27 January 2010

Rituals of Wabi: Worship of the Imperfect



[ source ]

Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japanese ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism— Teaism. Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary acceptance of; the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature. It is hygiene, for it enforces cleanliness; it is economics, for it shows comfort in simplicity rather than in the complex and costly; it is moral geometry, inasmuch as it defines our sense of proportion the universe.
- From The Book of Tea by Kakuz┼Ź Okakura.

There is the frame. And within the frame, balance.

What I am attempting to flesh out here is a way to approach the day either as a blank canvas or as a painting to worked upon. Two things: there is an aesthetic imperative and there is an end. Wendell Berry defined elegance as the balance of beauty and power. How do you structure your day to think and act with elegance?

The body is the foundation. The practice of going to the gym. Around this are a series of "frames", ritual steps that lead up to a singular moment of epiphaniacal ecstasy, the still point of the turning day, and decline away from it.

One of the fundamental differences between ritual and routine is this: in ritual, each moment, each act, no matter how seemingly trivial, is charged with meaning; in routine, you are merely going through the motions.

The World is charged with the grandeur of God.

The Japanese Tea Ceremony is an intensely ritualized practice that is intended to function as a transformative practice. One of the aesthetic requirements of this ritual is Wabi, to create a beauty that is impermanent, imperfect and incomplete - roughly corresponding to the Buddha's Three Marks of Existence: Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta.

My project is to ritualize my workouts at the gym into a ceremony similar to the Way of the Tea.

Here is the practice as it stands in early formation:


Inclining Frame 15
15 min. bike ride down to the Gym
As I travel down, I re-collect the days thoughts and various projects, organizing, restructuring, editing in my head

Liminal Frame 5
5 min. changing into appropriate clothes - check body weight

Core Rituals
For purpose of memory and discipline, all postures and exercises are in 3s of multiples of 3
1. Pectorals, Lats, Deltiods
2. Biceps, Triceps, Forearms
3. Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Calves

Aerobic - primary 24 min
24 min. cardio - currently, this is low impact: recumbent bike

Anaerobic - secondary 24 min
12 min. stretching - warm up on low resistance machines
12 min. low weights - specified for whichever muscle group is being exercised

Still Point
The mind, consciousness, should be down into the flesh. Complete integration of body/mind. In the exercises that follow, the will should be focused with great intensity. No distractions.

Anaerobic - tertiary - 24 min
2 exercise per body part
3 sets per exercise
Each set follows this repetition sequence with increasing weight load: 12, 9, 6

Aerobic / Anaerobic - quaternary - 15 min
9 min treadmill / cross train

Liminal Frame - 15 min
Steam / Sauna - 9 min
Shower 3 min
Shave 3 min

Declining Frame 16 min
Bike home

Total Time: 135 min
2 hrs 15 min