The discovery of beauty in imperfection;
The acceptance of the cycle of life and death.
Wabi Sabi is not the Lone Ranger’s younger brother, but a concept arising from a japanese aesthetic of art appreciation. It is closely linked with Zen Buddhism.
It is very difficult to describe exactly what constitutes Wabi Sabi, but when you see it you know that it is present. This aesthetic makes a point of celebrating the imperfections that come from any creative process. The shape of a tea bowl, deformed by the heat of the kiln; a line of haiku poetry; the way a shadow is cast through a deformed window frame.
A related concept is Kintsugi – the art of repairing broken pottery with a mixture of glue and gold powder. This is a process that not only makes a feature of the damage, but also celebrates it.
If we can bring these two concepts into our lives, we are much more likely to be fulfilled and satisfied with how we live. We can choose to adopt a different idea of what constitutes perfection. Taking joy in the patina, that age and use, adds to our possessions, no longer seeing them as a reason to throw away perfectly useable items, but instead, to be satisfied with what we have, and in taking care of our things so that they become uniquely ours.
There is no law of nature that demands all our bowls and plates must match, or that all the cutlery we use has to have the same design. It was always a pleasure to visit one of my elderly cousins in Scotland, no two plates or knives matched, no cup or glass seemed to have a twin, and this provided an additional element of pleasure to our visits, and still brings a fond smile to my face as I remember.
All of us are different. Yet, we all seem to be driven by a need to fit in and be just like others in the group. Instead of finding our own community of likeminded people who share our values, we feel we have to change how we behave and think, if we are to belong or be valued. This way lies Groupthink – a blinkered acceptance of what the group believes, with no senses of it being safe to question it.
Different bands of humans have developed their own cultures, and way of doing things, since humanity first started to walk on the earth. As local populations increased, resources became harder to find, and we all learnt to be wary of strangers – after all they might eat our food and we might die.
This archaic fear is exploited to great effect by populist politicians. They tell us that they have discovered a problem. The Jews, the Mexicans, Muslims, Men, Women – add your own pet hate here – and then they tell us that they, and only they, know how to solve their invented problem, building a wall, gassing millions, and far too many of us go along. We don’t really want to know, if we rock the boat we may be ostracised.
Cultures develop out of the specific environment in which a particular group of humans has lived. There is nothing right or wrong, better or worse, about our culture. They represent different solutions to the problems of daily living that have developed over thousands of years.
Instead of fearing strange groups or customs – eating a sheep’s eyeball? Seriously? – we can choose to take an alternative view. We can stop worrying about what is different, and instead seek out the similarities that exist between all human groups. Similarities that are more apparent, and much easier to see, once we get beneath the superficial trappings of traditional dress and social customs.
When we take Wabi Sabi and Kintsugi into our lives, we can live with greater contentment. The wonkiness of our much-loved armchair, or the warm embrace of our favourite slippers become sources of comfort and satisfaction. We can begin to appreciate the quirks of our own, and others’, personalities without feeling the need to change ourselves, or them.
Our individual, human Wabi Sabi.
Impermanence can then become a source of joy, and encourages us to find satisfaction in looking after ourselves, our neighbours, and our things, to the very best of our ability.
Once we do this, and can truly celebrate difference, we can start to accept what the world has to teach us, and bring peace into our daily lives.
The Minimalist Mind