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The Book of Ichigo Ichie – Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles

by Venky

(Image Credit: penguinrandomhouse.com)

The words ‘Ichigo Ichie’ in Japanese, in their rudimentary parlance literally translate to ‘what we are experiencing right now will never happen again.’  The authors in The Book of Ichigo Ichie, emphasise, using this seemingly plaid yet profound phrase, the value of living in the moment. They resort to an alluring juxtaposition of ancient rituals and modern circumstances to drive home the immense benefits of neither fretting over the past nor fantasizing about the future when the present is all that matters. The inspiration for the book was a wooden plaque on a dark brown pillar in a tea shop situated on the narrow streets of Gion, in Kyoto. Seeking refuge from a torrential downpour, the authors decide to sip tea in the chashitsu (teahouse) before their eyes settle on the plaque bearing the simple inscription Ichigo Ichie.

The earliest example of the term found resonance in the words of an ancient Japanese ‘tea master’, Yamanoue Soji. A perusal of his notebooks assiduously maintained in 1588, reveals the words, “treat your host as if the meeting were going to occur only once in your life.” This encapsulates in stunning detail the imperative of and for living purely, solely and wholly in the moment. In his international bestseller, The Power of Now, philosopher Eckhart Tolle argues that only the present moment is real and only the present moment matters. The past and the future are but mere creations of an imagination running riot or thoughts having a free reign.

Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles take recourse to three absorbing words in Japanese to stress the power of positive transformation that can be brought about by focusing on the core principles of Ichigo Ichie – Ikigai, Kaika and Mankai. Ikigai simply refers to a magical feeling when unbeknownst to us a blossoming or a calling awakens in us. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’ s swooning when sighting a flock of birds flying over a humble field, is a classic case in point. Upon revived the great Indian sage who at the time the experience overcame him was a rustic young boy, was a bundle of unconstrained ecstasy. Ikigai, when acted upon and encouraged leads to a transformative outcome that is referred to as Mankai. But before the destination is reached, an arduous journey needs to be undertaken. Anyone remember the 10,000 hours in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier or even the rigorous maniacal practices alluded to by Matthew Syed in Bounce? This is Kaika. The winning formula = IKIGAI + KAIKA + TIME = MANKAI

Garcia and Miralles also offer a few easy, practical and implementable measures to put Ichigo Ichie in practice. Creating a ‘customised’ tea ceremony is one such very interesting technique. Popularly and formally known as the chanoyu, there are a few ground rules which the authors suggest making such ceremonies a fulfilling and memorable experience. The rules, in brief are as follows:

  • Select a calm and inspiring meeting place, bereft of loud and garish music and garrulous talk;
  • Commence the meeting with the greeting Ichigo Ichie to drive home the fact that the main objective of the meeting is to live in the moment;
  • Avoid topics that are controversial having the potential to create rifts and divisions;
  • Listen patiently to others without interrupting their thoughts and words;
  • Finally at the end of the ceremony again bid goodbye with the words Ichigo Ichie

Yet another technique prescribed by Garcia and Miralles is a sustained and dedicated practice of Zen meditation. There are excellent guides to Zen meditation and mindfulness courtesy books by Jon Kabat-Zinn, for the eager beavers. The book closes with ten golden rules that serve as guideposts and yardsticks to preserve the practice of Ichigo Ichie and stick to living in the moment and not be influenced by circumstances, prejudices and distractions that may veer the mind away from the moment to the occurred and potential occurrences. This is one occurring which the practioner of Ichigo Ichie would wish to avoid like the plague!

The Book of Ichigo Ichie – a worthy exploratory foray into focusing on the relevant and blotting out the rest.

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