This small book, F**K Plastic: 101 ways to free yourself from plastic and save the world by Rodale Sustainability offers excellent tips to make us more conscious of what we are doing — and want we can do.
Recently, I bought new clothes pins to hang up laundry that wouldn’t be going into the dryer. Good, you might think. But I looked at the prices and bought the cheaper plastic ones. Many have already broken. If I’d read this book sooner, those plastic clothes pins would not have been my choice.
Some of the tips in this book aren’t a surprise: Tip #17, for instance, is “Pick loose fruit and veggies” – “Don’t bother with the avocados that come two in a pack, or the bell peppers the come in threes, or the shrink-wrapped broccoli. Especially don’t bother with the half portions of cucumber you now find in supermarkets which come shrink-wrapped and then packaged in another layer of plastic. Opt instead for the veggies that are loose in trays, and–if you can-also buy from places that shun sticky labels” (24).
Some of the tips are surprises: #26 Say Goodbye to Gum.
“Have a guess how many pieces of gum are made in the world each year.
If you happened to say 1.74 trillion, [www.chewinggumfacts.com – accessed on 05/23/2018] give yourself a pat on the back. Now have a guess what most chewing gum is primarily made from. That’s right: a type of plastic. Pass the mints” (p. 33).
Some of the tips are ways of looking in new ways: Tip #15 Swap potato chips for doughnuts
“Yes, we’re serious! Sure we all know avoiding both the doughnut and the chips would be better for our health (pft), but if you’re going to reach for a treat anyway, make it a loose baked product like a doughnut or cookie over a bag of chips or cookies. Many of the latter are packaged using layered plastic material, which theoretically could be recycled but a lot of the time isn’t due to the cost. Loose baked products on the other hand are totally fair game” (p. 22).
The book is filled with useful hints. The introduction asks: “Plastic, what’s the big deal?”
“Plastic still remains a pretty great invention–syringes, hip replacements, protective helmets, your laptop, my phone, that car. Let’s be honest–plastic ain’t going nowhere. But that’s the problem in a nutshell–all the single-use plastics we buy each day without realizing ain’t going nowhere either. A plastic carrier bag is used on average for 12 minutes [www.biologicaldiversity.org accessed on 05/23/2018] — but it’ll still be here in 100 to 300 years. The water bottle you picked up at lunch could still be here in 450” (p. 1).
Tip #89 Be mindful
“Look after your things! It’s as simple as that. Look after your phone; look after your headphones; look after your hair ties; look after your stationery; look after every item you own that contains plastic. The better care you give it, the less you will need to replace it and the less plastic that ultimately ends up bin a landfill or the sea” (103).
Read this book: There is lots to be done. We can each be part of the solution.
P.S. Thanks for lending me this book, Joy. N.
It’s so easy to judge people and countries and policies. Often we don’t have the complete story to make a balanced assessment; often situations are more complex than they seem.
Since 2003, I’ve gotten to go to China four times – first as a traveler and then to teach English at two universities there, so I’ve seen first-hand the results of the Chinese one-child policy. And I’ve liked it: each child is a treasure.
Each child is given all the attention and the support that his/her parents and grandparents can lavish on each. The results – from my perspective – are excellent. The children are wanted. They know their parents love them and each feels wanted and especially the boys feel needed.
The Chinese boys know that they will be responsible to take care of their parents, grandparents and if the girls have a good relationship with their parents, the young married man will be expected to care for her parents and grandparents too. Until recently in China, there has been no government support or pensions for seniors. Because there are so many people in China (one billion more than in the U.S.), factory workers are required to retire at 45, professional women at 55 and professional men at 60. These retirees each needs a well-educated son (or son-in-law) who has a good, well-paying job to take care of all of them.
When I asked one of my 19-year-old students would he agree to an arranged marriage, he said, “Yes, of course, my family wants the best for me.”
In the four times I was there (including once for a wonderful 12-month stretch), I can remember seeing only three instances of parents being mean to their children:
- A 10-year-old girl (in a designer dress) crying because her mother was yelling at her for having a poor grade.
- A three-year-old boy (getting into things as boy’s do) behind his father’s kiosk being yelled at harshly by his dad.
- Kids being screamed at in a park — by a Western father.
I learned a lot from my Chinese students each needing to write or say interesting things for their grades. Chinese students love and respect their parents and grandparents. I heard no whining or complaining about how badly they had been treated or how hard their lives were. From the hundreds of students I had there, I had only one essay that made me cringe and the girl wasn’t complaining just reporting on the results of her own bad behavior. The girl was supposed to be taking care of her pet bird; she wasn’t doing a good job of it; she’d been warned. She came home one night to find that her mother had cooked the bird for dinner!
And now, also at least in part because of the one-child policy, there is no starvation that I saw or heard of in China! Some of their current favorite dishes I think reflect back to the childhoods of my students’ parents and grandparents when food was very sparce: fish head soup (that’s it – the whole head with eyes in a broth); chicken claws; duck tongue . . .).
Now even the vegetable dishes like spicy eggplant have a bit of pork on top.
I’d heard that families were penalized by the government if they had more than one child. Micky, one of my cheerful students in China, was born to his family within two years of his older sister’s birth, which was against the law at that time, so the government destroyed his family’s furniture – something the family was certainly willing to give up – since Micky is a boy.
I’d heard of the forced abortions, but hadn’t seen evidence. Then, the friendly Chinese woman who was our secretary in the English Department of the university where I was working got pregnant. She and her husband were thrilled. She’d had a couple of miscarriages, so she was particularly hopeful. But when she went in for a routine checkup at five months, her doctor discovered something wrong with the fetus – and aborted it! She was devastated. It was explained to me that the government had to take such action since there are so many people in China; they don’t have the resources to pay for known birth defects of a child that will likely require special care for a lifetime. Also, the woman is still young and likely to be able to have a healthy baby in the future. Although sad, I could understand the reasoning behind the government’s action.
And repeatedly, I saw that the Chinese value what is best for the whole; not the individual rights that we cherish in the U.S. The Chinese I met actually have faith in their government and their leaders to create a better life and future for the Chinese citizens. Once while I was there, I wanted to protest about the unlit, dangerous access to the college while construction was going on. My students just laughed and said, “Ms. just wait. It will get fixed.” And they were right. When we came back from winter break, the road was safe, and no one had had to make an issue of it.
However, last week, Barry and I saw the documentary One-Child Nation (Available on Netflix – “From award-winning documentarian Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow, I Am Another You) and Jialing Zhang, the sweeping One Child Nation explores the ripple effect of this devastating social experiment, uncovering one shocking human rights violation after another – from abandoned newborns, to forced sterilizations and abortions, and government abductions.”
The documentary showed photos of the dumped bodies of fetuses and infants — likely all girls. A family shared their story of taking their newly born girl by dark to the next town and leaving her on a counter in the market in hopes that someone would take her. No one did. The infant died right there a few days later where she had been left. She was a girl. At the time, no one could have more than one child without grave penalties by the government. Some people who had more than one child had their house destroyed.
There were pictures of what the documentary said were women trussed up like pigs in mattresses; they were pregnant, had been kidnapped, and lined up to be sterilized. I can’t imagine the life-long trauma that would result for women who had suffered kidnapping and a forced abortion/sterilization — by their neighbors!
In the documentary, abortionists talked about how they had been doing the work of their beloved government that was trying to stop starvation in China. Some of those workers said that even now, they still feel pride in what they did. Others have had moral doubts. One woman who had done thousands of abortions said a monk told her that for every couple that she now helps with their infertility, the birth of a baby atones for 100 of those past forced abortions.
Today, China allows most couples two children. However, most families now choose to have only one since the cost is so great to support and educated each child. Also, if the child they already have is a boy, the parents will also be expected to help the second boy buy an apartment at least before any girl will consent to marry him. The girls today, at least the ones in university, say they are the lucky ones.
The exception is that minority Chinese (non-Han, which are only five percent of the total Chinese population) such as the Uyghurs can have as many children as they want. Wonderful, you may say, but I don’t think so. I think it is a way to keep the minorities down; they must apportion all their resources among their children – or at least their boys, not pour everything they have into their treasured one child.
Even such a source as Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School for Men,” Mma Ramotswe, owner of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, in the quite civil Botswana notes, “They [some men & women, the government, ministers . . . – not the pregnant women ], of course, did not have bear the children; they did not have to carry the babies around on their backs for the first few years; they did not have to attend to the daily, hourly, minute-by-minute needs of the baby, and yet they could have very strong views on the subject of babies” (p. 164).
Who should decide? The government? The woman involved?
And in general, what can be done to help people look at their unexamined traditions and make positive changes themselves instead of being forced?
Melinda Gates in The Moment of Lift notes how getting cultures to change from within (not mandated nor forced) is being done in some countries where female genital mutilation and early child marriage for girls have been the tradition. For the past 20 years, Bill and Melinda Gates have used their foundation to find solutions for people with the most urgent needs. . .
[It’s important to address the] incentives strongly favor[ing] early marriage. And every year a girl doesn’t marry, there’s a greater chance that she will be sexually assaulted—and then considered unclean and unfit for marriage. So it’s also with the girl’s honor and the family’s honor in mind that parents often marry their girls young, so they can avoid that trauma.. . .
[The] heartbreaking reality . . . is that girls are forced into the abusive situation of child marriage to protect them from other abusive situations. The World Health Organization says that one in three women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or abused.
Gender-based violence is one of the most common human rights abuses in the world. It’s also the most obvious and aggressive way men try to control women—whether it’s rape as a tool of war, or a husband beating his wife, or men in workplaces using sexual violence or bullying to belittle women who are gaining power. . . .
In the case of early marriage, the social options of girls are so constrained by the culture that parents who marry off their girls often believe they are doing the best they can for their daughters and families. That means that fighting child marriage by itself isn’t enough. We have to change the culture that makes child marriage a smart option for the poorest families . .
Melinda Gates reports, “It’s important to be able to save [10- or 13-year-old] girls from marriage, but it’s more important to address the incentives that prompt parents to marry off their underage daughters in the first place.
A Quiet Hero
Molly Melching has spent her life proving that point. Molly is another one of my teachers. . . . she showed me one of the best approaches I’ve ever seen for challenging long-standing cultural practices. . . .
Molly . . . [came] to Senegal as an exchange student [from the University of Illinois at Champagne/Urbana] to refine her French in the 1970s. She quickly fell in love with the Senegalese people and culture—so much so that she decided to learn the local language, Wolof, as well.
Even while she loved the country, though, she noticed how difficult it was to be a girl there. Many girls in Senegal have their genitals cut very young —usually between 3 and 5 years of age. Many are married very young and are encouraged to have children quickly and often. Outside groups had tried to change these practices, but no one succeeded, and Molly found herself in a position to see why.
She became a translator for development programs, serving as the link between villagers and outsiders who wanted to help. She quickly saw that there was more than a language barrier dividing these two groups. There was an empathy barrier. The outsiders showed little skill in projecting themselves into the lives of the people they wanted to help, and they had little interest in trying to understand why something was being done in a certain way. They didn’t even have the patience to explain to villagers why they thought something should change.
. . . Molly explained to me that the empathy barrier stymies all effort in development. Agricultural equipment that had been donated was rusting out, health clinics were sitting empty, and customs like female genital cutting and child marriage continued unchanged. Molly told me that people often get outraged by certain practices in developing countries and want to rush in and say, ‘This is harmful! Stop it!’ But that’s the wrong approach. Outrage can save one girl or two, she told me. Only empathy can change the system.
That insight prompted Molly to launch an organization called Tostan and develop a new approach to social change. No one from her organization would tell a villager that something they were doing was wrong or bad. In fact, Molly told me that she never uses the term ‘female genital mutilation’ because it’s heavy with judgment, and people won’t listen to you if you’re judging them. She uses ‘female genital cutting’ because it doesn’t offend the people she wants to persuade.
The Subtle Art of Change
Tostan’s approach is not to judge from there outside but to discuss from the inside. Trained facilitators fluent in the local language live in the village for three years and guide a community-wide conversation. They host sessions three times a week, several hours each, and the process begins by asking people to come up with their ideal village, their so-called Island of Tomorrow. Everything Tostan does is geared toward achieving the future the villagers say they want.
To help the villagers achieve that future, facilitators teach about health and hygiene. They teach reading and math and problem solving. And they teach that every person has fundamental rights —to learn and to work, to have their health, to voice their opinions, and to be free from discrimination and violence.
These rights were far from reality even where they were being taught—particularly in communities where a woman speaking in public was considered a ‘good reason’ for her husband to hit her. The idea that men and women were equal seemed absurd. But over time the women could see how certain changes —men doing ’women’s work,’ women earning an income—were moves toward equality, and those changes were helping. People were healthier. More of them could read. Maybe there was something to this idea.
After lessons on fundamental rights and the equality of men and women, the class started talking about women’s health. It was taboo to even talk about female genital cutting —a practice they considered so old and sacred it was simply called ‘the tradition.’ Even so, the facilitator laid out its health consequences, including the risk of infection and hemorrhaging. She was met with stony silence.
At the next class, however, the village midwife raised her hand and stood up. Her heart racing, she said she’d seen firsthand how women who were cut had more difficult births. Then other women started sharing their stories, too. They recalled the pain it caused them when they were cut, the way their daughters lost so much blood, the deaths of some girls from hemorrhaging. If all girls had a right to their health, wouldn’t cutting violate that right? Was it something they had to do. They debated intensely for months. Finally, they decided that when the time came to cut their daughters that year, they wouldn’t do it. . . .
As Molly recalls, ‘We were witnessing something so significant—the act of people coming together to collectively reflect on their deepest values, to question if current attitudes and behaviors were, in fact, violating those values. . . .
But if the other villages kept the practice of female genital cutting and insisted on it for marriage, then the village Molly was working with would be isolated; its young people might find no marriage partners, and they’d probably return to the practice. Somehow, all the villages had to agree—none could change all alone.
The imam in the village and Molly discussed this worry, and he said that change needed to happen. ‘I will get this done,’ he said. . . .
He convinced all the villages to abandon female genital cutting—all together and all at once. In that region of Senegal, parents no longer faced a choice between cutting their daughters or forcing them to live as outcasts.
The movement quickly spread to other villages, and even other nations—led in large part by villagers whose lives the program had touched. Before long, people were questions other harmful practices, too.
In one Senegalese village where Tostan [a Wolof word; the English translation is ‘breakthrough’] had created a program, parents had forced their daughters to marry when they were as young as 10. People there began talking in their Tostan class about how early marriages were affecting girls. . . .
Today, 8,500 communities where Tostan works have promised that girls will not become child brides. According to Tostan, more than 3 million people in eight nations have said that they will no longer practice female genital cutting” [my emphasis] (p. 162-168).
Go to <https://www.tostan.org> to see more of what Tostan: Dignity for All is accomplishing.
And what’s happened to the Chinese one-child policy? Although it is now legal to have two children, most are happy with one child. They have assessed the costs, the reality of two working parents, the need to use their resources to the best in to one child instead of dividing the assets. The Chinese seem to have made that change from within now. Each couple is deciding themselves. 🙂
I’ve reassessed my glowing appraisal of the Chinese one-child policy now that I’m clear about what the government did to the women and babies. However, I still think the Chinese have very valued children.
We could use Tostan types of group discussions wherever we live. We too could consider and then work toward our ideal communities. What unexamined traditions do we practice that don’t really support our values?
Do we really need the “God-given right” to have guns? Is it really a reflection of our values when we separate children from their parents at our border? Do we really need huge houses when many people are homeless and many don’t have medical coverage? Is it okay to send your child to a private school since you can afford it while other children live in dangerous neighborhoods and have the least equipped schools? And really, do we need to be spending a majority of our tax dollars on the military? I’m sure you can think of other practices that would change if we had honest, inclusive discussions with everyone involved. What would you like discussed in your community? We could use Tostan facilitators everywhere in the world.
We could all be evolving to live in better ways.
“The skies were clearing, the remaining clouds scudding fast across the blue as Watergate Bay stretched endlessly ahead. We followed the beach, too fragile to face the up and down of the clifftop. The wide expanse of sand lay pristine and empty beyond the restaurants and cafés. The only person ahead came into focus as an old man with two spaniels. He stopped to speak as we passed.
‘Are you walking the coastal path?’
‘Some of it. To Land’s End a least.’
‘I’ve always wanted to do that . .. just walk for days and days.’
‘Then do it. Just pack a rucksack and do it now. You never know how long your fetch will be–depends on the wind'” (p. 129).
From: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn
“The uplifting true story of the couple who lost everything and embarked on a journey of salvation across the windswept South West coastline. …” Google Books
What do you want to do? Start now. Aloha, Renée
Today as I was volunteering and getting to share the latest in humpback whale information at the Maui Ocean Center, one group – a mom and her four daughters – seemed particularly interested. Most people at the Ocean Center come to see the many beautiful fish and other sea creatures, and I get to say a few facts as they pass by. But for this particular group, I got to tell about why the humpbacks don’t eat while they are in Hawaii, how the male humpback whales have the most complex acoustical display of any in the animal kingdom, and more. Since I could hear a slight accent, I asked the mom and girls where they were from — Saudi Arabia! Uncovered, unescorted, all speaking English well (and of course, Arabic, and they are learning French); the mom says that the women drive; the girls are learning guitar too, and tomorrow, they are taking hula lessons at their hotel. The mom said that life in Saudi Arabia isn’t really as it is portrayed in the news. I asked if they were afraid of traveling in the U.S. They said, “No.” They are having a wonderful time and find everyone friendly. They see the sensational news as just the news. I would have loved getting to know them.
That seeking out of people, especially ones from cultures much different than his own is what Rick Steves shares in his book Travel as a Political Act, which offers many significant insights. For instance, in describing his time in Iran, Rick Steves notes,
“It’s not easy finding a middle ground between the ‘Great Satan’ and the ‘Axis of Evil.’ Some positions (such as President Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust) are just plain wrong. But I don’t entirely agree with many in my own government, either. Yes, there are evil people in Iran. Yes, the rhetoric and policies of Iran’s leaders can be objectionable. But there is so much more to Iran than the negative image drummed into us by our media and our government.
I left Iran impressed more by what we have in common than by our differences. Most Iranians, like most Americans, simply want a good life and a safe homeland for their loved ones. Just like my country, Iran has one dominant ethnic group and religion that’s struggling with issues of diversity and change–liberal versus conservative, modern versus traditional, secular versus religious. As in my own hometown, people of great faith are suspicious of people of no faith or a different faith. Both societies seek a defense against the onslaught of modern materialism that threatens their traditional ‘family values.’ Both society are suspicious of each other, and both are especially suspicious of each other’s government.
When we travel–whether to the ‘Axis of Evil’ or just to a place where people yodel when they’re happy, or fight bulls to impress the girls, or can’t serve breakfast until today’s croissants arrive — we enrich our lives and better understand our place on the planet. We undercut groups that sow fear, hated, and mistrust. People-to-people connections help us learn that we can disagree and still coexist peacefully.
Granted, there’s no easy solution, but surely getting to know Iranian culture is a step in the right direction. Hopefully, even the most skeptical will appreciate the humanity of 70 million Iranian people. Our political leaders sometimes make us forget that all of us on this small planet are equally precious children of God. Having been to Iran and meeting its people face-to-face, I feel this more strongly than ever” (p. 192-193).
Wherever you are, find someone of a different culture–listen, reflect, and learn. Talk to people with accents; you are likely to be glad when they share something of their lives.
If you can’t go traveling tomorrow, get Rick Steves’ Travel as a Political Act.
Happy traveling; happy reading. Aloha, Renée
Banner photo: Rick Steves with schoolgirls in Iran.
Call Me by My True Name
–by Thich Nhat Hanh (Jul 13, 2015)
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.
On March 23, 2017, President Trump signed the permit approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline – where Native American led protests, says Wikipedia, have united environmental groups, citizens, and politicians over the potential negative impacts of the Keystone XL project. The main issues are the risk of oil spills along the pipeline, which would traverse highly sensitive terrain, and 17% higher greenhouse gas emissions from the extraction of oil sands compared to extraction of conventional oil.
On that day, Mekasi Camp Horinek, a member of the Ponca Nation, told reporter Alleen Brown:
“I want to say thank you to the president for all the bad decisions that he’s making — for the bad cabinet appointments that he’s made and for awakening a sleeping giant. People that have never stood up for themselves, people that have never had their voices heard, that have never put their bodies on the line are now outraged. I would like to say thank you to President Trump for his bigotry, for his sexism,
[for his attacks on our environment, for his support of gun rights over the rights of our children to be safe in schools, for his attacks on immigrants – in this country that is filled with people whose ancestors came as immigrants, for snubbing our Allies and becoming cozy with ruthless dictators, for celebrating hate and disrespect, for filling the pockets of the richest from the suffering of the poorest, . . .]
for bringing all of us in this nation together to stand up and unite”
From: Naomi Klein’s NO IS NOT ENOUGH: Resisting Trump’s Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need, p. 190-191.
Let’s stand together and VOTE on November 6th.
Aloha, in light and action, Renée
Ilana Fernandez, Psy. D. is mother of NINE children: seven step-children and two biological! She has experience raising children, “the best training of all.” Plus she earned a Doctorate of Psychology, practices psychotherapy, gives parenting classes and workshops, and trains other professions. Dr. Fernandez has written the best parenting book I have ever read. IF KIDS CAME WITH INSTRUCTIONS STEP #1 WOULD BE CHERISH YOUR CHILD EACH DAY IN SOME WAY has many practical and inspiring guidelines.
One of my favorite ideas is “Peace Talks.”
Ilana notes, “One of the more effective techniques I learned about helping children learn how to solve their own problems in a non-violent way was from a tape that my mom sent me from Canada by a parent educator named Barbara Calarosa. . . . I’ve come to call it peace talks. It is worth explaining to children that it is very much like what our world leaders do when they come together to solve their conflicts with one another.
- Siblings or fighting peers sit in chairs facing one another just out of kicking or reaching range. [Ilana’s experience with children shines through here].
- The main rule is neither person can get up from the chair until the other person says they can. This forces them to reach a consensus that they have at least made peace for the time being, if not an agreement.
- Usually one person is especially mad and they swear they aren’t going to let the other person up. Comments like “you can sit there until your face falls off for all I care” are common. The hitch is they can’t get up either until they let the person up. This leads, invariably, to a discussion of what the real problem is beneath the anger.
- They learn to communicate and problem solve and they are forced to listen and be heard by the other person. . . .
Hash it out until each is ready to let the other person up. You can at least model respectful language and talking from the heart” (129-131).
You can find out more about Dr. Ilana Fernandez at https://www.mauimetamorphosis.com/
Aloha – in peace & light, Renée
The small book by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles shares advice from the residents of the Japanese village with the highest percentage of 100-year-olds in the world. In addition to the wisdom about purposeful, active, shared lives of these seniors, the authors note the importance of the Japanese concepts of wabi-sabi and ichi-go ichi-e.
“Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that shows us the beauty of the fleeting, changeable, and imperfect nature of the world around us. Instead of searching for beauty in perfection, we should look for it things that are flawed, incomplete.
This is why the Japanese place such value, for example, on an irregular or cracked teacup. Only things that are imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral can truly be beautiful, because only those things resemble the natural world.
A complementary Japanese concept is that of ichi-go ichi-e, which could be translated as ‘This moment exists only now and won’t come again.’ It is heard most often in social gatherings as a reminder that each encounter –whether with friends, family, or strangers–is unique and will never be repeated, meaning that we should enjoy the moment and not lose ourselves in worries about the past or the future.
The concept is commonly used in tea ceremonies, Zen meditation, and Japanese martial arts, all of which place emphasis on being present in the moment.
In the West, we’ve grown accustomed to the permanence of the stone buildings and cathedrals of Europe, which sometimes gives us the sense that nothing changes, making us forget about the passage of time. Greco-Roman architecture adores symmetry, sharp lines, imposing facades, and buildings and statues of the gods that outlast the centuries.
Japanese architecture, on the other hand, doesn’t try to be imposing or perfect, because it is built in the spirit of wabi-sabi. The tradition of making structures out of wood presupposes their impermanence and the need for future generations to rebuild them. Japanese culture accepts the fleeting nature of the human being and everything we create.
The Grand Shrine of Ise, for example, has been rebuilt every twenty years for centuries. The most important thing is not to keep the building standing for generations, but to preserve customs and traditions–things that can withstand the passage of time better than structures made by human hands.
The key is to accept that there are certain things over which we have no control, like the passage of time and the ephemeral nature of the world around us.
Ichi-go ichi-e teaches us to focus on the present and enjoy each moment that life brings us. This is why it is so important to find and pursue our ikigai [a meaning and purpose in life that keeps you busy or as the New York Post says, “ ikigai is the art of doing something—and doing it with supreme focus and joy”].
Wabi-sabi teaches us to appreciate the beauty of imperfection as an opportunity for growth” . . .
One step in lasting longer and being happier in your life is –
“Get rid of the things that make you fragile . . .
Ask yourself: What makes me fragile? Certain people, things, and habits generate losses for us and make us vulnerable. Who and what are they?
When we make our New Year’s resolutions, we tend to emphasize adding new challenges to our lives. It’s great to have this kind of objective, but setting ‘good riddance’ goals can have an even bigger impact. For example:
- Stop snacking between meals
- Eat sweets only once a week
- Gradually pay off all debt
- Avoid spending time with toxic people
- Avoid spending time doing things we don’t enjoy, simply because we feel obligated to do them
- Spend no more than twenty minutes on Facebook per day.
To build resilience into our lives, we shouldn’t fear adversity, because each setback is an opportunity for growth. If we adopt an antifragile attitude, we’ll find a way to get stronger with every blow, refining our lifestyle and staying focused on our ikigai.
Taking a hit or two can be viewed as either a misfortune or an experience that we can apply to all areas of our lives, as we continually make corrections and set new and better goals. As Taleb writes in Antifragile, ‘We need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near traumatic episodes, all these things that make life worth living.’ . . .
Life is pure imperfection, as the philosophy of wabi-sabi teaches us, and the passage of time shows us that everything is fleeting, but if you have a clear sense of your ikigai, each moment will hold so many possibilities that it will seem almost like an eternity” (p. 172-179).
No matter your age, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life is likely to give you useful ideas on how to lead a good life.
“[T]he Count had opted for the life of the purposefully unrushed. Not only was he disinclined to race toward some appointed hour—disdaining even to wear a watch—he took the greatest satisfaction when assuring a friend that a worldly matter could wait in favor of a leisurely lunch or a stroll along the embankment. . . .
When all was said and done, the endeavors that most modern men saw as urgent (such as appointments with bankers and the catching of trains), probably could have waited, while those they deemed frivolous (such as cups of tea and friendly chats) had deserved their immediate attention” (391).
From: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles (I recommend this well-written novel)
Take time for a friend today – and make time for a good book too. Fulfilling these two resolutions each day will likely result in a wonderful 2018.
Happy New Year.
“There are three ways,” says Deepak Chopra, “to break down old conditioning:
— reflection, contemplation, and meditation. Their power increases in that order. . . .
Reflection–taking a second look at old habits, beliefs, and assumptions.
Contemplation–focusing on a thought or image until it expands as far as it can.
Meditation–finding the level of the mind that isn’t conditioned.
From: Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul, p. 59-60.
Meditating can elevate us out of old, negative patterns.
Take the time. Do it.
Photos in Bali by RR