Saturday was one of those magical late winter days where you can wear a light coat and walk around with it unbuttoned. It was what some might unkindly call “a tease,” but I prefer to think of it as the winter giving us a reminder of what to hang on for. A little taste of freedom from down layers and wool and shoulders hunched against the cold. A sign that spring is really a thing, after all, though it may take awhile yet.
Apart from days like this, late winter can start to feel like one big undifferentiated mass, stretching uniformly in all directions. So I was intrigued to discover a new app called 72 Seasons, which is based on the different seasons of the Japanese lunar calendar. The calendar divides the year into 24 mini-seasons and further divides each of those into three, for 72 total micro-seasons, each lasting about 5 days. What a relief this idea brings! To be reminded that even during the stasis and quiet of winter, things are happening, changing all the time. It is a calendar for the impatient and novelty-seeking among us. If you don’t like the season you are in, take a deep breath — in five days, you’ll have a new one.
The names of the seasons capture in a poetic way the small, subtle changes that accompany the shifts in the year: “The First Peach Blossoms,” “Hibernating Creatures Open their Doors,” “The Earth Worms Rise,” and “Thunder Raises its Voice” are a few that caught my eye. The app brings the current season to life with photography, haiku, and features beautiful illustrations of seasonal fish, vegetable, and fruit. And while the seasons are Japan-based and don’t perfectly correlate with ours, I think like a horoscope we can find what we need in it. The current season is “The Earth Becomes Damp” which feels fitting as I wake up to a day washed clean by a soaking night of rain. And based on this weekend, I feel sure that I’ve felt the haru ichiban, or Spring’s first south wind, and I’m certainly on the lookout for the haru niban, or second spring wind, to blow. Whether they match perfectly or not, the calendar’s many divisions are effective: they call our attention to the aesthetics of our environment, putting us in touch with the sights, smells, and textures of our immediate surroundings.
One of the lovely features of the app is that it only lets you see the current season, not the past or upcoming ones. When the micro-season changes, the app automatically updates so that the relevant season is the only one available. This embodies a particularly Japanese notion of appreciating the beauty of transient things known as mono no aware. This philosophy comes from Buddhist tradition and describes a kind of joy mingled with sadness that we don’t exactly have a word for in English. (Perhaps a close analogue is memento mori, as it appears in English poetry, but that’s a bit more macabre!) The joy of mono no aware lies in appreciating something acutely in the moment, yet it’s tinged with a wistful awareness that the thing is impermanent, and that we are too. But this awareness doesn’t have to diminish our joy; it can actually heighten joy by causing us to savor and appreciate it more fully while we have it.
It’s only natural to wish that summer lasted a few extra weeks or that spring would hurry up and get here already. But what this calendar does well is that it brings us back to the joy of the here and now. With the weather, as with so many things, it’s easy to get into a scarcity mentality and convince ourselves that there are only a limited number of nice days. But as the name suggests, 72 Seasons approaches the world with an abundance mindset, asserting that there is joy to be found in each season. If not in sunshine, then in mist. If not in blossoms, then in frost. It’s a gentle reminder that joy isn’t about gripping tightly, but looking closely.
February 22nd, 2016