Image from Style File
The thing about becoming a new parent that no one tells you and that creeps up on you and takes you completely by surprise is just how time consuming these tiny beings can be. Pre-Huxley, Hubs and I were all “surely we won’t become those people that don’t shower until 5:00 in the afternoon and have their fastidiously organized homes turned upside down by a being whose preferred habits include eating, sleeping and ‘relieving’ themselves.” Well, we have become those people, and fast! Newborns have constant needs and it’s our job to attend to them, constantly. What I’ve come to understand, in an enormously expedited learning curve, is that parenting requires a hefty dose of surrender, or finding beauty in imperfection and value in the ephemeral.
Image from Poetic Home
Moving into this new attitude has got me thinking a good bit about the parallels between parenting and the Japanese aesthetic principle known as “wabi-sabi.” An offshoot of Zen Buddhism, wabi-sabi essentially refers to a profound and abiding appreciation for the transient, fleeting beauty that pervades the natural world. I first encountered the concept during a visit to The Gardener, a gorgeous home and garden boutique in Berkley, CA. It was there that I came across Leonard Koren’s book Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers. Wabi-sabi, in contrast to the Hellenic aesthetic ideals of perfection, symmetry, permanence and grandeur, places value on imperfection, asymmetry, impermanence and humility.
Image from Kitchen Design Notes
While I think of myself as a bit of a perfectionist, my design and decor affinity has always steered more toward wabi-sabi principles and less toward those emblematic ideals of modernist art. According to Koren, the following differences distinguish wabi-sabi from modernism:
Modernism: public; logical, rational; absolute; prototypical; modular; progressive; control of nature; technology; adaptation to machines; symmetrical; rectangular; man-made; slick, polished, smooth; maintenance; reduction/subjugation of the senses; clarity; functionality, utility; materiality; all-weather; light, bright; cool
Wabi-sabi: private; intuitive; relative; idiosyncratic; variable; cyclical; harmony with nature; nature; adaptation to nature; organic; curved; natural; crude, rough, tactile; degradability; expansion of senses; ambiguity; naturalness; non-materiality; seasonal; dark, dim; warm
CLICK HERE for the rest of Ashley’s post (and great wabi-sabi book recommendations) after the jump!
Image from A Hazy Moon
So, in a day-to-day, life-as-it’s-lived reality, how might the ideals of wabi-sabi manifest in your home and overall design preferences? Well, they could reveal themselves through contemplating the beauty of a pile of autumn leaves (ephemeral, transient and inherently seasonal), or a handmade mug with a rim punctuated by tiny cracks, reflecting a lifetime of repeated use (“hagi ware,” a form of Japanese pottery, is closely associated with wabi-sabi ideals). Wabi-sabi could be witnessed in a wooden coffee or dining room table riddled with “imperfections” in the grain. Similarly, it could be viewed in a piece of furniture allowed to weather, chip or otherwise show the passage of time on its surface. On buildings, it could be an overgrowth of ivy or moss, or a patina achieved only through lengthy exposure to natural phenomena. (During our honeymoon in Rome, Hubs and I could not get over the beauty of the numerous terra cotta-chipped buildings, bearing silent witness to the march of time through the Eternal City.)
Keep in mind, however, that wabi-sabi isn’t a wholesale endorsement of clutter or Hoarders-style messes. It’s more about drawing attention to the beauty of the natural world and the inherent processes of aging, decay and transience. It’s about allowing some of the “cracks” to show (whether those cracks be laugh lines on our faces or frayed hems on your favorite cardigan) and our intrinsic connection to the natural world to shine through.
As a new parent, the parallels between the aesthetics of wabi-sabi and letting “good enough” or “less than perfect” reign as the order of the day could not be more obvious. My little guy will only be little for so long, his “wee-ness” itself a transient state. Acknowledging and validating that, and worrying less about keeping things as “perfect” as I formerly did is a lesson in wabi-sabi living that I can’t afford not to learn.
If you’d like to learn more about wabi-sabi, other books on the topic, in addition to Koren’s, include
- Living Wabi-Sabi: The True Beauty of Your Life by Taro Gold
- Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper
- The Wabi-Sabi House: The Japanese Art of Imperfect Beauty by Robyn Griggs Lawrence
- Wabi-Sabi Simple: Create Beauty. Value Imperfection. Live Deeply by Richard R. Powell
What about you? Have any wabi-sabi objects, resources, attitudes, etc. that you care to share? I’d love to hear about them! — Ashley