I learned something new recently. A concept that is not overly unfamiliar to me, but for which I had never realized there is a term. Leave it to the Japanese to create one. The term is Mono No Aware which, roughly translated, means “the awareness of the transience of things.” The concept encompasses not just awareness, but also acceptance by heightening the appreciation of beauty in impermanence.
It’s not a very American viewpoint. We are taught to fight for everything we hold dear, clinging to family, friends and possessions as though their loss would spell disaster for us. We hate to see things go. We have no concept of expiration dates. We want to be immortal. And we want to squeeze every ounce of pleasure from everything we hold dear. The idea of simply letting things go when their time is up is a truly foreign concept.
Things change when you find yourself battling a life-threatening disease, like cancer. Especially cancer. The way people treat you changes. The way you view your life changes. Suddenly you’re not as bulletproof as you once believed. Suddenly everything you have come to accept as normal evaporates into fantasy. You are left rudderless. Books have been written about coming to terms with the disease. Everybody is looking for answers. Those answers are rarely what we desire.
I’ll admit, there are days when I just want to give up. All the rhetoric about being a Warrior and kicking cancer’s ass are all well and fine, but #FuckCancer does nothing to dispel those moments of hopelessness and despair that come with the territory. There’s a huge difference between existing and thriving. All the positivity in the world cannot overcome the notion that, so long as the disease is present, eating away at me, I am not thriving. I am existing for the moment, thankful to see another day, but I am definitely not thriving.
That’s where Mono No Aware comes in. As I said before, I am not completely unfamiliar with the idea of finding beauty in transience. I have learned, over the years, to enjoy every experience for what it is, rather than wish for something better. Enjoying the moment, even when that moment is as fleeting as a sunset. Concentrating on the colors, the textures, the glory of experiencing that which can never be repeated. It’s one of the reasons I love my garden so much, despite the impermanence of the blooms.
Laughter is also a very important aspect of life I embrace wholeheartedly. Nothing feels better than a good belly laugh. Giggling and snarking with people I love is a pleasure that runs deep. Especially when I’m feeling lost and vulnerable. I find beauty in those moments. I feel hope, and the despair is lessened. I also feel lighter, like a weight is lifted. Which in turn allows me to be in the moment. Of the moment. At peace with my surroundings. Laughter is very powerful medicine.
The one aspect of Mono No Aware that I have a hard time accepting is the sadness that goes along with understanding all things are transient, and that such impermanence is bittersweet. Death is not something I fear. It is a very natural part of life. Which is why I choose not to attend funerals, if I can at all help it. I don’t want to remember people in a box, being sunk into the earth, never to be seen again. I want to remember them as they were, full of life and love and laughter. I want to celebrate their passage, not mourn their passing.
Even so, I take a lot of comfort in the notion that such a concept exists. It’s an idea into which I think I will be doing a lot of research. Find out where my inner awareness intersects with the cultural standard. I think I may find a lot more comfort in the adage Mono No Aware than I have in the more American idiom, Fuck Cancer. Not to say I don’t agree with the latter. I certainly do. But for those days when being a Warrior is wearing thin and the laughter has momentarily escaped me, I think it may help to remind me what it means to thrive.