Living Wabi Sabi

Note: I wrote a similar post back in 2015. I wanted to revive and retool it as it has been a few years since I started living “wabi sabi.”

What exactly is wabi sabi? Simply speaking, it is this:

*“Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It’s simple, slow, and uncluttered—and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind.

It 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.”

What a concept–-embracing time’s passage with no fear, only appreciation! And as we and our things get older and more worn, we have a new outlook on who we are; past, present and future. I like to think of aging as a slow softening around the edges, both physically and spiritually.

The things we have loved and treasured ignite memories that take us back in time. For example, I have a lovely old amethyst ring, set in gold in a flower design. My grandmother left it to me, as well as its story. My grandmother’s favorite uncle was a barber. One day a sailor came off the boat and walked in to get a shave and a much-needed haircut.

He told the barber that he didn’t have enough money to pay for his services, but that he had a gem to barter. When the barber saw it, a beautiful amethyst; he knew that his wife would love it. He made the deal straightaway. He had the amethyst set in a plain gold setting, and his wife was thrilled with it.

At the time, my grandmother was a little girl. She often went to her uncle and aunt’s house to play. As she sat on her aunt’s lap one day to hear a story, she noticed the ring. She told her aunt that it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. Her aunt hugged her, and promised her the ring when she was ‘all grown up.’

The aunt kept her promise, and over time the ring was resized and reset into the lovely flower setting it still has today. When my grandmother died, the ring came to me, and I wore every day.

These days it has a tiny chip in the setting, but it is beautiful still. I don’t wear it now, but I do “visit” it from time to time. My plan is to give it to my oldest granddaughter, Ava, at the right time. When I do, I will tell her its history. What a long and lovely journey for that ring!

I heard the following story from a friend of a friend. This friend had a neighbor who was quite an accomplished artist. Her medium, sculpture, was made from “found” things others might call trash; tree branches, bent metal bits, wire, ocean-scoured rocks, raw minerals, mixed metals and so on. She called her style ‘wabi sabi.’

The artist had a young daughter who also was very artistic. She loved painting, and since the windows in her room let in the best light, she did all of her work in there. Inevitably, her room was always in disorder; the bed unmade, dribbles and dots of paint on the sisal rug, last night’s cookie crumbs on the pillow, clothes helter-skelter on the floor and so on.

When her mother asked when she was going to clean up the mess, her daughter just grinned and said, ‘oh, don’t worry, Mom—it’s all wabi sabi!’ When the mother stopped laughing, she explained the difference between wabi sabi and a mess.

Wabi sabi also applies to people. Are we less a person because we are older, grayer, with all the usual elderly complaints and so on? We are as we are, and how wonderful that all humans are different. What an empty, boring world it would be if we all looked and sounded alike and never changed from year to year!

Also in the spirit of wabi sabi, there is another Japanese word, **kintsugi, which celebrates differences and imperfections. Kintsugi is the practice of repairing ceramics with gold lacquer to illuminate the breakage. To quote from **My Kintsugi Life: Finding the Treasure in Life’s Scars:

“We all get broken in one way or another in this life. It’s an unavoidable part of living.”

“But we do have a choice about how we handle those breaks. Sometimes we get stuck in the brokenness and never heal. Or we try to pretend the brokenness is not there, driving it into our shadow where we act it out toward others without knowing why.”

“Sometimes we give ourselves the time and resources we need to heal those broken places, but the resulting scars remain tender and reactive.”

“And then there are the times when we do the hard work that’s required to not only heal the broken places, but to make those places stronger than they were before. It is then that our scars become beautiful in the way they allow us to bring healing to the world around us.”

“The Japanese art of Kintsugi (also known as kintsukuroi) repairs broken pottery with seams of gold and is a fitting metaphor for this last way of dealing with the broken places that life gives all of us. Kintsugi repairs the brokenness in a way that makes the container even more beautiful and valuable than it was prior to being broken.”

Isn’t this a beautiful way to look at ourselves and our lives? I am thinking of the time when I will be an old, old woman who has become a bent portrait of lines and wrinkles. I pray that by that time, each one of my imperfections will be limned in gold, shining brightly for the world to see––than I will truly have become wabi sabi myself.

*From Eco Art Land

** for more information