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To Educate & Inform People – People Helping People.

The Joy of Imperfection.

Not long ago, I realized something as I stood in front of the mirror. Even if I squinted hard, even if the light was just right, even if I was wearing make-up and a flattering outfit, no one was ever going to mistake me for a sweet young thing anymore. I saw that the lines around my eyes didn’t disappear when I stopped smiling. I admitted that I was the sort of woman who looked perfectly at home in a mini-van.

And as I stood there, contemplating the changes that had somehow snuck up on me, at first I felt a twinge of sorrow for my lost youth (Where did it go? Where did I go?) — and then I began to appreciate how wabi-sabi my face looked.

The concept of wabi sabi is one that I think every woman (and man) should have in her mental bag of tricks, particularly after time’s winged chariot has pulled into the driveway. Wabi-sabi is a term that describes the beauty to be found in imperfection. It originates in Japan, where artists will often leave a crack in a piece of pottery or a flaw in the design of a kimono as a reminder of the wabi-sabi nature of life. Wabi-sabi recognizes that all of life is in a constant state of change, and that decay is as much a part of life as growth.

“Wabi-sabi is a concept that originated in sixteenth-century Japan with the tea ceremony, a ritual that provided a way to step out of the chaos of daily life and reconnect with that which was simple and tranquil,” says Diane Durston, author of Wabi-Sabi: The Art of Everyday Life and curator of culture, art, and education at the Portland Japanese Garden. “Through the centuries wabi-sabi came to mean an approach to life and art that is in harmony with nature, one that values the handmade and rustic and that recognizes the impermanence of life. It encourages us to be respectful of age, both in things and in ourselves, and it counsels us to be content with what we have rather than always striving for more. It’s a hard concept to define in words, because it’s about emotion as much as philosophy. Wabi-sabi has a hint of wistfulness about it.”

I loved the idea of wabi-sabi from the first time I heard of it a decade ago, but it’s only as I’ve grown older that I’ve come to fully appreciate its layers of meaning. The concept has helped me understand that while I enjoyed being young-its giddiness and newness and excitement-there’s also a serenity that comes from growing older and knowing better who I am. Age has a patina, a mellowness and comfortableness that I increasingly savor.

This understanding didn’t come upon me suddenly (“My, how cool it is look so much older!”). Instead my journey to wabi-sabi-dom has happened in fits and starts. Part of it has been seeing women I admire age with grace. I think of Jackie, 92-years-young, who teaches me that growing older can mean growing deeper, wiser, and more joyful, or Rebecca, who proves that gray hair can be stylish and sexy and who attracts men like she’s dabbed 200-proof pheromones behind her ears. And if I need further confirmation of the truths of wabi-sabi, I look at the celebrities who have obviously gone to the plastic surgeon’s office one too many times. I’ll take my lines, thank you very much, especially if the alternative means I’d have that permanent startled expression, a parody of true youth.

But living in a wabi-sabi way goes much deeper than just accepting the physical signs of aging. For me its most important lesson has been about the impermanence of all life. When one of my oldest and dearest friends committed suicide last year, it was a loud wake-up call for me. In my mourning, I’ve searched for how I could have been a better friend and vowed to more deeply cherish my loved ones while I have them. I know what scholars mean when they talk about the wistfulness of wabi-sabi, because I can feel it in my heart whenever I think of those faces I will see no more.

I think a little wabi-sabi wisdom is just what we need these days amid economic trials and our culture’s never-ending emphasis on success. Too many people live in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction with what they have. They throw away good relationships in a vain search for a perfect one, or continually pine for what they don’t have or once had and lost. I’ve seen friends deeply regret divorcing their spouses, for example, realizing what they’ve given up only when it was too late.

Wabi-sabi doesn’t mean simply settling for less than you deserve — and it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work to improve your situation. Instead it’s about balance and contentment rather than striving for the unattainable.

Wabi-sabi encourages us to accept our own flaws as well. So you’re not a perfect mother, and your kids aren’t perfect either. Congratulations! Welcome to the human race. And all those people you think are perfect? They’re likely struggling too.

I know that my moments of joy will pass, but so will my pains and sorrows. I will try to live them, learn their lessons, and let them go. And in the meantime, a few laugh lines are proof that I’ve enjoyed the journey along the way.

This article appeared in the April 17th issue of Woman’s Day Magazine, and was written by
Lori Erickson,


June 15, 2010 - Posted by | Personal Development

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