I would like to introduce you to the philosophy of wabi sabi and give examples of how we can use this art to create a home that keeps us in the moment. Here we will focus on the living room. The intention is to create a space that is meditative and encourages us to live life through our senses.
Wabi sabi could be termed as the artistic interpretation of Zen. It started in Japan in the 1200s out of the tea ceremony. The tea ceremony had become the Japanese expression of Zen Buddhism. Through tea people could engage their five senses and spend some time living in the moment through those senses. Guests could listen to the sound of pouring the tea, watch the steam rise, feel the cups, smell the aroma of the tea and taste it.
Zen monk Sen no Rikyu refined the tea ceremony as a means to meditation. He wanted the Zen philosophy to be reflected in the items tea was served in and the atmosphere of the tea house. This was the founding of wabi sabi. It is claimed that when observing the rough texture of roof tiles Sen no Rikyu became absorbed into the texture and patterns and asked a tile maker to make pots and cups for his teahouse. This was in direct contrast to the ornate Chinese crockery used at the time and this set about a huge shift in Japanese artistic appreciation. He introduced humble Korean craft pottery into his tea ceremonies. The emphasis was on items that looked and felt engaging rather than fashionable.
This developed into the idea that something could be created out of a meditative state and then used to enhance meditation. So a Zen circle might be drawn on a blank canvas when the impulse came naturally. The circle would then be something to meditate on. In addition wabi sabi writing encourages us to engage with the life of an object. If a vase cracks, it just becomes more interesting. Materials that fade, weather, age, wear, rust, dry or craze are cherished as they provide a kind of living art work to engage with. Every day they will be different and our awareness of that difference helps keep us in the moment.
Here are some suggestions for making your living room a wabi sabi experience.
Look at your living room with an eye for things that engage your senses. Be aware of items that distract you from that. So there may be objects you can explore each day and enjoy an ‘in the moment’ experience with. There may also be items that draw you away from that into more distracted thoughts. These might be things that you no longer engage with or carry memories you would like to move on from. Try to empty your living room of the items that no longer serve you.
One way can engage with a room is through shadows. The windows will cast shadows in our living room and we can observe these shadows move across the room as the sun moves through the sky. The shadows will change shape as they move, giving us more to engage with. A plant or tree outside the window will create more engaging patterns. As the leaves blow in the wind, the shadows will shimmer and sway, providing more to look at.
Flowers provide smells, textures to touch and colour. More than that the petals will change over time. Each day we can observe them dry and curl up, loosing their vibrant colour. If we set the vase of flowers on an open surface we can let the petals fall, creating their own unique pattern and let this become part of our meditation.
Plants grow giving us a slowly changing form to engage with. Flowering plants will also offer new colours and scents to experience. We can watch the new leaves forming, as well as see the old fall and fade.
Candles are interesting in that they produce a flickering light, thus conjuring up shimmering shadows. They can be positioned in different parts of your living room, creating new shadows from each location. Try placing a candle, safely behind a plant to observe the pattern of shadows.
We could choose images that best help us stay in the moment. What kind of art encourages a meditative state? Is it something abstract and incomplete? Do we want our art to leave more to the imagination, or tell the whole story?
Having a range of textures can help us be more tactile and interact with our living room through touch. Try to bring in rough, ridged, soft, smooth, hard, silky, cold and warm surfaces to offer a greater range of experiences.
Scented candles, incense, flowers and some plants bring engaging smells to a room. This is another way to help us engage with our living room.
Consider how different surfaces can contribute sounds to the room. We might enjoy having other sources of sounds, like gongs, ringing bowls or chimes to create greater sonic character. Music is an easy way to bring sound into a room.
Our minds are such that we quickly recognise a repeating pattern or symmetry. This makes a room less intriguing to us. Asymmetry, random layouts and spontaneity help us find our living room interesting for longer. Changing the arrangement of a room helps create renewed interest.
Leaving parts of your living room open, clear and uncluttered helps create a sense of emptiness. Sometimes a blank canvas with a single item helps us focus our meditation. So an empty wall with one picture, a clear corner with one item or a bare table top with one flower may serve this purpose.
KEY WABI SABI IDEAS
- Living in the moment – escaping unnecessary thoughts of the past and future.
- Simplicity – putting the greatest attention into the few things that are most important to you.
- Emptiness – leaving the space for new things to come into your life.
- Sobriety – retaining dignity, self control, common sense and level headedness.
- Intuition – to be able to understand without analytical or logic reasoning.
- Transient beauty – an appreciation of beauty that comes and goes.
- Nothing is complete – understanding that life is a process without clear beginnings and ends.
- Acceptance – to adapt to changing circumstances and make the best of any situation.
- Imperfection – embracing and loving people, things, nature as they are.
- Asymmetry – to be free from making symmetrical or regimented patterns and layouts.
- Appreciation – to cultivate an attitude of endless appreciation for ourselves and the world we live in. Seeing wonder in everything.
- Tranquillity – to free ourselves from all the unnecessary noise, clutter and distractions that distract us from finding that inner peace.
- Naturalness – living close to nature, using natural materials.
- Nothing contrived – to express ourselves freely without conforming to fashion.
- Non attachment – freedom from doctrines, concepts and beliefs.
- Humbleness – being ourselves without projecting our ego. Leading an unassuming, unpretentious, unostentatious life.
- Modesty – to live a life that is varied without indulging in excesses or extremes.
- Austerity – to be free from pandering to luxuries and enjoying simplicity.
- Embracing change – enjoying the idea that everyday is new and different, that our world is full of variables and that nothing is static.
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