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Monday, August 1, 2011

An Asian Reverie

Our study, where I now sit contemplating the window, faces north. On these bright sunny winter mornings, the curtain shielding my eyes from the direct sunlight makes a screen for a shadow play that goes on throughout the morning. The apricot branches are bare but nature has arranged them perfectly, and their shadows play on the curtain. They’re still now, as if frozen by the frosty air. It’s that sort of day.

  Just by itself, this would make a pleasing backdrop for my thinking; one that Sei Shonagon would delight in and describe vividly in a whole chapter of the Pillow Book. Even the curtain is vaguely Japanese, with its horizontal lines and muted creamy colour. But wrens and several other tiny birds play amongst these branches outside, their moving shadows adding to the simple pleasure of a shadow play they don’t know or care about.

 I have my own wayang puppet show and my Japanese thoughts, all in the first five minutes of being here. Soon the sun will move on, and the screen will be empty; but that’s also as it should be. Mono no aware is the Japanese expression. Things are there for a little while, and then they disappear forever. One of the glories of the wildflower is that it won’t be here next week. Enjoy its presence while it exists. It’s the deeply Japanese, wistful version of carpe diem.

  I forget those other things, for a while at least. "It'll all be the same, a hundred years from now," so Mr Polly said. He's right and he's wrong.


  1. A lovely picture you paint, Denis; believe me, you help others appreciate the moment too.

    By the way, I will now sometimes respond to your blog when you stir a reaction. I have followed it at second hand via Julie, but you present some thought-provoking ideas and, when suitably provoked, I will contribute my tuppence-worth!

    I realise, however, that you have a lot to say and many friends to talk to, so don’t feel you have to get back to me every time I write. I enjoy expressing my stumbling thoughts to people who can really think, so this is largely about me!

    To shift focus just a little: Now everybody knows ... that Leonard Cohen knows and as a songwriter/singer he frequently enters the realms of philosophy and poetry. I like this one: “There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.”

    For me, that comes close to the Japanese concept of flaw in the perfection. For the Japanese, I think the flaw denotes the essential individuality of every single thing - the tiny flaw that accentuates the contrasting perfection. Would it be perfection if it were endlessly replicated?

    But for me, Leonard Cohen’s ‘crack’ is the flaw, or opening - in any context - through which knowledge, awareness or the unknown appear and, once seen, can be followed.

    So, on to my addiction to quotations: These sometimes encapsulate a world of meaning in a short, often pithy, phrase. The quotations I select, to a great extent, define me and my worldview. There is an ‘aha, that’s what it's all about’ factor’ in the quotations that appeal to me, or ... ‘now that is a thought I must explore further’.

    Quotations I like generally reveal a profound truth or a new (for me) insight into the everyday pattern of life.

    That's it for now.



  2. What a lovely post.
    I've been v pleased to see blue wrens and silver eyes in our garden this winter - I don't know if they've been absent and have come back because this year's been much colder for longer than it has for the last few years or if it's merely that I've been too inattentive. In any case, there is something very appealing about tiny birds.

  3. Bob: thank you for the comment, and your consideration. Don't worry, I'll respond only when I have something to say. Your quote reminded me immediately of bizen pottery, which appeals greatly to me. Like you, as I age, I find quotations to be something to reflect on. I'm less likely to take them at face value than I used to.

    Zoe: thanks so much. It pleases me that you enjoyed it. It's amazing to me that I may sit down with other thoughts in my head entirely, yet discover myself writing in some weird flash about the curtains! Very glad your little birds have returned. I fear our exotic pets give them all a terrible time, along with the currawongs. Their shadows on the curtains are often all I see of them. Maybe it's lucky I didn't drift into Plato's cave of shadows instead. The Japanese thoughts were more satisfying at that moment.

  4. My mother nurses a passionate loathing of currawongs, based on a lifetime's observation of their cruel ways.

  5. I remember when I owned 25 acres and there was a tiny tree outside the back door. There was a cute little nest in it made by some sort of finch. I marvelled when I spotted it first how quickly the babies grew from featherless to flying age – hardly more than a week, it seemed. They were so exposed. One by one they stood up one day and flew off like a flash. The last one flapped a little and off it flew, not 5 metres, when a currawong swooped took it in mid-air, and the little bird disappeared down its throat.
    I’ve seen others go into hedges and tear little nests apart and swallow all the babies.
    ‘It’s their dharma,’ Dev would have said. She did say it of mosquitoes when she brushed them off her arm instead of killing them. ‘Then it’s my dharma to do this,’ I remember saying, inflicting a mortal blow on MY mozzie. ‘Bugger theirs.’


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