Paper Crane Ornament

Wabi-Sabi … it works!

Tracey Columns

Over the last twenty-five years I’ve had the pleasure, the FUN, of performing in a number of different musicals. It’s an activity that nourishes me on many different levels.

It also exhausts me. So, having wrapped up our Boomer Troupe’s performance of The Music in Our Lives  last weekend, I am all about taking it easy this week. It’s a luxury I didn’t have when I was in my forties. No, in those hectic days I had kids to raise and a career to manage. Now, I fully embrace my downtime — it’s a joy!

Such freedom led me to some reading I haven’t had time to do, exploring the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi or “imperfect beauty.” It is the acceptance of transience and imperfection and acknowledges that beauty is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

The concept is rooted in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. A well-loved teacup, crafted by an artist’s hands, can be cracked or chipped by use. Is it tossed? No, instead you’ll sometimes see Japanese pottery repaired with gold, its imperfections honored. It is these exact imperfections that remind us that nothing is perfect nor permanent.

The word wabi-sabi is traditionally used to reflect the world around us. Robyn Griggs Lawrence, who authored Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House writes: “Wabi-sabi is a different kind of looking, a different kind of mindset … it’s the true acceptance of finding beauty in things as they are.” (Emphasis is mine.)

Yet wabi-sabi is far more complex than just a way of looking at things. Writer Richard Powell expands the concept by acknowledging three simple realities “Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

All of this reading got me to thinking about how wabi-sabi might be applied to the aging process we all face. Why? Because aging in our American culture is to be denied for as long as humanly, and financially, possible. Many people engage in the billion dollar industries of anti-aging creams, elixirs, tonics, injections, lifts and tucks. The message is hammered into us at every turn, look younger, no matter what it takes to achieve the superficial outcome.

Historically, it makes some sense that we westerners would fall victim to this way of thinking. Our definition of perfection actually descends from Greek aesthetics. Consider the sculptures from that era — they are smooth and polished. The only wrinkles we observe are those in cloth clothing and drapes. Smooth and flawless, they are expertly chiseled out of marble

Obviously, the American approach to aging flies in the face of wabi-sabi, which prizes authenticity and actually embraces the natural cycle of growth and decay. Griggs Lawrence writes that wabi-sabi is “the true acceptance of finding beauty in things as they are.”

Compared to the American approach to aging, wabi-sabi offers us the opportunity to perceive ourselves, and others,  through a far more generous lens. By shifting our perceptions in this way, we can focus on matters of true importance, like our physical, mental and emotional health, a purpose driven life, and equally important, the pursuit of gratifying interests and activities.

Of course, the question begs to be asked: “how can little old me go up against the tide of a billion dollar, anti-aging industry?” Obviously, I can’t. Instead, I think I’ll try to simply incorporate a wabi-sabi attitude into my daily life practices … like every time I look in the mirror and see all of those wrinkles! Instead of hearing my inner voice pipe up with some useless, negative message, I’ll acknowledge and appreciate that my wrinkles are a reflection a life well lived. Who knows, it just may work!