“Where the mood of the moment is solitary and quiet it is called sabi. When the artist is feeling depressed or sad, and in this particular emptiness of feeling catches a glimpse of something rather ordinary and unpretentious in its incredible ’suchness,’ the mood is called wabi. When the moment evokes a more intense, nostalgic sadness, connected with autumn and the vanishing away of the world, it is called aware.”
– Alan Watts, “Zen in the Arts”
Let’s talk for a moment of the autumn and the vanishing away of the world.
Because I am the first, it seems, to perceive the fall season every year. Or, at least conversationally, when I bring it up in mid-August nobody else seems to perceive the subtle shifting of temperature and light, the yellow leaves that have begun to fall already.
I think it’s because I was raised in a rural area. I sense it. My mood (and subsequent artistic output) has always been tied to the weather and seasons, and I hear that’s true for others. Prescience.
And this year there have been few things to mark the passing of time besides the seasons. Events and festivals are gone; weekends feel arbitrary.
I remember the beginning of quarantine with the hysteria and the hoarding, the Tiger King binge-watching, and hand sanitizer. And then everything got… well, there’s Zoom fatigue now. And general blah. And just fatigue all around. The novelty of a mask is gone now. Everything just is, day after day.
At my best, I accept this wholly. I celebrate the death of office culture. I feel like I’m at my finest when I can stop moving and hold still, occupying the moment and picking up on the first autumnal clues. Today I collected rosehips by the river path. I will make tea this evening.
“The world” indeed vanishes away (that verse from my childhood — “don’t you know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?”). Beyond my hermitage in the working-class section of a Pacific Northwest mill town there lies a river valley. This summer I have explored it restlessly on a bicycle.
But now, autumn approaching, I seek rest. I want to sit quietly and quit my flailing. My concentration has come back sevenfold. I read entire books. I sit still and draft entire articles in one sitting.
I’m not sure that there’s a pattern or through-line or narrative to my thoughts today. I am telling you what I’m doing now.
I am writing more — fiction, even. I’m watching my apples ripen. I play board games with my children. And soon enough I’ll put on my flannel shirt and watch the autumn light on the calendula.
There is no symbolism in this beyond what I attribute to it.
The “suchness” of the world is remarkable.
If someone hadn’t thrown the e-brake on the planet I may have gone years or decades without bearing witness to the present.