Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Philosophy For a Perfectly Imperfect Life
Life is unpredictable. And that’s okay. Embrace it.
When nothing is certain, everything is possible!
Your plans for tomorrow, next month or next year may not unfold as you expect. But it’s important to make plans and move on.
Landon Donovan once said, “Life isn’t perfect, of course, but we all know it’s how you react to things that counts.”
Imperfection is the basic principle of Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese philosophy of accepting your imperfections and making the most of life.
“Wabi” is said to be defined as “rustic simplicity” or “understated elegance” with a focus on a less-is-more mentality.
“Sabi” is translated to “taking pleasure in the imperfect.”
The concept of wabi-sabi, is wide and almost impossible to distill in a single post, but can easily be applied simply to moments of everyday life.
The relentless pursuit of perfection — in possessions, relationships, achievements — often leads to stress, anxiety, depression and hasty judgement.
This is where wabi-sabi invites a pause.
The Japanese philosophy encourages us to focus on the blessings hiding in our daily lives, and celebrating the way things are rather than how they should be.
Wabi-sabi prizes authenticity.
Wabi-Sabi is “a way of life that appreciates and accepts complexity while at the same time values simplicity,” writes Richard Powell in his book, Wabi Sabi Simple.
Richard says it acknowledges three simple realities:
“Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”
In Zen philosophy, there are seven aesthetic principles in achieving wabi-sabi:
- Kanso — simplicity
- Fukinsei — asymmetry or irregularity
- Shibumi — beauty in the understated
- Shizen — naturalness without pretense
- Yugen — subtle grace
- Datsuzoku — freeness
- Seijaku — tranquility
The timeless wisdom of wabi-sabi is more relevant now than ever for modern life, as we search for meaning and fulfilment beyond materialism.
Wabi-sabi is like minimalism with a conscious choice.
The concept has its roots in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
A common explanation is the example of a well-loved teacup, made by an artist’s hands, cracked or chipped by constant use.
Such traces remind the observer that nothing is permanent — even fixed objects are subject to change.
A great example of wabi-sabi in creativity is the art of kintsugi, where cracked pottery is filled with gold dusted lacquer as a way to showcase the beauty of its age and damage rather than hiding it.
The fault is not hidden but highlighted.
This is not to say the Craftsman was sloppy (wabi-sabi isn’t an excuse for poor craftsmanship). Wabi-sabi draws attention to the cracks in a tea cup as part of the beauty of the object.
In his book The Unknown Craftsman, Soetsu Yanagi argues that imperfections are necessary for a full appreciation of the object and the world.
We in our own human imperfections are repelled by the perfect, since everything is apparent from the start and there is no suggestion of the infinite.
Wabi-sabi is everywhere, you just need to know how to look, and what to do to embrace the concept in your life.
The cracks in the old teacup are seen as assets rather than flaws.
“Wabi sabi is a different kind of looking, a different kind of mindset,” explains Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author of Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House . “It’s the true acceptance of finding beauty in things as they are,” he says.
What does it take to embrace Wabi-sabi in your life?
Robyn explains that you don’t money, or special skills to appreciate your imperfections and make the most of life.
Bringing wabi-sabi into your life doesn’t require money, training, or special skills. It takes a mind quiet enough to appreciate muted beauty, courage not to fear bareness, willingness to accept things as they are — without ornamentation. It depends on the ability to slow down, to shift the balance from doing to being, to appreciating rather than perfecting.
Mike Sturm says Wabi-sabi is about accepting yourself and building on what you already have in life. He writes.
Embracing wabi-sabi is as easy (or as difficult) as understanding and accepting yourself — imperfections and all. It’s about being compassionate with yourself as you are, and building on whatever that is — not feverishly trying to rebuild yourself in order to pose as something else entirely.
Today, appreciation of the things we have, people we love, and the experiences we have the opportunity to weave into our lives is losing value.
Wabi-sabi represents a precious cache of wisdom that values tranquillity, harmony, beauty and imperfection, and can strengthen your resilience in the face of materialism.
It gently motions you to relax, slow down, step back from the hectic modern world and find enjoyment and gratitude in everything you do.
Put simply, wabi-sabi gives you permission to be yourself.
Embrace the perfection of being imperfectly you.
Before you go…
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