I had not heard the term Wabi Sabi until recently, and my first thought was: Is it delicious?
Turns out Wabi Sabi is a Japanese term, but its definition was not what I was expecting when my mouth watered with thoughts of salmon and prawns, wasabi and sticky rice.
Turns out, loosely translated, “wabi” is elegant or rustic simplicity and “sabi” means the beauty of age and wear. An appreciation that imperfections can be beautiful by the very virtue of their uniqueness.
Hmmm, sounds like the image I see in the mirror everyday. That mole above my left eyebrow that has looked back at me since I was a child. Those more recent sunspots on my cheeks and hands…That slight overbite that I’ve never really liked, but my husband finds charming…
Leonard Koren, author of “Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers,” penned this English 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.“
As far as I’m concerned anything antithetical to our Western values of perfection must be something worth embracing.
Perfectionism is an insidious taskmaster because it always sets the bar just higher than it’s ever possible for us to reach, always dangling the carrot but never allowing us to rest and enjoy the crunchy treat, or the progress we’re making. Perfection likes to put blinders on us, refusing to allow us to appreciate the view along the way. It’s a frustrating, exhausting, thankless overlord, and what makes it worse is that we are willing subordinates to its whims.
One of my favourite new quotes is this: “You are allowed to be both a masterpiece and a work in progress, simultaneously.” – Sophia Bush
The perspective this has given me has come like a breath of fresh air. When I repeat it to myself I feel my shoulders drop, tension drains from my hands. It brings a smile to my face and gives me a jolt of energy that reminds me of my beloved caffeine. It gives me permission to appreciate what I’ve accomplished and anticipate where I might go in the future.
Wabi Sabi doesn’t mean that we should never work towards making things better. Humans – like everything else in the Universe – are incapable of staying stagnant, our world is ever-changing and so are we. But it does mean that we’re allowed to love things as they are, to appreciate them in the moment, to not drive ourselves to exhaustion striving for something that just isn’t possible.
Do we stop loving our children if they develop scars, or chronic illnesses? Do we give away our pets just because they’ve lost a tail in an accident? No, we recognize the fact that everything about them just adds to their absolute lovable uniqueness.
So, the next time you look in a mirror and find yourself wishing you had a magic wand to make all those perceived deficiencies disappear remember this: How would you recognize yourself, how would your loved ones spot you in a crowd, if you looked – and behaved – just like everyone else? There would be no joy in living in a world of perfect clones.
Wabi Sabi is freedom from the constant never-ending struggle to do better, to be better, to reach an unattainable perfection.
Wabi Sabi may not be sushi, but it sure seems delicious after all.