Updated: Aug 26, 2022
Besides being fun to say, there’s a concept called “Wabi Sabi” (wah-bee saw-bee) that I want you to know about that may bring some peace and perspective to your less-than-perfect life.
Wait, how do I know your life isn’t PERFECT? No, I haven’t been peeking in your windows. As it turns out, imperfection is the nature of things. And there is beauty, wholeness, even freedom and RELIEF to be found in it. Really! Have you ever noticed that some of what we find most beautiful, appealing, even story-worthy is “FLAWED” in some way? Fallen leaves, a faded handmade quilt, the cracked Liberty Bell, wrinkles on the face of a smiling silver-haired woman, a rose peeking through an overgrown garden…. The Japanese coined the ancient philosophy and aesthetic appeal of wabi sabi, which is defined several ways if you look it up, but is essentially the wisdom of natural simplicity and the appreciation of the value and beauty of imperfection. You can see this aesthetic reflected in much of Japanese art, like in the lumpy, asymmetrical matcha tea bowls used for the Japanese Tea Ceremony.
Wabi sabi invites us to celebrate the preciousness of all things imperfect, which as it turns out is ALL things. In this world where our lives often feel like they’re on display and inspected by the perfection police (of which we ourselves act like Hanes Inspector #12), it’s easy to forget that perfection is an illusion. More importantly, when we seek this nonexistent destination -- the perfect home, the perfect people in it, the perfect job or job perfectly done, the perfect vacation, the perfect way to act, the perfect way to feel, the perfect me -- the focus on the perfection itself (and its absence) can cause us to miss the beauty, joy and wisdom tucked into our naturally messy lives. The screw-ups, disasters, hardships, problems, these are our seeds of growth, resourcefulness, discovery and creativity - and the fabric of our unique life story. Even loss and grief can illuminate what we care about most and help us appreciate what is still here. In the powerful little book Living Wabi Sabi, author Taro Gold shares that it’s not despite our problems but because of them that our hearts hold everything we need to be joyful. What makes you magnificent is often what you think makes you “imperfect.” We can use our internal and external problems to make our lives richer, to determine our priorities and become more of who we want to be. And to appreciate the rich tapestry being woven as we go, because nothing is permanent.
I don’t know about you, but this gives me pause and opens my mind to seeing myself in a fresh, open, almost artistic way and puts a little “Oh, silly Wendy” smile on my face as I think about how many times I’ve tried to present myself as “perfect,” for fear that the secretly messy, mistakey parts of my life would be exposed rather than appreciating my own wabi sabi-ness (my own term!). And it makes me a little sad for the parts of myself that get put on a shelf like a misfit toy. It makes me curious how tough experiences have led me to this moment and shaped who I’ve become. What “negative” aspects of my personality, of my past and present life story, could be appreciated more and even spun into gold? It makes me look at the people I encounter as even more beautiful, not because they’ve got it all together and have no wrinkles or folds around the middle, but because they’re the real package of what life is - and there’s beauty in that. It makes me look at my husband and daughter with softer eyes. We are always “becoming,” like lumps of clay being worked and formed over time into unique expressions of wabi sabi art. I like what a guy named Richard Powell has to say about wabi sabi: "Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect." A paragraph from Taro’s golden book to leave you with: Appreciation manifests joy. We don’t need to live by some impossible standard to have a joyful, contributive, “enlightened” existence. We don’t need to become someone else or wait until things are “perfect” to appreciate the whole of our lives.
(This would be an ETERNAL wait). So, feeling less than perfect? I say, let’s throw a party and celebrate the wabisabi magnificence of you! Your Invitation: Find one thing you can apply a wabi sabi lens to over the next few days, whether it’s how you view yourself in the mirror, how you look at a situation, or even how you are feeling.
We're talking about a warts and all acceptance here of the whole of life because that, my friends, is where you will find the beauty and opportunity for more -- and lasting -- joy!