Arugamama – An Important and Favourite Japanese Word
Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates, which straddle a network of trails behind its main buildings. The trails lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters and belongs to the shrine grounds.
Arugamama is one of my favorite Japanese words and I keep it in my back pocket for everyday use. It means something like things as they are. An acknowledgement of what is, even when “what is,” is something we do not like, and cannot control. Clearly cancer is one thing that is out of our control. But so are thunderstorms and viruses and the stock market. I suspect we all can come up with a long list. What’s important about this word is that it doesn’t imply passivity, rather better described as an active acceptance. With things as they are, what can I do here? I see it as the first step towards initiating change.
When we reflect on the question — with things as they are, what can I do now, we need to distinguish between what is controllable and what is not. Working to learn, influence and change what can be changed is meaningful, satisfying and a worthwhile expenditure of energy. When we refuse the victim mantel, and turn over every stone to influence what can be changed, we gain confidence and often satisfaction. We can ask questions, seek advice, listen, and learn. Action is essential.
Looking at the challenges and catastrophes that come our way we can view arugamama as a readiness to say, “what now?” With things as they are, what can I actually do right now?
Acceptance often gets a bad rap as it gets equated with resignation and passivity – lie down and let the world walk over me. However, this wonderful definition from Jon Kabat Zinn puts that misunderstanding to rest. This is the best definition I have ever seen. It is included in a collection called Arriving at Your Own Door: 108 Lessons in Mindfulness.
Acceptance doesn’t by any stretch of the imagination mean passive resignation. Quite the opposite. It takes a huge amount of fortitude and motivation to accept what is – especially when you don’t like it – and then work mindfully as best as you possibly can with the circumstances you find yourself in, and with the resources at your disposal, to be in wise relationship to what is, which may mean at some point acting to mitigate, heal, re-direct, or change what can be changed.
Note 1:) One line from our wise poet, Mary Oliver: “Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
Note 2:) Something for listening. This video was created from the contributions of over 200 physicians from across Canada, singing and recording this music in isolation between November and December 2020 and under the auspices of the Phoenix Chamber Choir in Vancouver. It’s purpose is to help support front line mental health and addictions programs across Canada. I so enjoyed this cheerful, encouraging and worthwhile production called:
Note 3: ) Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to read these musings and sending encouraging words. With appreciation and warmest wishes for you all. See you next week, Trudy
Trudy, thank you so very very much for this. “with things as they are, what can I do now?” melds so well with my current readings on Stoicism, like “Stoicism and the Art of Happiness: Practical wisdom for everyday life”. With things as they are, how can I remain balanced, curious, thoughtful and helpful? Blessings.
Trudy I enjoyed reading this tonight.never hurts to be reinforced in this uncertain time.Stay well my friend.
Thank you, Trudy, for reminding me of Arugamama. The choir “An Ordinary Day” enforced the word, made my mind and body La Ta Ta. Let me share it with my friends and daughter on call.
How interesting, we are on the same theme the same time:-) Yesterday, I saw an interview with John Kabat-Zinn on YouTube and shortly after read an article about the danger of acceptance and total mindfulness…
In Bavarian, we have a saying “Schauen wir mal”, which is quite similar to Arugamama, but also could be translated as “let’s wait and see (before we take a hasty, overdone action)”.
Thank you so much, Trudy – once again you put an important piece to my puzzle.
I love that word too mom, it has already served me well in this wonderful life so far 🙂
Thank you Trudy, I appreciate that you emphasize the active part of acceptance of things as they are – so important to living life fully. love Jan
Great Choir Trudy, inspirational and so very authentic, thank you. I am always amazed how you find all these things to pass on, thank you.
Thanks Trudy, always an inspiration! A great way to remind myself for accepting things as they are and what can I actually do right now.