Living Below the Line - A Darker Side of Poverty

About a year ago I did a couple of posts focusing on the Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi – Can Wabi-Sabi Save the World? & Envisioning a Wabi-Sabi World. I’ll leave it to the interested reader to check those out further, but what is salient to this present post is the meaning of the word wabi. English words frequently associated with wabi are: quietness, solitude, simplicity, and poverty (Iwamoto, 2008; Munsterberg, 1957; Suzuki, 1959). I bring this up in this current context because my experience of this Live Below the Line challenge has, in fact, been very wabi. It has fostered introspection, contemplation, and a deep spiritual appreciation of something that we normally take for granted – the food that we eat.

I wonder, however, if perhaps my previous two posts might have seemed to veer towards the romantic – making extreme poverty seem like a blessed nudge toward deeper spiritual understanding rather than the dire hardship that it is. Indeed, there is a reason that wabi-sabi has come to convey a rather romantic aesthetic sense, but the poverty of living on less than $1.50 per day (for all of your needs, not just nutrition) is not romantic in the least. And so, with this post, I want to express two important points: 1) the beneficial spiritual aspect of being attuned to that which is truly needed, and 2) the hardship and inequity of having to live at a level below that which is truly needed. Whereas others are forced by circumstance to live with inadequacy day in and day out, I have taken on this challenge by choice; and that, in a nutshell, is the difference between grinding poverty and the spiritual appreciation fostered by voluntary simplicity, between indigence and the “poverty” of wabi.

Tomorrow is the last day of my challenge. I want to compose a wrap-up post but I'm going to need more than a day to put it together! Please stay tuned. Thank you for reading!



Iwamoto, H, (2008). Japanese aesthetic sense through Zen. The World Sacred Text Publishing Association, Tokyo.

Munsterberg, H. (1962). The arts of Japan – An illustrated history. Charles E. Tuttle Company.

Suzuki, D. T. (1959). Zen and Japanese culture. Published by MJF Books by arrangement with Princeton University Press.


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Image of girl and barbed wire via:


Copyright 2013 by Mark Frank


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