It’s a philosophy that’s all about the acceptance of fleeting imperfection, and as such, it has a lot to teach us.
Wabi sabi stems from the Japanese words, “wabi,” meaning to be alone, not to be bothered by other things, to simplify. And then there’s “sabi,” meaning the passage of time, the beauty of passing time.
“Life cannot be perfect forever,” my Japanese mother used to say on the other side of the line, when I’d call her having a mini-meltdown in NYC. I used to think it was a sad thing to say until I started appreciating every flaw and seemingly imperfect moment in my life, including dark days and chaotic moments.
With each passing year here in The City, I began to be more open and accepting of the empathetic practice of wabi sabi.
As a young girl, I identified with being “mixed” or a “hapa” girl (half Japanese and half Polish American). I was raised by incredible immigrant parents, I was raised different, I felt different, and of course, I looked different. I was teased from first grade into high school, simply because of the way I looked.
As a former model in the fashion industry, perfection was the cornerstone of my profitability and kept me on a mental path toward being “good enough” by industry standards. I was paid to keep a perfect look, size, waist, hips, thighs for over a decade of my career.
“That pressure of having to be ‘perfect’ tortured me.”
This “perfect” and always must be “positive” outlook was, and always will be, unrealistic. It conflicted with my Japanese upbringing in every way.
As a girl who faced heartache over failed relationships, I thought relationships had to be perfect, too. I thought, what the heck did I do wrong? I could not then see those imperfect breakups would later serve as an important segue into the next stages of my life—and I’m certain my best friends all knew it was always for the best. Through wabi sabi, I learned those painful stages would lead me closer to the right person.
How can one choose to be lighter in their everyday lives? After years of studying simplification and mindfulness with my ancestors and monks in the mountains of Kōyasan and Shikoku Island, Japan, I figured it out for us.
We can practice wabi sabi, by celebrating imperfection. Changing my way of thinking with this ancient practice has reshaped each day, whether it be a tough, gnarly day, where it feels like everything is crashing down on me, or an easy peaceful, beautiful day…wabi sabi.
I allow wabi sabi to structure my thoughts. Instead of forcing myself to go along with what society deems as “normal and positive” and feeling like I have to measure up, or prove myself to someone, I have stopped seeking out perfection. Instead I reflect internally on my wholeness, wabi sabi. I no longer feel the need to be “completed by another,” I am complete.
My worldly travels and years in NYC showed me rough edges and dark corners. Then, I began to see my totally crazy everyday life in New York City as perfectly imperfect. My big sister once told me, “Candice, without darkness, light cannot exist,” I have lived by this.
We must learn to appreciate all things as a whole. It took me a long-ass-time to figure this all out though. Trust that it’s all in divine timing. I hope, from my painful past experiences and studies, you can see the light in the darkness.
Here are some ways you can re-shape your thinking through wabi sabi:
Challenge yourself with nature
The changing of seasons is a great teacher for us to learn from. You can go for a simple walk, hike, or run, and take the time to contemplate. Observe the imperfections on your hikes, your precious days off in the sun, toes in the water, hot bunz in the sand. Turn your phone off, and turn on to real life.
It’s something we all do and much like wabi sabi, comparison is constantly fleeting. Trade comparison for celebration. So they say “comparison is the thief of joy,” and I feel much better when I’m being my weird, geeky and quiet self.
Stop comparing, the most beautiful flowers bloom together, so start living simply, in peace with those around you and realize we’re all humans in this together.
Guess what? You already have everything you need. When we ask for less, use less, buy less, we can open our hearts to much more important things. Like building humility, character and grace, and this is a long and inward practice..but also, you’ve got to start somewhere, so why not simplify your life now?
Say goodbye to the vampires (those people that suck the life out of you) and notice which friends celebrate and support you! Remember the physical, beauty, shiny things and toys— you can’t take them with you when you leave.
Don’t care so much
In Japanese we call this “shikata ga nai” (仕方が無い), so do as my mom does. The more you stop caring about perfection and the fleeting stuff (followers, likes, comparison), the more you can enjoy what life has to offer you. It is your journey, full of roadblocks, stumbles, stones, twists, turns and surprises.
It has never been about a perfect destination anyway. Wouldn’t a perfect life be boring? Not interested. You can overcome each of the obstacles, but one must remember to stop giving AF.
Self-love like a BFF
Treat yourself well, be good to you. Let up a little, and learn to self-adore. I’ve got features I didn’t always love about myself and I have learned to love them, they make each and everyone one of us exactly who we are. Whether it’s a dark corner, a rugged mountain or an uphill battle, you are right where you are supposed to be. Trust in you as your own best friend and love yourself in this very moment..
Can we all try to realize that everyone is doing their best? Accepting that we all malfunction, you are imperfect, I am imperfect, we can trade judgement for acceptance. There is no need to tell others how to live, or to pass judgement. Remember, live and let live.
My sister and I often talk about how wonderful the world would be if we valued character and grace, wisdom and integrity, grit as much as we did money, power, beauty and social status. Who cares about followers? A “like” is not a measurement of your worth.
Tell a friend how awesome they are in real life, invite them over for dinner (cooked by you), pick up a new book, and get some wisdom we are forever students. Admire someone who works at a non-profit or who volunteers to help others each day, in real life. Those are the true heroes of value in our time, get out there and start living.
After 10 years of buttoning up in my career, I’m like, dude…it’s time to let loose. I’m not perfect. I don’t want to be. So why am I pleasing everyone around me? Ask yourself the same and continue the course. Do you. Trust me, everyone wants to see that mask off and you doing so, allows everyone else around you to do the same.
Yeah girl, I still remember those dark corners, the rugged mountains, the shadows cast upon my views. From following my ancestors’ practices in Japan to realizing the ideas of a perfect relationship, (a perfect man, um unlikely!), my mentality of constant positivity is contingent on my belief perfection doesn’t exist, but rather an acceptance that everyone is trying their best.
I would be a fool to be chasing perfection and its transient ways.
Remember: Perfection is dangerously fleeting and if we constantly chase it, we will find ourselves misled. Stay the course, acknowledge that everyone is doing their best and enjoy your perfectly imperfect life.
Adapted from Candice Kumai’s Kintsugi Wellness, available for pre-order now.