When I found the term “Wabi Sabi” several years ago, I was thrilled to discover there were actually some words to easily describe that sense of everything always in flux, always falling apart and sometimes coming together in new ways. Wabi Sabi, a Japanese term, means the beauty in the impermanence of everything, or as my mind shorthands it, the perfection of imperfection.
Since that time, I try to look at piles of laundry, dirty dishes on the counter, and the occasional pile of credit card applications to shred in the dimming light of the late afternoon as examples of Wabi Sabi. Stepping outside, the examples — particularly the ones I’m responsible for — abound, such as exhibit A: our yard (or that portion of the big field we consider our yard). You can see from the picture what happens when, due to a broken mower and too much else to do, we skip doing the first spring mowing until early summer. Wabi Sabi: the tall, overgrown grasses spinning against each other in the fierce winds of our stormed-over land lately juxtaposed with the somewhat neat rows of the freshly sheared grass. It’s all in flux, and there’s beauty on both sides of the mower.
Recently, and simultaneously as Ken was doing this mowing, I was outside on the deck with a digital camera in hand, a nightgown on, and because I wanted to look better than bedtime, a pair of earrings, too. I needed to send a photo of myself to a reading festival where I’m sharing some poetry next fall, and all my other head shots were of a head with very short hair (having kept my hair for over a decade as close to the ground as many lawns). After who-knows-how-many photos I vetoed, I realized the silliness of judging each shot as not-yet-fit-for-consumption. The more I can see myself as Wabi Sabi, the more sense aging makes, particularly given the alternative of wasting what’s left of life fretting over wrinkles, extra fat, and changes in the weather of the body.
Speaking of which, the weather is obviously and especially in Kansas always Wabi Sabi. So much beauty, and so much changing, just like the Zen Buddhist notion that everything is passing memory, all of life is just a dream as we row these boats. I think of a poem I found:
Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.
— Wu Men (1183-1260), translated by Stephen Mitchell
I love this tiny poem that reminds me how, in each season, at each moment, there’s immense beauty in the simplicity of what’s right here, Wabi Sabi, in front of our eyes.