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Perfection, and the Impermanence of Life

By Charlie Badenhop

During my many years in Japan I've taken the opportunity to dabble in various Japanese arts. I always come away feeling inspired by the sensitivity and attention to detail that is expressed.

One of my explorations led me to take some lessons in "Ikebana", the Japanese art of flower arranging. During my brief training my teacher told me the following:

"In contrast to the massing of blooms typical of flower arrangements in the West, Ikebana is usually characterized by a line of twigs and/or leaves, connected by a sparse arrangement of flowers. The idea being to give the viewer the sense they have come across a scene in nature.

"In Ikebana it is common that one of the branches in an arrangement is bent or broken, to signify the practitioner has attempted to present the arrangement in a 'natural' state. It is the 'imperfection' of the broken branch that leads us to understand the practitioner is striving to express 'perfection' as it appears in nature. By viewing the arrangement it is hoped you might come to appreciate that your own 'broken branches' are what signify your uniqueness and beauty.

"Each one of us, no matter how successful or evolved we might appear to be, have imperfections and personal ego attachments. These imperfections and attachments are not something to be overcome or transcended, but rather aspects of our self to be understood, appreciated, and accepted. If we do not honor and appreciate our human frailties as an essential part of who we are, we will always be attempting to eradicate some aspect of ourself that we perceive to be lacking.

"Consider the sense of perfection and pure life force you get when holding a baby. It's the baby's uncontrived and unrestrained expression of their emotional experience that gives us a sense of life at its fullest. This is the inherent blessing that exists as the essence of life in its simplest and purest form. Rather than hoping for love or acceptance, the baby expresses who they are and what they feel, in this very moment. This is the same free flow of energy that the Ikebana practitioner strives to express in their floral arrangements. We look to strip our work of any contrived sense of beauty, so the natural energy and life force of the flowers can be freely expressed and felt. In other words, we attempt to present the flowers 'as they are', rather than attempting to add anything extra. We strive to let the flowers communicate directly, and thus in some way hope to reconnect the viewer to their own heartfelt sense of beauty and perfection."

At the conclusion of one lesson my teacher said:
"Today, there is one more thing I would like to say. I am drawn to flower arranging because it helps me understand and come to terms with the impermanence of life. No matter how beautiful the flowers appear to be when the arrangement is complete, I know they will only express their beauty for a few days time. By carefully cleaning and cutting the flowers and adding water, we can extend their life for a few precious moments. But in the end you're left with the understanding that neither the flowers nor any other form of life will last forever. One of the most important things we can do in life is appreciate the beauty and perfection that is present in our lives right now, rather than lamenting the passing of life. By appreciating the fleeting beauty of the flowers, you can come to understand the fleeting beauty of your own life, and the lives of those you love."
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