“Shizen-Bokeh” and the Edge of Chaos

I’m not the most organized person in the world, not even close. I envy friends and siblings who perpetually maintain neat and tidy work areas; these are personal heroes who can find a book, document, tool or piece of information at the drop of a hat. I respect that commitment to order and the efficiency that comes with it.

It’s not that I’m a total slob. I actually manage to stay organized enough most of the time to find what I need within a reasonable timeframe. It would sound so cool to call it “organized chaos”, but it would be a lie. My world is a dynamic, ever-changing process. Here’s how it works.

After letting things in my life–like files, tools, work area, desktop (you name it)–drift to the edge of chaos, I look into the abyss and my survival instincts kick in: in a frenzy I go nuts and start organizing everything. This is a highly anal-retentive state of mind so once I start I’m committed to the end. It never fails to consume several days of my time.

I get the ball rolling by making a list of all the stuff I’ve neglected (usually everything), prioritize where to begin, then–figuratively–“go to town”.

Once everything is organized, labeled and rearranged, I bask in my glory for a couple days. Then ever so slowly, imperceptibly, my new world order drifts back to the edge of chaos where it’s déjà vu all over again: once again I glimpse over the edge, say “oh sh*t!”–and it’s damn hard to say it with that asterisk in the middle–then start the organization process anew.

Can you tell that I just got back from the edge? Do I sound like a man with his life back in order? Hey, even my taxes are done! Yup, you can now call me “Tidy Tim”, thank you very much.

Shizen-Bokeh and the Hawaii Effect

You’d think that getting older would help one evolve in the tidiness department. The truth is I’ve regressed. For the edification of all readers who live in Hawaii, I’m happy to report that I’ve isolated the precise moment my regression began: the day I moved to Hawaii.

It shouldn’t surprise. Hawaii has a way of finding our inner lazy bone; it makes you want to put off something important but boring–like reorganizing your files–so you can go spend the day at Richardson’s. Hats off to the folks who go for the files. But I’m a really happy guy.

Keeping in the spirit of the Intercultural Twilight Zone, it’s worth mentioning here that the Japanese have a concept similar to the one described above: they call it “shizen bokeh”, literally “nature senility” (although “nature space-out” might be more appropriate in this case). Here’s how Japanese friends described it: when you live in a natural, beautiful place out in the country, you get sucked into the slower pace both physically and mentally. Once that happens you’re not allowed in Tokyo anymore because you’d get run over. (Okay I made that up, but there should be such a rule!)

This shizen-bokeh concept captures the essence of my spirit since moving to Hawaii: full-blown nature senility. Could this be nature’s way of preparing me for old age?

It didn’t take much reflection to realize that this is why I moved to the East side of Hawaii in the first place: to be senile! Or at least feign it so I can stay away from the pressure-cooker, deadline-oriented existence that dominated most of my waking hours in my previous life. I spent way too much time and energy focused on stuff that, in the larger scheme of things, wasn’t very important. Yes, I’ll gladly take my current chaotic existence and shizen-bokeh over what I left behind.

Now allow me to get back to basking in my temporary state of orderliness…

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2009


3 responses to ““Shizen-Bokeh” and the Edge of Chaos

  1. Aloha Tim!

    Maybe “Shizen Bokeh” is the true state we should be aspiring too?

    Definitely living in East Hawaii has positively slowed me down…for the better.

    It is a bit like riding a bike instead of driving a car…we are so amazed at how much more we can see when we ride a bike…

    I wonder what the rest of the world would be like if everyone allowed themselve to go on Hawaiian Time with the Aloha Spirit?

    Or in the spirit of Intercultural Twightlight zone, just Japan?

  2. Hi Tim,

    Good post. A good way of avoiding this is too hook-up with some german/nordic friends.

    I swear, when I came to Oxford, I wasn’t neaty, always late and it was getting worse. Now I know a few german people , who are in general always on time and neaty and so am I know.

    Always on time on appointment, neaty and sometimes … early as well… which, is kind of freaky for a french man…

    The shizen-bokeh concept is not another expression for … excuse? (sorry this one was easy lol).

    See you Sensei,

  3. Thanks for checking in, Andy-san!

    Yes, those German/Nordic types are indeed punctual folks.So are the Japanese most of the time. I used to be relatively organized, but it’s just this lovely weather…come and try it, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about…

    Yeah, it’s an excuse, but I’m sticking to it! 🙂


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