“Wabi sabi is a beautiful Japanese concept that has no direct translation in English. Both an aesthetic and a worldview, it connotes a way of living that finds beauty in imperfection and accepts the natural cycle of growth and decay” writes Maria Popova of Brain Pickings while introducing a picture-book of the same title by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young. Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers, a classic originally published in 1994, defines it as follows in its introduction: “Wabi sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.”.
“Wabi sabi finds beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, accepting the cycle of growth, decay and death. It’s slow and uncluttered, and regards authenticity above all. …Minimalist wabi sabi respects age and celebrates humans over invulnerable machines. It finds beauty in cracks and crevices and all the marks that time, weather and use leave behind. It reminds us that we are transient beings - that our bodies and the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which they came. Through wabi sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the impersonal sadness of liver spots, rust and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent” very eloquently writes natural health and lifestyle expert Robyn Griggs Lawrence, author of the Wabi Sabi House.
To give a quick historical background: “Wabi sabi’s origins are in ancient Chinese ways of understanding and living, known as Taoism and Zen Buddhism, but wabi sabi began to shape Japanese culture when the Zen priest Murata Shuko of Nara (1423–1502) changed the tea ceremony. He discarded the fancy gold, jade, and porcelain of the popular Chinese tea service, and simple, rough, wooden and clay instruments. About a hundred years later, the famous tea master Sen no Rikyu of Kyoto (1522–1591) brought wabi sabi into the homes of the powerful. He constructed a teahouse with a door so low that even the emperor would have to bow in order to enter, reminding everyone of the importance of humility before tradition, mystery, and spirit'“~Reibstein in Wabi Sabi.
So, the philosophy of wabi sabi is about appreciating flaws, whether in ourselves, in an object, another person, a relationship or a career. From this perspective, everything becomes perfect as it is. There is an acceptance of your imperfect self, your imperfect life, your imperfect job and imperfect relationships. Beth Kempton, author of Wabi Sabi- Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life, writes” “Put simply, wabi sabi gives you permission to be yourself. It encourages you to do your best but not make yourself ill in pursuit of an unattainable goal of perfection. It gently motions you to relax, slow down, and enjoy your life. And it shows that beauty can be found in the most unlikely places, making every day a doorway to delight.”
So in this month of February, I want to invite you into a practice of cultivating wabi sabi with the intent to develop additional capacity for self-love and self-acceptance. And I want you to take this practice into nature. As Robyn Griggs Lawrence’s definition explains, wabi sabi is amply present in nature. By observing nature, we can recognize, embrace and cultivate wabi sabi in ourselves and in our daily life so that we can in turn love others and their imperfections. As Thich Nhat Hanh said: “Loving oneself is the foundation for loving another person.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!