Written by Megan Davis

Wabi-sabi: Accepting our imperfections

It’s common to feel the pressure to be perfect. Or at least, appear perfect. But, more and more, people are beginning to celebrate what makes them imperfect and finding that it makes them stronger than ever. It reminded me of something I encountered many years ago, which is that in some cultures, people repair broken items with gold. 

After digging around a bit, I found out that this is called kintsugi, and it’s a Japanese art form. Built on the idea of embracing flaws and imperfections, kintsugi allows you to create something stronger and more beautiful. As someone who breaks stuff all the time, this felt particularly poetic to me. As I read more deeply about the practice, I also stumbled upon wabi-sabi, a Japanese way of life.

What is wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi is a philosophy that places value on the imperfect nature of life. It encourages you to embrace roughness, simplicity, modesty, and age, and to celebrate what is, rather than what could be. I was reminded of one of my earlier posts on this blog, which focused on the Swedish concept of lagom — meaning not too much and not too little. 

Wabi-sabi can mean many things: an escape from the modern world’s obsession with perfection, a less is more mentality, authenticity. But overarchingly, according to Omar Itani, “it reminds us that all things including us and life itself, are impermanent, incomplete, and imperfect. Perfection, then, is impossible.”

A way of life

The philosophy behind wabi-sabi was never written down, but instead passed through word of mouth over many, many generations. But it’s generally accepted that wabi and sabi are two different concepts. Wabi is about recognizing beauty in humble simplicity. Sabi is concerned with the passage of time, the way all things grow, age, and decay, and how it manifests itself beautifully in objects. Together, they create a way of life that asks you to accept what is, stay in the moment, and appreciate the simplicity in your life.

Five major teachings

If you’re interested in practicing wabi-sabi, here are five of the main principles:

  1. Through acceptance, you find freedom. Out of acceptance, you find growth.
  2. All things in life, including you, are in an imperfect state of flux. So strive not for perfection, but for excellence instead.
  3. Appreciate the beauty of all things. This includes the beauty that hides beneath the surface of what seems to be broken.
  4. Slow and simple is the only way to feel the joy of what it means to be alive.
  5. Stop chasing happiness. If you want to feel happy, become content exactly where you are with all that you already have.

Wabi-sabi is interesting to me because it reminds you that nothing is permanent. It gives you the permission, if you need it, to be yourself. And that in itself feels like a victory.

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