Published in Science of Mind August 2020 print issue
Although the wind
blows terribly here,
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house.
– Izumi Shikibu translated by Jane Hirschfield
These beautiful stanzas capture the beauty of wabi-sabi perfectly.
When the world is on a spree to remold natural things to make them look ‘prettier’, wabi-sabi reminds us to slow down and respect the natural cycle and its ways.
Wabi-sabi is the Japanese philosophy, with roots in Buddhism, of embracing the beauty of imperfection with an awareness of the law of impermanence. Historically, it described the tea ceremonies’ rituals. It’s very challenging to fit wabi-sabi in a cage of words. It embraces qualities like asymmetry, imperfection, humility and transience. It tells you to appreciate the natural things with the flaw, not in spite of the flaw. Here, it is essential to understand that the flaw is due to the inherent cycle of life and the conditions that conspired to create that character and not because of heedlessness and disrespect.
Richard Powell the author of ‘Wabi Sabi Simple‘ puts it as, “Accepting the world as imperfect, unfinished, and transient, and then going deeper and celebrating that reality.”
How can we introduce Wabi-Sabi in our lives?
1. Beauty: Beauty has always been portrayed with a smooth body, blemish-free skin, luscious locks, perfect vital stats and so on and so forth. The so-called standards of beauty are so different across the cultures that they are almost the opposite. Wabi-sabi teaches us that these fine lines, wrinkles, blemishes, stretch marks, scars all are a part of the natural beauty. These are what makes you unique and hence precious. It doesn’t imply ditching self-care. In fact, caring is a significant part of this philosophy as it is essential to be mindful and respectful of anything that serves us–body or teacups!
I’ve had an eye-opening revelation in my mid-twenties about beauty. I was body-shamed for long because I am “too thin”. All those years, I hated the way I looked. When the epiphany occurred, this ugly caterpillar realized that the butterfly wings were there all along. The day I accepted my body to be a nature’s gift, I was free and confident. All these scars are the wear and tear – the signs of being alive in the storms of life. Know this- Your body is wabi-sabi. Nothing can define it more gracefully.
“When you can accept things as they are there is no judgment. You’re not saying I should weigh less, weigh more, not have these wrinkles, but instead, this is what’s happening. The suffering comes when there’s a craving for it to be different.” – Robyn Lawrence
2. Relationships: A wabi-sabi relationship is one in which you understand and accept that you two are imperfect and do not sweat the inconsequential stuff. I feel this philosophy extends to past relationships as well. When a relationship breaks, animosity and grudges linger on. When we realize that like everything, this too was transient and it lived its age, took us till the last station of growth it could, letting go becomes easier. Through wabi-sabi lens, I saw that I had no idea what a relationship really is and was so stuck with the idea of making it appear perfect in others’ eyes that I clutched onto it without caring for the thorns that were hurting me all along. Those cracks that happened to you due to the past relationships are what makes you wabi-sabi. Self-reflection will eventually outpour love on the path of spiritual awakening.
3. Work: Fear of perfection is mostly seen in our work lives. We make it a gauging stick of our worth often getting paralyzed by deadlines, image among peers and our future. Bring wabi-sabi into work. Understand that if you constantly try to be who you’re not and always strive for perfection, it will exhaust you. This affects your life outside work as well. It doesn’t mean celebrating indolence. It means embracing the imperfections and learning in the process, being modest with the success and accepting the cracks in our pottery while loving what you do.
4. Inner Self: As elegantly as wabi-sabi can be applied to our outer world, it is equally effective in bringing calmness to our inner world. It guides us to be simple, humble and welcoming towards the transient nature of life. The scars of the past should be revered because these cracks helped to bring the light of wisdom within. With the “less is more” view, it carries the true essence of minimalism in our lives. Taking only what is required from this planet in any and every form, being humble in our existence, quiet introspection, being aware of the evanescence of storms of our lives and grateful for what life has offered us – these are the lessons of wabi-sabi!
May we imbibe the wisdom of wabi-sabi in our lives!