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Wabi-Sabi

Learn about the value of the ancient Japanese tradition of embracing imperfection and finding beauty in the way things are.

Think about a spot in your house or apartment that shows a sign of wear. Unless you recently moved, I’d venture to guess there are dozens that come to mind. A scuff. A stain. A constantly dirty entryway. A plate with a chip. A squeaky step or door. The perfectionist thinks of these ‘flaws’ and cringes. But that’s not what this Twitter user did to her house. She embraced her home’s scuffs. You can see she focused on the memories with plaques memorializing those pesky dents in her new home.

This is an in-your-face display of the ancient Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi combines two parts of the ancient Japanese Aesthetic, a set of ideals on the norms of taste and beauty, and stems back to the unpredictability of nature on the island of Japan. These are the two ideas of wabi (the elegant beauty of humble simplicity) and sabi (the passing of time and subsequent deterioration).

Wabi-sabi is an acceptance of the imperfection in life, especially over time. You can see this in a decaying flower or an off-centered ceramic bowl.

Homes, years, and lives may come and go, but what we are left with are the memorable imperfections: the funny phrases, the messy entryway from friends or children, or, like the image, when the safe got away. Wabi-sabi leaves room for this creativity. As a leader or decision-maker, wabi-sabi leaves enough space to run with a new idea and be creative. Good leaders embrace wabi-sabi because they welcome the struggle that comes with solving new problems.

“As things come and go, they show signs of their coming or going, and these signs are considered to be beautiful.” Couldn’t have said it better myself; thanks Wikipedia.

Wabi-sabi can be applied internally as well: accepting yourself and your own imperfections. Accepting how things are instead of how we envision they should be. Professor Tanehisa Otabe, professor at Tokyo University’s Institute of Aesthetics, tells BBC Travel that “wabi-sabi leaves something unfinished or incomplete for the play of imagination.” We, too, are constant works in progress and creatively design our futures.

We can embrace all the imperfections to fully appreciate the nuances of ourselves and our lives, and think about what in our life deserves its own plaque, a permanent emblem of its imperfection. Wabi-sabi can be viewed as a shift from the state of doing to the state of being; what could be more important around the holidays?