Back in the most wonderful of places, back in the day, when everything was just right, if my memory is honest, there was a band called the Vapors. I think they were a one hit wonder with a song called ‘Turning Japanese’.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, other than trying to establish there was a better word back in the day, having written about the Japanese concept of Wabi Sabi I am now on a roll and want to tell you about Shibumi. It is the title of one of my all time favourite novels which allowed for the creation of a true antihero, Nicoli Hel. Which all ties up with the themes of my recent posts. Synchronicity, perfect.
Shibumi is closely linked to wabi-sabi so, having read the previous letter, you now know where I’m going to. At least you think you do.
There have been times when the idea of shibumi has galvanised my imagination. I find it so appealing. It resonates with a rebels heart in our current world. It is said to mean effortless perfection, maybe like the bird in flight. Have you ever seen an eagle riding the thermals, never beating a wing but moving gracefully across the sky? Last year, whilst in the Rockies I was blessed by being in a place where the eagles were gathering. It was a different sort of magic.
More than this it is a quality (if that’s the correct word) that one cannot learn but rather has to become. A sort of enlightened being that we can only become by putting aside much including our learning, training, ambitions, goals and more. As much as enlightenment is a state of being so is shibumi.
Let’s try to simplify this. Think about being kind, a kind person. You can learn the correct actions for a given situation so as to reflect kindness. Does that make you a kind person? If you just have an action, a response to a particular occasion, then I’m going to say no, that doesn’t make you a kind person. Kindness is something that flows from who you are, a manifestation of your nature, a character trait, a way of being. In many ways being kind involves surrendering other things such as insistence on rights on occasions, the desire for recognition maybe, the betterment of self. This runs rather contrary to the norms of our society and media I’m thinking.
Does that help?
Kindness is not about learning. It’s about becoming. Enlightenment is not something learnt but something we become. And so with shibumi. As one writer put it:
Western mystics try to attain or achieve a state of inner peace, but shibumi must be found, not won.Kevin D Meeks – Shibumi Sanctuary Blogspot
There is a simplicity to this quality but underlying this simplicity is much refinement, a purity, a becoming as spoken of in wabi-sabi. A becoming of what was meant to be, which includes acceptance of flaws because these are known to be an essential part of the journey to becoming the best Pogue, the best Wic, the best whoever we can be. The world sees flaws as failures, imperfections.
Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.Anne Wilson Schaefer
I say embrace them as part of the refining process, part of your unique beauty. Character making. This is a path for the individual, again, like the search for enlightenment and so, I’m thinking, involves our old friend silence who I haven’t mentioned for sometime.
If this concept captures your imagination as it has mine then you will go and to meditation, prayer. Prayer, not endless one way dictating to God, but the place of silent listening.
What does shibumi appear as? To quote from the novel I mentioned:
…shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearance. It is a statement so correct it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence…it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive: it is being without the angst of becoming.Trevanian – Shibuni
It is a spiritual quality. Something that comes from the core of a person, from the very essence of our being and as such, it is lost to the masses who, caught up in the ebb and flow of the everyday world, fill their lives with the trivial and allow no place for silence or contemplation. Media series, self entertainment, instant satisfaction, instant gratification, and my rights satisfied cheaply so as to often lack any meaningful content.
Does that come over as conceited, condescending?
I don’t mean it to. It’s just what is. Observe the world at work and play, then tell me. Tell me about where people place their values. Tell me how many value the spiritual. Tell me where they go for silence and the time they give to it.
So shibumi, like enlightenment, is not something that will ever be considered by numbers of people but will be for the few. Not that any are excluded except by their own choosing. Most choose to fill their lives where as this requires the emptying of one’s life. A very deliberate sort of choice.
All this leaves me with a final question. I am now wondering if life, satisfying contented life, fulfilled life is more about what we surrender than what we possess, what we pack into our time?
surrender: letting go of any false perceptions that stands in the way of the highest truth of who you are and what it is you’re here to doRHA Goddess
I’ll leave you to muse over that and you can be assured I will be doing so. As the man said: “Further up, further in”.
Yours, from a tranquil place,