The Japanese expression wakei-seijyaku is made up of four characters – wa means harmony, kei is respect, sei stands for purity, and jyaku for serenity and appreciation. It means taking the time to deliberately ‘craft’ an experience of inner tranquility, to rest in the present noticing a moment of beauty.
During a time of a global pandemic, such a concept might seem sweet but irrelevant, better suited to happier times when it made sense to stop and smell the roses from time to time. And yes, there is a lot to be anxious about, on a personal but also a global level. The impact of the pandemic has been massive, and no one knows what the long-term effects of this upheaval will be. This is not a sprint, not even a marathon – there are likely to be some permanent changes to our way of life, but it will be some time before we have a sense of what this may look like.
One of the strengths of the human species is our adaptability to changing conditions. We can’t control everything which happens to us, and we have complex interpersonal and emotional lives which mean that our reactions to a crisis are also complex and deeply-felt. Yet we do have some choice about how we respond to our circumstances. For most of us, a certain amount of anxiety during this time is a given. It’s not helpful to ignore it, but neither do we need to add extra fuel to the fire. In the same way that a skilled craftsperson takes time and care to create a valuable object rather than a cheap piece of throw-away junk, so we can take the time and care to create some beautiful moments rather than just rushing through the days. We can use the skills of mindfulness and attention to enhance the fleeting special moments which are already there, and to also create some new ones.
I like the idea of ‘crafting’ some moments of beauty and tranquility, instead of just hoping they might suddenly arrive in our lives. To craft an object means to collect the necessary materials, to practise certain skills, and to set aside time and mental space to create new objects. We might ask ourselves – ‘what are the materials which I could gather for my moments of tranquility’? These are different for all of us – for some it might be time in nature, listening to music, baking bread, knitting, meditating or praying. Once we have these materials, how often can we practise with them? Who can guide and teach us, as the master craftsperson used to teach the apprentice? What helps me to create the time and mental space to consciously craft a few moments of calm, harmony and appreciation?
The Japanese tea ceremony creates a setting where every detail is designed to enable those who participate to experience it richly and fully. It has evolved over many generations, as have the rituals of other cultures which enable people to stop and simply experience the preciousness of the moment. We don’t need elaborate rituals, but it can help to deliberately cultivate the conditions which lead to moments of peace.
An aspect of wakei-seijyaku is that of appreciation, of having respect for what we have, and I have found that mindfulness often brings out these qualities in us. We may not have a Japanese garden with its own tea hut, but the act of making a cup of tea or coffee can become a mini tea ceremony in our lives, if we bring to it some of the qualities of wakei-seijyaku.
Set aside some time and reflect on what the ‘materials’ in your life are which can give you moments of inner peace. Without aiming to be ‘peaceful’ all the time, how can you use these ‘materials’ to cultivate small sanctuaries of tranquility in your life?