In a Word

When we were in school we were told that the Eskimos have a hundred or more words for Snow and forest-dwelling indigenous people have a multitude of words for Green. In recent years this information has been debunked by many linguists. While the numbers are not that important, to my mind this example is still meaningful as it draws attention to the fact that every culture and language has its own vocabulary to describe the nuances of a phenomenon or event or feeling.

In the past few years I have come across some really evocative words which I love to share.

Tsundoku A Japanese word which refers to the habit of accumulating books with the intention of reading them by and by, as opposed to obsessively collecting books just for the sake of having them. This word apparently has been used for over a century, and a person with a large collection of unread books was called a tsundoku sensei. This is something I have always done, and I was so happy to find a respectable name for the same!

Komorebi Another Japanese word for the delicate interplay of light and leaves when sunlight filters through the foliage of trees. How often we have been touched by this delicate and fleeting moment. Artists and photographers have tried to capture this, but this single word perfectly paints the picture.

Shinrin-yoku If you want to prolong the moment and immerse yourself in the experience—the Japanese have a word for that too. This word means ‘forest bathing’, a practice that includes mindfully experiencing the beauty of the komorebi while breathing the cool fresh air and hearing the leaves rustle in the gentle breeze.

Waldeinsamkeit If you were German and enjoying Shirin-yoku, a feeling of solitude, and a connectedness to nature, this is the perfect word to describe how you feel!

Mångata If you lingered long enough for the sunlight to be replaced by moonlight, this is what you would also see. A Swedish word for the glimmering, road-like reflection that the moon creates on water. Another luminescent word that paints a perfect picture.

Hygge Back home after a rejuvenating walk in the woods, what could be better that to curl up with a book from your tsundoku and get lost in the wonderful world of words! The Swedish have the perfect word for just such cosy comfort and contentment!

If only, we may say, our life could be a series of shinrin-yoku and hygge! The Japanese say that there is no reason why it cannot be. After all, is it not a lot about how you approach life? It is all about having a sense of purpose and meaning and a feeling of wellbeing–essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’, and to see the sunlight rather the clouds. They call it Ikigai.

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According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. We just have to find our own.

–Mamata

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