The Gift of Yugen

The Gift of Yugen

Yugen. Is this a really bad Bulgarian Christmas pudding? Or a nasty cocktail served at office Christmas parties?

Yugen is neither of the above. Yugen is a Japanese word that sits at the core of the appreciation of beauty and art in Japan. It values the power to evoke, rather that the ability to state directly.

Zeami Motokiyo, a 14th century Japanese actor and playwright, described yugen as:

To watch the sun sink behind a flower-clad hill.

To wander on and on in a huge forest without thought of return.

To stand up on the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands.

To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds.

Now perhaps you’re thinking this is a little too deep and esoteric, especially for this time of the year. It is, after all, “the silly season”.

Well please consider, for a moment …

Christmas is the time for great expectations. There’s the expectation that our family will gather as one, in love and harmony, to celebrate and be thankful for our blessings as we eat ‘delicious’ turkey and ham. And so I meticulously plan and prepare for the perfect family meal, even making sure that the Christmas crackers are just right = not too cheesy, not too classy.

There’s the expectation that I will give you a gift on 25th December, and the expectation that you will give me a gift in return. And so I walk around from Christmas store to Christmas store with a list of names in my hand, making sure I don’t forget anyone, or offend anyone, or look like a cheapskate.

Now the issue I have with all of this is that every time we have an expectation from someone or something, we become so preoccupied with our expectation [and the stuff that surrounds it] that we miss what is being given to us – and what is really happening.

What is “Christmas”? Is it a time of giving? Or has Christmas become a great expectation of gifts and meals [that invariably fall pretty flat]. And this is where I think Yugen comes into the Christmas equation.

We are surrounded by gifts every moment of every day. It’s called Yugen. They cost nothing. They’re totally awesome. And they leave us breathless every time.

The movie American Beauty showed us the beauty of a paper bag blowing effortlessly in the wind. Yugen. Well how many paper bags blowing in the wind did you pass today? Or, more to the point, how many paper bags blowing in the wind did you see today?

You see, we are surrounded by the gift of Yugen every day and every moment of our lives. But we don’t see it, because we’re not expecting it, and so we’re not even looking for it. Instead we’re too busy planning that family meal and ticking off that Christmas shopping list.

Sunsets on the beach. Paper bags blowing in the wind. Ducks swimming and shitting in your swimming pool. Your daughter laughing her head off. All these are Yugen. And methinks we could all do with a little more Yugen in our every day, especially at Christmas.


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