Find out what “Wabi-Sabi” has to do with Spirituality
(The 3-Minute Weekly Insight from Spirituality U.)
No, Wabi-Sabi (pronounced Wah-bee Sah-bee) isn’t that hot mustard you get in Asian restaurants. It’s a concept in Japanese spirituality that can help us bring together creativity and spirituality in a way that can also have an impact on the way we live our day-to-day lives.
In a word, Wabi-Sabi (let’s call it WS for short) finds beauty in imperfection. It emerges out of the practice of Zen Buddhism, and focuses on the counter-intuitive idea of finding loveliness in things we often overlook because of their flaws. In Wabi-Sabi, beauty is imperfect, impermanent, and often incomplete. Put another way, WS expresses the three-part idea that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect—and that’s wonderful! The concept may be startling in a culture where our highest ideal is absolute, shining perfection.
Visual examples of Wabi-Sabi, include ceramic cups that are rustic and slightly misshapen (but in an elegant way), and those famous Zen gardens that feature, jagged rocks that seem to float (two or three at a time) in what appears to be a small sea of carefully raked sand.
In verbal expression, a good example might be this wonderful haiku poem by Basho:
Fallen petals rise
Back to the branch
Something that is more noticeable in the poem than in the cup or the garden is the notion that an object or poem expresses Wabi-Sabi if it evokes in the bolder “a sense of serene melancholy and spiritual longing.” When we see flower petals on the ground, how can we keep from hoping against hope that they’ll return to the branch?
Wabi-Sabi clearly embraces not only Nature, but the naturalness of the found object…just as it is. Other characteristics of WS include simplicity, roughness, irregularity, austerity, and most of all, modesty. But what does all of this have to do with spirituality, and more particularly, how we live our lives?
Some answers to that question can be found in a small but compelling book called, Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers. In the chapter called “Wabi-Sabi and Spiritual Values, “ author Leonard Koren invites us to consider what he terms the lessons of the universe. Here are a few of his observations: Truth comes from the observation of nature; greatness exists in inconspicuous and overlooked details; beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness.
And here’s some Wabi-Sabi to live by: Give up your obsessions with neatness, consistency, and punctuality. Don’t throw away things that are chipped or marred if they are still useful. On the other hand, give away things that add unnecessary clutter to the space you live or work in. Stop beating up on yourself: the next time you do something wrong, remember that the original Hebrew word for sin is simply an archery term that means “missing the mark.” Don’t add sauces or spices to everything you eat; savor the natural flavors of foods. And finally, focus on the intrinsic value of people and things rather than engaging them for their “status” value.
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