Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.” Richard Powell
Of the many translations of wabi-sabi that I have read, the following is my favourite.
Wabi…a rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, that can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, an understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance of the object.
Sabi…the beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.
Around 700 years ago, particularly among the Japanese nobility, understanding imperfection was honored as tantamount to the first step to satori, or enlightenment. In today’s Japan, the meaning of wabi-sabi is often condensed to “wisdom in natural simplicity”. In art books, it is typically defined as “flawed beauty”.
When I am forest bathing with a group and we stop to share what the forest has revealed to us, I often hear stories of noticing the exquisite beauty of the scars, decaying limbs, and twisted imperfection in the trees around that surround us.
Wabi-sabi describes a means whereby we can learn to live life through the senses and better engage in life as it happens, rather than be caught up in unnecessary thoughts. The idea is that being surrounded by natural, changing, unique objects helps us connect to our real world and escape potentially stressful distractions.
Wabi-sabi is where we find the most basic, natural objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example. Wabi-sabi can change our perception of the world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and softens our heart, to view the beauty of its imperfection through empathetic eyes.