Why I'm Embracing The Wabi Sabi Way Of Life, And You Should Too

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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Like most modern mothers, my life seems to be in a constant state of chaos. There is never enough time, never enough money, never enough sleep. My kids are always in the middle of some sort of annoying and confusing developmental transition. My house is never, ever completely clean. Something here is literally always broken and in need of repair. And my to-do list multiplies by the second.

Besides all the everyday disorder and fuckery of life, I have an anxiety disorder, so I have a constant feeling that something awful is going to happen. I have a deep fear of my loved ones being harmed in some way; of my husband or I losing our jobs and going bankrupt; of global warming frying the earth so I will never meet my grandkids. Name something awful and I am probably thinking of it at 4 a.m. when I should be sleeping.

And the current political situation in this country is not helping at all. I’m pretty sure most of us feel like the world is on the brink of some unprecedented disaster. DEEP SIGH.

If you are in a constant state of stress, it could be that a little change in perspective would go a long, long way.

Enter the concept of wabi sabi.

It’s a Japanese philosophy that involves embracing life’s imperfections – finding beauty in them, even. It’s about embracing the transience of things too – the fact that things are in a constant state of transition – and realizing that that is actually what life is all about, and our best bet is to try to make peace with that fact.

In a nutshell, it’s about accepting yourself and your life for what it is, and not being hyper-obsessed with trying to make things better or different. It’s stepping out of the “if-only territory,” and into the concept of living in the moment and letting go.

Holy crap. I could use some of that STAT.

Leonard Koren, author of Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, described wabi sabi like this: “Wabi sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental.”

Wabi sabi is the antithesis of our modern culture, for sure. Maybe that’s why it kind of feels impossible to fully embrace. I can definitely get behind the idea that I need to accept the chaos a little more – and sometimes I even do so successfully. But I would be dishonest if I said something like that would be easy.

According to Gretchen Roberts, who wrote about wabi sabi for Martha Stewart’s Whole Living, the concept is linked to an ancient Zen Buddhist tea ceremony, where masters drank from dishes that were oddly shaped, with cracks and uneven glaze – all with the intention of learning to acknowledge life’s imperfections.

Ummmm, yeah, sounds like my broken, chipped coffee mugs that are constantly filled with cold coffee because my kids won’t let me sit down for more than two seconds before they ask for yet another snack.

Sigh. I guess I need to try to embrace the shitshow of those sorts of moments too.

The more I think about it, though, I realize that I do embrace them. At least a few times a week I have one of those “a-ha moments,” where my house is a wreck, my kids are literally hanging on my legs, and I think, “Oh my goodness, I truly have all I have ever wanted. These kids. This chaos. It’s all mine. And I’m so damn lucky.”

I love the idea of trying to look for those moments more – of making it a practice to try to view the mess of my life from a gentler, more compassionate and accepting state. I truly believe that setting intentions for these things – talking about them and thinking about them – can change your perspective in life, and bring more happiness to your days.

All that being said, concepts like wabi sabi aren’t magic elixirs. Stress is not good for anyone and anxiety or depression that is making you unable to function should definitely be addressed with a therapist or doctor. Exercise, meditation, essential oils, and wabi sabi are not going to cure you of a mental health condition.

Still, it’s definitely an interesting and fresh concept – something to add to your self-care repertoire. And listen, wabi sabi may not be an idea that we can fully embraced all the time and in every situation, but maybe the point is that that’s okay. After all, perfection is overrated, right?

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