The Wabi Sabi Way of Life
April 6, 2017
Wabi Sabi is an ancient Japanese philosophy with roots in Taoism and Zen Buddhism that embraces the art of imperfection and impermanence. It values simplicity, nature, and beauty in the everyday – the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. 1 It’s a profound aesthetic consciousness that transcends appearance – an experience that can be felt but rarely verbalized.
Wabi Sabi, when applied to art and design, includes seven key categories: type, form, texture, beauty, color, simplicity, space, balance, and sobriety. These categories emphasize organic shapes and materials, natural textures, muted colors, and simple compositions. However, the principals of Wabi Sabi are perhaps the most profound when used as an internal, contemplative practice.
At the heart of it, Wabi Sabi is about appreciating change. It’s looking at your body in the mirror, and seeing the beauty in your flaws, whether it’s aging, scars or cellulite. It’s accepting what you’ve been through and remaining optimistic for what the future brings. It’s about learning to carry your burdens in life with grace and dignity. It’s finding a sense of balance from within — love amidst pain, and vibrancy amidst illness. 2
In Western culture, we have embraced the classical Greek ideal of beauty, which celebrates smooth, symmetrical perfection. We focus on achievements and goals, constantly striving for more, whether it’s a better job, more money, a bigger house or a better body. When hardships strike, we tend to focus on the negative and even compare ourselves to others whose lives seem more fortunate – experiencing feelings of envy, failure, or regret. But what if we were to believe that where we are in this exact moment is exactly where we're supposed to be? What if our so-called flaws are actually the unique signatures that make us who we are? And instead of criticizing ourselves, what if we could learn to appreciate the nuances of our personalities, bodies and lives, and rejoice in what makes us different?
What if our imperfections actually make us perfect?
Adopting this mindset doesn’t mean that we should settle or get lazy, but rather that we should strive for balance, discipline, joy and acceptance in what already exists. The Wabi Sabi philosophy suggests that by shifting our perspective from negative to positive, and by embracing authenticity, we can cultivate a much kinder, fulfilled life with a greater sense of harmony. Nothing in life is truly perfect, so let’s just be happy with the one we’re given.
"Forget your perfect offering/There's a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in." – Leonard Cohen