Saturday, May 20, 2017

Wabi Sabi: How to find Beauty in Imperfection

Every time I walk up to my front door I notice a trail of black rubber skid-like marks on the white paint at the bottom of the door.  It used to annoy me intensely - black on white and scrub as I have, it just won't budge.  I started to think about why those marks are there, and I remembered that they were made by my son's front bicycle tyre, that he used to prop and push open the door when he returned home.  This same son is now many, many miles away in Sydney and how I yearn to hear his key in the door, and yes, I would even welcome yet more tyre marks on my front door, if he were only to return home.  So now I look at that front door in a slightly different way; instead of seeing dirty marks that just won't wash away, I see a million stories of our lives; I see my son's happy face as he pushes his bike home and I feel intense gratitude for the love that we have for each other as a family.  I have learned to love the imperfections and see the beauty in the back story.  Enter Wabi Sabi - the Japanese term for imperfection.  Wabi Sabi is a Zen Buddhist philosophy, rooted in the sacred tea ritual (have you ever  taken part in this amazing tea ritual?  It's an experience not to be missed - try it here) where the tea masters took great pride in their handmade glazed bowls - complete with irregular shaping, cracks and other imperfections.  It was the imperfection that made them illogically beautiful. These bowls are prized, precisely because of their imperfections.

Leonard Koren, author of "Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers," has coined his own definition : "Wabi sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental."

What does Wabi Sabi look like in the everyday then?  It might be your favourite chipped mug, the frayed denim jeans with a rogue hole at the knee; it could be the wonky carrot in the vegetable tray, an unedited blog post or the worn and loved toy from childhood; it might be the weathered and peeling shutter or the bare rough face of a wall.  Wabi Sabi is not to be found in the pursuit of perfect botoxed skin,  nor in the relentless acquisition of perfect designer clothes, the pristine kitchen or perfectly symmetrical knot garden.  Wabi Sabi is to be found in the smallest imperfections, that we routinely ignore or abandon.  Wabi Sabi is understanding that something is beautiful, precisely because it is imperfect.

So let's relinquish perfection and our relentless pursuit of it.  What could be more liberating than seeing beauty in the everyday imperfections all around us; not only seeing it, but celebrating it's aesthetic in our daily lives.  As Koren says 'Get rid of all that is unnecessary. Wabi-sabi means treading lightly on the planet and knowing how to appreciate whatever is encountered, no matter how trifling, whenever it is encountered. [...] In other words, wabi-sabi tells us to stop our preoccupation with success--wealth, status, power, and luxury--and enjoy the unencumbered life. Obviously, leading the simple wabi-sabi life requires some effort and will and also some tough decisions. Wabi-sabi acknowledges that just as it is important to know when to make choices, it is also important to know when not to make choices: to let things be. Even at the most austere level of material existence, we still live in a world of things. Wabi-sabi is exactly about the delicate balance between the pleasure we get from things and the pleasure we get from freedom of things.”  

Next next time I'm tempted to bemoan the fact that I don't have the perfect smile, or that one eyebrow seems higher than the other, or that my home doesn't feature in a glossy magazine, that the front path tile is chipped, I'm going to stop and remind myself to accept my world as it is, embrace it and celebrate it.  Imperfections and all.