Wabi-Sabi – the beauty of imperfection, impermanence and incomplete.
This excerpt from Leonard Koren’s definition of Wabi-Sabi comes from his book, by the same name, for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers. I was mystified by the concept, when I first heard about it, due in part to being a North American child of the post war. It seemed to me that my teachers, at least, were expecting perfection, and spent time looking for the flaws to be fixed in every project. They were certainly not looking for flaws to admire.
Yet the Japanese honoured and celebrated the cracked pots, which were long ago repaired with gold. They honoured the naturalness of ageing, the inevitability of death and an acceptance of what is. This concept appreciates simplicity and pays attention to the details including the flaws, giving value to what is also not perfect.
Although Wabi-Sabi is viewed as an aesthetic philosophy I like to apply the spirit of Wabi-Sabi to everyday living and working. Everything from how we accept the flaws of our fellow mortals and ourselves, to how we manage our difficulties at home and in our workplaces. Making room for imperfect points of view and an open mindset for problem solving offers potential for greater collaboration and productivity, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
I find this spirit encouraging. It allows me to be more expansive with learning new things. I approach the unfamiliar more as an experiment and see what happens. Rather than thinking about it forever – like this website and not doing it, I take the first step and then the next. It isn’t about being careless or cavalier. It is about doing the best we can with what we have. Most importantly it encourages completion. The danger we face when seeking perfection is that we can never be done. With a spirit that is willing to take risks, and make mistakes, we enjoy the satisfaction of learning and doing. We recognize the beauty in our imperfectly perfect selves and the works of our lives.
It can be useful to take time to reflect on things that each of us wants to do. That is, if we take action. Turns out purposeful action is good for our health and our healing. Yet, even then, many of us have decided to do certain things yet never begin. How many things have you decided to do that aren’t started yet? Imagine, things that we really, really want to do, but we don’t take the first step. In my case the reason was often fear of not doing something well enough.
It is a great experience to discover the joy and satisfaction that comes from producing: a drawing; a new recipe; a book; an article; letters to old friends; learning an instrument; photography; to name but a few. Jump in with both feet. Go for it. Make music, write, do stand-up comedy, see the world, take that pottery class, join a wood working group, dig up a lawn and plant flowers. Learn a new language, travel, ride a bike, take a class in anything that interests you. Renovate a room. U-tube will teach you everything you need to know, according to friends of mine who are always trying new things.
Sure, mistakes will happen. But learn to love the effort you put in to living your life. Celebrate your attempts, your rejection letters, and your uneven hand-thrown bowl. Find moments of joy every day, by the courageous act of making time for something you love. Live wholeheartedly and allow room for the flaws.
Note: One of my most favourite stanzas from Leonard Cohen appears to celebrate this same spirit of Wabi-Sabi:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.