Wabi Sabi

Nov 04, 2022

'It is so simple to be happy but so difficult to be simple!’ goes a quote by famous poet Rabindranath Tagore. And that is the essence of Wabi Sabi, a Japanese concept embracing simplicity and imperfection in life. The phrase comes from the words Wabi (to simplify) and Sabi (the beauty of passing time). It is hard to find a literal translation for the phrase but in essence it means finding perfection in imperfection. It is thus the antithesis of the modern cultural emphasis on perfectionism.

Everyone nowadays is striving to achieve perfection -the perfect job, the perfect body, the perfect skin, the perfect partner, the perfect home... and the list goes on. Unfortunately, media stereotypes and the ubiquitous influence of social media unconsciously reinforces our untenable need for perfection. We strive to have a perfect profile on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram and envy friends who seem to have it all. Consequently, ordinary stressful life experiences get blown out of proportion and we ask the unanswerable question "Why me?"

Yet we often fail to realise that the search for perfection is like climbing a mountain with no peak in sight, a journey with no end. The perfect car soon becomes worn out, the honeymoon with the perfect partner ends and boredom and ennui sets in, the perfect face gets wrinkles and the perfect hair falls out or starts greying. We are constantly running a race on a hamster wheel. Values like stoicism and embracing imperfection as a part of living seem to have fallen by the wayside, leading to an explosion of existential mental health issues, discontent and unhappiness. As a society we seek refuge in drugs, prescription as well as recreational, seeking quick reprieve from uncomfortable psychological states.

The concept of Wabi Sabi is vital to mental health, easing our need for perfection. Like the cracked glass which becomes a work of art, so can our wrinkles and grey hair be redefined as experience, our faux pas and gaffes be redefined as being authentic, our failures be redefined as courage. So go ahead, forget about that perfect profile on Facebook and share your vulnerable side, the side that makes you human. Embrace the love handles, the messy house and the boring job as the joys of being alive.

Here are a few mantras to remind you of Wabi Sabi throughout the day:

1.Be who you are

Because only you are best at being yourself and no one else can do the job!

  1. Joy and woe are woven fine

One of my favourite poems by William Blake, this phrase is a reminder that difficulties are an integral part of life.

  1. Even this shall pass away

Another reminder of the transience of life, this phrase encourages a positive attitude towards change, both good and bad.

  1. Embrace imperfection

Finally, a simple reminder that life is not meant to be perfect.

Write these out on post-it notes, stick them in prominent places and imbibe their messages throughout the day. Keep a cracked glass vase on your desk to remind you to embrace your imperfect life. Do this for a month and let me know how happy and satisfied you feel. You might just see some amazing results!


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