06 May Rain Will Fall
Life isn’t perfect.
There is strife, famine, natural disasters, greed and selfishness. People are prejudice and have misconceptions that affect their relationships. We are often tempted, prone to addiction, have bad tendencies that corrupt decisions and make for unhealthy choices.
I’ll say it again, life isn’t perfect —which is a relief.
It means we can stop pretending it is, we can stop wasting time forcing it to be; perfect hair, perfect house, perfect partner, perfect finances, perfect job, perfect cup of coffee. To embrace imperfections is to go with the flow, to be in accord with life. It allows us to accept that we spilled ketchup on our shirt at lunch, haven’t found a solution to our toe nail fungus, didn’t say the perfect thing to comfort the grieving person, lied to the beggar about spare change, failed a diet with donuts, bacon, potato chips, and cola. It’s ok.
To accept imperfection is to come to terms with our weaknesses and stop pretending that we have everything under control, it allows us to live more authentic lives. We can be vulnerable with one another, which fosters a connectedness, which makes for better relationships, which makes for better community.
I am imperfect, like you are imperfect. So let’s stop pretending. Instead, let’s be genuine. Let’s put aside pride and try humility. Life is ultimately imperfect because we all will die, and the fear of death can cause all sorts of bad behaviour. But to accept death, helps us to live.
What is perfection?
Perfection is just an idea. It is a product of the mind. We intellectualize its existence, strive for it, become romanced by it, feel it is out there, but it is not. Our intellect understands the world objectively, using its faculty of reason to solve problems. When we project reason and solutions onto everything in our lives, we create expectation; little traps, ready to deliver disappointment. To manage your expectations is to soften your reactions to the world. Making it a little easier.
Our need for perfection extends to the objects we covet. We desire for an unobtainable aesthetic; the summit of beauty, symmetry, ideal proportion, completeness, precision, high-polish, high-function, high-style, etc. This perpetuates through culture, by industry, by advertising and the market, which we accept, circulate and reinforce among us. In short we train ourselves to be demanding consumers and purveyors of perfection.
In Japan there is an idea of perfection that has a deep history carried by the people, they call it wabi-sabi.
Wabi-sabi is a philosophy of beauty that embraces imperfection. Something can have a wabi-sabi quality when it is rustic, worn and imperfect. It represents natural decay, which alludes to the passage of time, something we are also part of, as we get old and eventually die. And so wabi-sabi is the contemplation of impermanence; that change is the undercurrent of life. And so, perfection is an ideal born in our minds; a product of the intellect. A concept that doesn’t exist naturally in the world.
The Japanese word ‘wabi’ refers to a feeling of humbleness, of living in rustic simplicity and quietude.
The word ‘sabi’ refers to the weathered quality of an object, aged and worn, possibly crudely constructed, endearing with an unsophisticated charm.
Together, wabi-sabi is more than an aesthetic. It represents a spiritual mode that considers the pursuit of perfection as artificial. In essence appreciating the beauty of things just as they are; imperfect, incomplete and transitory.
Wabi-Sabi in life is the feeling someone may have for an old article of clothing, like a wool sweater they’ve kept over the years. The charm of its aged, mended and faded look. It is always comfortable, putting the wearer at ease, supporting a tranquil, reflective mood. Contrast this with a business suit, one of fine fabrics and rigid shapes. Its formal appearance straightens the curved natural lines of the body. The shoulders are squared off, sharp lines plunge from the lapel, points rise from the folded handkerchief. The formal nature of the suit fosters a state of mind like its style; rigid, sharp and stressed.
Wabi-sabi has a deep history in Japanese culture, born from a philosophical upheaval, a significant cultural shift that happened at the end of the 12th century, where imperialism gave way to military rule under the shogun. This societal shift had seen the hedonism of the time turn to a more somber, lowly and contemplative disposition. This feeling endured and evolved into a culture that worshipped the aesthetic of poverty. Yet not pitiful and desperate, as from a lack of resources, but free of the weight of material concerns.
This idea permeated the arts and affected the culture. The tea ceremony is one example; where connoisseurs of artistic culture in the 15th and 16th centuries would convene in rustic locales to share tea together. The ceremony itself was a performance of the aesthetic, as it was carried out in a simple hut or small building, typically ten feet square. A modest structure with a short opening for a door, having you enter on your knees, forcing you to lower yourself both literally and psychologically; preparing you for the etiquette of the ceremony, which is simplistic and selfless. Inside, the furnishings are minimalist, even the apparatus for tea making is very plain and peasant looking.
Aside from tea drinking, wabi-sabi affected other art forms; like gardening, poetry, and pottery. Where sparse zen gardens sprawled widely with subdued features of sand, gravel and rock; again minimalistic, looking more like an anti-garden than something flamboyant and impressive. Wabi-sabo teaches that extravagance is a human contrivance, an example of our intent to fashion nature into a perfect ideal, which isn’t natural.
We find wabi-sabi in Haiku poetry as well. The little poems are made concise, leaving out much description and detail, yet still arousing a strong emotion regardless. Haiku poems often include elements of the seasons, in order to remind us of the passage of time. Again, alluding to impermanence and transition.
Japanese Pottery of a wabi-sabi style is plain and unpretentious, generally with natural imperfections. Where a crack, discolouration or asymmetry adds to its endearing character. There is a famous story of a tea connoisseur who tried to impress a special guest with an finely crafted tea caddy, which went unnoticed during the guest’s visit. This had upset the host. Later, the caddy was accidentally dropped and shattered into pieces. The host glued it back together as best as they could. When the guest returned for another visit, the caddy was finally remarked upon favourably, despite it obvious repair. This had pleased the host and served as a quiet reminder of the true heart of the tea ceremony; the beauty of imperfection.
Wabi-sabi is more than an aesthetic, it is a spiritual longing brought about from the transiency of all things. For just as objects show age and eventually are beyond repair, we also approach our end as well. A fact we must accept, transcend and not be burdened by.
Wabi-sabi is akin to nostalgia, which is an intuition we all have. It is looking fondly upon something that is meaningful to us, something that symbolizes the passage of time, which imparts a special quality. Old family photographs are a good example; faded, discoloured, possibly ripped or cracked. Their aged look represents the years gone by, creating a sentimental yearning; where each picture is a portal to a different time, perceived as a simpler life. The perception whether accurate or not is not important, the spiritual longing that arises is the mood that opens your regard to nature, that change is natural, and we are embedded in that change, part of it like everything is.
Wabi-Sabi is part of us all, it lives as a quiet yearning for simplicity. An occasion to get away from the busyness of life. It is the reason we flee to weekend retreats, to a cottage, to camping or a beach. To get away from modernity and replenish our senses in the sanctuary of the natural. To rejuvenate the psyche with what is pure, modest and quiet; away from the noise of high-functioning.
But as much as we retreat to simplicity, we unknowingly carry our human nature with us. For just as we are enchanted by an old cottage in the woods, the temptation is there to tear it down and replace it with a beautifully constructed country home, surrounded with meticulously manicured gardens, decks and docks, lavish open-concept spaces brimming with perfect design and perfect function— all of which is not Wabi-Sabi.
And so the original charm that drew us to the area, is now replaced with much of the same that we have fled from. Destroyed under the weight of a manufactured aesthetic, an ideal, a contrivance. If any hint of Wabi-sabi is left, it is in the old wooden shed at the edge of the property. The last vestige of the original cottage, now pushed aside, partially hidden behind overgrowth. This forgotten structure, with the creaky door, all moss covered and water damaged: an abandoned depository of rusting tools, scraps of wood, and old cans of paint. The place rarely visited but a place that, when the mood strikes, you go with open interest, perhaps to return in thought to a former time in one’s life, a time of simplicity, modesty and warmth.
And so the old shed stands. Nostalgia stops us from removing it. But eventually it will disappear. Like the cottage will in time, and the camp site will return to forest, and the beach will be overgrown with weeds. Everything changes and disappears. Buildings collapse, steel rusts, wood rots, fabrics wear out, and food spoils. What has been created, falls apart, giving way to the force of nature and its cycles. It is all seasons of birth, growth and death, the stream of life connecting it all. Wabi-sabi is in concert with this, and when you hear the orchestra, feel the melody, you’ll enjoy the music until it’s end.