In the comment section of this weeks’s Monday Meditation (see the entry just prior to this one), Debra made the point that Wabi-Sabi, in addition to celebrating imperfection, also finds beauty and meaning in decay and death. Her comment intrigued me, as I was unaware of this aspect of the philosophy. It seemed to be a perfect topic for consideration right before Halloween.
Halloween, before the plastic pumpkins and excessive sugar, was the old Celtic celebration of Samhain, the “day of the dead.” People remembered their beloved dead, and expected to be visited by them. Death was also present in a most literal sense. The weeks around Samhain were a time of culling the animal herds in preparation for winter. By now, the harvest was in, and people knew how many animals they could feed through the cold season, and adjusted the herd accordingly.
At its best, even today, Halloween forces us to face up to the reality of death and decay in a culture that denies both. It’s easy to see beauty in youth and springtime. It’s not so easy to see it at the edge of November, when autumn’s blaze is fading and our own mortality seems to hover a little too near for comfort. To celebrate the cycle of life to its very end requires a wisdom that is uncommon in our time.
The word “wabi” comes from a root which means peace, tranquility and balance. “Sabi” means “the bloom of time,” which is a fancy way of saying “growing old.” Imperfection. Ordinariness. Grace. Dignity. All can apply to the natural cycle of decay at the end of October, as well as to an individual life cycle.
All around the woods of western Pennsylvania, the trees are pulling their sap down to the root. The plants go to seed, then give themselves over to the transformative decay cycle to nourish the next generation. The fullness of the harvest has passed. Everything now falls away, leaving only the essential. There is a stark, unexpected beauty here. It’s not the easy beauty of April blooms. It is the beauty of a bare branch against a slate sky. It is the beauty of old bones, elegant in their emptiness.
It is the recognition that life is fleeting, but Life is enduring.
For more on Wabi-Sabi, see:
Photo Credit: photo of whale bones by flickr user glaciergirl at http://www.creativecommons.org/