The Book in Three Sentences
Life is made up of moments and once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. There’s a Japanese phrase to refer to this idea, ichigo ichie, which originated in Zen Buddhism and became a staple of the tea ceremony. With this concept in mind, the authors encourage us to use our five senses to appreciate the present moment.
Prologue: In an Old Tea Room
Ichigo Ichie is a Japanese expression that means that what you’re experiencing now will never happen again. This is the idea of treasuring the present moment because it’s unique and unrepeatable. In the age we live in, distractions and instant gratification are more common than ever, so we never pay attention to the present moment.
Failing to recognize the present moment means that you’ll never get to experience it again. Everyone knows this, but we tend to forget it when we’re thinking about the worries and obligations of everyday life. Ichigo Ichie encourages us to slow down to appreciate the present moment.
The term Ichigo Ichie originated in a notebook that belonged to a tea master called Yamanoue Soji, in 1588. One of the main characteristics of the tea ceremony is how everyone involved pays attention to every detail. The expression is still used in everyday Japanese. First, when you meet a stranger for the first time. Second, when meeting someone you already know.
Part I: The Beauty of Impermanence
Kaika and Mankai
In Japan, there’s a tradition known as hanami (“viewing the flowers”), a national festival where everyone goes to the park to see the cherry trees blossom. This celebration dates back to the third century and it continues long into the night. When the sun goes down, hanami becomes yozakura (“night cherry blossom”) and people hang traditional lanterns from the trees and light them. This is but one example of an ichigo ichie experience. Since cherry trees blossom and the petals fall in just a couple of weeks, people have to wait a year to see sakura flowers again.
The celebration starts with kaika (the buds) and when the flower fully opens, they reach a state known as mankai. The celebration of the impermanence of things is common in the Japanese culture. Life is full of ichigo ichie moments, we just have to appreciate them when they blossom before us. So it’s not enough to find something that moves us (kaika), we want to capture that essence and turn it into something that leads to greatness (mankai). Greatness isn’t momentary, it’s a permanent commitment.
To achieve greatness, you first need ikigai (a passion). Then comes kaika (you eliminate the unnecessary to focus on what’s essential). With enough time and patience, you get to mankai (that potential will blossom and become something outstanding). In other words, everyone has the potential to do something new regardless of their age. The number of years ahead of you is unimportant. What you do with them is what matters the most. This is common in Japan where people never fully retire.
And You, Where Do You Live
People who live for many years usually have two main things in common: a personal mission and a love for enjoying every moment. Staying in the present moment is incredibly difficult though.
There are four basic emotions:
- Anger: Thousands of years ago, anger kept us alive when we faced danger, but this emotion is rarely related to genuine threats nowadays. Anger leads to losing control of a situation or repressing our emotions and hurting ourselves. The problem with anger is that it’s often related to something that happened in the past, therefore, it prevents us from being present.
- Sadness: Losing something (or someone) leads to sadness. The healthiest way to deal with sadness is to move on and choose a new strategy moving forward. Focusing on what we lost means we’re fixated on the past. When we’re sad, we can’t be in the present moment.
- Fear: The point of fear is to be aware of potential threats. Fear projects us into the future, making it impossible to be in the here and now.
- Happiness: This is about celebration, cheerfulness, and optimism. Being happy allows us to connect with others because we want to share what we’re feeling. There are two kinds of happiness. Happiness with a cause is external and fleeting and happiness without a cause is internal and unconditional. Happiness is the only emotion that’s tied to the present moment.
One of the most effective practices for being present is meditation. Meditation often can help you become aware of the impermanence of things. To find Zen (the Japanese school of Buddhism that emphasizes the value of meditation), you don’t have to go on an expensive retreat to the middle of nowhere. Dedicating your life to doing what you love is also zen. This is what Steve Jobs was trying to achieve with Apple. He applied everything he learned from Zen to design his products. As a result, he made some of the simplest, most beautiful, and intuitively-designed devices of all time.
Eight lessons for an ichigo ichie life:
- Sit and see what happens: Don’t react and don’t project into the future. See what’s in front of you, accept it, and celebrate other people’s company.
- Savor the moment: Don’t rush and don’t postpone happiness. The best moments aren’t in the past or in the future, the best moment is now.
- Avoid distractions: Don’t try to do several things at the same time. Whatever you decide to do, make it the most important thing.
- Ignore everything that isn’t essential: Life is a journey, so pack light.
- Be your own friend: Avoid comparing yourself to others and don’t worry what they think about you.
- Celebrate imperfection: Nothing is perfect, so why should you? Being imperfect is a sign that there’s room for improvement.
- Practice compassion: Empathy is one of the best emotions you can cultivate.
- Let go of your expectations: Don’t wait for things to happen, enjoy the moment instead.
Dukkha and Mono No Aware
Dukkha is a Buddhist concept that refers to the ways in which we escape from inevitable changes. Modern society gives us endless ways to escape real life: games, entertainment, apps, drugs, alcohol, and so on. Accepting reality is the best way to never lose hope though.
Some things in life hurt us, but they’re beyond our control. But we also inflict damage on ourselves and this is avoidable. Don’t feed the pain because you only make it worse.
To avoid worrying about inevitable things:
- Accept the fact that life has good things and bad things: Some problems lead to satisfaction.
- Pain is only temporary: Accept the pain and learn from it, but don’t let it hurt you more than it has to.
- Enjoy moments despite misfortune: Some experiences show you the good side of life. Use those experiences to overcome problems.
Mono no aware is a Japanese expression that refers to the beauty of the passage of time. This is a way to being connected to the very essence of life and can often be seen in nature. Small moments deserve our attention. This idea is also found in Stoicism where philosophers used a technique called negative visualization. The idea is to focus on the loss of something (or someone) you love. This makes you appreciate what you have.
This was a way for ancient philosophers to combat the hedonic treadmill, this is the psychological mechanism that prevents us from being happy because we always want something more. This explains why once the novelty of something new or expensive wears off, we want something newer or more expensive to reach the “base level” of happiness. If we’re not careful, we’ll continue to raise the bar more and more and we’ll never be truly happy. For Buddhists, happiness is the absence of desire. In other words, enjoying the moment or ichigo ichie. Never forget you’re here temporarily. Unless you stop and enjoy the moment, you’ll always chase something and you’ll forget to take pleasure in the journey rather than a distant and vague destination.
Destiny Depends on a Moment
The butterfly effect is a phenomenon in which any moment, regardless of how small it is, leads to different consequences of our actions. Every moment is incredibly valuable because it can have great results in the future.
Whether we like to admit it or not, everything happens for a reason. This is the idea behind amor fati, or how we must learn to love fate. To make the most of this idea, we must have a positive attitude and accept what happens, even if it’s unpleasant.
Carl Jung had a name for two or three random events that were brought together at random. This is called synchronicity. This is thinking of a film, and a random stranger behind you bringing it up, for example. These coincidences are worth paying attention to and the author suggests a couple of strategies to do so.
- Be aware of your surroundings: Pay attention to conversations, books, movies, and so on.
- Keep a diary: Write down experiences.
- Talk to creative people: Creative people can show us things hiding in common sight.
- Practice meditation: Meditating can help us recognize coincidences.
Part II: Living Ichigo Ichie
The Ceremony of Attention
The Japanese tea ceremony tries to cultivate the five senses and represents a way to pay attention.
Kintsugi, the art of repairing broken ceramics with lacquer and powdered gold, teaches us the value of imperfection. Things can break, but they can be repaired and we can learn from failure. Not only can delicate pieces of porcelain be damaged, but also the emotions of human beings. Those misfortunes become part of us eventually.
Despite being the ritual of a country that may seem foreign to you, you can bring the principles of the Japanese tea ceremony wherever you go. Be still and put all of your worries, criticisms, and complaints aside. Appreciate the time you spend drinking a cup of tea as an experience that will never happen again.
The Art of Listening
Listening is a difficult art because we have our own obstacles and filters. These come in the form of opinions, prejudices, and thoughts. The act of listening is one of the earliest senses we acquire, but we lose that ability as we grow up and focus on inner and outer distractions. Whenever possible, gather with friends in quiet places without any music. To become a better listener, look the other person in the eye, ignore your inner thoughts, don’t interrupt, and refrain from giving advice.
The Art of Looking
Looking at things in real life is, weirdly enough, becoming a lost art. Screens have become such an integral part of our lives that we rarely take the time to look at life. Also, there is such a thing as looking without seeing. This is looking without paying attention which you should avoid at all costs.
The Art of Touch
Some emotional moments are related to touch: Holding hands, kissing, hugging, and so on. Touch is an essential human need, but we might ignore it if we don’t pay attention. There are numerous benefits to touch, including general relaxation, communicating a sense of trust and intimacy, stronger relationships, and a better mood.
The Art of Tasting
Despite the popularity of cuisine, few of us take the time to just eat. Taste used to be essential for our survival: sweet food gave us energy, savory food was indispensable, and bitter food was dangerous. Rediscover the importance of food by really focusing on the dish before you.
The Art of Smelling
Smell is interesting in the sense that aromas are plentiful and in some cases hard to describe. Some smells are so powerful, in fact, that they transport us in time.
Part III: The Little School of Ichigo Ichie
The Art of Parties
Creating memorable ceremonies has always been a part of our culture. The key component of parties isn’t the food, drinks, decoration, music, or friends. Memorable parties have a theme. The opposite of partying is following a strict routine.
A lot of our problems stem from not giving enough attention to others. We live in a world where we can connect with millions of people yet the ability to listen is rare. Giving someone your attention is the best thing you can do for them.
We must go from individual attention to collective mindfulness. We can do this in several ways, but try the following:
- Turn off devices when talking to someone
- Listen to people and see their body language
- Ask questions
- Be with them without judging them
- Give them privacy if they need it
Returning to Now
Observing your thoughts is as easy as sitting down in a quiet environment and focusing your attention inward. Regardless of what you see there, don’t judge your thoughts. What you see are your thoughts, not who you are.
These are the habits that prevent us from being present:
- Projection: This is when our mind insists on going to the past or the future. You’re either afraid or worried instead of being in the present moment.
- Distractions: We can never be present if we’re trying to multitask.
- Fatigue: Try to get enough sleep and don’t overwork.
- Impatience: Sometimes you can’t force things to just happen
- Analysis: Dissecting certain experiences ruins them
Satori is a state of enlightenment from Zen Buddhism that you reach when your sense of presence is so strong that part and future, and the physical world turn into an illusion. In Japanese Buddhism, this state is known as kensho.
What if you radically changed the things in your life you don’t like? What if you quit the job you don’t like? What if you only allowed yourself to think positive thoughts? What if?
The Ichigo Ichie Formula
Give meaning to every moment. Share it with the people you care about. Live in an inspiring place. Use your senses to savor every moment. Remove distractions and embrace the present moment.
Epilogue: The Ten Rules of Ichigo Ichie
- Don’t postpone special moments
- Live as if this were going to happen only once in your life
- Dwell in the present
- Do something you’ve never done before
- Practice meditation
- Apply mindfulness to your five senses
- Notice coincidences
- Make every gathering a party
- When you don’t like something, change it
- Chase special moments
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