In Japanese culture there is a concept known as wabi-sabi. While it makes for a funny sounding phrase to those who don’t speak Japanese, it stands for an elegant concept. As explained by Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers:
Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.
The philosophy is about appreciating flaws. So much so that artists will intentionally chip their pottery, place an error within a weaving, or leave a piece unevenly finished to achieve the ideal of wabi-sabi. The concept is about beauty on a primal level, stripped down to pure authenticity. From this perspective, everything becomes perfect exactly as it is. It is perfect because it is imperfect.
As we are living examples, the philosophy of wabi-sabi has something to offer humanity, as well. We are imperfect creatures. We make mistakes. We choose poorly. We hurt ourselves and others. We fuck it all up. And then we spend extreme amounts of time and energy trying to make it perfect.
It’s an exhausting cycle.
But, the truth is that embracing imperfection can empower you.
Life is imperfect by design.
Life requires practice. Practice offers you the freedom to do things incorrectly over and over again. Each manifestation of imperfection is an opportunity to learn. In other words, every time you screw up, you create a situation you can examine, a strategy you can adjust, and a chance to try again.
When I was a little girl, I loved to go exploring in the woods out behind our house. It was full of fallen trees. My brother and I used to create imaginary worlds. We’d pretend we were stranded in an ocean or running to escape an erupting volcano, the trees being our only path to safety. We’d stand on a log and attempt to jump to another. We’d jump and fail, flailing in water. We’d jump and fail, desperate to outrun the flowing lava. We’d jump and land. We learned through trial and error, our skills and confidence growing with practice until we could jump from log to log without falling. Imperfection was our greatest teacher.
When we grow up, we forget that life is built on practice. We should continue to jump and fail. But instead, we stop. We decide that life should be perfect without practice. We stop failing, but we also stop jumping.
Over time you will become both more and less imperfect.
It is one of the lasting ironies that as our skills and our minds come closer to peak performance, our bodies begin to falter. It is as if our mental acuity and excellence are always getting closer without ever merging. Meanwhile, nature is wearing down our physical bodies. For those of us transitioning into the “mature” years of life, these diverging forces become more and more apparent.
And so, we are becoming more imperfect and less imperfect simultaneously. We are a living, breathing piece of wabi-sabi art.
Wabi-sabi finds beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, accepting the cycle of growth, decay and death. It’s slow and uncluttered, and regards authenticity above all. …Minimalist wabi-sabi respects age and celebrates humans over invulnerable machines. It finds beauty in cracks and crevices and all the marks that time, weather and use leave behind. It reminds us that we are transient beings - that our bodies and the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which they came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the impersonal sadness of liver spots, rust and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent. ~ Robyn Griggs Lawrence
An Woman’s Wabi-Sabi Life
Perhaps it is our scars and stretch marks that makes us exactly who we are. There is a story to those imperfections. A story rooted in a glorious performance, or a hard-fought effort, in a series of events that was the only series of events that could bring us here to today.
Perhaps the missed opportunities, the failures, and the multitude of errors must happen in order to bring us to our highest achievements. Without each failure we wouldn’t make the myriad of tiny adjustments that edge us closer to our most authentic self.
Maybe today is beautiful because I am being myself, exactly as I am, with my achy joints, my crow’s feet, my greying hair, and still a love in my heart for my life.