Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Shibumi and wu-wei

On the Innermost House Facebook page the other day, Chris Johnson slipped into the conversation a word I’d never heard before: shibumi.  I found this article about it – and it made my heart sing.

Shibumi (or shibusa as it can alternatively be known) is an aesthetic going yet deeper than aesthetic to express a value system or inner wisdom.  The Wikipedia article says shibumi has seven qualities or aspects:








About the “Imperfection” aspect of shibumi, the Wikipedia article says this:
“Imperfection in shibusa, Soetsu Yanagi in The Unknown Craftsman refers to as ‘beauty with inner implications’. It is not a beauty displayed before the viewer by its creator; creation here means making a piece that will lead the viewer to draw beauty out of it for oneself. Shibui beauty, as in the beauty of Tea Ceremony, is beauty that makes an artist of the viewer.”

This means the beauty of shibumi becomes apparent only in use or interaction; that is, by "imperfection" is meant that which by itself is not complete - in use it is completed and its potential realised.  I can so relate to that.  I like to choose very plain and simple clothes in solid colours, and I prefer plates and bowls in stoneware without patterns or pictures on, just the stone colours of nature.  Similarly I like candleholders in pottery, wood or metal of very simple, unadorned design.  In this way, the beauty of the bowl comes into its own when the salad is in it, the garment does not compete with the person wearing it but they become one beauty together (even if the wearer is not conventionally beautiful, in a simple, plain, natural garment s/he will be attractive), and the candleholder steps back modestly to allow the beauty of the living flame to have centre stage.

It is the beauty that belongs with utility rather than ornamentation, and I love this.  In a conversation with the Badger recently, I found my way to expressing something about the objects in our home that is important to me: I like each thing to have meaning.  The meaning of a chair and table is relatively obvious – it is for utility, so someone can sit down and place a cup safely.  But I prefer that there is nothing purely ornamental – nothing that is simply about itself.  I do have some ornamental objects – for example, I have a painting of the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, a statue of St Francis, and a pair of etchings depicting the concept of light in John’s gospel.  But each of these things is draws the beholder beyond itself into a teaching, acting as a reminder of an aspect of faith and spirit.  I would not wish to have a painting of a girl with a cat or a vase of flowers – though I like to look at the real women curled up with the real cats in our home, and the small posies of real flowers that we bring in from the garden (again placed in unassuming containers that do not compete ornamentally with the flowers).

In some ways shibumi/shibui/shibusa reminds me of the concept of “wu-wei” from the Tao; the modesty or implicity that does not draw attention to itself, but by being what it is permits innate beauty to emerge and be seen. 

Wu-wei” is a wonderful concept: it can be expressed as “the art of non-doing”.  As Lao Tsu puts it, “I do nothing and it all happens”.

When I try to describe wu-wei I am sometimes frustrated when others misunderstand me to mean a lazy or laissez-faire attitude.  Wu-wei is not the same as “que sera, sera”, or shrugging my shoulders and turning away hoping things will look after themselves.  Wu-wei is not inaction or non-intervention.  It is the fulcrum effect. 

Wu-wei, the art of non-doing, implies such focus and attention on Life itself that one is found in the right place at the right time doing the right thing, thus being perfectly aligned with the flow of Grace, the current of God’s purpose in continuing creation; so one maximises one’s effectiveness.  An example of this is Jesus stilling the storm.  The winds raged round the boat threatening to capsize them, and the disciples became terrified, but Jesus lay asleep.  When they woke Him, asking “Master, do you not care?” he rebuked their lack of faith (and faith is really understanding), then addressed the storm with simple words of quietness: “Peace, be still”, and it all stopped.  That’s wu-wei.  It’s like magic; it arises from centring oneself in the socket of God’s purposes so that with a small word or action change can be effected.

Wu-wei is an art of quietness, of a stilled, centred, unassuming soul.  It’s about what Yoda calls “using the Force”.

In the daily practice of Gospel simplicity there is also a heartbeat, a flame  like the pilot light on a gas boiler, from which all warmth and power are ignited.  This heartbeat is the discipline of abandonment to Divine providence, in the manner expressed by this prayer.     This abandonment to God’s love is what warms shibumi and wu-wei into loving-kindness.  It is identical with the Franciscan ideal.  I recognise this, but I am not very good at it yet, and it frustrates me that I waste time on being less than the person I could be, when it will take all the time and concentration I have to find my way into the simplicity of God’s kindness and humility.

I am walking towards a shibumi kind of home and a wu-wei path of living slowly but with determination, for these express the core of simplicity.

:0)  Time for breakfast.  God bless your day.  May His light rest peaceful upon you.


365 366 Day 38

Ah, these earrings!  I saw them in a shop and fell in love with them, wore them almost all the time last summer.  Then I saw that they are a bit too large and showy for me.  The ones made of real silver and freshwater pearls that Hebe gave me are much better.  Time to let these go.  



Buzzfloyd said...

LOL, those freshwater pears are presumably supposed to be pearls?

I like this concept very much. I think it's interesting the way that many East Asians express these concepts through the way they live as well as in their art.

Wu-wei reminds me of a teacher standing in the middle of a playground, watching everything.

maria said...

This is what our lives should be Ember. This is the way that Our Lord created us to be. Simple without obtrusion of any kind.

Like you, I am beginning to wear solid colors because I know that I am able to express myself better in them. I am more myself in them.

My home is slowly breathing without all the stuff that I had shoved into it. It is taken deep breaths and I am glad for that.

This way of life has been shown to me through my husband. But it has taken me quite a bit to embrace.

Crochet doilies have been with me for so long...but now they just seem to clutter my view of the beautiful wood underneath.

Amazing how Our Lord changes us completely when we embrace His Simplicity.

Be blessed today, I am off the computer until tomorrow :-)


Pen Wilcock said...

:0D Freshwater pears . . . now there's a concept! Thanks for sharp-eyed copy-reading! Will go and amend that!

Peace to your day, M x

Rapunzel said...

Shibumi is a new word to me, despite my zen training. One small word that expresses everything I seek to create in my life.
Wu-wei reminds me of being pregnant...the easy, grace-full way you create an entire person inside yourself without "doing" anything.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Yes indeed!

Jules said...

wow. absolutely wonderful thoughts!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hi, friend! x