Through a Jungian Lens

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Discovering Simplicity – Wabi-Sabi

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Water lily at season's end

A lot of walking in different parks and along various canals that intersect the city of Changzhou has meant that I have again taken a lot of photos such as this one that I found in Qing Feng Park in the western part of this city, or should I say Greater Changzhou which includes towns and villages in a prefecture style urban government.

Since it is autumn, there is no surprise that many of the images I am taking show scenes of autumn in terms of colour and texture.  This is the season of wabi-sabi, about how we are just temporary organisms in context of a larger context. Wabi-sabi shows itself in the “less than perfect” that comes with aging, the breakdown of anything from its peak of existence, that one moment of perfection.  Taking a few words from Wikipedia:

The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (sanboin), specifically impermanence (mujo), the other two being suffering (dukkha) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (sunyata).

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.”

I sense that for me, as  human, the moment of shifting from the rising to whatever it would have been for my body to be perfect, to the beginning of descent into a simpler state happened at the age of about 35, when I set personal bests for running 10K, 20K and marathons. I was at a physical peak and then the slide started. It wasn’t so noticeable to others, but I could tell – I was becoming slower and I hurt more with training.

But, that was only in terms of the physical me. My mental growth continued (in my perception) until . . . and I find I can’t complete that thought as I don’t know how to measure it. If anything, with wabi-sabi as it is defined, the refinement of the psyche continues on until the psyche ceases to have a conscious awareness of itself. This fits with Jung’s idea of individuation.  With individuation there is a growth of consciousness, of awareness of self, and others in relation to self, and of the whole in relation to self. With the growth in psychic awareness, there is a an appreciation of how the whole becomes much simpler, less fractured and scattered.


Written by Robert G. Longpré

October 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm

2 Responses

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  1. I relate well to this. As the body ages there is indeed an accompanying appreciation for wholeness and simplicity. With that appreciation there is an acceptance of the natural cycle which is a part of life; the cycle of growth, decay and death. And with that acceptance comes the seeing of things as they are, wilted down to their barest essence and completely authentic. Or as you say: Wabi-sabi.

    Or maybe we are just old men reading way too much in funny Japanese words 😉


    October 9, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    • I like these funny Japanese words, and the strange Chinese ones as well. Thanks Cedric for your post and your celebration of getting older. 🙂


      October 10, 2011 at 5:10 pm

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