Lately, and strangely, everything points to Japan. An Englishwoman writer who is a remote mentor, and successful writer, spent seven years in Japan, and wrote her first book about it. There has been much in my circles about Haiku, and I have spent several multi-day workshops around it in the past two to three years. I’m not too impressed, I was leaning harder into Haiku as a perceptual home, prior to trying to study it. And then there are my daily flirtations with Zen. I even sit in an online Zen Center from time to time. Though I have no desire to learn Japanese, the chants enter my body as part of my mourning and part of my joy, every time witness and practice the ritual. I have also been introduced to the concept of Kintsugi, the art of making broken things the very focal point of art; to take a broken ceramic teapot, for example, and glue it back together, with the entire focus the gilded cracks now so visible, now so beautiful.
Again, I find this sudden presentation of focus, strange, but with a sense that there is a garden there to tend. But seriously, I do not know what is growing.
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that good living, and the good writing that attempts to sketch a definitive perimeter around it, is never to die. That’s because it touches something deeply in every life that is ever lived. It is sobering to reflect that only fortunate get to read about it.
As if accentuating the current notes of my life, someone introduced me to something else new to me.
I got very excited recently, as a writer fellow directed me to her blog. In it, she massages and breaks into the pablum that even I can dig deeper with, the introduction by Sam Hamill to Basho’s “Narrow Road to the Interior.” The famous Haiku poet, Basho, constructed this poem as if it were one large travel diary. It is as if I have something new to lean into, because of her scholarship, because of the bite size pieces. It is as if someone went to all the trouble to take my American TV Dinner soul, and somehow, made a beautifully crafted, aesthetically exquisite meal of raw sushi, plopped it down onto my sectioned aluminum tin platter, and made it something I simply see as my tomorrow, as well as my sustenance for today. All this in just the translator’s introduction.
Let me share a little bit of it with you. Three concepts are at the central. Not to say there isn’t more, but yes, let’s stay bite sized for the moment.
Kokai! (The exclamation point is mine.) Basho sought Kokai, that is, to always have written without regret. Nothing in the writing, too much. Nothing in the writing, left out. And always, the interpenetration of the immense outer world into the tiny interior one, so intermingled, that none of the stink of ego remains!
…With ourselves left out, there is all the room for the world in our writing: Kajitsu. In our writing, there must be a surface beauty, to justify to the reader the time given to generously read the work of one who is the other, perhaps the Other with a capital Oh. We must give them something of beauty as a gift, at the top. But this is not enough. There must also be a depth in the work, so that the reader is not betrayed by false cloying, or simpering tinsel. No, there must be something the reader can walk with, on the long walk of the rest of their life, in every piece we dare to present to them. And this combination of surface beauty and depth, which must go together) which seems to go hand in hand with the third concept…
Kokoro. Which is bringing it home to the mix the utter frailty and heartfelt fragility of the human condition, the humanity of heart). There is so much here to infuse into, and I have not done as good a job as Sam Hamill and my scholar friend, I beg your pardon on my quick thumbnail sketch here. But I know I will be touching these concepts more, with my shattered Kintsugi soul, as a way to walk long with my obsession with how time is both my friend, and my grief.
…Friendships and grief never die. We simply pass the baton, best we can. We do honor the best so well with Kokai, Kajitsu, and Kokoro in mind.