Wabi Sabi

January 19, 2019

Exhausted by the drive for perfection; fear not, it is time to try

 

So, reality check; New Year’s Day is a distant memory and all those probably overly optimistic resolutions lie discarded in a sad little pile. If you feel like a failure already, it doesn’t have to be that way. It often feels like the media, in particular, social media, are helping to drive the feeling that perfection in all areas of our lives is what we should be aiming for; leaving us with a sense of permanent dis-satisfaction with our lives because let’s face it, except for Mary Poppins, who is perfect?

Wabi-Sabi is a refreshing change to this perpetual and elusive search for perfection. It is a world view that embraces the acceptance of imperfection and the transient nature of the everyday. It is a fairly complex philosophy, that we will really only cover in broad brush strokes, but we are not going to worry about whether it is perfect, but just enjoy its beauty, in the moment - you’ll see, wabi-sabi style!

Disclaimer; wabi-sabi does not give you permission to cast aside the really important stuff that you have to tackle, like quitting smoking (we know it will kill you) and diabetics are not being given a free pass to gorge on sugar!

So, let’s get to grips with this very appealing concept. The most basic principles at the heart of wabi-sabi are that we need to accept our imperfections, live in the moment and appreciate natural beauty. This instinctively feels like an approach that goes against the grain, but it strikes a cord with a sentiment attributed to John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you when you are making plans.” The other expression that springs to mind is that, “We should stop and smell the roses.’” Or, as my mother-in-law taught me, “You better learn to like what you have because you can’t just have what you like.”

“Wabi” could loosely be defined as meaning “rustic simplicity” or “understated elegance” or in other words appreciating what you have rather than lusting after more.

“Sabi” means “taking pleasure in the imperfect.” This offers a refreshing perspective given the rising tide of mental health issues that seem to come from the pressure that we find ourselves under in the modern world. Wabi-sabi means we should stop obsessing about having the latest bit of tech, the newest car, being the skinniest with a face so full of botox that you can no longer show any emotion. Just stop and realise that we should be appreciating all that we are and have, especially as these things are fleeting. We can miss some of the best moments of our lives because we were too busy dreaming about what our lives will be. Put more succinctly than me, Richard Powell, the author of Wabi Sabi Simple, says, “Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

So how can we apply wabi-sabi to our lives. Zen philosophy states that there are seven aesthetic principles required in achieving wabi-sabi:

Kanso — simplicity

Fukinsei — asymmetry or irregularity

Shibumi — beauty in the understated

Shizen — naturalness without pretension

Yugen — subtle grace

Datsuzoku — freeness

Seijaku — tranquillity

A common explanation of this in practice is the much loved tea cup that has become cracked from years of use. You don’t throw it away because it is damaged - it is loved, it brings back memories and it demonstrates the principles that nothing lasts or is perfect. I have a pair of boots that I bought when I was 21 (a zillion years ago). The have been re-heeled countless times and the stitches in places are going. These boots are imperfect, will not last forever, but I am not finished with them because they hold a myriad of memories. When I wear them I appreciate their comfort, simple style, I feel free and 21 again (hard to believe, I know). In the tea cup story, the cracks are filled with gold dust to highlight the fault, not hide it.  They are not perceived to be flaws, but add to the artistry of the cup. Now, there’s a deep and challenging thought. How many of us draw attention to our flaws! Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author of Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House summarises, “It’s the true acceptance of finding beauty in things as they are.” Going against the advice of the antiques experts who tell us that an object loses value if it is damaged, wabi-sabi philosophy would suggest that the damage does the opposite.

Andrew Juniper, author of Wabi Sabi, says, “if an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy or spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi”.

 

Here’s a B&C guide to get you 

on the path to wabi-sabi

 

First thing in the morning;

When you first catch sight of yourself in the mirror, find a feature of yourself that you really like and focus on that. There will be plenty of wonderful things about you if you only take the time to recognise them.

Wear something that makes you feel good about yourself and ensure that you acknowledge that you are looking good.

Let the people in your life know you love them and take a moment before you all head off in different directions to work or school to take joy in one another.

On the way to work, take a moment to soak in the world around you. Take off your headphones and listen to the world. Appreciate nature in whatever form, be it a flower in bloom, a spectacular cloud formation that looks like a cat, or simply acknowledge another human being - make eye contact and smile.

At work, connect with others, take your lunch and go outside for 20 minutes (even if it is raining - beauty can still be found in rain - you just have to look for it).

Have a plant on or near your desk and nurture it (orchids work really well)- polish its leaves, whisper it sweet nothings and it will reward you with beautiful blooms and a connection to the natural world.

Unless the work deadline means the world will end or you will lose your job, if you have given the best you can, stop giving yourself a hard time - you know what you have to do tomorrow.

 

Arriving home after a long day at work. 

Use your journey home to switch off from that part of your life and transition into being at home. 

If you are able to walk home this is a great chance to be in the natural world. If you have a garden, step into it and bask in the environment. Gardening is a truly wonderful therapeutic activity which grounds you and gives you deep satisfaction when you watch things grow. If you don’t have a garden, there are allotments, you can have window boxes - you can find a way if you have the will.

Decide how to spend your evening. If you have children - grasp every moment you have with them because they will grow up in a heartbeat. If you are alone, then decide if you are going to enjoy your time solo, if not, make a conscious decision to connect with others.

When you eat, just eat and savour every mouthful. When you eat while you watch the TV you don’t really pay any attention to what you are eating. 

The same principle applies to what you chose to drink. It is not about quantity, but really appreciating the quality, the craftsmanship of a drink, such as a craft beer.

 

Very much in the spirit of the mindfulness movement, wabi-sabi requires you to still your noisy and active mind enough for you to be able to engage with the world around you, to appreciate simple beauty and pleasures. Stop focusing on doing and just be; stop striving to be perfect and start appreciating. Give yourself permission to love yourself, appreciate yourself and remember this mantra, “Sometimes good enough, is good enough.”

 

To read more about wabi-sabi you could try;

Richard Powell, Wabi Sabi Simple.

Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author of Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House

Andrew Juniper, Wabi Sabi

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