Aramahoshi – living, and loving, simply

Learning that loving and living simply has changed my life, says Luciana Bellini as she explores the Japanese art of aramahoshi

A new philosophy is filtering into our collective consciousness: the Japanese art of aramahoshi, or ‘desirable ideal’. Aramahoshi is about finding peace in imperfection and learning that living simply is enough – a mantra for our troubled times if ever there was one.

The term was coined in an essay by fourteenth-century poet and Buddhist monk Kenkō, who wanted to encapsulate the need to find contentment in a precarious, ever-changing world. ‘The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty,’ he wrote. ‘It is the ephemeral nature of things that makes them wonderful.’

While hygge quickly became all about the aesthetic – hunkering down in front of a roaring fire while wearing cosy knitwear (and mostly likely documenting your sense of wellbeing on Instagram) – aramahoshi is the opposite. It is about looking past consumerism and carefully curated visuals, and embracing life as it is, with all its many flaws.

More than a philosophy, aramahoshi is a way of living. It asks us to reevaluate our lives and focus on what’s important, while recognising that challenges we face are necessary obstacles: ones that can lead to much-needed change and transformation. ‘Leaving something incomplete makes it interesting,’ Kenkō wrote, ‘and gives one the feeling that there is room for growth.’

How can we achieve aramahoshi in our day-to-day?

Embrace the uncertain
‘The only constant in life is change.’ This oft-cited phrase ties in perfectly with aramahoshi, which asks us to find peace and satisfaction amid a world in constant flux. Instead of battling life’s ambiguities, try to savour things that are out of our control. Let’s shift our focus from what has gone unexpectedly wrong, and instead find joy in things that have turned out surprisingly well – a project that went better than we thought it would, or a bus that we were chasing stopping long enough for us to catch it.

Look beyond superficial success
Our world’s obsession with ambition and success goes against everything aramahoshi stands for. Kenkō wrote about the importance of enjoying things that may be only beginning or ending, rather than complete: ‘Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless?… Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration.’

In a world that is always demanding more, take a moment to slow down and find contentment in the enough. Find joy in creating a beautiful table-setting for a meal at home, rather than wishing you were at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Be grateful for what you have, rather than hankering after what you don’t.

Live in the present
Many mindfulness practices ask us to live in the moment, and aramahoshi is no exception. It encourages us to be active observers of our lives; to recognise and change harmful patterns. Instead of striving for the next big thing, let’s take stock of what we have in the here and now; find moments in our day to pause and ground ourselves in the present. That’s where life happens. Let’s move away from hectic juggling acts and constant multitasking, and focus our time and attention on just one thing. ‘There is nothing finer,’ wrote Kenkō, ‘than to be alone with nothing to distract you.’

Avoid comparison
Comparison, it is said, ‘is the thief of joy’. Social media has created a comparison pandemic, in which we wonder endlessly if other people’s homes, lives and careers are better and more fulfilling than ours. Instagram and TikTok are the antithesis of aramahoshi, which asks us to find contentment in having just enough.

Break the cycle by rationing your use of social media, or taking a break from it altogether. Perhaps Kenkō had a prophetic notion of how much time we would waste on this fruitless yearning when he wrote: ‘All things of this phenomenal world are mere illusion. They are worth neither discussing nor desiring.’

Next: What it means to be a crone >>

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