Sometimes an idea just pops into my mind for no reason. Wabi-sabi was just such an idea. Perhaps the seed was planted while I was putting away the silverware after dinner and laughed about using the “pancake spoon” for serving okra. The “pancake spoon” is a large, old (60+ years) and wonderfully worn serving spoon that belonged to my sweetheart’s father. It was used only when he made his famous pancakes.
Wabi-sabi is the appreciation of the beauty found in imperfection and an understanding of the transient nature of things. The concept states: Nothing lasts. Nothing is ever finished. And nothing is perfect. (I am reminded of this every time I get a pedicure and mess up my polish in the first ten minutes. It always makes me laugh at myself for expecting otherwise.)
The meaning of both words has changed over time. Originally they were religious in nature and represented a kind of desolation and solitude. They have become more positive over time, and in Japan today they represent the wisdom in natural simplicity.
Wabi refers to the rustic simplicity of a thing, and Sabi to the beauty and peacefulness that comes with aging. Sabi also refers to patina and visible repairs. Asymmetry is also valued, be it natural or man-made. Picture copper that’s weathered to a beautiful verdigris, an old stone wall covered with moss, Zen gardens with large weathered boulders asymmetrically placed among perfectly groomed pebbles.
Our pancake spoon is more sabi, and while it might look more perfect if it were silver-plated and made new…its sabi would be lost. Understanding these things at a heartfelt level is a giant step toward inner peace.
If you look around I’m sure you will find things that represent this ancient concept. While our culture tends to prefer balanced and symmetrical, perfect and shiny and new, you may find that some of the things that are dearest to you, and bring you the most peace, are the things that embody Wabi-sabi.
I have a Raku vase on my bathroom counter, and it wasn’t until today that I realized it’s embodiment of Wabi-sabi. It has a dark, uneven grey finish and a smooth, crackled glaze at the mouth. Inside it, a bouquet of dried roses. Man-made wabi and natural sabi in harmony. Perfectly imperfect…like each of us.