Wabi-sabi is a character skill. It gives you the discipline to shift your attention from impossible ideals to achievable standards—and then adjust those standards over time. Adam Grant, Hidden Potential
According to legend, as a young boy, Sen no Rikyu sought to learn the art of the Japanese tea ceremony from the esteemed tea master, Takeeno Joo. To evaluate his student, the master assigned his apprentice the task of cleaning up the tea garden.
Rikyu meticulously cleaned and raked the garden to perfection. Yet, before presenting his flawless work to his master, he shook a cherry tree, causing Sakura flowers to dot the just-raked garden, deliberately introducing imperfection and, with it, a touch of beauty to the scene. With that action, Sen no Rikyu—considered a very influential figure in the history of Japanese culture—marked the genesis of the concept of Wabi-sabi in Japanese tea ceremonies.
Rikyu advocated for a return to basics and a focus on the pure experience of tea rather than elaborate rituals or ostentatious displays. Instead of immaculate utensils signifying extravagance, people drank tea from chipped bowls and worn pottery. He emphasized the importance of minimalism, rusticity, and the appreciation of imperfections not just in tea utensils but extended his influence to various aspects of Japanese culture and aesthetics.
What Wabi-sabi really means?
That, in essence, is Wabi-sabi—the Japanese principle of honoring the inherent beauty in imperfection and transience. It celebrates simplicity, modesty, and the beauty found in the natural cycles of growth and decay. The core principle of Wabi-sabi is that imperfection is both inevitable and inherently beautiful.
Everything is perfect, and yet there's always room for improvement. Shunryu Suzuki
If you’ve read the statistics, you’ll know that a staggering 89% of New Year’s resolutions don’t last. A significant reason for these abandoned dreams is that we tend to pursue our goals with an all-or-nothing mentality. We start the year aspiring to hit the gym five days a week, but by week 3, we find that schedule unsustainable. But instead of recalibrating our goals to more achievable standards, we abandon them altogether. But there’s an alternative.
As we begin a New Year and look ahead, we can apply the principles of Wabi-sabi to become better versions of ourselves or to finally attempt those someday goals that our perfectionist selves may have abandoned in the past.
Eight Wabi-sabi principles for personal growth
Wabi-sabi encourages an acceptance of imperfections and flaws. Instead of setting rigid and unrealistic resolutions, consider embracing the idea that progress is more important than perfection and allow yourself time and space for setbacks and challenges. They are a natural part of the journey and don't diminish the value of your efforts.
Keep it simple
Wabi-sabi appreciates simplicity and minimalism. Choose a few meaningful and achievable goals rather than overwhelming yourself with a long list of resolutions. This can help you maintain a sense of clarity and purpose throughout the year.
Wabi-sabi encourages mindfulness and being present in the moment. Apply this principle to your resolutions by focusing on the journey rather than fixating solely on the result. Mindful living can enhance your awareness, helping you appreciate the small, meaningful steps you take toward your goals.
Connect with Nature
Wabi-sabi often draws inspiration from nature. Consider incorporating a connection with nature this year. Whether it's spending more time outdoors, practicing mindfulness in natural settings, or adopting eco-friendly habits, aligning with nature can enhance your well-being.
Appreciate the Process
Wabi-sabi values the beauty found in the process of creation and transformation. Take a moment to appreciate the journey and the growth you experience along the way. Celebrate small victories and acknowledge the lessons learned, even if they come from challenges.
Wabi-sabi acknowledges the beauty in the changing seasons and the impermanence of all things. Recognize the transient nature of life. Embrace change as an opportunity for growth and renewal, allowing you to evolve and explore new aspects of your potential.
Wabi-sabi encourages an attitude of gratitude for simple pleasures and experiences. Develop a gratitude practice by acknowledging and appreciating the positive aspects of your life.
Wabi-sabi teaches us to appreciate the gradual unfolding of life and personal development, understanding that growth is a continuous process. Cultivate patience in your journey because achieving hidden potential often takes time and persistence.
So, go ahead. Sign up for the half marathon, begin writing your book, create your business venture, and do whatever else you’ve always aspired to do – the Wabi-sabi way. The key is to remember this:
It’s not about where you go. It’s about how far you travel.