Delving into the Intangibles


In Japanese, the equivalent of “Oh, my goodness!” is “Arama!” But if you say, “Ara-ma,” with a subtle pause before “ma,” the expression tends to have incredibly strong Intangible Power; to be exact, it acts as a storehouse of energy.

If you love music, you must have fully experienced the “ma” in it.

A subtle and profound space within a black-and-white “sumie” ink painting, the layout of garden rocks in a Kyoto temple, the asymmetric beauty of arranged flowers in “ikebana,” and the tacit rhythm that underpins “haiku” and “tanka” short poems: Japanese culture can be precisely described as one of “ma.”

Lovers, in the time of the “Manyoshu,” wrote their love poem on a square piece of fancy paper, folded and tied it to red autumn leaves or cherry branches, and waited anxiously for a favorable reply. But with the advent of the Internet, all the subtle beauty of this tradition seems to have rapidly disappeared. Fatigue, stress, and depression are the direct results of the loss of “ma.”

In a restless world such as ours, people feel suffocated. Needing a quick answer, guarding against being outsmarted, and competing on the first-come-first-served basis…all of this accelerates the loss of precious “ma.” It seems to be a kind of modern disease or, psychologically speaking, a form of escape. Many problems in politics and the economy could be solved with this “ma.” Become a master of “ma,” and you would be entitled to be called a master of the art of living.

Human relations, too, are held together by “ma”––though it often goes unnoticed. Relations between a parent and child, a husband and wife, a workplace superior and inferior, and between friends, all go wrong unless invested with proper “ma,” which can then lead, for example, to bullying and tragic suicides at school.

People all around world should recognize the importance of “ma.” If we are living as part of nature, we should live wisely with “ma” as well. The progress of civilization gives much weight to time efficiency only; in turn, “ma” is lost as the pace of life accelerates.
That is not good.

If you are a visitor to Japan from abroad, you can feel “ma” at the Kabuki theater, in the action and phrases of the actors. At a Zen temple, you can sit and meditate while performing “zazen”; but, at the same time, please don’t forget to feel the “great ocean” symbolized by the temple garden with its sand and rocks and trees. “Ma” is beautifully balanced in nature.

I know all this logically, but still I always do things rashly, making hasty decisions.

So, no emails for me today! I’ll write a letter, with hand-drawn pictures, instead.
And, of course, I’ll do it with a fountain pen, leisurely, hoping the Intangible Power will touch the heart of the person who receives my letter.
Yes, I believe it will.