Wabi Sabi | Beth Kempton

Summary of: Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life
By: Beth Kempton


Welcome to a world where simplicity, imperfection, and transience are not only embraced but celebrated. In ‘Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life’, author Beth Kempton introduces the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, an invisible thread connecting every aspect of life in Japan. Kempton takes a voyage through the heart of Japanese culture and its reverence for natural beauty, teaching readers the importance of finding meaningful connections in everyday life. Explore the essence of wabi sabi, as we uncover its application in decluttering, creating harmonious homes, understanding the natural world, embracing acceptance, and reframing failure.

The Beauty of Imperfection

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese philosophy that signifies a worldview that appreciates simplicity, imperfection, and the passing of time. It is a combination of two words, wabi and sabi, that reflect an underlying philosophy deeply ingrained in Japanese life and culture. Wabi refers to an appreciation of simplicity, humility, and frugality. Sabi reflects the beauty that comes with the passing of time, the appreciation of weathering, tarnishing, and the marks of antiquity. In essence, wabi sabi is a mindset that recognizes and appreciates the transience of all things. Originating from the ancient tea ceremonies, wabi sabi emphasizes the beauty of imperfection and rejects materialism and perfectionism that are highly valued in Western culture. Embracing wabi sabi in our fast-paced consumer culture could teach us the wisdom of simplicity, humility, and the acceptance of the inevitable passing of time.

Creating a Soulful Home with Wabi Sabi

Have you ever felt uneasy and uncomfortable in your perfectly furnished living room? That’s because your home lacks the soulful and simple nature of a wabi sabi home. This way of living celebrates imperfection and embraces the messy and uneven contours that come with human presence. To achieve a wabi sabi home, use natural materials like wood and stone that contain naturally beautiful irregularities. And when decorating, pay attention to the emotions evoked by the objects you choose. A clutter-free space will highlight the special objects that evoke deep happiness or reflection. In this way, a wabi sabi home allows us to embrace our imperfections while simplifying our lives to focus on what we cherish most.

Nature’s influence on Japanese language and philosophy

The exploration of how the Japanese language and philosophy of wabi sabi are deeply connected to nature.

From the very sounds of the Japanese language to the philosophy of wabi sabi, nature is deeply embedded in Japanese culture. The language is filled with onomatopoeic words, such as kopokopo, which describes the gentle bubbling of water, and hyuhyu, which imitates the sound of the whooshing wind. This close connection to nature is also reflected in the philosophy of wabi sabi, which encourages a deeper appreciation and awareness of the natural world.

When we pay attention to nature, we begin to notice a world of simple yet profound magic that we often overlook. Haiku poetry, written by old masters like Matsuo Bashō and Kobayashi Issa, distills simple images from nature, such as the sound of a frog jumping into a pond. This heightened awareness is also reflected in traditional Japanese calendars, which include 24 smaller seasons and 72 micro-seasons that pay attention to minute changes in the world’s atmosphere and appearance.

However, modern life often numbs us to the signals from our minds and bodies, making it difficult to sense our own rhythms. But by learning to read slight changes in the natural world, we can become more sensitive to our own needs. We also become more aware of the transient nature of everything, such as the cherry blossom, mayfly, and snow melting away. This serves as a reminder of our own impermanence and the importance of focusing on what truly matters in life. By tuning into nature, we can learn to live a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Embracing Imperfection

Life can be challenging, and the best way to navigate it is through acceptance. Embracing the concept of Wabi Sabi can help us accept change and learn from nature’s example of adaptation. Like bamboo that bends during a storm, we must learn to be flexible. We must also accept who we are and not strive for impossible perfection, as it is an illusion. Life is messy, flawed, and always incomplete. After accepting this basic truth, we can appreciate the imperfect beauty in what we already have. By accepting and embracing imperfection, we can withstand any storm that comes our way and continue to grow.

Embracing Wabi Sabi for Learning and Failure

Wabi sabi teaches us how to approach learning and failure in a healthier, flexible and expansive way. The author illustrates this point with stories of her own struggles in learning Japanese and a long-distance swimmer who turned a failure into a remarkable achievement. The book encourages readers to embrace failure and see it as an opportunity to learn and grow, rather than a mark of incompetence or finality. The author also points out that learning is a lifelong journey with no final destination, and comparing ourselves to others on the same path only undermines our progress. By adopting wabi sabi, we can accept the imperfections and uncertainties of our learning journey and find meaning and fulfillment along the way.

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