Embracing The Perfect Imperfections of Wabi-Sabi
Upon suggesting that everyone needs more wabi-sabi in their lives, some people might imagine steaming hot noodles served up at a restaurant of the same name. In truth, the ancient Japanese principle of Wabi-Sabi represents an approach to life that embraces beauty in imperfection, impermanence and incompleteness.
The belief that natural decay, in and of itself, enriches rather than diminishes life, can drastically reduce our day-to-day levels of stress, pressure and worry.
What are Some Examples of Wabi Sabi?
- Faded or torn jeans
- A quilt or afghan that has frayed with time
- The perfectly seasoned iron-skillet
- A well-worn baseball glove or ball cap
- Old, comfortable sneakers
- The chipped and stained mug that makes coffee taste even better
These are material examples of wabi-sabi, but the philosophy is especially meaningful in the weightier aspects of existence. For example, the physical changes that occur to our bodies with age, while often difficult, are cause for celebration, despite modern society’s emphasis and obsession on the opposite.
Though the lines around our eyes might have deepened, they are a testament to the lessons learned, the texture of experiences and the wisdom gathered along the way.
The practice of wabi-sabi has roots in 15th century Japan and the Buddhist practice of nonattachment. Some historians suggest that the philosophy was a reaction to cultural lavishness and excesses that were popular in Japanese culture at the time. Adherents of wabi-sabi admired the exquisite cycle of growth, decay and death, which released them from lamenting over imperfections that exist in virtually every aspect of a material and spiritual world.
Some credit American born artist and designer Leonard Koren for bringing the concept into western consciousness with his book, “Wabi-Sabi For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers.” Koren, who lived and studied in Japan for years, defined wabi-sabi as “the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty.” He believed that this aesthetic in Japan held roughly the same position that the culture of the ancient Greeks hold in western societies.
Western society, in many respects, places emphasis on the latest and greatest things available. This desire to keep up with our neighbors or colleagues is an impossible task simply because there will always be newer and, seemingly, better jobs, products or relationships. While it is important to improve our lives, wabi-sabi encourages us to see the perfection in imperfection, the stability in impermanence and find comfort in the knowledge that nothing is ever complete.
As an approach to not just everyday life, but also recovery from addiction, cancer, eating disorders or mental health issues, wabi-sabi can be a valuable tool. The understanding that everything is an unfinished work in progress allows individuals from all walks of life to have compassion for themselves and for others.
Accepting the concept of wabi-sabi, imperfection and impermanence can relieve the pressure of trying to be perfect all the time and instead, enjoying and embracing life and the way things are meant to be.
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