WabiSabi is a depiction of the beauty experienced in the fleeting moments between the beginning and end of life. This is an ancient Japanese philosophy that derives value and purity from imperfections.
Currently, the world is in a state of flux and is pervaded by a fast-paced, highly stressful environment and materialism. So much so that we have forgotten to appreciate simplicity and accept the transient nature of all things.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that countless individuals turn to ancient wisdom to re-connect with their authentic selves.
A philosophy deeply rooted in Zen and the Way of Tea, the wisdom of WabiSabi might just be our antidote.
What is it about this ancient Japanese wisdom that is both captivating and enigmatic?
It is a complicated concept that is not easy to define. As entertainer and author Taro Gold described in his book, Living Wabi-Sabi:
“Ask people on a Tokyo street to describe WabiSabi, they will likely give you a polite shrug and explain that WabiSabi is simply unexplainable.”
The translation of the phrase “WabiSabi” (侘寂) is still ambiguous. To the Japanese, it is more of a feeling than a notion. It may be found in traditional Japanese aesthetics such as flower arrangement, literature, philosophy, poetry, tea ceremonies, and Zen gardens.
WabiSabi is simply a combination of two words. In order to understand the potency of WabiSabi, we must delve into the etymology of the words “wabi” and “sabi.”
Wabi beckons us to appreciate beauty in its most basic of forms. One that emerges from its natural imperfections and flaws rather than from something that has been artfully constructed.
The word describes a feeling of loneliness brought on by living in nature and being cut off from society.
Sabi is related to the passage of time and how everything grows, ages, and eventually dies. Collectively, they imply that beauty can be found beneath the simple yet impermanent stages of life.
The word is associated with quiet spaces without human presence. Just picture a lone observer quietly enjoying the natural beauty of the world.
Wabi and sabi both refer to the idea of the universe’s impermanence. It also demonstrates how this temporality might be viewed as a lovely beginning rather than a painful ending.
WabiSabi began when Sen no Rikyu sought out tea master Takeeno Joo to study the intricacies of the tea ceremony. Before the lesson got off the ground, the tea master gave his new apprentice a test.
Rikyu is given the task of tending the garden. He gave it a thorough cleaning, raking it until it was immaculate. Before summoning his master, he did a final inspection. Then, he shook a cherry tree till the flowers fell to the ground.
This subtle imperfection gave rise to the WabiSabi philosophy.
On the surface, this philosophy appears to offer an escape from the obsession with perfection that permeates the world today. But it goes deeper than merely accepting flaws and imperfections.
Here are 6 lessons from WabiSabi you can apply daily to make your life spectacular:
Everything has a shelf life because it is impermanent. Photographer and filmmaker Brian Thompson beautifully described the transient nature of life:
“Without impermanence, all of life would be impossible. A seed could not grow into a fruit, for it would forever remain a seed. A boy could not become a man. An idea could not become a plan. Spring would never arrive; winter would never leave.”
It is a fact that everything will perish one day, whether we like it or not. There’s not much that you and I can do about that. The only thing we can change is our perception of impermanence.
Start by altering the way you connect with everything, including your possessions, loved ones, and friends. Remember that while you’re fortunate to be able to enjoy the things you do, they may disappear at any moment.
When you can accomplish this, you’ll start to cherish things more. Your perspective on life will change, and you’ll feel more joy and gratitude for this beautiful human lifetime. You will also gladly embrace life’s impermanence.
People today spend a fortune trying to achieve perfection. Social media is awash with edited images and videos of people with symmetrical faces, flawless bodies, and flawless skin.
The pursuit of perfection can be taxing because, in reality, imperfections are in everything that exists. Nothing is perfect.
In Kintsugi, a centuries-old Japanese technique for restoring broken ceramics, flaws are accentuated rather than covered up. This ancient technique uses gold lacquer to bind the broken pieces of pottery together to show appreciation for imperfections.
Kintsugi, often cited as a physical manifestation of WabiSabi, encourages the creation of something more distinctive and beautiful despite imperfections. It is a reminder to us that even if we have scars, they represent our tenacity, toughness, and acquired wisdom.
Kintsugi’s idea of finding beauty in brokenness is an ideal metaphor for our lives. Our failures and mistakes are not a reflection of our incompetence or shortcomings. Instead, they offer new opportunities to help us improve, grow, and live a fulfilled life.
While we may not be able to change our past mistakes, we can change our perception of it.
From Kintsugi, we learn to appreciate beauty in imperfection. This aligns with the WabiSabi way of thinking, which implores us to pursue excellence rather than perfection.
People often confuse perfectionism with excellence. The pursuit of excellence is not synonymous with the pursuit of perfection.
According to The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism, here is the distinction between the two:
“Excellence is a healthy striving to be outstanding or above average. It promotes personal growth and improvement. But perfectionists don’t just expect excellence; they have such painfully high standards that anything short of perfect is intolerable.”
Those who aim for excellence may acknowledge that mistakes are a natural part of the process. They don’t let their mistakes define them.
When you strive for excellence, you push yourselves to be the finest version of yourself. In other words, simply do your best to be the best that you can be.
But those who seek perfection believe that they will be infallible and that they can out-perform everyone else. They view errors as proof of their lack of competence or inferiority.
The pursuit of perfection can be demanding and demoralizing. It’s not only a heavy burden to bear; it is also unrealistic.
In the teachings embedded in the WabiSabi philosophy, it’s not necessary to be perfect to strive for excellence. It suggests that you make the best use of your skills, talents, and abilities and do your absolute best.
Life can be very unpredictable. Everything is going according to plan for one moment, and suddenly, things can start to go in the opposite direction.
Many people would have thought back on their own “sliding door” experiences. Some might ponder the “what if” and “what could have been” scenarios in their lives.
As for the Stoics, they embrace a way of thinking that helps them make the most of any situation. This is the concept of Amor Fati, which roughly translates to “love of fate.”
This is consistent with the WabiSabi philosophy of gratitude, acceptance, and surrendering to the imperfect course of life. The Yamabushi monks of the Dewa Sanzan in northern Japan share a similar mindset with the Stoics.
The monks hold the belief that spiritual awakening comes from accepting both the good and bad things in life. In their quest for enlightenment, they embrace the idea of Uketamo, which means “I humbly accept with an open heart.”
The practice of Uketamo is all about learning to accept the things you cannot change:
→ Have you been passed over for a promotion? Practice Uketamo.
→ Your brand-new Armani suit was ruined when you were splattered by a passing car. Practice Uketamo.
The practice of acceptance frees you from the negative forces that might otherwise lead to a struggle. This freedom allows you to shift your energy to where you want to go. It is the path to peace and growth.
The Japanese tea ceremony is the inspiration for WabiSabi. When you are drinking a cup of tea, all your five senses are ignited. As you pour the tea, you can hear the sound of water trickling into the cup.
You can see the steam, smell the tea, and eventually taste it. All this happens while you feel the texture and warmth of the cup in your hand.
Your attention is brought to the present if you can fully immerse yourself in the process of drinking tea. This can free you from the tension, worry, and anxiety that come with your fast-paced, hectic lifestyle.
The simple pleasure of slowing down and appreciating a mundane act like drinking tea is the essence of WabiSabi. It provides you with an opportunity to stop, reflect, and contemplate life. Try indulging in simple pleasures like reading a book at the park, taking nature walks, and tending your plants.
As Beth Kempton, author of Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life, wrote in her book:
“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.”
The fifth lesson of WabiSabi beckons you to slow down, live simply, and focus on what really matters to you.
Everyone in our goal-driven culture seems to be working toward a lofty aim. It is the strong conviction that when you achieve something great, you will finally be happy.
There is nothing wrong with pursuing lofty goals. When you focus on its attainment for your happiness in life, that is when problems arise.
Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar, the author of Happier: Learn The Secrets To Daily Joy And Lasting Fulfillment, called this the arrival fallacy. This is the widespread misconception that obtaining a particular goal will make one happy.
Unfortunately, happiness is just a temporary sensation. According to Canadian clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Barbera:
“Happiness is a fleeting feeling that comes and goes but cannot last, as life will inevitably lead to other incompatible feelings such as uneasiness, fear, anger, etc.”
Happiness is more externally motivated, leaving us vulnerable to unforeseen events or shifting circumstances. So, if happiness is not the answer, what is?
The sixth lesson from the WaniSabi philosophy is fulfillment. Dr. Barbera defined it as:
“…the process of living a valued life, where one pursues things that matter to them or that they are passionate about.”
One of the best definitions of fulfillment comes from author and inspirational speaker Simon Sinek:
“Fulfillment isn’t another word for happiness.
Fulfillment is deeper. Fulfillment lasts. The difference between happiness and fulfillment is the difference between liking something and loving something. We don’t necessarily like our kids all the time, for example, but we do love them all the time.
We don’t necessarily find happiness in our jobs every day, but we can feel fulfilled by our work every day if it makes us feel part of something bigger than ourselves.”
These six lessons from the philosophy of WabiSabi put your mind at ease and help you appreciate what you have. Practice these teachings to achieve a state of mindfulness, live in the present moment, and be at peace with yourself.
WabiSabi is about the small, the hidden, and the transient. Things that are so subtle and fleeting that they are nearly imperceptible at first glance. But it can make your life spectacular.
Nobuo Suzuki, Russell Calvert, Hector Garcia
Like this article? Then you might want to read this: