May 14 2011
Wabi Sabi (wah-bee sah-bee) is a Japanese concept of life and art in which beauty is found in things that are weathered, asymmetrical, incomplete, imperfect and impermanent. As I age, my body is becoming all of the above and, therefore, Wabi Sabi has become my new kemo sahbee (faithful friend). I’m learning to see myself as a work of art, not in spite of my flaws, but BECAUSE of them. What a concept!
I’ve had a head start with this Wabi Sabi way of seeing myself — over the years I’ve been learning to face my emotional imperfections and accept myself as perfectly imperfect. I was motivated to do this by a painful sense of shame and a belief that I was fundamentally flawed and needed to be perfect in order to be loved. The quest for perfection put a cork in my aliveness that eventually caused me to crack under the pressure. I went to bed one night asking the higher powers that be, “What am I here to do in this life?” I awoke with these words resounding in my mind, “All you have to do is love yourself.” This set me on a new quest to learn to love myself AS IS, warts and all. I am still on that journey. I am learning to love my imperfect self.
One of my favorite quotes that has helped me in reframing my flawed self is Ashleigh Brilliant’s epigram, “I may not be perfect, but parts of me are excellent!” I’ve said this to myself many times throughout the years and it’s always made me feel better about myself. Now, in the spirit of Wabi Sabi, I tell myself, “I may not be perfect, but my imperfections make me unique and beautiful!” Krishnamurti has said that our souls are from the same paper but what makes us unique is the creases formed in the paper from all the folding and unfolding of our life experience.
This Wabi Sabi perspective is helping me face and embrace my body upheavals of the last several years. Despite my careful attempts to remain perfectly in tact, Bell’s palsy set my face permanently askew, gum disease ate away at my jawbone, cataracts clouded my eyes, an appendectomy removed my ruptured appendix, and cancer devoured my uterus, (not to mention the addition of wrinkles and gray hair, oy!). I have had to let go of my attachment to things being perfect. I’ve chosen instead to see and accept the beauty of this cracked, weathered vessel that I’ve become. A little boy said to his grandmother, “Oh Gramma, you have such beautiful designs on your face.” I’m learning to see myself the way that little boy sees his grandmother.
There is great liberation in perceiving ourselves as beautiful, not in spite of our flaws, but because of them. It is heartening to see ourselves as not broken, but instead broken open — all the better to receive the abundant light and love that surrounds us. Leonard Cohen echoes this sentiment in his song, Anthem:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Finally I’d like to leave you with the quintessential Wabi Sabi story of the Cracked Pot:
Everyday a water-bearer carried two pots balanced on a yoke across his shoulders to his master’s house. One of the pots was cracked and leaked water all the way there. This made the pot very sad. “I’m so imperfect. Why do you keep me?” The water-bearer answered, “I planted flowers along your side of the path and the water you spill nourishes those flowers. Because of you, the beautiful flowers that grow there have brought great joy to my master. Your flaws bring joy and beauty.”
The story we tell ourselves about our lives is always our choice. It can be a sob story, or a Wabi Sabi story. We can choose to see ourselves as a crackpot or as a cracked pot watering flowers in our lives. I am choosing to see my life as a perfect work of art, cracks and all!
What’s your Wabi Sabi story? Can you see how your flaws, imperfections, and challenges have made your life a beautiful work of art?
Copyright 2011 Janet Jacobsen