“Accepting the world as imperfect, unfinished, and transient, and then going deeper and celebrating that reality, is something not unlike freedom.”
~ Richard Powell
My 11-year-old daughter Izzie and I take guitar lessons together.
Izzie got a new Martin guitar for Christmas, a beautiful spruce acoustic with a full, rich sound. A few weeks ago at guitar practice, she yanked her guitar out of its case, knocking the case off the table and banging her instrument against the wall.
The awful thwack reverberated across the room, knocking my heart into my belly. I was afraid to look, certain the damage was immense.
My knee-jerk response was less than yogic:
“Isabelle! Dammit! Why can’t you be more careful?“
Izzie’s eyes filled with tears, and I immediately wanted to pull those harsh words of judgment out of the air and back into my mouth.
Mr. Steve, our guitar teacher, is a zen, aging hippie who writes poetry and smells of woodsmoke. He’s patient and kind and idolizes Neil Young. We adore him. He calmly picked up the guitar, peered down the neck at the new dent and said,
“Eh. Wabi Sabi.”
Wabi sabi, indeed.
Wabi sabi is an ancient artistic philosophy rooted in Zen Buddhism. In a Buddhist tea ceremony, tea is served only in bowls that have uneven glaze, cracks, dents and other imperfections. The bowls are respected because of their flaws, reminding the drinker that everything is in a constant shift toward decay.
Loosely translated, “wabi” means simplicity, and “sabi” means the advantage of age and wear. I prefer to think of it as “perfectly imperfect.”
Growth and decay is the natural order of things. It would do us all good to learn to more fully love the cracks and dents in life. Pretty is nice, but real is truly beautiful. And real is always perfectly imperfect.
Social media has convinced us to seek perfection in every area of our lives. We are made to feel that our bodies, homes, jobs and families should be camera-ready, flawless at every moment, leading to an ongoing state of frustration and dissatisfaction—since, you know, perfection is a lie.
Wabi sabi isn’t found in Photoshop, Botox, carefully manicured lawns, the insatiable drive to be young or the shiny, new and mass-produced. Wabi sabi is well-earned laugh lines, crumbling brick on a beloved home, stretch marks from a body that has carried life, a favorite sweater with a hole in the sleeve, a misshapen but tasty tomato.
Beauty lies in the authenticity of the object, or moment. The miraculous is usually the mundane. We just need to open our eyes to the miracles.
We can cultivate a wabi sabi life by embracing the perfectly imperfect.
Slow down to awaken to the beautiful, miraculous and messy all around you today. See the world with appreciative eyes: the gorgeous clouds on a gray day, a yellow dandelion against green grass or a new wrinkle on your face.
That beautiful, perfectly imperfect mess is life. Don’t miss it.
Author: Erin Smith
Editor: Toby Israel