November 4, 2020

This Japanese Perspective Reminds us to see the Beauty in Broken Things.


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Some mornings, I look in the mirror and think, “How did this happen?”

But that question does not come from the place you might assume it does. “How did this happen?” is an actual question I try to answer when I look at the storied tapestry of my face. There are sunspots from sunscreen-free summers, wrinkles from worry, a scar from where my infant son scratched my face, laugh lines, and the weird pimples that only middle age can bring.

My worn and weathered face tells the story of my life, and it is beautiful. It is Wabi-Sabi.

The Wabi-Sabi Way

Wabi-Sabi is an ancient Japanese idea that is somewhat difficult to translate into English. It comes from the word wabi, which means “simple elegance,” and sabi, which means “seeing beauty in the imperfect and the impermanent.” Together, Wabi-Sabi is the Japanese view of life that embraces simplicity and sees beauty in old, flawed, and impermanent things.

One of my favorite quotes about Wabi-Sabi sums up this way of life perfectly:

“It [Wabi-Sabi] reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet—that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through Wabi-Sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.”

Fleeting Beauty Is Everywhere

A perfect rosebud is marvelous partly because its beauty and its scent last but a moment. A deep breath of fresh, earthly air after a rainstorm smells divine because storms like that don’t come around often. Clouds on the horizon dance and shift in a magnificent display to catch the sunlight before the sky goes black once more.

This is Wabi-Sabi.

We kiss and smell the tiny hands of our children and press them into plaster molds because we know how soon those hands will be full-grown. And therein lies the beauty. That one tender, precious moment with a child sleeping on your chest, his tiny hand grasped around your index finger. This moment will never happen again and is, therefore, transcendentally beautiful.

This is Wabi-Sabi.

When you consider the Wabi-Sabi viewpoint, you are invited to reimagine what is beautiful. You are allowed to let go of the idea that beauty has to look or walk or talk in a certain way. And once I gained the freedom to see beauty anywhere, I literally see beauty everywhere. When clouds gather on the horizon. Wabi-Sabi. When my son marches triumphantly out of his first day of fifth grade. Wabi-Sabi. When the blackberries are perfectly ripe. Wabi-Sabi.

And when those sublime, fleeting moments come, I inhale them and greedily hold them in my memory until I am sure they are stored somewhere good. Ahhhhh…the sunset, the flower bud, the fluttering heart, the baby’s hand. They don’t last and oh, how they must be savored.


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