Oubaitori

How very different we all are. How similar we all are. The same, but different.

I see this likeness in you, but I also notice this discrepancy. This experience of mine resonates with you, but this one we have never shared. We have both witnessed this place, that person, seen this sunrise, watched that film. But you spent last summer in this location while I was in that. Your friend is her, my friend is him. You admired that magical sunrise while I slept soundly.


In Japanese culture, oubaitori (pronounced oh-buy-toe-ree) is an idiom that means we shouldn't compare ourselves to others but recognise instead what makes us special and unique. The cherry, plum, apricot and peach trees, which all flower in the springtime, are illustrative of the concept; the cherry tree can merely be the cherry tree - it cannot be the peach tree. The exact moment in time that the plum tree blossoms, and for how long, is not relevant to the apricot tree's flowering trajectory.


Social media insidiously encourages us to assess our lives in relation to those of other people. We see an image of a stunning house, idyllic beach or picture-perfect face, and too readily we ask ourselves why we don't live there, aren't enjoying that holiday, or do not look that way? What is wrong with us?


Oubaitori, in contrast, means acceptance. It means putting an end to the never-ending questions. It tells us to not ask why the cherry tree blossom is different to the blossom of the apricot tree; reminds us to not ask why this person looks that way, while another does not. Both are irrelevant questions, because the cherry tree is not the apricot tree, and that person is not that person.


When we stop comparing ourselves to others, we can pause to acknowledge our own strengths and wonderfully rare qualities. We can feel gratitude for the singular road we have travelled along that has brought us to this peculiar corner of the universe and all existence. We can recall the many twists and turns we have followed before we woke up here, today, in this moment, where we get to be this version of a human being. A perfect one-off.


Next time you are outside, stand in front of a tree and think about the degree to which you accept it. Do you ponder why it does not have a thicker trunk, longer branches, more flowers or less leaves? Do you ruminate over why the canopy is as dense as it is, or why the roots are so pronounced, disrupting the earth that lies around the tree's base?


Or do you simply look at the tree, and accept it, just as it is?

















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