The beauty of imperfection


Occasionally I read something that really speaks to me. Maybe you’ve had that experience, too, when a piece feels like it’s targeting you individually– addressing what’s been on your mind, perhaps, or just appealing to your sense of humor or resonating with where you are at the time.

Sometimes it’s a piece that gives me the feeling of, “why didn’t I write that?”

Well, I read something like that recently, and all of a sudden I knew that was me the article was describing even though it was a concept I had never heard about before.

What is it? The Japanese art of wabi sabi. I bet you’ve never heard of it, either. Japanese art isn’t something we usually discuss here in the heart of Iowa, after all.

Wabi sabi is a term that describes the beauty to be found in imperfection, according to this article. In Japan, artists often leave subtle fractures in the glaze of a vase or a rough surface on a bowl as a reminder of the wabi-sabi nature of life. Wabi sabi (I even like how that sounds) recognizes that all of life is a constant state of change and that decay is as much a part of life as growth.

Although it started in 16th century Japan with the tea ceremony, over the centuries since wabi sabi came to mean an approach to life and art that is in harmony with nature, one that values the handmade and rustic, and recognizes the impermanence of life. Wabi sabi encourages us to be respectful of age, in things and in ourselves, and it counsels us to be content with what we have rather than always striving for more.

I especially like that part, one that’s easy to miss. More things don’t make us more fulfilled; they just mean we have more stuff. These days it’s all too easy to whip out the credit card to buy something more. And that doesn’t fill us up at all.

Another reason I like this concept that’s new to me is because it encourages us to be respectful of age, both in people and in things. So what’s not to like there? So maybe that’s why I like garage sales and thrift shops, and I didn’t even know it. Wabi sabi suggests using what you have instead of rushing out to the mall to buy something new. Appreciate what you have already purchased or received as a gift.

This article also gave some suggestions on how to incorporate wabi sabi into your life. Some of them I do already, others I do but never put a label on it. These suggestions are things like: don’t multi-task. Try to live fully in the moment. Make wabi sabi friends. Practice the art of hanging out. Relax your housekeeping standards.

Maybe my most favorite tip of all is this one: Remember that life doesn’t go on forever.