Wabi Sabi, Japanese Philosophy of Authenticity
Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, nothing is perfect.
Wabi Sabi is the ancient Japanese wisdom of finding beauty in imperfection and simplicity in nature, of accepting the natural cycles of growth, decay, and death. Enjoying the simple, natural, and uncluttered, Wabi Sabi reveres authenticity above all. It celebrates cracks, chips, and other marks of time, weather, and use. Once we see the beauty in such “deficiencies”, we can learn to embrace the flaws—the wrinkles, rust, and frayed edges, and all the imperfections in our lives.
Wait! Don’t let the philosophical nature
of this topic keep you from reading about something that can immeasurably enrich your life right now. Wabi Sabi, art of the authentic, natural, and imperfect, can bring joy and meaning—and yes, happiness—to our everyday lives. There’s more to this…and as you peel away the layers of meaning, you will find more that Wabi Sabi can give to your life right now.
So what do I know about it?
Wabi Sabi is the beauty of aged imperfection. What could I, a shopping center manager, spending my days in stores with brand-new things, with the smell of fresh thread and polished floors and shiny windows, what could I know about Wabi Sabi, the most mellow and ageless art of Japanese simplicity that celebrates the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete?
I was astonished when my sister showed me the cracked, crazed, and yellowed china plate and said, “Isn’t it lovely?” Then her hand lovingly, gently touched the piece of worn and slightly tattered old lace. And finally she showed me a curling, rusting fragment of tin ceiling. ”It’s so beautiful,” she said.
This was a different idea to me. The me who liked the perfectly installed and displayed brand-new store.
It took a while, but I finally “got it”.
Fragments and Imperfections
She called her business “Fragments and Imperfections”. She had an eye for beauty in the used, ruined, and discarded. She’d pick it out of the junk of a garage sale, the confusion of the flea market, or the trash piled curbside. She rescued it from discard, moved it to her artistically displayed store, and suddenly it became a desirable object of beauty. And people wanted to buy it!
We only had the somehow unsatisfying words, “Shabby Chic”, as a commercial description of her merchandise. But then I saw a display at the Phoenix Art Museum called Wabi Sabi, and voila! the connection was made. And thus began my understanding of Wabi Sabi.
Valuing, not avoiding, the process of decay, loving things that show passage of time, accepting what is slightly flawed. The display at the Phoenix Art Museum was made up of such things. Now I understood better my sister’s deep appreciation for the cracked plate, the doll with tattered clothing, the deglazing mirror. The delicate decaying, fading beauty…there was a rich history—of love, time, memory, and of human stories—contained in these well-used things.
Where is Wabi Sabi?
It’s easier to see Wabi Side in things. Although Wabi Sabi is an intangible appreciation and awareness of the impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete nature of existence, it is easier to grasp with things such as old photos, heirloom Christmas ornaments, a rusty metal gate, a weathered barn.
This part is spiritual essence of tranquility, simplicity, and humble freedom.
This has to do with time passage—weathering, tarnish, rusting, patina.
It is about beauty that comes with age. (You can’t buy these things new in a shopping center.)
How to Be Happy
So what does Wabi Sabi tell us about how to live? Developed from Zen Buddhism, Wabi Sabi is a path to enlightenment. It is a practice, a lifestyle of living modestly, simply being satisfied with what is.
People who live a Wabi Sabi life come to a gentle acceptance of the imperfection in their lives. They accept the mistakes, the disappointment, the broken promises. And even eventually, if lucky to live long enough, they accept the liver spots, the gray hair, the wrinkles. They see the beauty even there. They embrace it all.
Finally, it is about us. We are all imperfect. We are all flawed. Being human, we strive to live up to our expectations. Then we fall short. We make mistakes. No one is perfect. We are as we are.
We wish our circumstances were different—a better job, more money, a different partner, fewer problems. But this is our real life. It is what it is. And yet, nothing is permanent. This is just what’s so.
Now, go and be happy.
More examples of Wabi Sabi:
- Amish quilts
- Old books, eyeglasses, watches
- Rusty keys, hardware, and tools
- Cracked Liberty Bell
- Beat-up, used furniture
- Worn-out pair of jeans
- An old stone house
- Yellowed postcards
- A doll with her arms loved off
- Mourning dove
- Loon out on a lake
- Gong and its fading tone
- Beams of sunlight in a gray day
- Fallen petals of peonies
- Snow, rain, hail
- Handwritten note in the mailbox
- Japanese tea ceremony
- Sacred imagination
- Seeing beauty in the impermanent
- Practice making the unwanted wanted
- Incomplete, (such as knowledge always is)
Artists With Wabi Sabi Sensibilities
Andy Goldsworth See his artwork at http://www.morning-earth.org/artistnaturalists/an_goldsworthy.html
Jane Hirshfield Read her poems at http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/563
Great Hubs on Wabi Sabi
- The Unexpected Beauty of Wabi-Sabi
For beautiful photos and examples of Wabi Sabi, read this well written hub.