by Jane St. Clair
The other day I was reading a crime scene investigator’s textbook about stages of bodily decay, a process used in CSI to determine time of death. It made me think of wabisabi, the Japanese idea that decay is part of beauty. I found it hard to believe in wabisabi while picturing Norman Bates’ mummified mother, until I remembered a wabisabi fable that goes like this.
Once there was a monk-in-training who could not get his mind off a beautiful young woman. He thought about her day and night, and finally told his master, who ordered the young monk to go ahead and keep thinking about her day and night. That was a perfectly okay thing to do, as long as he meditated on how this woman would grow wizened and old, and then die and decay.
Through this meditation, the novice found out that every stage of her life is part of loving her and part of her beauty. Perfect wabisabi love is loving the imperfect. Very Zen, eh?
You as a human being are NEVER going to make anything that is perfect. Whatever you make is going to rot and decay and get left behind. Perfect art is imperfect. We are ourselves imperfect wabisabi beings.
If beauty is in imperfection, you’ll see the most beauty if you look at the world in an earthy and authentic way. If everything around you is shiny-new and corporate, if you have fresh paint and plastic people everywhere, your world is hard and cold and ugly. You need wabisabi for balance.
Then there’s the Sonoran desert where I live. The natives say nothing dies on the desert, and it’s true. The heat and low humidity means everything here lasts forever. Cars don’t rust, cattle skulls just lay there in the dust, and everything from rotting window sills to crumbling murals just hang around forever.
In fact, whole towns just lay there where people left them. We have one ghost town that still has a table with poker cards on it –left there a hundred years ago when the copper mine closed and all the cowboys and miners left town. The ramshackle remains of the town are wabisabi.
Wabisabi reminds us to seize this day and to be unafraid of what is ahead and changing. Wabisabi looks into forever and takes us there with it.
For more pictures of old mining towns, see Superior, Arizona Won’t Give Up the Ghost.