Good enough or wabi-sabi?
When I was learning how to sew, I needed a lot of guidance. The old Kenmore was persnickety sometimes and difficult for my unexperienced hands to thread. I was not as attentive to detailed instructions in the pattern, as I could have been. My technique was not developed yet. Mistakes were made, always by me. I would call my Mom and she would do her level best to help me get back on track.
It got to the point where I would have to ask my Mom if I could start a project. After all, she would be called to participate at some point. My emergencies were red-hot and she didn’t want to drop everything, all the time to attend. During one particularly bad mistake which we were trying to fix, it became clear there was no great solution to cover up my inexperience. My Mom told me I had to accept that the situation was ‘good enough’.
I did not like the idea of ‘good enough’. It seemed like a huge compromise. I wanted perfect. Or maybe I wanted to keep the idea of perfect alive. For what reason, I don’t know. So began a battle between perfect and good enough, which has waged in my mind for my whole life. Like a pendulum swinging from side to side. It is almost a barometer for me. Where do I sit today, on the scale of good enough to perfect? Is the next thing going to turn out perfectly?
In contrast, the Japanese don’t see life the same way. They have a concept for traditional aesthetics derived from Buddhist teaching. The belief outlines the three marks of existence, specifically impermanence, suffering and emptiness or absence of self-nature. This is called wabi-sabi, which describes a world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. I wish I had learned about this earlier in life. It would have helped me accept what my Mom was trying to teach me, so long ago.
I don’t believe that wabi-sabi or the concept of ‘good enough’ is about accepting sloppy work or mistakes which could be fixed. Nobody wants a hole in the middle of a garment because the sewer left the fabric all bunched up while trimming a seam. I’m sure there are times, even with Japanese craftsman where starting over is the only way to go forward. There is no amount of wabi-sabi justification which could patch over all mistakes. But, the Japanese do experience beauty from a different angle than we do in the West.
Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.
Brene Brown, through her work on shame has helped to popularize the idea of the ‘gifts of imperfection’. Reading through her book, bearing that title, there is a strong case to be made for the benefits of not striving for perfection. But for a person who has spent their whole life trying to be perfect, it is rather difficult to simply stop. What goes in the place of that energy?
Wabi-sabi offers a way to live through the senses and better engage in life as it happens, rather than be caught up in unnecessary thoughts. I find this to be the opposite of striving for perfection. Because trying to do something perfectly, which is almost impossible anyway, could be viewed as fairly ridiculous. In the grand scheme of things, perfection serves no real purpose, other than to add stress to life. For me, wabi-sabi is the other side of the coin.
The idea is that being surrounded by natural, changing, unique objects helps us connect to our real world and escape potentially stressful distractions.
In a practical sense I would love to have been instructed to find the most basic, natural objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example. Wabi-sabi can change our perception of the world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and yields greater meditative value. Similarly materials that age such as bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time.
Taking this one step further, imagine if the beauty of people could be viewed with the lens of wabi-sabi? Rather than looking old and tired, the evidence of age and the physical transformation of our bodies over time would be a state to aspire to, not dread. That is probably a Pollyanna kind of thought, but wouldn’t it be nice?
For now, I am embracing the idea of wabi-sabi in every aspect of my life. Why not? It is another way of seeing what is real, in the moment. The glass can be half empty or half full, the classic description of the exact same thing. If you could change your mood for the better, just by considering positive alternatives, why wouldn’t that be your go to state? My world needs more wabi-sabi and I have the power to incorporate it.
Thank you for reading my thoughts on creativity. Each day, I hope to get a little closer to understanding how to design a lifestyle I don’t need a vacation from. I believe that focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives is an important aspect of happiness and ultimately wellness.
There are a couple of interesting projects on the horizon in 2019. The travel book will be digitally published by the summer. A creativity retreat is on the docket for the Fall.
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