Book review: Wabi Sabi Simple
Wabi Sabi Simple: Create beauty. Value imperfection. Live deeply. By Richard R. Powell.
Is there an intersection between living large and simple living? I think so. To me, living large is not about having more stuff or more expensive stuff, it's about living my life exactly as I choose, without being constrained by what my boss wants me to do, what the neighbors think, or what my creditors will allow. It's about the breadth and width of my life, not about how high I can pile up stuff. If that is how you want to live large, you'll find a lot of inspiration in Richard R. Powell's book Wabi Sabi Simple.
Wabi Sabi is a Japanese term for a concept that is fundamentally Japanese, but that will also resonate with people from any culture. The term, Powell explains, comes from two Japanese words:
- wabi means poverty--but poverty of the genteel sort where you have everything you need, even if you don't have everything you want.
- sabi is a technical literary term used to describe a certain kind of melancholy feel such as evoked by images of nature, rural scenes, and autumn.
Together, though, they describe a certain kind of simplicity:
It is about respectful conversation, harmonious and peaceful dwellings, and modest behavior. It is ordered but not orderly, planned but not scheduled, simple but not simple-minded, and deliberate without being rigid.
This is a book that speaks to me. It finds words to describe many of the pieces that go together to make a life that is filled with both ease and meaning:
Filling life with wabi sabi might be as simple as emptying it of clutter. Wabi sabi cannot be contained in anything square, boxy, or bright, nor can it ever be modular. Quality control kills it, and uniformity negates it. It has to be authentic, genuine, and natural. It perishes under refinement, and sameness wilts it.... Having lots of wabi sabi is a contradiction.
And they are beautiful words:
A friend and I kayaked on a July evening across Northumberland Channel to De Courcy Island just before sunset. The warm golden glow of the sun, low near the horizon, cast elongated shadows along the curving surfaces of the island's weathered sandstone cliffs. A bald eagle soared along the fir- and arbutus- covered ridge at the top of the bluff. We paddled slowly around each bend of the island's varied coastline and craned our necks to look up at the sculpted cookie dough shapes. When we pulled the craft in close, mottled rock, twisted trees, and barnacle-covered stones radiated the day's heat toward us, mirroring the warmth we felt at being there.
The book is not a how-to manual. It is an explanation of what wabi sabi is (and what it is not) with some illustrations of how simplicity enriches your life--at home, with your friends, at work. Implicit in the book is the notion that, if you understand simplicity, you don't need someone to tell you how to achieve it or how to apply its lessons to your life. Once you understand you won't need instruction or exhortation--you'll just see that simple living is better. This makes it an easy book to read. The author isn't trying to convince you of anything or talk you into anything. He's just showing you some things that he has found to be true and meaningful.
I'm all about simple living. To me, frugal living is a means to an end; when I have to choose between frugality and simplicity, I'll go with simplicity if I can possibly afford it. (Fortunately, simplicity often leads to reasonably frugal choices even when it doesn't lead to the most frugal choices.) If you have any interest in simplicity as a lifestyle choice--whether you're already living simply or not--you'll find much to enjoy and much to think about in Richard R. Powell's Wabi Sabi Simple.