While it has many facets and can be applied in many ways, at its core, wabi-sabi is the way you embrace life as it is.
If you’ve ever been drawn to old book that’s tearing at the seams or your mum’s old jewellery box that’s weathered and dusty, then you’ve experienced some of the wonder that is wabi-sabi. It’s an intangible feeling that teaches us to look beyond what society teaches us is beautiful and of value.
It is abstract and sometimes difficult to pin down. It is a lifestyle that goes beyond modern day's material cravings and grounds you in something more meaningful; it can also be a way to create a physical space that is rooted in simplicity and nature. There are no set rules as to how one should practice wabi-sabi, but there are general guidelines and practices that have worked for others.
It is in fact often described as a movement for the perfectly imperfect. It can be distilled into the art of imperfection in many ways. If you think about it life is many things, but it is not perfect. This can translate to a more simple way of living, from the food you eat, the way in which you age, to the objects in your home. Take the practice of kintsugi, for example, when a cup in your home breaks, instead of throwing it away, the Japanese method of kintsugi teaches you to repair its cracks with gold lacquer, as to highlight its imperfections rather than hide them.
It teaches us to take things as they come. Embracing a messily sewn seam, the way furniture ages after many years, the imperfect floor of a room, natural imperfections in wood or a chip on a plate. Accepting these 'flaws' are all a practice of wabi-sabi. It is through this philosophy that you learn to be more humble and find joy in simplicity.
Its roots lie within zen philosophies from Buddhism. It encourages you to practice out the following to secure inner peace: simplicity (Kanso), asymmetry or irregularity (Fukinsei), beauty in the understated (Shibumi), naturalness without pretension (Shizen), subtle grace (Yugen), freeness (Datsuzoku) and finally, tranquillity (Seijaku). These pillars teach us that nothing lasts forever, nothing is complete, nothing is perfect and that is the beauty of it all.
The words wabi and sabi cannot be directly translated to English; wabi once referred to the solitary nature of living outdoors and away from society. Sabi meant many things, including "chill", "lean" or "withered". Around the 14th century, these words' meaning began to shift and took on a more positive connotation. Wabi came to mean rustic simplicity, a quietness or freshness. It can be applied to both things found in nature and man-made objects. It is often used to describe understated elegance. wabi once referred to the solitary nature of living outdoors and away from society. Sabi meant many things, including "chill", "lean" or "withered".Around the 14th century, these words' meaning began to shift and took on a more positive connotation. Wabi came to mean rustic simplicity, a quietness or freshness. It can be applied to both things found in nature and man-made objects. It is often used to describe understated elegance.
It is also used when referencing the abnormalities that can occur in the process of making something. This is seen to add an uncanny uniqueness and elegance to a finished object. Sabi is used to refer to the beauty and serenity that comes with age, especially when an object's life, wear, and impermanence is evident. In today's society, it can be categorised by flawed beauties and wisdom found in natural simplicity. Wabi-Sabi became a part of Japanese culture after its society had embraced China's philosophy of Buddhism and sought influence from Chinese art. It is now a distinctly Japanese ideal.
Wabi-sabi also has strong ties to tea culture, particularly the wabi-cha ceremony that puts an emphasis on showing appreciation for small things and embracing a simplicity. It is the opposite of elaborate Chinese tea ceremonies that were popular in the 1300’s Japan. Once the choice way for the elites to indulge, wabi-cha rose has a counterculture, embracing handmade, earthy tea bowls over the ornate porcelain teacups of China. It is during these tea ceremonies, that the principles of wabi-sabi took hold.
The irony is, despite having originated from Japan, Japan has become largely urbanised cityscapes. The hustle and bustle of these densely populated areas are not strong examples of the wabi-sabi philosophy. However, it can be argued that finding a sense of rustic simplicity and flawed beauty in the city, is all the more wabi-sabi than in nature. As the French saying goes ‘c'est la vie’.
Maybe you prefer to start inwards, say with your body image. In this case, it is a process of learning that perfection is manufactured. When looking in a mirror, recognise that your 'imperfections' are actually what make you unique and an individual. The process of decluttering can be applied here too. Follow people on social media that show their authentic self, those who bare their facewithout makeup and are proud of their scars. Surround yourself with truth, not fiction.
You can say,"this home has a very wabi-sabi aesthetic" or "Since practising the art of wabi-sabi in my daily life, I've felt more grounded and less anxious."
A wabi-sabi home can take many forms including japandi interiors, but to start, here are some things you can consider. Embrace a more minimal home by decluttering first. Your home should ooze a sense of peace and tranquillity. Ensure natural elements are present within your home to connect you more with nature and the outside world. Opt for homeware that is bespoke, handcrafted and artisanal. This brings authenticity and a human touch to your home. Always remember, striving for perfection is futile. If you’re looking for wabi-sabi-inspired furniture, that is stylish, functional and crafted to be timeless, you can visit our showroom in Shoreditch, London by appointment. Simply emails us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fret not, to live the wabi-sabi way, you're not expected to live in a monastery or outfit your apartment entirely from scratch. Although this has become a design language of its own, and can be found in the homes of celebrities like RobertDe Niro and Kim Kardashian, who have turned to interior designer Axel Vervoordt to embody the wabi-sabi vibe, Axel himself has said ‘I don’t like to describe it as an ornament, it should be a state of mind, an attitude.’
It's more a shifting of perspectives that will get you there. From striving for perfection to appreciating what's in front of you. While creating the right environment certainly helps put you in the right mindset, practising gratitude for what you already have is more important. We tend to live life thinking about what's next, that we tend to forget the now. Practicing wabi-sabi can actually make you happier, more content with life as is and help you focus on the important things.
Start by practicing mindfulness. This means phones out of reach and focusing on your immediate surroundings. Having a morning cup of tea by the window, meditate or simply focus on your body's sensations when sitting in a piece of furniture. Running your hands across a chairs arm and focusing on how it makes you feel. Practices like these are almost meditative and root us in reality.
Wabi-sabi trickles into every part of life. It can be the appreciation of food, opting to go to a farmers market or growing your own vegetables. Recognise that the produce in your hand may be oddly shaped or have a different hue, unlike the ones found in supermarket chains. Encourage your senses when you eat, savour the small things. These ideas can be applied to the tapestry of life, but you must actively remind yourself to do so. It can be found in the uneven brick walls of your home or the live edge of an oddly shaped table, it can be a chair crafted purposefully for your needs, to be weathered over the years alongside you.
We live in a world where we are more connected than ever with the use of technology but we also feeling lonelier than ever. The Mental Health Foundation in the UK found that one in ten of us feels lonely on a regular basis and 48 per cent of people think we as people are getting lonelier in general. Wabi-sabi teachings can help with this. How? Well, by simply being more present. How often do you meet someone for lunch and you find yourself replying to messages on your phone or taking a peek at social media. Remind yourself to be humble. Focus on what is in front of you, rather than seeking out validation from what is out of reach. This makes room for real, more meaningful interactions that we so often crave. It is not about what you can change around you, but how you can change what’s within you.
Wabi-Sabi can be summarised by the tale of Rikyu, an ancient Japanese tea master from the 16th century. He calls on his son to tend to the garden before their guests arrive for a tea ceremony. His son, eager to please, makes the garden look immaculate, clearing paths, pruning trees and making sure nothing is out of place. To see this perfectly manicured garden displeases Rikyu, so he goes to shake a tree, allowing a few leaves to fall. Now it is just right. This is wabi-sabi.