Yoga Meditation Monks and Mountain Zen

Wabi~Sabi – the art of imperfection

Two of my great life loves (yoga teaching & travel) where always going to find each other, in some form and in some beautiful moment in time. In October I found myself in Japan with 11 willing women who trusted me to lead them on my Yoga Meditation Monks and Mountain Zen yoga retreat. The retreat was designed to highlight some of Japan’s most exquisite places and spaces; to offer insight into the underlying philosophy of kindness and respect that is bespoke of Japanese culture; to practice yoga and meditation and integrate the teachings of the Yamas and Niyamas (first two limbs of Pantanjali’s eight fold path) in a focused and real way.

The day I was flying out, my 11 year old son said to me: “Remember Mum, it is not all going to go exactly as you have planned, but it will still be great”. As simply and and as beautifully as that, he expressed the sentiment of Wabi~Sabi - an aesthetic that underpins many Japanese art forms.

Wabi- Sabi can be interpreted as finding beauty in imperfection. It is a philosophy that recognises, accepts and celebrates the transience and impermanence of the natural world, and ourselves. Thus, allowing us to relax into our experiences without needing them to be perfect, knowing that our imperfect bits tell a story, that the rusty edges and the rough finishes reflect our authenticity. What a delicious freedom that serves.

The experience of traveling with this group of women, who spanned three decades in age and came from varied places, perspectives and personalities, was an immersion in going with the flow; a tableau of beautiful, real women prepared to know and show more of themselves, through sharing life stories, onsens, deep yoga practices, and adventures.

 As we travelled together, we supported each other, and under the perfect blue autumn skies, with colour exploding across the mountains, our cracks lit up with sunlight, laugh lines deepened. We welcomed the teardrop of recognition; a remembrance of Self. We practiced being more gentle with ourselves (ahimsa); and sought to discover our own truth (satya). We observed our attachments to things, ideas, being “right” (aparigraha). We noticed what fear drives us to “steal” from the moment (asteya). We considered how we could use our energy for our highest good (bramacharya). These discoveries were revealed in a magical sunset atop the Japanese Alps; or in a simple wooden teahouse on an ancient path; a felt sense of “coming home” inside a dark quiet temple.

Half way through Japan and our retreat we turned toward Kyoto and the Niyamas. The Japanese ritualistic attention to cleanliness, provided ample examples of how we can “clean up our act” to allow Divine Light to shine freely (saucha). Each day we were gifted with an experience, a view, a connection that created a deep sense of contentment, providing an internal locus of joy and abundance (santosha). The “perfect” itinerary forced us to dig deep, and travel hard, and we were empowered by our physicality, our focused energy and self-discipline (tapas). In the yoga practices, we steadied ourselves and observed “Who am I? What do I need to know now?” (svadhyaya).  In Savasana, in our meals together, in our delight in our surroundings, we celebrated the Divine - and surrendered to the mystery (isvara pranidhana).

The Yamas and Niyamas are like an experienced tour guide, directing us toward a soulful and meaningful life.  Wabi-Sabi speaks to simplicity and humility. When we take a trip away from what we know and what holds us, we often begin the journey back to ourselves. What wise counsel the Yamas and Niyamas provided us on this tour.  What a soft landing Wabi-Sabi created.

We had opportunity to experience traditional multi-course Japanese dinners, called Kaiseki-ryori. These meals were served with utmost attention to detail, and were visually stunning. The meal would be presented wabi-sabi style - many different bowls, different shapes and designs, but all grouped in an aesthetic that was visually arresting, while tantalising the tastebuds. I liken the Yamas and Niyamas to these bowls of sustenance and nourishment.  I often took a bite without really knowing what to expect.  I was always delighted. Each taste offered new knowledge and a new appreciation of the world around me.

I turn for home with my son’s words planted in my heart – “it won’t go exactly as you have planned, but it will be great” – so great. It was more than great to take new paths and get lost with my tribe, over these 12 days.  Missed rail connections were spent eating local delicacies and sharing photos and laughs.  A race in the rain to our Zen Master led us to a deeper understanding of our habits, our patterns, our understanding of the duality of Self.

 I bow deeply to the Japanese people who generously shared their time and love with us along the way.  They were integral to the opportunity we had to integrate compassion and self-acceptance in our exploration of ways to better serve each other and ourselves.

In the words of Leonard Cohen “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”. Our collective “flawed beauty” revealed incredible light. What crack in your shell can you lacquer with love, so that it shines for all to see?

Maree Taylor is YogaHeart: a yogi, a traveller, a teacher, a mama, a lover of life, immersed in the mystery and riding it’s wave.  (Follow on IG @yoga.heart

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