Perfection is a concept of something that doesn't exist. Nonetheless, we humans cause ourselves grief as we try to attain this non-existent notion.
Too often, our goal is to have a perfect mate, a perfect body, perfect children, a perfect job, a perfect religion, a perfect home decor. Sure, we know that it really isn't possible to achieve the goal of perfection. But it is something to aim for.
However, not to those who embrace the subtle Japanese idea, or feeling, of Wabi sabi. Last year I wrote a blog post on this subject after starting to read Beth Kempton's book, "Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life." I started the post by saying:
Chasing after perfection is a perfect way to drive yourself crazy. Or at least, to become deeply disappointed -- since perfection doesnt exist.
Not in people, for sure. And likely nowhere else, either.
Yet religions hold up perfection as an attainable ideal. For example, they speak of having perfect faith, as if this was possible. And I'm well aware of Eastern religions that consider a perfect living guru is the next best thing to a perfect god.
Recently I've been re-reading the book, which I'd put aside and didn't finish -- totally in line with the wabi sabi embrace of incompleteness. Here's some passages from Kempton's book regarding what wabi sabi is all about.
The wabi sabi secret
In slowly peeling back the layers of mystery, this is what I have come to understand: the true beauty of wabi sabi lies not in things but in the very nature of life itself.
Wabi sabi is an intuitive response to beauty that reflects the true nature of life.
Wabi sabi is an acceptance and appreciation of the impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete nature of everything.
Wabi sabi is a recognition of the gifts of simple, slow, and natural living.
Wabi sabi is a state of the heart. It is a deep in-breath and a slow exhale. It is felt in a moment of real appreciation -- a perfect moment in an imperfect world. We can nurture it with our willingness to notice details and cultivate delight. And we experience it when we are living the most authentic, most inspired versions of our lives.
It's about experiencing the world by truly being in it rather than judging it from the sidelines. It's about allowing strategy to give way to sensitivity. Its about taking the time to pay attention.
The principles that underlie wabi sabi can teach us life lessons about letting go of perfection and accepting ourselves just as we are. They give us tools for escaping the chaos and material pressures of modern life, so we can be content with less. And they remind us to look for beauty in the everyday, allowing ourselves to be moved by it and, in doing so, feeling gratitude for life itself.
...The life lessons wabi sabi can teach us, and that we will explore in this book, are rooted in the following ideas:
-- The world looks very different when you learn to see and experience it from your heart.
-- All things, including life itself, are impermanent, incomplete, and imperfect. Therefore, perfection is impossible, and imperfection is the natural state of everything, including ourselves.
-- There is great beauty, value, and comfort to be found in simplicity.
...Wabi sabi represents a precious cache of wisdom that values tranquility, harmony, beauty, and imperfection, and can strengthen our resilience in the face of modern ills.
More important, accepting imperfection doesn't mean having to lower standards or drop out of life. It means not judging yourself for being who you are: perfectly imperfect -- at once uniquely you and just like the rest of us.
Put simply, wabi sabi gives you permission to be yourself. It encourages you to do your best but not make yourself ill in pursuit of an unattainable goal of perfection. It gently motions you to relax, slow down, and enjoy your life. And it shows you that beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places, making every day a doorway to delight.
...At its essence, the experience of wabi sabi is an intuitive response to beauty that reflects the true nature of things as they are. That is, a beauty that reminds us that everything is impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete.
This experience of wabi sabi is often felt in the presence of natural materials, which is why spending time in nature can be such a powerful experience. It reminds us that we are part of something miraculous. By momentarily lifting us out of the fog of to-do lists, chores, and overwhelming tasks, wabi sabi holds up a mirror to life's magnificence -- and in that mirror, we get a glimpse of ourselves.
The forest does not care what your hair looks like. The mountains don't move for any job title. The rivers keep running, regardless of your social-media following, your salary, or your popularity. The flowers keep on blooming, whether or not you make mistakes. Nature just is, and welcomes you, just as you are.
Our capacity to experience wabi sabi reconnects us to these truths, which allow us to feel, in the moment, unconditionally accepted.