An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of August 29, 2004
Issued from a few miles east of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

ON LIVING GRACEFULLY

If I were less secure about my manner of living I might seek assurance from the outside world that I am not completely loony because of my enthusiasm for such things as three kinds of morning-glory vine mingling on a garden fence. If I were to seek that assurance, I might find it by recalling one of the most highly developed, sophisticated cultures humanity has ever produced -- that of Japan centuries ago. No culture has surpassed that one in terms of producing exquisite art, from literature and painting to stoneware and textiles.

The standard against which the ancient Japanese judged the grace and perfection of all things was, in full agreement with my own notions, Nature.

On the Internet I have found a fine little book by Boyé Lafayette De Mente called Japanese Secrets of Graceful Living. Accompanied by several woodcuts, the whole thing can be read in about half an hour. Here is a sample from the book, incidentally apropos of last week's thoughts on the sounds of insects:

"The purpose of the insect-hearing ceremony was to exercise man's feeling of affinity with nature and renew his spirit of being. If the Westerner will reflect for a moment he may recall short periods in the past when the sudden sound of a bird or insect on an otherwise quiet summery day would invoke such a feeling of poignant tranquility and well-being that he almost cried out with the joy of being alive. The Japanese deliberately seek this experience for prolonged periods."

If I were to seek support for the idea that a garden fence weedily overgrown with three kinds of morning glory on a certain dewy morning might be worthy of the profound admiration with which I regarded it, maybe I could find it in this quote from that little book:

"... it is not surprising to find that there are no commonly known foundations for recognizing and appreciating beauty in the West. In Japan, on the other hand, the main threads of the cultural fabric are pure aesthetics. ... Their model and standard for beauty is that which is natural or suggested by nature even including what most Westerners would generally describe as ugly."

I personally could not have survived ancient Japanese society. I would have rebelled against the interminable, mindless rituals and the unquestioning yielding to authority. Still, there is much to be said for a society focusing on "graceful living" instead of gross consumption and other forms of destructive self indulgence. I do believe that the ancient Japanese might have shared my reverence for three mingled morning-glory vines on a garden fence. Facebook Icon.