Wabi-Sabi: The Art of Expecting Less to Receive More

October 26, 2019 by Charlie Hedges − 0 Comments

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.
― Leonard Koren

So a few months ago I read Leonard Kohen’s book, Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers (not to be confused with the sushi condiment). Leaning on a traditional Japanese past regarding the art of tea houses and the “wabi-sabi” manner of presentation and service of the tea, Koren makes a moving case for the inclusion of simplicity and tradition in our everyday lives.


Unfortunately, although Koren attempts to define wabi-sabi with for a western audience by using the descriptors of “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete,” he readily admits that, in truth, it is an indefinable Japanese cultural manner of defining life that is unnatural and even not comprehensible for us in the west to grapple with in its complexity.

Nevertheless, the words imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete truly define life as I know it. Most of us in the USA are cursed with some influence of the ideal or the perfect. I find it humorous when hearing or reading, “I am not a perfectionist, but…” And the “but” is often followed by a declaration of how that individual aims to produce something imperfect, but darned close to perfection.

Just Be a Good One

I know you have heard it said, “I just want to be the best me I can be.” My response is why? B.B. King is noted as saying to future blues guitarists, “ Don’t try to be the best one, just be a good one.” I love it! Good is good. It was good enough for God, for crying out loud (see Genesis 1). The best is impossible to achieve except for the one individual or group that attains it… and perfection is most certainly not permanent.

Personally, I find the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi to be not only refreshing, but also absolutely true. Nothing in life is perfect, permanent or complete. So why not soften our personal objectives to be achievable, simpler and even more satisfactory?

Cherish the Beauty of Life

One of my favorite writers, Maria Popova, penned “[Wabi-sabi]… it is not a movement toward gain or loss but an invitation to attentive stillness and absolute presence, reminding us to cherish the beauty of life not despite its perishability but precisely because of it; because the impermanence of things — of seasons and lifetimes and galaxies and loves — is what confers preciousness and sweetness upon them.”

I could go on, although I think my point is made: slow down, take joy in your imperfect work, and admit that that nothing is permanent. There is only now. Embrace and enjoy!

Nothing is Perfect, Permanent or Complete

All That is Worthy is Discovered in Process

Photo courtesy of yashabaker at istockphoto



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