Removing the nonessential is a key element of simplicity, yet deceptively difficult to accomplish. We need reminding. I was reminded today while looking out the window at home at our pine tree which is in great need of pruning. Our own lives need a conscious self-pruning of sorts to stay focused on what is important. (Click Keynote slide above for actual size.)
Exposing ourselves to traditional Japanese aesthetic ideas — notions that may seem quite foreign to most of us — is a good exercise in lateral thinking, a term coined by Edward de Bono in 1967. “Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perception,” says de Bono. Beginning to think about design by exploring the tenets of the Zen aesthetic may not be an example of Lateral Thinking in the strict sense, but doing so is a good exercise in stretching ourselves and really beginning to think differently about visuals and design in our everyday professional lives. The principles of Zen aesthetics found in the art of the traditional Japanese garden, for example, have many lessons for us, though they are unknown to most people. The principles are interconnected and overlap; it’s not possible to simply put the ideas in separate boxes. Thankfully, Patrick Lennox Tierney (a recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun in 2007) has a few short essays elaborating on the concepts. Below are just seven design-related principles (there are more) that govern the aesthetics of the Japanese garden and other art forms in Japan. Perhaps they will stimulate your creativity or get you thinking in a new way about your own design-related challenges.
Seven principles for changing your perception
Kanso (簡素) Simplicity or elimination of clutter. Things are expressed in a plain, simple, natural manner. Reminds us to think not in terms of decoration but in terms of clarity, a kind of clarity that may be achieved through omission or exclusion of the non-essential.
Fukinsei (不均整) Asymmetry or irregularity. The idea of controlling balance in a composition via irregularity and asymmetry is a central tenet of the Zen aesthetic. The enso (“Zen circle”) in brush painting, for example, is often drawn as an incomplete circle, symbolizing the imperfection that is part of existence. In graphic design too asymmetrical balance is a dynamic, beautiful thing. Try looking for (or creating) beauty in balanced asymmetry. Nature itself is full of beauty and harmonious relationships that are asymmetrical yet balanced. This is a dynamic beauty that attracts and engages.
Shibui/Shibumi (渋味) Beautiful by being understated, or by being precisely what it was meant to be and not elaborated upon. Direct and simple way, without being flashy. Elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. The term is sometimes used today to describe something cool but beautifully minimalist, including technology and some consumer products. (Shibui literally means bitter tasting).
Shizen (自然) Naturalness. Absence of pretense or artificiality, full creative intent unforced. Ironically, the spontaneous nature of the Japanese garden that the viewer perceives is not accidental. This is a reminder that design is not an accident, even when we are trying to create a natural-feeling environment. It is not a raw nature as such but one with more purpose and intention.
Yugen (幽玄) Profundity or suggestion rather than revelation. A Japanese garden, for example, can be said to be a collection of subtleties and symbolic elements. Photographers and designers can surely think of many ways to visually imply more by not showing the whole, that is, showing more by showing less.
Datsuzoku (脱俗) Freedom from habit or formula. Escape from daily routine or the ordinary. Unworldly. Transcending the conventional. This principles describes the feeling of surprise and a bit of amazement when one realizes they can have freedom from the conventional. Professor Tierney says that the Japanese garden itself, “…made with the raw materials of nature and its success in revealing the essence of natural things to us is an ultimate surprise. Many surprises await at almost every turn in a Japanese Garden.”
Seijaku (静寂)Tranquility or an energized calm (quite), stillness, solitude. This is related to the feeling you may have when in a Japanese garden. The opposite feeling to one expressed by seijaku would be noise and disturbance. How might we bring a feeling of “active calm” and stillness to ephemeral designs outside the Zen arts?
• Read more about The Nature of Japanese Garden Art by Patrick Lennox Tierney at Bonsai Beautiful dot com.
• Japanese Aesthetics (Stanford Encyclopedia).
• Enso: Zen Circles of Enlightenment (book)
from presentation zen
Allow me to share a simple idea from the art of tea or Sadou, “the way of tea.” You may think that the traditional art of Sadou (茶道) is a strange place to glean lessons that can be applied to various aspects of our daily lives, but the simple practical lessons from the Zen arts run deep and wide. Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会) is a concept connected to the way of tea; it expresses the ideal of the way of tea. Roughly translated the phrase means “one time, one meeting” or “one encounter; one opportunity.” In the way of tea we should respect the host and the others in the garden and the tea room and honor the moment as if it were a once-in-a-lifetime gathering. That is, we should cherish every meeting for it will never happen again. Ichi-go ichi-e is a reminder that each tea ceremony is unique even though the elements are familiar.
This moment will never happen again
Ichi-go ichi-e is an expression that reminds me to slowdown and appreciate each “meeting,” especially with my children. So this is why the rate of posts to presentation zen have slowed (and the rate of baby pics to facebook have increased). I have more books in the works and I’ll be sharing as much content as I can more regularly on many topics related to presentations, creativity, education, and so on. Although I am less productive, I thank you for your support and for all your emails and comments over the years. It means a lot. I’ll do my best to get more useful information published on the presentation zen website in a speedier fashion.
About three years ago, the rate of new blog posts to presentation zen declined. It was not for a lack of ideas; I have folders full of ideas and samples that I would like to share. However, three years ago this April something extraordinary happened (well, extraordinary for my wife and me at least): our first child, a girl, was born in Osaka. And last February, our second child, a boy, was born in the same hospital. It’s a cliché to say, but children change everything. Immediately upon holding my girl for the first time some 36 months ago, I felt as if I had somehow fundamentally changed. This study suggests that perhaps my brain was even changing: “A father sprouts supplemental neurons in his brain and experiences hormonal changes after the birth of a child.”
While my passion for work and keen interest in self-development and teaching and helping others with presentations, etc. did not decline in the least, I found that more and more things — everything, really — took a back seat to the simple concept of just being with my daughter (and now son as well). I still get frustrated sometimes because I do want to work more, but I also do not want to be away from family. One important thing my children have taught me is to appreciate each moment, even the seemingly inconsequential ones.
This slide above with a 16:9 aspect ratio features a photo from this week that tells a story. I was having my morning breakfast while trying to get through some email at home while my then 23-month old daughter, who I already fed, bathed and dressed, was playing nearby. While I was trying to get some work in and enjoy a cup of coffee, my daughter suddenly climbs up into my lap and takes my toast. Do’h! I could look at it as a kind of workus interruptus, but I have learned to just go with the flow and enjoy these moments. Of course, this explains why my email-answering skills have suffered. And yet, c’est la vie.
Forever but never again
This idea of ichi-go ichi-e reminded me of a line from a famous jazz ballad from 1949 called “Again” (Mark Murphy’s Stolen Moments version is my favorite; here are the lyrics). There is nothing “Zen” about the lyrics or their origins, of course, but there is one line from the song that has stayed with me since I bought the Mark Murphy album when I was 16: “We’ll have this moment forever, but never again.” I didn’t understand that line when I was in high school, but it stuck with me. Now those simple eight words are almost a kind of mantra for me; and the meaning is clear and illuminating.
Above: The slide above looks a bit sappy perhaps out of context, something like a Hallmark card (I took the photo a few years ago at Bondi Beach just 20 minutes from downtown Sydney). But the point I am making when I speak in front of this visual is about appreciating the moment of whatever it is you’re engaged in—a concert, a speech, a lesson…or a walk with a friend. And of course, spending time with your children. This is the moment, there are no other moments.
(By the way, the subtitle for the movie “Forrest Gump” in Japanese is ichi-go ichi-e. I suppose this is because the Forrest Gump character appreciated every moment and every chance encounter without a thought of being anywhere except where he was at that moment. See the movie poster in Japanese.)