The Japanese have a phrase which most clearly expresses the melancholic feeling I get when I think about how beautiful the human experience is and yet, how brief. Mono no aware 物の哀れ, もののあはれ – with the closest translation being “the pathos of things”.
This emotion, so powerful and yet so subtle, for better or for worse, has become impregnated into my psyche, resting in my days so often. This rumination, hits me as I stare off wistfully into the distance of the day. It’s sobering effect can keep me grounded, reminding me to cherish each and every moment, but can fill me with angst, until overflowing. It’s delicate sadness trickles down the sides of the scene. Its found in the transience we experience everyday – we can never capture a moment, only acknowledge it.
I have noticed as I’ve aged, my nostalgic thoughts tinged with more and more shades of an indistinct sadness – as if some of the purity has been washed out. The warmth toned down, and a frigid mournfulness amplified. Perhaps it’s simply the distance change. It’s in times of great joy, excitement or progression, those big milestones, the hurdles leaped, I am sometimes ejected into the realisation that this too will become a moment of immense nostalgic value one day. The observation, this impermanence, brings the truest appreciation.
Another translation of mono no aware can be “the awareness of things”. This is my personal favourite interpretation, although more nuanced, and less descriptive, I feel it so eloquently, yet simple, portrays our continuous stream of conscious.
I noticed the moon hung in the twilight. I pulled my car over and made my way to the waters edge through the salty air. The sand flicked away from my heels as I walked. I love it when you can see the moon in the lit sky, a luminescent face smiling down on the sunset, colourful as a painters pallet. The wind glided over the breaking waves and brushed my exposed cheeks friendlily. Above, the clouds were parted, framing the seascape. It was inspiring. I took out my phone and captured a photo, as I did, the scenery was evolving – 7 vivid stripes vaulted out over the arena. A rainbow above a sunset, I didn’t even realise was a thing. I snapped away, skipping backwards eagerly to fit it in frame. And just as quickly as it came, it started to disappear behind the clouds.
Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did, and then, it was over. But did that change the experience – make it any less beautiful? Or did it make it more precious?
The next day, I pulled in at the same spot around sundown. The night was clear and free of clouds, the moon sitting lonelily beyond the ocean. As the vibrancy increased, it remained stuck in the middle of a bubblegum sky which popped out from behind with a theatric dusty pink and baby blue showing.
No two days are the same, but as long as I’m living, I will keep finding beauty. Often, it will keep finding me. Don’t let time slip by – love with intensity, act with unwavering commitment, explore with insatiable intrigue – live – grasp it, savour it, devour it, wholly and unreservedly, breathing in deeply everyday a genuine and profound gratitude.
I would like to bookend this post with a complimentary Japanese acuity – Ikigai 生き甲斐, “a reason for being”. Why we do what we do. A purpose. If not, finding greatest encouragement for a life lived completely in the duality of death and the constant that is time, accomplishing contentment in that which cannot be mastered, then what else is a more pure and true Ikigai?