What is Appreciation?
The Principles of Runari 1/12
A cherry blossom’s
Beauty is only fleeting,
Yours is forever.
You leave your new office situated on the twentieth floor of a glass and steel skyscraper. As you leave the building the setting sun reflects off its concave exterior setting fire to the carpet of a barber across the road. You drive home in your modern car, all mod-cons and aircon, and as you do, you pass someone in a long, wide, cream and red Cadillac with the roof down and engine purring. Ahead of him are two bikers, one on a custom hog and the other on a moped with pizzas to deliver.
You arrive home, tired and a bit smog bound to your comfortable semi with a rose bush in the garden and nesting swallows. Most of your interior is from Ikea or Argos. However, your wife has prepared a lovely home cooked meal and presents artisan ciabatta slices with olive oil on a wooden plate, salad tossed up in a rough, old looking ceramic bowl, and pasta on supermarket China.
The next morning, it being a day off, you decide to go up the nearby mountain on a run. Getting there takes you past some morning traffic, but soon you’re alone on the stony path winding between fresh ploughed fields and later overgrown grass munched on by sheep and cattle, sometimes horses, and the road seems to sink between verges and the trees look older, some are sprouting green leaves.
At the end of the path, at the top of the modest mountain, you see a single cherry tree perched on the edge of a cliff. Its delicate petals are in full bloom, modest almost white-pink teardrops, some of which are wrenched away with the slightest breeze. As you get closer, you realize a tiger is standing behind you. There is no escape. So, you jump off the cliff taking hope and miracles in your hand, and by chance you grab onto a root sticking out of the rock face.
Breathing a sigh of relief, you look down and see a second tiger below you. Your hand is slowly losing its grip on the root, you can’t hold your weight for long. And then you see before you, just within your grasp, a strawberry plant with a single fruit. You pluck it and eat it. The fruit tastes the best you’ve ever tasted as your hand loses its grip on the root.
What do you Appreciate?
Out of all of that you read above, what did you appreciate the most? There might not be something for everyone in the specific examples. Many appeal to me or repel me, but perhaps the most important thing is life. Throughout the story there were things which might last and things which probably won’t.
Life is in flux. It exists between life and death, even when nothing seems to happen. Therefore, the first stage of appreciation is to appreciate life.
By appreciating life, we learn to appreciate everything. By respecting and maybe appreciating death, we learn the ultimate fragility of that life. We’re living our lives now, at this moment, hopefully in the future, and the past is gone.
The Fragility of Life
For many, especially the Japanese, the cherry blossom would be the most beautiful element of the story above. It is not beautiful because of its innate shape or colour. If it bloomed for six months every year and was wind resistant, it would not be so important. Its fleeting nature, sometimes lasting as little as a few days or a week if a storm blows in at the wrong time, gives it its beauty. The same could be said of the beauty of youth which captures some; especially artists from the past; youth blossoms in early adulthood but often fades by our 30s.
What is beauty if it’s not just the fleeting nature of life? If it’s not mortality or a brief firework which explodes, then fades? You or I decide on what’s beautiful. Maybe we will agree with one another and more likely, we won’t. We don’t just have different ideas on what is beautiful, but we will disagree on what beauty is. Some will see it as a purely aesthetic feeling, some might try to calculate it like Pritchard’s poetry rule in Dead Poets Society, and some will want it to be an inner feeling or story. Still others will say it is both.
Nihilism: The Opposite of Appreciation
The converse side of appreciation is nihilism. This philosophy believes that all life is meaningless and it strips the beauty out of the world. It’s brutal and uncaring and unloving. There’s no good moments in a world dedicated to nihilistic bleakness.
If you were to look at the second half of the 20th century in the west and the developing world you might think the world was afraid of beauty or had forced nihilism on all of us. In the 21st century this has only increased. Rather than blending old architecture with modern technology, our architects across the world have embraced brutalism – concrete, rust stains, sheer blocks of doom and despair. Our artists have discarded beauty and symbolism, replacing them with random paint drops, unmade beds, and dots or squares.
Don’t be afraid to encounter and embrace beauty. Clean your room, organize your world as best you can or even in small increments, but have something beautiful in it. This could be a print poster of work of art on your wall, it could be a pot plant on your windowsill or the view from your window.
You know what you find beautiful – appreciate it when you see it, even if you keep that appreciation in your heart. It does not have to be one thing and it does not have to be a person or an object or landscape, moments are beautiful too. The person in the story found the Cadillac beautiful, they found the plates with their various histories beautiful, and they found their last strawberry beautiful. There’s different reasons for each.
So we come back to our initial thought on the story – appreciate life and all else follows. You can’t appreciate life or beauty or moments with your family, or sex, or birdsong, without appreciating life; they’re all part of it.
Be Passionate About Life
“If you really love ceramics or painting, then you will get angry about them.”
Appreciation is more than a polite applause, more than a gasp, or a nod of respect. It’s even more than a lingering look at something or someone you find captivating, or appreciating something enough to hoard it or a copy of it or an image of it. If you appreciate something, if you love it, then you must be passionate about it, so passionate you’re willing to get angry.
Shirasu was willing to get angry. According to Alex Kerr, she took her fists to the famous potter Rosanjin because he overdid the design of her kimono.
Now, according to Principle 11, taking our fists to someone in anything other than play, is not the Runari way, but voicing anger at the object is. Some of the best criticism, wit, and comedy, come from anger as much as it does from love. An example might be Paul Joseph Watson’s video on modern architecture in the UK or Kerr’s own thoughts on what’s happened to traditional architecture in Japan.
Directing Anger – Rejecting Nihilism
A cherry blossom will not evoke anger, but the cutting down of cherry trees or their mutilation to make the lives of city employees easier will. The question is what do you do with your anger?
First you voice it. Tell Rosanjin that he’s over done your kimono. Tell modern architects they would not know what beauty or grandeur was if it slapped them round the face with a neon flashing sign above their head. Talk about it (see Principle 12), write about it, and bring people together over this common appreciation for its opposite – but of course respect those who disagree.
Second, can you make a change to it? Not necessarily yourself, but can you or your group of like minded people, come together and look after those cherry blossoms. Learn to make your own pottery (see principle 2). Protest the building development and help design an alternative. Some challenges are easier than others, some can be done alone and some require help and cooperation.
First Steps in the Principle of Appreciation
How do you start embracing the principle of appreciation? It might seem easy to just like the world around you, but not everyone starts from an easy position. Some of us have been to some dark places in our lives, we’ve stood on the edge of nihilism, and maybe we’ve embraced it. The world around us really is beautiful and full of wonder.
So, let’s start with something simple. Write a list of all the positives in your life. These can be grand things or they can be silly things. When depressed a decade ago, I made such a list and it ranged from having written a play to being the first in the family to graduate university, to success on a football game or sunsets out of my old bedroom window back in the Cotswolds.
How was your list? There’s some good things on there. How micro does it go? Did it go down to the robin which sits on your fence near you? Or to the bees collecting honey or a person who just stands out as they walk down a road or sit in a cafe? Theo Von while talking to Joe Rogan said his beautiful moment was to see his niece laying on the back of a big dog she’d just met, the two bonded immediately, and she lay on the dog’s back eating crisps. For Christopher Robin it was playing pooh sticks in Sussex, something which led his father to write Winnie the Pooh.
Be Mindful of the World Around You
Now you have your list, keep your eyes open for beautiful moments and things to appreciate in the world around you. Most of the time people will be doing little things for you which you might not notice or you’ll see them doing it for others, or you’ll meet a cat in the road or see a buzzard flying overhead. There’s so many miniscule magical moments.
When you get home, list all of the things you saw and experienced, but go further and think about the people and things in your life you appreciate. Some of it is emotional and some of it comes from utility. It’s hot right now. England is baking and I am really appreciating my electric fan, but sometimes I open up a Japanese fan and waft cool air, taking in the scent of sandalwood.
Lastly, apply appreciation to active as well as passive situations. It’s not just about the world you observe around you, but what you experience. When you have an interaction with someone or something, appreciate their or its good points. Remember the positive elements, their use or need, and the good things they’ve done. Also appreciate they’re in the same place as you, navigating their often chaotic world, trying to find order and peace.