Some time in the 9th century, a woman named Ono no Komachi, about whom little is known, wrote the following poem:
A life in vain.
My looks, talents faded
like these cherry
blossoms paling in the endless rains
It would be hard to overstate the importance, over the centuries, of blooming cherry trees as signifying something special in Japanese aesthetics. On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, on the resource-poor islands which constitute Japan today, nothing could be taken for granted. Prone to the sudden misfortunes of monumental natural disasters, like earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanic eruptions, any appreciation of the good things in life was tempered with the knowledge it would not last forever. But rather than despair, this awareness granted Japanese thinkers and artists remarkable power, cultivating as they did a mindfulness about the present which is deceptively simple.
So what might we learn from the precepts that informed cherry blossom-gazers, as we confront another crisis which has most of us fixed in place, unable to control our own circumstances? I wrote an essay for Epic Magazine and Vox’s The Goods about just that. You can read it here. Please stay safe and healthy.