WABI-SABI + UNPLUGGING

When I think of the philosophy of wabi-sabi, Burning Man and a Mustang Convertible are not the first things that pop into my mind. However, it is this sort of dichotomy that seems to define Robyn Griggs Lawrence… environmentalist, mother, writer, maker, visionary, mover, and shaker.  Robyn has been kind enough to share a bit of herself and work as we continue to explore all that is wabi-sabi.

Below you will find some answers that Robyn graciously agreed to supply. They appear in their original unedited form, her prose was too lovely and thoughtful to alter.

Other than washing the dishes by hand, are there other simple ways one might ease into the practice of mindfulness and wabi-sabi?

Here are a couple of ideas that I pulled from Simply Imperfect:Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House:

—Pay attention to your daily bread. Is the food you’re eating in season, and is it available locally? Through the meals you choose and prepare, you can connect with the earth’s cycles and with the place where you live—and live a healthier life. Buy food from your local farmers’ markets and ask the produce manager at your grocery store where different items came from.

—Next time you sweep the floor, consider it a meditation. Opt for the broom over the Dirt Devil whenever possible.

—When you’re invited to someone’s house or even just to a meeting, bring a small gift—nothing extravagant, just a small gesture (a jar of homemade jam, apples from your tree or a luxurious bar of soap) that lets them know they’re appreciated.

—Offer everyone who comes to visit a cup of tea. Serve it in pretty cups with a little something sweet. If no one comes by, enjoy a cup of tea by yourself in the late afternoon.

—Keep one vase in your home filled with seasonal flowers–gathered, if possible, from your backyard or neighborhood.

—Take a walk every day. Let this be your opportunity to open up your senses and to experience the changing seasons.

—Learn to knit or crochet (or sew).

—Next time you buy something, stop and ask questions. Who made it? How was it made? Where does it come from?

How does someone with your resume manage to take an unplugged vacation?! Is it difficult to turn everything off? Do you have any advice for someone wanting to do the same?

I first realized how awesome it is to say, “I’m not reachable” for a week when I went to the Burning Man festival in Nevada two years ago. There’s no cell service or internet in the desert where the festival is held, and no one wants it. Spending an entire week with 50,000 people interacting with art instead of their iPhones was amazing, and I decided I’d make that happen every year–even if I couldn’t make it to Burning Man. It has taken vigilance, a lot of prep work before the plug is pulled and I go offline, and a supportive staff willing to cover for me while I’m  gone.

This year, my kids and I spent two weeks at Rancho Margot, an organic farm and ranch on Lake Arenal in Costa Rica. We were mostly unplugged, although I wasn’t vigilant enough about the electronics they brought. I kept myself honest by leaving my laptop at home, but the kids brought their iPods and indulged in Facebook and FaceTime when they could get wi-fi in public areas. My advice, if you truly want to unplug–especially with teenagers–is to consider all gadgets. For the first couple of nights on the ranch, my kids satisfied their TV withdrawals by watching movies on their iPods. It took a couple of nights for them to settle in and get happy with talking or reading instead of media entertainment. By the end of the two weeks, I could barely get them to put their books down.

Was there a major turning point or catalyst that made you begin to “slow down and take notice?

There really wasn’t one moment that stands out. When I first discovered wabi-sabi, more than a decade ago, I was drawn to it because it promised so much that I craved. I was a busy working mom with two young kids and an insane travel schedule, and I knew that I was missing out on crucial moments in all of our lives. I believe we write the book we most need ourselves, and I wrote The Wabi-Sabi House, the first edition, as a means of cultivating the slower, simpler lifestyle I did not have. When I had the opportunity to rewrite the book seven years later as Simply Imperfect, I realized how far I’ve come. My life gets simpler, by degrees, every day–and I have wabi-sabi to thank for that.

Have your priorities shifted throughout your career?

Yes and no. As a writer and editor, my motivation has always been to share knowledge and ideas in beautiful ways that inspire people. That doesn’t change. The thing I love about getting older, though, is that I see so many ways to go about that–especially in this changing media landscape–and I’m less attached to being at the top of a masthead. I’ve been so fortunate to spend the past decade writing about and sharing ideas that I’m passionate about, and I’ve come to realize that those ideas and the people behind them are what have made my career so satisfying.

What are your plans/goals for the future?

Oh, what a good question! I have a Buddhist friend who tells me that we never need to plan more than three months ahead, and right now I’m taking solace in that advice. After decades of secure employment, I’m leaving my day job next month. I plan to write more, spend more time with my kids and get down to Costa Rica, a place that enchants me, more often.

For the first time in ages, I don’t know exactly what my future looks like, but I know it will entail spreading the word about the beauty that can be found in living simply and consciously.

Are there things that aren’t very wabi-sabi that you have a weakness for or feel are worth the indulgence?

My dream car is a Mustang convertible. That’s not wabi-sabi or environmentally friendly, but I’m having something of a midlife crisis. (I’m not likely to get one any time soon, but I’ve learned to stop berating myself for wanting something a little more fun than my ancient Honda Civic Hybrid.)

If you could put this book in the hands of one person knowing they would be open to its message, who would you choose?

Dare I say Oprah? She has the reach and star power to spread the message to millions. (I do know that every author puts Oprah on their wish list. But I’m pretty certain that she would love wabi-sabi.)

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