We are Wabi Sabi
By Hobie Hare
“Attune to the fact that nothing in nature is judging you,
or wishing you were any different than you are.”
—Mark Coleman, Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path to Self Discovery.
I lived and worked in Japan for two years in the 1980s, and still remember how busy, crowded, and paved over it was at that time, with about 30 million people calling the Tokyo metro area home. As of 2015, according to the U.N. World Population Prospects Report, that number is now closer to 38 million residents.
I didn’t escape megalopolis as often as I wished to, but ventured to Hokkaido twice, where there was a lot more elbow room, with several national parks providing refuge for frazzled city dwellers, and for once-wider-ranging wildlife such as bears, foxes, and deer.
During that time, I learned to speak something resembling survival or conversational Japanese, peppered with slang my English-learning friends and students loved to teach me. But one expression, wabi sabi, I learned from my soulmate, Erik, in Montana, and its meaning continues to guide and shape my journey on many different levels.
“Wabi sabi” first came to Erik when he was studying ceramics while earning an art degree at the University of Montana. Years later, after we had first moved in together, I tried creating different things on his potter’s wheel. Yet often, instead of acknowledging my progress after things came out of the kiln, I became frustrated with the results.
“It’s uneven, kind of wobbly, and asymmetrical,” I lamented to Erik after one of my earliest ceramic creations came out of the kiln.
“Actually, it’s king of wabi sabi,” Erik responded. “Perfectly imperfect, like just about everything in nature and the world.” He shared that wabi sabi was characteristic of most ceramics up until a few centuries ago. “I really like how you just went for it and followed your own instincts. It’s kinda cool.”
The Chinese invented ceramic slip casting a few thousand years ago, yet the mass production of uniform ceramics did not happen until plaster of paris became more commonly used in the early 1700s. Before then, most things made by hand were very wabi sabi. The same went for porcelain, until the British wrested market control from the Chinese, beginning with the Spode brand of bone china in the 1760s.
Wabi sabi. Perfectly imperfect. A reminder to not force things to be a certain way, to be cookie cutter in my actions and interactions, or become easily derailed and discouraged. To let go of judging and getting fired up over things happening in an accelerating time amplified by 24/7 news cycles. Wabi sabi reminds me that in nature and in the “real world,” there appears to be no definitive black and white or right and wrong. Both gray and ambiguity are okay.
In nature, there are no favorites or misfits. We all belong and are important to the whole, even wolves, grizzly bears, newcomers, immigrants—especially people who may look, speak, believe, and see the world differently than those who managed to get here sooner.
The US is 241 years young this July, yet as a nation we continue to struggle with what it means to be or to become an American. Slamming doors and erecting barriers has never made that any easier. You could have been born in the USA or forcibly brought here not that long ago, but treated mighty poorly and not considered citizens, as Native Americans and African Americans experienced. Waves of Irish, Asian, and countless other generations of immigrants nearly all experienced discrimination, violence, and resistance, to differing degrees. Women finally got to vote nationwide in 1920, long after the National American Woman Suffrage Association convened in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848.
Our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will continue to be tested, contested, and disputed. Today, American-born children of undocumented immigrants are caught in a tug of war to remain united with their families in the US. LGBTQ Americans continue fighting for full recognition, equal protection and treatment under the law.
I had my own struggles as a closeted gay man working in Yellowstone in the early 2000s. I was unsure if I belonged and could do the work I was called to do without being fired or harmed for whom I love. Things have changed dramatically since that time, but it’s never a done deal for any of us. We have to keep showing up for each other and for those who do not have a voice in order to have a seat at the table. To paraphrase the late Shirley Chisholm, if there’s not a seat at the table for you, bring a folding chair.
Within Yellowstone National Park’s boundaries, the landscape and environment is largely wabi sabi. Park management mandates allowing natural processes to occur unimpeded as much as possible. Nature runs the show, not people, and that’s rare. That teaches me humility. That teaches me to respect and value so many things I’ll never fully understand that are still worth keeping and having.
In the park, you’ll see forests, grasslands, and other places impacted by wildfires regenerating in mosaic patterns. You might glimpse gray wolves or grizzly bears, nearly extirpated from the lower 48 US states, living where they can still roam freely, in contrast to outside protected areas where they’re sometimes viewed as dangerous and incompatible with human interests. The same goes for bison wandering outside Yellowstone. Within the park, they’re insiders that belong. Beyond its boundaries, they’re largely outsiders, facing a stark and, at times, fatal reception.
Boundaries between the developed world and the natural world are rather wabi sabi. No walls or doors or gates can ever stop the inevitable arc of change from entering. Perhaps it’s in these places and spaces where we can learn to be less wary and distrustful of differences and, instead, embrace empathy and understanding.
Whether we’re a melting pot, a salad bowl, or some other configuration as a nation now, one undeniable, indivisible thread continues: to courageously examine and acknowledge our blind spots, to make course corrections and address injustices, to be open-minded and respectful of differences, to do our best, and learn from the past and the present to make tomorrow a better place.
We are all wabi sabi.
With each seasonal change, Hobie Hare finds his way to Dunrovin Ranch to sit on the “porch swing” with SuzAnne to celebrate nature’s annual cycle. Hobie has a way of letting you close your eyes and follow his voice to that special natural space where your soul is replenished – no matter where your feet are. It is a gift that Hobie has to share, this ability to follow sounds, conjure the sights, and ask our minds to take us to nature to receive its many healing benefits, even when our entire body cannot there. It works and it is such a blessing.
Be sure to check our DaysAtDunrovin calendar for Hobie next visit. He also hosts a forum on the DaysAtDunrovin web site where he would love to hear from you!
You can connect personally with Hobie by visiting his web site at YourLifeNature where you will find meditation tapes and nature photographs to help build a nature connection into your daily life.