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  • Cracks on a plate. A stain on a couch. A room  slightly askew. A wrinkle on a face. For most  

  • of us, these things are to be avoided, replacedor at the very least, theyre less than desirable.  

  • We turn away from signs of imperfection, of  damage, of impermanence. We yearn for the ideals;  

  • the symmetrical and youthful; the timeless and  undamaged; the absolute and perfect. Western  

  • tradition wields reason and order as its choice of  weapons in the war against the universe. So-called  

  • laws and truths from battles-thought-won hang  over its mantel. Ideals burn in its hearth.  

  • But this fire requires constant feeding. And it  is always on the brink of burning outcollectively  

  • and individually. For many of us, it already  hasthe hope that anything may be discovered  

  • or obtained that will make the coldness of the  universe go away has been lost. For others of us,  

  • perhaps weve been engulfed by the fireburning ourselves up with relentless desire

  • For those looking to better deal  with the hot and cold of existence,  

  • who might struggle with impossible goals  of perfection, certainty, and permanence,  

  • one idea that is tremendously useful is  the Japanese concept known as wabi-sabi

  • In the 12th century, a Japanese Buddhist Monk  namednin created the first independent Zen  

  • Buddhist school in Japan. This formally introduced  ideas and principles from Chan Buddhism to the  

  • Japanese world. Central to Buddhism is the  idea that suffering is an inevitable part  

  • of existence. More specifically, suffering  arises out of the tension between our desire  

  • and the nature of reality. We desire things like  permanence, perfection, and certainty, but the  

  • universe (which we are inextricably apart of) is  in constant flux, subject to a process of change,  

  • transience, and imperfection. As a result of  Zen’s introduction and development in Japan,  

  • overtime, this transient and imperfect condition  of reality would soon be uniquely viewed as an  

  • ally to meditate on and make peace withrather than an enemy to contend against.  

  • By around the 15th century, two terms would  come together to embody this view and become a  

  • central part of Japanese culture, aesthetics, and  philosophy: together, these terms are wabi-sabi

  • Although there is no direct English translationwabi-sabi essentially describes the view (or  

  • experiences) where beauty and virtue are found  in the impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete

  • From an aesthetic point of view, wabi-sabi values  what is visually incomplete, worn, damaged,  

  • unsymmetrical, or minimalistic. Artwork that is  considered wabi-sabi often emphasizes the process  

  • as opposed to the end result. And moreoverthe end result is often maintained and used  

  • past the point in which it still appears freshnew, or undamaged. Visual artist Richard Powell,  

  • said, "Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is  authentic by acknowledging three simple  

  • realities: nothing lasts, nothing is  finished, and nothing is perfect.”  

  • For example, a popular style of Japanese pottery  that follows the principles of wabi sabi is  

  • known as raku pottery. This style of pottery is  often hand-shaped, fired at low temperatures,  

  • and left to cool in the open air, resulting  in porous, inconsistent, and uniquely shaped  

  • vessels. This outcome and process intentionally  puts an emphasis on simplicity and naturalness.  

  • Another Japanse practice known as kintsugi  involves the repairing of broken pottery by  

  • covering the cracked areas with powdered goldsilver, or platinum, mending the vessel back  

  • together. The mended cracks are intentionally  left prominent, viewed as beautiful, enhanced  

  • parts of the piece. Through both raku and kintsugi  practices, the imperfect and damaged aspects of  

  • the ceramic ware are seen as beautiful, positive  portrayals of the natural experience of existence

  • From a more philosophical view, mirroring its  aesthetics, wabi-sabi values living simply,  

  • finding peace in the temporariness of all thingsand embracing what is flawed and incomplete in  

  • nature, life, and oneself. Signs of these things  and ways of living in harmony with them represent  

  • a more honest and useful idea of perfectionthe  perfection of imperfection. For example,  

  • around the 13th to 15th century, Japanese tea  ceremonies were popularly used by the ruling  

  • class of Shoguns as a way of displaying  wealth, using extravagant ceramic ware  

  • to sip tea inside of lavishly ornamented  rooms under a full-moon. In 1488, however,  

  • Zen monk Murata Shuko would redefine the tea  ceremony based on principles of wabi-sabi.  

  • It would soon become customary for the tea  ceremony to be conducted using simple ceramic  

  • ware produced by Japanese artisans, often using  raku or kintsugi practices, and the tea would  

  • be sipped while sitting in minimalistic  settings under partial-moons or cloudy  

  • night skies. The Japanese tea ceremony would  become a worship of the simple and imperfect

  • Although there are seemingly key attributes to  things that we find beautiful, there are also  

  • ways of thinking and seeing things that create  beauty. Beauty is not merely based on what things  

  • we are perceiving, but how we are perceiving  things—a phenomenon contingent on the mind.  

  • If we wish to see more beauty  in life, as life really is,  

  • it is thus up to us to do so. Wabi-sabi offers  a lens through which we can more easily do this;  

  • a way to more frequently experience beauty in and  derive peace from the true conditions of reality.  

  • Beauty,” writes artist Leonard Koren, “can be  coaxed out of ugliness. Wabi-sabi is ambivalent  

  • about separating beauty from non-beauty  or ugliness. The beauty of wabi-sabi is  

  • in one respect, the condition of coming to  terms with what you consider ugly. Wabi-sabi  

  • suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that  occurs between you and something else. Beauty  

  • can spontaneously occur at any moment given the  proper circumstances, context, or point of view.  

  • Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousnessan extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.” 

  • There is nothing inherently wrong with continually  striving for something closer to perfection,  

  • but in truth, the distance between good and  perfect is infinite. Wabi-sabi reminds us to not  

  • depend on ever finally arriving. It reminds usrather, that the process is part of the results,  

  • that the beauty of things is largely in our  mind, and that nothing in nature is perfect,  

  • complete, or permanent. And if nature can’t  make it that way, why would we think we can

  • On one hand, wabi-sabi refers to and describes an  important part of Japanese history and culture;  

  • but on the other, it refers to a philosophical  idea and aesthetic experience deeply relevant  

  • to us all. Everything we try will fail in some  way. Everything we finish will be some amount  

  • incomplete. Everything we know, everything  we cherish, everything that works right now,  

  • will decay, fall apart, and disappear back into  nothingness. This is something we all must contend  

  • with. We can thrash against and resist it, which  naturally and inevitably, we will. But we can also  

  • try our best, whenever possible, to accept this  reality, to find the beauty and virtue within  

  • it. In learning to embrace things as they are, not  how we want them to be, in every crack on a plate,  

  • stain on a couch, wrinkle on a face, room slightly  askew, we can see beauty, we can see truth,  

  • we can see the oneness of nature that connects  all things. In the words of David Foster Wallace

  • If you're automatically sure that you know  what reality is, and you are operating on  

  • your default setting, then you, like me, probably  won't consider possibilities that aren't annoying  

  • and miserable. But if you really learn how  to pay attention, then you will know there  

  • are other options. It will actually be within  your power to experience . . . situation[s] as  

  • not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the  same force that made the stars: love, fellowship,  

  • the mystical oneness of all things deep down. Not  that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The  

  • only thing that's capital-T True is that you  get to decide how you're gonna try to see it.

  • Wabi-sabi may not be everyone’s  taste. And moreover, arguably,  

  • even for those for whom it is, no one can ever  totally embrace imperfection, impermanence,  

  • or incompleteness. But perhaps in our own  imperfect abilities to ever fully embrace  

  • imperfection, we are, in a way, nonethelessstill embodying the idea of wabi-sabi perfectly.

Cracks on a plate. A stain on a couch. A room  slightly askew. A wrinkle on a face. For most  

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