To Walk in Wabi-Sabi

“Developed out of the aesthetic philosophy of cha-no-yu (the tea ceremony) in fifteenth-century Japan, wabi-sabi is an aesthetic that finds beauty in things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.” — Andrew Juniper

Or, broken down more thoroughly on the page of writer Omar Itani:

“Taken individually, wabi and sabi are two separate concepts:

  • Wabi is about recognizing beauty in humble simplicity. It invites us to open our heart and detach from the vanity of materialism so we can experience spiritual richness instead.
  • Sabi is concerned with the passage of time, the way all things grow, age, and decay, and how it manifests itself beautifully in objects. It suggests that beauty is hidden beneath the surface of what we actually see, even in what we initially perceive as broken.

The concept of wabi-sabi, is perhaps best expressed not in words, but images. The gleam coming off the concrete after a summer rain, the squeak of fingers moving down guitar strings, and leaves as they yellow and brown. The film American Beauty‘s iconic scene of a plastic bag caught in the wind captured a very American kind of wabi-sabi.

Our days are filled with opportunities to appreciate wabi-sabi, from a crack along a porcelain plate, to the tear-shaped drip formations on the surface of an imperfectly painted table. The idea is to not to just accept impermanence and imperfection but to find beauty in it.

In this exercise, simply take a walk, with an eye out for places where you can find wabi-sabi in the ordinary. Is there a broken gate half off its hinges? A ghost sign? An abandoned building overgrown with weeds? Take the time to enjoy the broken things, the fading light, all that has integrity in its imperfection.

What is the feeling it provokes? Appreciation? Melancholy? Or a kind of present-tense nostalgia?

For more mindfulness activities, look here.

%d bloggers like this: