always anticipating. With that in mind, failures are never an ending or a door closed on possibilities. Wabi sabi, and other Japanese aesthetics, strives for a minimalism that allows and virtually unlimited range of interpretations which invites people to explore possibilities more freely. Whether it is a haiku, a garden, a piece of ceramic or a swirl of ink dashed onto delicate paper, perceptions can expand with some contemplation of the setting.  Whether it is our perception of ourselves, our potential, our situation or the inner and external resources that we have available to us, there is an opportunity to get past the rational simplicity that a mass-produced solution or object offers.

When compared with those off-the-shelf formulas or objects that we may invest in to solve our problems, wabi sabi approaches to life and to the problems that we may encounter would assure us to step back from the problems or failures that we face and reflect on them in a manner that reconsiders our challenges, goals and possibilities.  Ideally, it would be an approach that encourages us to take a more handcrafted and unique an approach to leading our lives and remaining true to our potential and path, regardless of the adversity or temptations we might face.