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Looking at Wabi-Sabi, the art of perfectly imperfect

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese philosophy that represents the acceptance of transience and imperfect life. Sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.” “Wabi” roughly means “rustic simplicity” or “understated elegance” with a focus on a less-is-more. “Sabi” means “taking pleasure in the imperfect.” This concept can be found in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. A well-loved teacup, made by an artist’s hands, cracked or chipped by constant use. This is not a reflection on poor craftsmanship — rather in the beauty of the object.

A great example of Wabi-Sabi is the art of kintsugi, where cracked pottery is filled with gold as a way to showcase the beauty of its age and damage rather than hiding it. All too often, when something is seen as damaged it is discarded, not repaired and cared for.

In this modern age, the relentless pursuit of perfection; material possessions, relationships and life goals, can lead to stress, anxiety and even depression. Working with Wabi-Sabi invites us to pause. Breathe. Life is unpredictable, so embrace it. Where nothing is certain, everything is possible.

Seven principles to Zen philosophy for Wabi-Sabi

In Zen philosophy, there are seven principles in achieving true Wabi-Sabi:

  • Simplicity
  • Asymmetry or irregularity
  • Beauty in the understated
  • Naturalness without pretence
  • Subtle grace
  • Freeness
  • Tranquillity

Wabi-Sabi can be an art form in itself. A dropped flower petal, a few cookie crumbs on a plate. Aged timber, hand-thrown pottery, a repaired or chipped vase. A glorious imperfect mess. But not just mess for the sake of it. It is unhiding the beauty all around us.

I often tell people I truly enjoy still life photography as a form of Zen meditation. A time to slow down and enjoy the process. In general, I think I’m too much of a control freak. I like things orderly, but I’m working on my inner mess!

Working with this Wabi-Sabi philosophy is calming and grounding. I am learning to appreciate the perfectly imperfect of my life.

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