Wabi Sabi – Transcending the Physical



By Sunari Sooriaarratchi

When you are faced with Wabi Sabi, you know it. It is beautiful. It is relaxed. It is peace. You know it because you not only see it but you feel it.

Stemming from Japan, Wabi Sabi is called the essence of the aesthetic of that ancient, bewitching land. To create Wabi Sabi within the space you inhabit, or in other aspects of your life is to appreciate the beauty in the imperfect. The idea is a manifestation of Buddhist notions of impermanence, with defining features of asymmetry, simplicity, austerity, modesty as well as an intimacy in the appreciation of natural materials and processes.

It is the polar opposite of Classical Greek ideals, yet occupies a similar position in the Japanese tradition of aesthetics. While the Greeks sought perfection, the Wabi Sabi deliberately seeks imperfection, in the belief that to do so is to be one with nature.

In an era of gen-‘Y’-ers dependent on technology for quality of life, and wrapped up in a consumerist whirlwind, Wabi Sabi has the potential to emancipate multitudes from intellectual imprisonment, stereotypical existence and all manner of rat-race derived ills.  We just have to realise that no matter what façade we try to create, or what persona we try to exhibit, underneath it all,“Be yourself is all that you can do…” To truly be you and be happy with yourself is to be truly “Wabi”.

The expression of Wabi Sabi thinking in the architecture, objects and design choices in the physical world of those who practice it, has caused some to refer to it as a ‘style’.  While it is true that Wabi Sabi is distinct in the quiet statements it makes heard, and therefore recognisable, it is definitely more than just a style to be espoused as it comes from deeper thoughts.

In the material sense, things which embrace the Wabi Sabi aesthetic are items like a much loved scarf, preserved with care, yet gently worn in places by the hands of time; the hand-painted or hand-hewn imperfections as opposed to mass produced ‘perfection’;  earthy, natural surfaces and tones. It is in appreciating a chip in the china, in being in no rush to make things ‘perfect’, Wabi Sabi is the beauty in peeling paint and aged wood.

In a nutshell, what Wabi Sabi shows us is that beauty is within us and all around us, in everything.

We have only to see it, not shun it, and be at peace with ever transient life itself. 

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