Wabi Sabi: Perfect Imperfection

WABI-SABI – a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete – Leonard Koren in Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

Chipped pottery. 

Wrinkles, scars, and scrapes. 

Lopsided, rustic apple tart.

Wrinkled sheets. 

The concept of wabi-sabi, cultivated by the Japanese philosopher Rikyu in the 15th century, centers on the ideas of simplicity and the “art of finding beauty in imperfection.”  While wabi-sabi is complex and incorporates aspects of spirituality, metaphysics, aesthetics, minimalism, morality, and mindset, more generally, wabi-sabi is about things impermanent, earthy, humble, imperfect, and unconventional. 

In a material sense, wabi-sabi is the farmer’s market vs. chain grocery store; wavy, tossed hair vs. hair ironed straight; used, coffee-stained, dog-eared books vs. brand new books with glossy covers; wild daisies hand-picked along the ocean vs. cultivated roses ordered from an online floral delivery franchise; a favorite jacket with rips sustained on a hike vs. an unblemished one on a department store hanger.  

As a mindset, wabi-sabi doesn’t follow a rigid set of rules but, as Julie Pointer Adams explains, encourages a more flexible, relaxed, “c’est la vie” (“such is life”) approach to life.  She advises:  “Instead of clinging to how you envisioned things would unfold, try a c’est la vie outlook and you may just be rewarded for your flexibility.” 

Indeed, a flexible, or elastic, mind helps us to incorporate ideas, design new ways of thinking about things, perhaps think outside the lines of conventionality, ask critical questions about what we believe – in ways that benefit our personal growth and perhaps, by extension, our community interactions.  Adopting a wabi-sabi mindset may mean that we’re accepting of change, or the unexpected, or the imperfect – and also that we’re conscious of our approach, regularly examine it, and, as a reward, evolve.  As natural material that decays and dies and evolves into various beautiful forms over time, we are always incomplete, imperfect, and impermanent.    

For me, to value the imperfect means that I do not need to be perfect, that I can abandon expectations in favor of courageously approaching the unknown; that there is great value, authenticity and strength in just being as I am, without frills, but with plenty of bumps, scrapes, and scars.

Exercise: Where do you see wabi sabi in the material world?  How might your attention to wabi-sabi material details – whether out in the world, or in your creation of a wabi-sabi aesthetic at home – influence your inclination toward a more flexible, wabi-sabi mindset?  Why do we carry one expectation or another anyway?  How do our expectations limit us?  














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