Months ago I sat on the floor between rows of wooden shelves in Powell’s Books. I had found The Wabi-Sabi House by Robyn Griggs Lawrence and couldn’t wait to walk the block or so back to Stumptown for my morning coffee before I opened it. Its pages looked a bit dated and glossy, the black and white pictures mildly disappointing, but I had found a gift of a book – a second hand copy that smelled of wood, dust and laminated paper. It holds a warm, accessible invitation to embrace the ancient Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi, the art of accepting and celebrating transience and imperfect beauty.

 

The book’s message is about slowing down, taking time to, ‘find beauty in what seems ordinary – and to turn the ‘ordinary’ into something beautiful’, the value of shedding materialism, of authenticity, of living simply, of the hand made, well loved, worn and flawed. It’s about an appreciation of three simple realities: ‘nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.’ And the value of learning to consider others before ourselves.

It feels relevant. And almost accessible.

 

Wabi-sabi is not the self-conscious simplicity and nostalgic collecting of thrifted and lovely things to photograph and share with each other on Instagram.

 

Like hygge, wabi-sabi is about being not having.

 

I still have an awful lot to learn. For months, I’ve been staring at my avarice, emptying our drawers and sheds and buying less.

I can see beauty in a curved stem, a cobbled street, a patched rug. But I am still wanting, in so many ways. Lacking. And still convincing myself that I need more.

I’m embarrassed by my greed, by the piles of magazines, books and trinkets. There is so little space in my life to move quietly, to exhale, to grow things, to be creative, to think because of what it takes to manage the stuff of my life.

When I sat down to write about wabi-sabi for Kinfolk, I realized that it would be coarse to attempt to define a way of being that the even the Japanese are reluctant to articulate.

 

Just before my deadline, I skulked about on the internet, re-read The Wabi-Sabi House and procrastinated by walking the dogs and visiting my elderly neighbour for coffee.

It was in her quiet, ordered, simple home that I found wabi-sabi – in the stillness of her wooden kitchen, in the texture of her morning and the shape of her favourite ceramic cups, in her honesty and grace.

And I found it in my admiration of another dear friend who has the beauty of a San bushman and lives like an artistic shaman in a tiny coastal settlement on the west coast of South Africa. He walks barefoot, quietly sweeps his home every morning and evening, folds, mends and makes. And often stands still to smoke and think.

So, I wrote a piece that attempted to capture but not define the intangible spirit of wabi-sabi. It’s an acknowledgment, I suppose, of both friends and my hope that when I grow up (I’m forty five), I’ll learn to live wabi-sabi in the same generous, unselfconscious way.

 

wabi-sabi

wabi-sabi
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 19 June 2013

‘A crowd is not company; and faces are but a gallery of pictures; and talk but a tinkling cymbal, where there is no love.’

Francis Bacon

 

The house is still and warm. Sun is melting the night frost. I am alone in our bed, writing and procrastinating. There are uniforms to be washed, three dogs to walk, grates to be emptied, books to be written and calls to be made. But I’m making cups of ‘Mother Pukka‘ tea, eating apples and toasted rye bread, pinching Christmas chocolate from the fridge and scrolling through Maria Popova‘s inspired literary jukebox to listen to great tunes, cut and paste quotes for you and celebrate my solitude.  To be alone is easy when you feel loved.

 

 

 

 


Celebrating solitude
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 2 December 2012

A narrow path lined with vetch, thistle, yarrow, salad burnet and low scrub led us to the beach at Cuckmere Haven. On one side was the rise and curve of The Downs. On the other, our usual route, the low, wide bed of the meandering Cuckmere River.

We arrived at an encampment of delicate white tents.  The evening sun kissed a soft blush on the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters. Dusk fell and we sat beside the sea eating dark chocolate and raspberries as each tent began to softly glow and murmur.

 

This was the same field where a company of Canadian airmen put up their marquees and bell tents in 1940.  As the sun rose, bombs fell on the South coast of England and they were killed. We remembered them as we wandered through the site listening to a haunting soundscape of love poetry, spoken fragments, folk songs, pipes, slow breath and snippets of the shipping forecast. Forties. Cromarty. Forth. Tyne. Dogger. Fisher. German Bight.

 

There was something respectful about the delicacy of the installation. This companionable cluster of delicate pods glowed orange and white on the gentle slope down to the beach. At seven other remote coastal locations on the British coast thousands of glowing tents huddled on windy shores and cliff tops, pitched to celebrate the Olympic Truce.

 

It was a gentle offering, a place that gave pause for reflection, invited quietude and connection. Silhouettes milled silently in between the tents stopping in front of one or another as if it might tell them a different story. But it was a single breathy incantation that filled the air. Listening and wandering in the dark, each one of us became part of the landscape – our breath, our quiet conversations, our stillness, holding hands and sleepy children.

When the sound subsided, we could hear the sea pulling the pebbles of the beach into the dark water. Rolling in again and again.

We left the beautiful glow to follow the path back to the car, turning around occasionally to catch a last glimpse of the small encampment murmuring out there in the night. Each one of us carrying a deeper peace and searching for the frayed corners of poems we half remembered.

 

Peace
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 24 July 2012

I wish we could be slow to wake each morning – up early but start each day at our own pace. Without the pressure of catching a school bus, making packed lunch or jumping in the car, we curl around each other in our big bed of mattresses on the floor – children and adults.  We let the dogs out, light the fire, make coffee, boil eggs, chop ginger for smoothies, make toast and dippy eggs and read a bit.  Time is more elastic. Each one of us immersed in our own activity, we find flow and harmony, space to think and dream a bit.

Thoreau wrote,

“I have a great deal of company in my house; especially in the morning, when nobody calls.”

The luxury of solitude is rare. This cottage is full.  There are six of us, often considerably more, three dogs and, Whisper, the black cat.  It’s unusual to be alone here, to move about the house to a singular rhythm.  Some of us need more time to be reflective and to withdraw from the lovely chaos of family life.

I’m reading Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet’ The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  It speaks to the part of me that always thought I would grow out of my need to be alone sometimes – to retreat to my bed to read, to escape huge parties and small talk, to walk at dusk, to make things and talk to myself.  I love community but I do my best creative work alone.  I love to dance into the night to big tunes, to stonking tunes, and then hide in my tent. I love the village pub on a Friday evening if I know I can run down the dark lane to a quiet house.

Reading ‘Quiet’ has revealed to me that my struggle is not because I’m anti-social, simply introverted. It has offered me reassurance and the tacit support and voice of millions of other people who feel the same.  http://www.thepowerofintroverts.com/

 

Quiet
Posted by Louisa Thomsen Brits on 8 June 2012