What is Wabi-Sabi?
‘Lookin' through a wabi-sabi lens so I get a wabi-sabi view
I don't wanna hear bad news
Look at how far we've come
At a time when we've got the most shit to lose’
Lil Simz – Control from her album NO THANK YOU
It was a weird turn of fate that inspired me to write this blog post about Wabi Sabi. I had heard the concept in a podcast a week before and found it fascinating, I had spent some time reading into it and then when listening to the album above, there it was slapping me in the face. I felt it was a message worth sharing.
It is a term first thought to of originated from Zen monks, one that they used to describe the impermanence of all things and the beauty in nature, in the imperfect.
What does Wabi-Sabi mean?
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese aesthetic and philosophical concept that celebrates the beauty of imperfection, transience, and the natural cycle of growth and decay. It is a term that doesn't have a direct English translation.
Why is Wabi Sabi worth thinking about?
It is ancient wisdom, a worldview, and a mindset that I believe is critical to living an empowered life.
Wabi Sabi is having a mindset that reminds you of the impermanence of the present moment and its ever-fleeting nature. We can use it to live in the present moment, without being overly attached to the past or the future, and can lead to greater peace and fulfilment in life. It’s a powerful tool to help us accept the one true constant is an inevitable change, so when faced with setbacks and challenges we know they are only temporary.
“When you look at the clouds they are not symmetrical. They do not form fours and they do not come along in cubes, but you know at once that they are not a mess. They are wiggly but in a way, orderly, although it is difficult for us to describe that kind of order. Now, take a look at yourselves. You are all wiggly. We are just like clouds, rocks and stars. Look at the way the stars are arranged. Do you criticize the way the stars are arranged?” Allan Watts
Is perfection a goal worth pursuing?
In the modern world like never before we have comparison tools at our fingertips, product reviews to social media profiles, are brains are whirring and often the default is to look for perfect. This comes at a cost as when you naturally reflect you realise at this moment things aren’t perfect, or certainly not as perfect as the content Marco just posted of him backpacking through the Pyrenees with thousands of likes while you are sat on the sofa hungover in your underwear (real example).
This is a source of suffering, and for what? This is exactly why I am on a low-media diet to limit my exposure to such ‘Marcos’.
How envy plays a role
It's envy, the envy of others. Envy of the future life you aspire to have but don’t so it turns sour the present moment. It can lead to such feelings of demotivation and dissatisfaction in the present moment that it deters us from taking action. It ironically moves us further away from our own aspired perfection.
Don’t whatever you do, beat yourself up because you feel envy. In Robert Greene’s “48 Laws of Power,” he argues to feel envy is inherently human, it is hard-wired into us and designed to drive us to be better.
Take Salvador Dali.
(Google his artwork now before reading on if you’re not familiar)
Greene writes about Dali who was envious of the fame and success of his rival, the artist Pablo Picasso. Instead of allowing this envy to consume him, Dali channelled it into motivation to work harder and create more interesting and innovative art. Through this, Dali was able to rise to fame and become one of the most renowned and successful artists of his time. He wasn’t paralysed by competition or his own imperfections, he accepted the beauty in the struggle.
To quote another great song ‘Cause there's beauty in the breakdown’ Let it go - Frou Frou.
Adopting a Wabi-Sabi View
So don’t make perfection the goal, allow yourself the freedom and peace of mind to appreciate the struggle and the imperfections of life, that’s where the beauty is.
Viewing the world with your new Wabi Sabi glasses will reduce the stress and the pressure you put on yourself and keeping it front of mind will help you appreciate some of what perhaps annoyed or disappointed you before.
That trait in a friend or a partner need not be an annoyance but a very real reminder that they are human, complicated and flawed. It is not the things themselves after all, but your perception of them. One of the most powerful things we can do is reframe and use them to our advantage. This is exactly how you can use Wabi Sabi in your everyday lifestyle, to reduce stress and anxiety, improve motivation and boost your appreciation.