Several years ago I learned about wabi sabi from an improbable source, an animated American sitcom called King of the Hill. Looking back, it doesn’t really seem like the kind of place where I would find inspiration and meet a concept that has come to resonate so deeply within my soul.
But then, you just never know where or when something will click; do you?
Besides, that show made me laugh.
Anyway, that episode, “The Son Also Roses,”* defined wabi sabi as anything which has a flaw that renders it more beautiful. Just perfect, really.
After a little more research, the definition expanded somewhat in my mind. Wabi sabi, it turns out, is a Japanese term that is difficult to translate. It contains the following concepts in its four catchy syllables: naturalness, imperfection, impermanence, simplicity, lack of pretension, incompleteness, and the patina that comes with age.
Wabi sabi is about beauty. However, this is not a still-shot beauty, shiny and new and idealized, perfectly posed and styled, all imperfections airbrushed away, as we are used to seeing the definition applied in my country — even to such items as sports cars and fine kitchen cabinets and sleek, expensive, barbeque grills.
No, this is a beauty that incorporates the passage of time, that accepts imperfection and welcomes natural change, that doesn’t resist the facts of ugliness, death, sorrow in this world. If an object or a scene has achieved wabi sabi, that quality will be felt, not necessarily by every passerby, but by those who are aware and awake, paying attention so deeply that they can sense this quiet beauty emanating from each weathered surface. This imperfect perfection does not shout, or clamor. Drama would ruin the whole effect.
If your cup is wabi sabi, it won’t be shiny and new, but well-worn from years of habitual use and loving care. The design will be simple, the colors muted and natural. It will be clean, and beautiful even when empty… even more so when filled with clear water or dark tea, and even more so when the person who drinks from it has a heart full of serenity, peace, and gratitude for each moment.
Leonard Koren put it this way: “Pare down to the essence, but don’t lose the poetry.”
So… that was my week 24. I took a 10-day blog break, disconnected myself intentionally, and let the flat side drag in a lot of areas of my life. Things got so simple and easy — and beautiful. I let the Earth restore and refresh my spirit, and I rested, and I spent time with the ones I love. The experience ended up being a blessing.
The photo of the aging daisy was taken one morning late in the week, when I had gotten still enough to witness its quiet beauty. There were more traditionally perfect flowers around to photograph, some of them perennial favorites of mine, like echinacea and single-flowered roses. There were brand new, young flowers opening out all around me. But this was the one whose wabi sabi essence spoke clearly to me, of peace, of impermanence, of grace, of joy in the moment.
No drama. Just pure poetry.
*How could I not love that episode where Bobby Hill grows a wabi-sabi rose? The title was even a pun on my old hero Hemingway’s first novel.
p.s. Nancy J. Bond published a post about wabi sabi yesterday. My post was already in process at the time, and the coincidence of timing made me smile. She has another lovely image up at her blog, Leaping Greenly, to illustrate the concept, and links to resources about what wabi sabi is and is not, if you’re curious and would like to explore further.