The Art of Wabi Sabi
My mom and I have matching tattoos (yes, she’s much cooler than I). We got triangles on the inside of our ring fingers to represent our strong little family—mom, dad and myself. Dad chickened out but we still love him.
For those of you familiar with the tattoo healing process, they usually mold and morph a little as they sink into your skin—the delicate lines shift and fade with time. One day, I noticed my tattoo had significantly expanded, the lines were splotchy and a bit of a trigger for my perfectionist mind. I turned to my mom with a mouth full of complaints ready to spill out.
“Wabi Sabi, Ray, Wabi Sabi.” Mom said.
My mother, a sixth degree blackbelt and master instructor in a traditional Okinawan martial art (I know, okay?), explained that Wabi Sabi is a Japanese philosophy that we ought to accept and embrace our quirks, flaws and imperfections, rather than bury them as deep as we can or fix them. What a concept! In a society where we airbrush the armpit fat out of our tiny 2-inch Instagram photo, this is nearly unfathomable for most.
“Life is imperfect,” mom explains, “and by accepting that, you’re more inclusive, more appreciative. You appreciate what comes with old age instead of always seeking youth.
“The Japanese treat breakage and damage as part of the history of an object. So if something like a piece of pottery breaks, they don’t throw it out, they might repair a crack with gold filling and create something even more beautiful and often stronger than the original.”
Wabi Sabi can be applied to everything. A chip in your mug. A chip in your tooth! A birth mark running across your forehead. Faults are meant to be highlighted, not hidden—because there’s beauty in the ability to accept these characteristics just the way they are.
“Wabi” = Rustic simplicity. It’s the elegance of living a simple, minimal life.
“Sabi” = Finding beauty in everything. Old age. A wine stain on the oak coffee table, to be passed down with some tales attached.
These “imperfections” weave stories together to create our beautiful path of life. Scars are roadmaps of experience and growth, crow’s feet are fond memories of laughter and simpler moments. These dings, scratches and stains are what distinguish us from the crowd, and without them, we would be carbon copies with no character. Conversation would be dry, and there would be no humility and vulnerability—two major characteristics that define human beings.
Social media has pushed us dangerously close to the normalization of perfection. It has set life at an unrealistic standard and makes us feel shame when we don't meet that standard. For the sake of sanity, we need to embrace Wabi Sabi and be grateful for the unique things that make us individuals. If we encourage each other to slow down and appreciate our gorgeously unique imperfections, the eyes will be less critical and the world will become a kinder, softer place.
I challenge you to embrace the Wabi Sabi philosophy in your life. See how it helps your stress, your mental health, your view of society. You’ll notice that things that were once so important might lose their significance as you start to embrace beauty just the way it should be—perfectly imperfect.