How to Embrace Wabi-Sabi

You walk into your office and there are a couple of blinds that are off kilter. You huff in frustration and try to line them up. You get in the shortest line at Lowe’s only to find out the folks in front are waiting for a price check. Sigh. This is going to be a long wait. You finish your laundry for a long business trip, only to realize that you forgot to wash your favorite slacks. Ugh.


The answer to all this frustration and gnashing of teeth is embracing wabi-sabi. So what the heck is wabi-sabi? It’s a Japanese term which means – to embrace imperfection. So, if your favorite coffee cup has a chip, you find fingerprints on your dashboard, or the graph you just made doesn’t have the font you prefer…you accept its imperfection. Wabi is defined as – a quality of austere and serene beauty expressing a mood of spiritual solitude, recognized in Zen Buddhist philosophy. Sabi is defined as – things that come with age or time and taking pleasure in that which is old or well used. Put them together and it means acceptance of things as they are including imperfection, impermanence and incompleteness.


Here is how to embrace wabi-sabi:


  • Accepting others and ourselves.  Quit judging the imperfections of others and yourself. As Barbara Scoville wrote for Tiny Buddha, “Flaws are the leveling field of humanity. We all have them, rich and poor alike. It is our blemishes that connect us with our humanness.” Judgment is debilitating. I can get caught up in judging what someone else is wearing or my jeans fitting too tight. None of this really matters in the grand scheme of things, so let it go. Spend your judgment on important things, like whether or not you should invest in your 401k.


  • Accept impermanence.  Buddha wrote, “All conditioned things are impermanent — when one sees this with wisdom, one turns away from suffering.” This has been a glaring reality as I am into my fifth month out of my house, after our house being flooded by Hurricane Matthew. I thought I would be in that house until I retired. Every week as we rebuilt, there seemed to be another setback. Another wall, cabinet or door removed. I have adopted the phrase, “This too shall pass.” Getting caught up with the way it was or should be is a mirage and only causes more suffering. Let it go.


  • Accept what is incomplete.  There was a time where I had a complete set of dishes, silverware and glassware. Over the last twenty years things have broken, been lost or float away to one of my kid’s dorm rooms. My daughter embraces this “incompleteness.” She frequently wears two of my earrings that I was discarding  and are unmatched. One is a blue parrot and the other is blue stone. She wears them at the same time. It’s perfectly incomplete. My trash is her beauty. There is beauty in the absence of perfection.


  • Set your intention.  My husband and I headed out to check on the status of a cabinet that was lost in shipping, and selected grout for the kitchen and bathroom floors. We had been frustrated with the cabinet because it was likely going to hold up the entire project for six weeks. Before we left the house, I said, “This is going to be a great day.” It was. The cabinet is being rushed and will be here in two weeks instead of six. I feel like having a positive outlook had an impact on our Karma. If you look for things to go your way, they will. As we both said by the end of the day, “The light at the end of the tunnel is a lot brighter now.”


  • Accept what is now.  My dear friend Susannah has been facing impermanence as she and her husband weigh job prospects across the United States. She has lived in her community for twenty years and can’t imagine living anywhere else. Fretting over what might be is causing her to suffer. It is all one big unknown. The wonderful thing is that she has a meditation and yoga practice, which can center her and bring her back to the now. Don’t look back and don’t worry about the future. Embrace the now.


This is all a work in progress. We are all works in progress. It’s not easy, but understanding and embracing wabi-sabi in your life can bring freedom from suffering.

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