We have a tendency of letting our imperfections get in the way of our happiness. As we grow older, our bodies inevitably change. We may find more wrinkles on our skin or more grey hairs on our heads. In addition to these physical changes, over time we experience things like heartbreak or disappointment and that can make us feel like damaged goods.
One thing that is consistent about life is inconsistency. We get attached to plans and ideas and when things change, we suffer. Perhaps we had plans to become a doctor, but we ended up managing the local grocery shop. Maybe we had plans of owning a home overlooking the ocean, but because we lost our job we had to move back in with our parents. But, I don’t think that these “imperfections” are actually a bad thing, I believe we have the power to see them as beautiful.
Many centuries ago in Japan, a philosophy called Wabi-sabi was introduced. At its core, it’s about learning to accept, and eventually embrace, the imperfections of life. A manifestation of Wabi-sabi begins with a tea ceremony. This tradition celebrates the beauty of tea, and in the past the teacups themselves. Historically these teacups had to be perfect, but when the philosophy of Wabi-sabi was developed, this changed. Its roots stem from the three main Buddhist principles:
3. Emptiness, or the absence of an egoic self
The concept of impermanence was especially influential for Wabi-sabi. Impermanence means that life will change, it does not stay the same. The most perfect teacup may chip or morph, and over time instead of seeing these imperfections as a bad thing, people began to see them as beautiful. A term I love to use to describe these imperfections is flawed beauty.
So when a potter made a teacup, he or she no longer had to make them perfectly, and these beautiful flaws were now seen as things to embrace and cherish.
I think there is a tendency in the West to see older things as ugly or worthless. But what if we began to adopt the philosophy of Wabi-sabi? I reinforce the idea that our thoughts are very powerful throughout this podcast. If we reframe our thoughts around how we view older things, whether that’s a teacup or a body, we could see a lot more beauty in the world.
Now, let’s discuss how we can start incorporating these Wabi-sabi principles into our life.
The first thing we must do is acknowledge that our thoughts are powerful. If we want to adopt a more accepting mindset, we must look at our thoughts throughout the day and see if we are judging others, or maybe even judging ourselves. If we want to stop doing this, we must start seeing imperfections as things that are worth embracing. We can do this throughout our day. For example, let’s say you run out to the grocery store and you find yourself judging the appearance of the person checking you out. It’s important to first catch yourself thinking these thoughts and then change them. It may sound like “This person has lots of wrinkles, I wonder what type of life they lived or the memories that they have.” We will see so much more beauty in this world if we can put an end to our judgments, and accept that there is no such thing as perfect.
Next we must practice accepting and loving other people with their imperfections. Because once we do this, we’ll begin to accept and love ourselves. Radical acceptance of others and ourselves will allow us to see the beauty in our lives amongst our perceived flaws or shortcomings. It’s also important to remember that life is impermanent and things are always changing. If we can train our minds to see beauty in our everyday life, when things go right and when they go wrong, we’ll suffer less.
And lastly, it’s important to remember that it’s okay to want to change things in ourselves. But there will always be things that we cannot change, and that is when it’s important to accept those things, and eventually learn to see the beauty in those things. There are so many things out of our control, who our parents are, our genetics, what shape we’re in sometimes, etc. The one thing we do have control over is our response. When we implement Wabi-Sabi, we can begin to embrace and love our imperfections, and stop seeing these things as imperfections entirely.
Accepting imperfections is one of the key ingredients of having a happy life. When we approach life through a Wabi-sabi philosophy, we’ll look at our life with a more gentle and loving lens. And with this lens we can accept ourselves as imperfect, and learn to love this imperfection.