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Listen to Coronavirus Patient Zero

Wabi-sabi: The Beauty Of Imperfection

Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. --Leonard Cohen Tucked away in the deepest heart of Japan, somewhere beyond city life, probably beyond country life, resting in a humble shack on a simple shelf in a nearly bare room, you can find a really powerful idea about beauty. This idea, this way of life, this way of being, goes against everything the contemporary American culture sells.

It goes against perpetually new cars, updated wardrobes and model homes. It is so radical, it goes toe-to-toe with any notion that the way things are ~ even when they are falling apart ~ are not the way things ought to be. The idea is scoffed at by those who inhumanely offer something more, and bigger and better. Yet if we can find our way past the standard-issue scoffing, hunt down this old idea, and recognize it as the pearl of great price, we can heal these painful beauty obsessions of ours. Really, we can.

What is this simple idea that has the power to take on an entire capitalistic culture, or at least the capitalistic culture within us? Wabi Sabi, the art and practice of honoring the imperfect. Yes, there actually is a whole field of study and devotion to this very topic we are starving for. Wabi Sabi celebrates the cracked pot, the aged desk, the beaten up fishing rod, and the rusting bed frame that has become an outdoor border for a flower “bed” in the yard. It is Wabi, the “humble,” alongside Sabi, “the beauty of the natural progression of time.” (It is also much more and far deeper than that, but this is a start.) It leaves behind the pursuit of perfection while bringing appreciation to the simple, unaffected beauty of things as they are. Which includes us. You and me, Wabi Sabi. The real us, below all our crazy attempts at being how we are supposed to be and all of our insecurities because we still have not pulled it off. Weathered by time, all our cockiness worn off, like the shine of brass on buckles and bangles, when we are Wabi Sabi we are simply beautiful because we exist.

Nothing flashy. No need for a six-figure contract with options, bells and whistles. Just us, with our weathered faces that have seen every expression known to humanity, our often sagging or misshapen breasts, and the hips and thighs that have carried us through our history, the good times and the bad. So… Getting older? Wabi Sabi’s got no problem with that. Wabi Sabi says that older things reveal their true nature in time. In many native cultures, a woman is not allowed to speak on topics requiring wisdom until she is at least fifty years old. These cultures get that the Wabi Sabi women have something special, maybe even sacred, to say. Yes, getting older is a good thing. Looking weathered? Wonderful, you beautiful piece of Wabi Sabi driftwood, you. Gone from your original intended form to a new form through the slow tumbling of the ocean of life.

How natural. How normal. How stunning. How Wabi Sabi. Disheartened because you can’t have and do all “they” say you have to? How fabulous. Do a Wabi Sabi job of it. Then sleep the good sleep that comes after a simple, honest days work that you have let go of. Oh, heck, why wait? Why not take a Wabi Sabi nap right now? Tired and near penniless from continually acquiring bright and shiny new playthings? Perfect time to say enough really is enough. The sun still shines, a free-for-all that is free for all. (By the way, one thing I’ve noticed about Wabi Sabi people.

They actually see sunrises and sunsets on a regular basis.) I know, I know. You hear what I’m saying. But you are still worried about what will happen if you get off the treadmill. So think on this: There Are Six Billion People In The World. Do you really think you are going to beat them all in the game of life? Is it really worth all that you have to do, give and give up (like your real life, for example), so you can master money, love, education, self-esteem, sexuality, heath, parents, children, and career, by the time you are—what—29? It seems ridiculous to have to remind ourselves that life itself is birth and death, up and down, movement from newborn to middle age to older to ancient. That it is sheer insanity to wait to be happy until we have mastered the ability to balanced all of life on the head of a pin while standing on one hand. Yet we do, indeed, seem to need to remind ourselves. Often.


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