My wood coffee table is old, and it shows. It is very basic, and wears the chips, splinters, and stains of use and time. But rather than becoming something in my life that needs to be replaced with a newer and 'better' version, I feel it has gained in beauty as the years have passed. It is totally Wabi-sabi.
The Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi is based on Buddhist principles, including the acceptance of impermanence and imperfection. Wabi means "rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness", and can be applied to natural and human-made objects. Sabi means "beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs".
Other characteristics of Wabi-sabi include irregularity, modesty, and economy. It emphasizes the unique quirks of natural and human made objects over mass-production and conformity. It acknowledges the "wisdom in natural simplicity".
"Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau," D.T. Suzuki wrote, "and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall."
Aging possessions are replaced before they can gain any experience or develop any character. Cars are regularly upgraded, and kitchens and bathrooms go through cycles of renovations in order to keep up with the latest styles.
Heritage buildings are torn down in the name of progress, and replaced with glass buildings that aren't nearly as interesting as the things reflected in them. And our elders, that literally have stories written in lines on their beautiful faces, are isolated out of sight.
There is no Wabi-sabi, only a ceaseless upgrading on our way to a sterile modernity cloaked in perpetual newness.
But think about what sweater is your favourite. Probably not the newest one you own. No, chances are you will choose your old, worn and dependable sweater.
You know the one - it has a tear where you got snagged on the barbed wire fence while hiking, and a burn on the sleeve from sitting by the campfire in the summer of 2005. Yes, it is your Wabi-sabi sweater. It fits you perfectly, and has a lived in feel.
We could use more Wabi-sabi in consumer-oriented countries. In embracing a youth oriented, perpetual newness and obsession with perfection, we hide the very beauty found in 'battle scars' earned over time. We are lulled into thinking that if only we have the right house, the right granite and stainless, and the right accessories, we will live in perfection forever.
My Wabi-sabi coffee table is rustically simple and fresh, just like my Wabi-sabi life. Embracing the beauty found in aging, imperfect objects has liberated me from the endless (and expensive) pursuit of 'new and improved'.
It has helped me make the transition to a simpler life, and removed the weight of material concerns.
the wreath on the door
lifts in the wind
- Nick Virgilio