Ikigai - your reason for being?

Have you ever wondered what your reason for being is? “Ikigai”, (pronounced ‘ick-ee-guy’) is the Japanese concept meaning just that; ‘Iki’ means ‘life,’ and ‘gai’ denotes value or worth. Your ikigai is your life purpose, your bliss. It’s what brings you joy and inspires you every day. We at CraftCourses feel a strong pull to the concept of Ikigai as the practice of craft is so fulfilling, so satisfying and so purposeful. for us in the world of practical arts, it is our daily meditation!

In researching the concept of ikigai and other Japanese wellbeing practices, I was inspired to have a go at the ancient Japanese tradition of haiku (a three-line poem of five, seven, and five syllables).

A haiku:
Find your happiness
Stand still and accept what is
Move on into life 

Niki Rathmell

The world as it is, as it has been and undoubtedly as it will be, is a confronting, challenging, confusing and sometimes terrifying place. In the melee of life - responsibility, career, family, friends, overwhelm, happiness, sadness, indifference - there is a growing recognition that we, as humans, need to find meaning in, and gain a clearer understanding of, our place in the world. In doing so, we can create 'space' in our lives for living more mindfully and in the moment and perhaps find 'happiness' and fulfilment. The Japanese have long recognised this need, and many live by the philosophy of ikigai with some believing it to be the reason for their happiness and longevity.

Image credit: Shreesha Bhat
The Western interpretation of ikigai, as described in the venn diagram below, focuses on career as it evolves from questions related to your passion, mission, profession and vocation and is useful in helping you to find balance in your life.  In reality however, the Japanese rarely ask themselves these questions with regard to ikigai. The concept, in its purest sense, is far less grandiose; ikigai is more akin to the little things in life - the small, happy moments you learn to treasure as they nourish you with joy.

Image credit: Dr Daphna Arbell Kahila
An ikigai perspective is consistent with acceptance of what is. Happiness and contentment are greatly enhanced because rather than dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, or fighting against what cannot be changed, there is an open-minded acceptance of the present moment.
Image credit: Szilvia Basso
But what is happiness? There are many determinants of happiness described in various scholarly articles (and others less scholarly) with the presence of positive emotions; absence of negative emotions; and life satisfaction being one perspective. The presence of both physical and mental health is another while a simpler view is one encompassing friendliness, cheerfulness, compassion and gratitude. The meaning of happiness and how it actually feels to be happy differs vastly from one person to another. Ikigai seems to draw a line under what is or isn't; what could or couldn't be considered happiness. Rather, the essence of ikigai seems to be to live a fulfilled life; a life filled with purposeful, meaningful activity from which you gain happiness.
Image credit: Kal Visuals
Wherever you are currently on the broad spectrum of life, happiness and wellbeing, ikigai is, fundamentally, acceptance of what is, including finding beauty in imperfection. From this as a starting point, it becomes possible to discover and enjoy complete absorption in an activity that is both spontaneous and effortless. It doesn’t matter what that activity is, the essence of the process is to keep experimenting until you find what speaks to you and from that point of discovery, move forward to a place of fulfilment.
Searching for ikigai, one’s reason for being or waking each morning joyfully, is arguably what many people are doing already, whether consciously or not. Even though perceptions and understanding of ikigai can vary, finding this motivating purpose in life is associated with greater fulfilment and happiness. 

The Japanese are well known for their wellbeing practices and also etched deeply on Japanese hearts and minds (but perhaps less widely known) is the concept of wabi sabi: 'wabi' meaning appreciating beauty in simplicity, and 'sabi' being the transience of that beauty and the changeable nature of life. It is an innate response to 'authentic beauty'; something all the more beautiful for its transient, unrefined nature such as falling autumn leaves, a dandelion clock, or a cloud formation drifting in a blue sky. It is thought by some to be an appreciation of imperfection but this common misinterpretation is more akin to kintsugi (more on that later).
Image credit: Rodion Kutsaev
Living in a wabi sabi way can help you to live a less cluttered, more simple life, spending time on things that really matter. It brings a sense of calm appreciation and feelings of being present in both relationships and conversations. It has been described as "soulful simplification" (Beth Kempton): creating space in your life, mind and home. In Western societies we might recognise the concept of wabi sabi simply as mindfulness; something that we are all being encouraged to embrace in our daily lives.
Image credit: Annie Spratt
And so to kintsugi! This is perhaps the most evocative and relatable of all the Japanese wellbeing practices in that it is tangible; it is not a thought, or emotion, or feeling (although it is influenced by all of these things); it is the process of embracing imperfection in a physical object and highlighting it as a reflection of the imperfections in life. Kintsugi (gold joining) is a technique where a ceramic object has been broken and is then painstakingly repaired, leaving bold, visible lines with the appearance of solid gold. But kintsugi is much more than just a repair. 
Image credit: Daisy Ray, Craft Courses
"As our eyes follow the lines of destruction now filled with gold, we recognise at some level that there is a story to be told with every crack, every chip. This story inevitably leads to kintsugi's greatest strength: an intimate, metaphoric narrative of loss and recovery, breakage and restoration, tragedy and the ability to overcome it. A kintsugi repair speaks of individuality and uniqueness, fortitude and resilience, and the beauty to be found in survival. Kintsugi leads us to a respectful and appreciative acceptance of hardship and and ageing."
(Bonnie Kemske - Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend)
Image credit: Emma Baker
Kintsugi tells personal stories, unknown in context to the casual observer but, deeply poignant to the keeper of the object. The personal stories may evoke happy memories or even funny memories but they can also be attached to tragedy or trauma.
Image credit: Motoki Tonn
One such personal story is very close to home and we hope you will continue reading this fascinating exploration of Japanese wellbeing practices in our next blog when our founder, Kate, relates her personal story and what kintsugi means to her.

For further reading:

Wob - Ikigai
Wob - Wabi sabi
Wob - Kintsugi: The Poetic Mend by Bonnie Kemske
Wob - Kintsugi

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