Besides being a fun word to say, wabi-sabi is a beautiful Japanese philosophy that can encompass almost every aspect of life. It is very similar to minimalism but has additional aspects that can help people overcome perfectionism, doubt, and fear. The meaning of Wabi-Sabi is simple, and like with most simple things, transforms your life into a more purposeful and mindful thing.
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What does Wabi-Sabi Mean?
Of course, the true meaning of Wabi-Sabi is so deeply ingrained in Japanese culture, it doesn’t have any direct translation. But we can definitely give it a try.
“Wabi” roughly translates to, rustic simplicity. While “Sabi” is to take pleasure in the imperfect. So basically, the meaning of Wabi-Sabi is to enjoy things as they are; simply imperfect.
Wabi-Sabi is an ideology that connects us with the world around us. It focuses mainly on natural materials and cycles; like birth, life, and death. It is a representation and reminder that we are all transient beings here for a short time.
It gives appreciation to things that may be considered flawed because those flaws show authenticity and a story. It focuses on creating a beautifully imperfect life full of acceptance and appreciation.
The idea of this ideology is nothing is ever finished or perfect. Nothing is permanent and everything is beautiful. And an object’s or person’s flaws only make them more beautiful. You are never finished growing and you’re never perfect. But you are a beautiful masterpiece anyway.
Wabi-Sabi is one of the best ways to practice being mindful as well. With it, we accept things as they are, rather than as they should be. We enjoy the things and embrace ourselves and others with authenticity and no judgement.
Our current culture’s obsession with perfection makes it hard for Wabi-Sabi to shine through. We expect perfectly organized home that are always clean, new, and perfect.
With social media we expect ourselves to always look perfect and picture ready.
But, incorporating the meaning of Wabi-Sabi into your life can improve your self image, increase your appreciation for the things around you, help you align more with what you want, and reduce fear and doubt of the changes to come.
When you choose to embrace the imperfections of everything, you experience more of the world’s beauty.
How to incorporate the meaning of wabi-sabi into your life
First and foremost, Wabi-Sabi can’t be purchased. The wear you put on your home and on the things that you love essentially becomes Wabi-Sabi. A home that encompasses Wabi-Sabi typically fills with charm and things that are unique to you and your life. A home filled with it often has more natural materials (cotton, leather, wool, wood, etc) and that become more beautiful + weathered with time.
The Japanese word, utsukushii, translates to “beautiful”. However, this translation evolved from its original meaning of, “being loved”. So basically a Wabi-Sabi home is full of love. You cherish the things you have and love them too.
This of course doesn’t mean that nothing new ever comes in. Life is always changing, remember? So your home changes too. When new stuff comes in, you incorporate it into your life as well.
The purpose of Wabi-Sabi is not to hide away these things as though there are ugly or shameful. It highlights their flaws to demonstrate how they move through their cycle and how they continue to serve a purpose.
One of the most common examples of this is a beloved tea cup. Over time and through use, it may become cracked, chipped or faded. Those flaws highlight it’s usefulness, its sentiment, and its imperfections.
Other examples of Wabi-Sabi are a dog earred book that you reread over and over. Or a worn stuffed bunny that kept you safe from nightmares as a child. Maybe it’s that worn table that has been handed down through the generations. None of it is new or shiny necessarily. But its imperfections make it all the more special because they are a representation of the life you have lived so far.
If the meaning of Wabi-Sabi is to accept and embrace the flaws in something, it makes sense that it would spill over into our relationships too. The people in our lives aren’t there to be fixed. Normally, we have chosen to have these people in our lives because we love them as they are.
We are all perfectly imperfect, remember, so attempting to change or fix someone will never achieve the outcome you want. By applying Wabi-Sabi to your relationships, you direct all that time and energy you spent “fixing” them into actually enjoying their company. Releasing our assumptions and expectations of others allows us to engage and experience the person right in front of us a little bit better.
Remember, the light can’t shine through without a few cracks. Trying to seal those cracks will make you miss the light poking through.
I would like to point out that this goes for the relationship that you have with yourself. Accepting your own flaws and letting your light shine through those cracks is as big of a gift to yourself as it is to the world around you.
Food is a necessary treasure that is one of the most beautiful aspects of life. It gives you strength, grows strong bonds between communities, and has a huge range of potential for enjoyment. Ugly produce is no less nourishing for your body. A deformed-looking berry is still sweet and tangy. Bread pudding doesn’t look beautiful (at least when I make it) but there is nothing sweeter than it coming inside after freezing your butt off in a Rocky Mountain winter.
Wabi-Sabi invites you to enjoy food more with less focus on its perfection. Because food is one of the most powerful tools in the whole world to spread love and kindness, it is something that you should truly experience.
Instead of simply tasting the food you’re eating, inhale the fragrant aromas. Listen to it sizzle and pop in the pan. Truly taste the rich and complex flavors that you added to it. Feel the crunch of a perfectly imperfect wonky carrot. Feel the crumbly goodness of a pastry. Make eating a time to acknowledge the simple pleasures of food. It doesn’t have to be perfect to be perfect for you.
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As said, part of the meaning of Wabi-Sabi is to enjoy and experience the cycle of life. Remember nothing is permanent and life is most precious because it ends.
Thus, our obsession to stop the natural progression of things causes us to miss out on so much.
Taking care of your body; exercising, eating well, and maintaining your mental and physical well being is important. I’m not saying Wabi-Sabi is about letting yourself go and not taking care of yourself. That’s lazy craftsmanship and wabi-sabi is not about that.
However, wabi-sabi is about accepting the changes that come as you live your story. Each of your scars and smile lines have a story to tell, a memory to hold onto, and are a part of your journey. Why would you choose to erase something that is the result of you becoming the radiant and fantastic person that you are?
Wabi-Sabi encourages us to accept our flaws as something beautiful. Change is constant. And trying to stay stagnant in youthful beauty is a stagnation of natural progression.
You should still love your body. Appreciate your beauty. And definitely pamper your body. You can do all of those things (and should!) without feeling the need to nitpick every flaw, hide every story, or remove every blemish.
Wabi-Sabi wants us to engage more with the world around us. It’s more difficult to connect with the world when we focus on hiding all of our stories that are seen through our “flaws”. Let yourself shine and connect just as you are. Because when you do, you have a beauty that time can never take from you.
Related: Self-Acceptance: How to make peace with your flaws
Through Wabi-Sabi, you find that you become more and more grateful for things.
And by choosing to express gratitude you are recognizing that things may not be perfect, but things are still pretty good.
Appreciating the things in your life and finding something to be grateful in every day (even the bad ones) creates long-term happiness for you. Wabi-Sabi helps you notice and appreciate the small things, the ones that may not be the most obvious and the ones that might seem broken or bad at a glance. It creates a deeper sense of gratitude that touches everything and shows you that you have everything and you are everything.
Meaning of Wabi-Sabi + Mindfulness
When you begin to incorporate Wabi-Sabi into your every day life, you’ll probably discover that you are much more mindful of you day to day activities.
You begin to let go of the things that you’ve held onto for so long. The doubts you have about yourself and the anger you hold towards others begin to fade away. The understanding of the imperfection in everything beautiful makes the world seem much less black and white.
You bring more awareness to all the beauty around you and therefore more awareness to yourself. Wabi-Sabi is there to show you that the flaws are still beautiful and require no judgement.
Wabi-Sabi requires no money or skill to experience. A person ready to be mindful and accepting of things just the way they are. It does require us to slow down and take time to “smell the roses”. Wabi-Sabi encourages us to be present in our moments and experience the cycles, the highs, and the lows. It harnesses a greater appreciation for our lives, those around us, and for nature.
I want to note that Wabi-Sabi does not mean that you look at mess, trash, + undealt with issues as beautiful imperfections. You should not use it as an excuse for not working through past issues or unfinished or hastily finished projects. Wabi-Sabi is not made to be an excuse for poor craftsmanship or denial.
It can be incorporated into all of these aspects of your life and many others. Everything has beauty if one chooses to look for it. Let your light shine brighter and try incorporating the meaning of Wabi-Sabi into your life.
Accepting imperfect beauty in everything around you changes the way you see the world. Each day is a treasure because it is part of the progression of your story. When you let go of the idea of perfection, that’s when you (and your life) shine brighter than the sun.
Learn more about gratitude and mindfulness here!!