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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: Wabi Sabi is a way of life rather than a religion. It reflects the principles of simplicity and naturalness associated with Zen Buddhism.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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Wabi Sabi is a way of life rather than a religion. It reflects the principles of simplicity and naturalness associated with Zen Buddh...
Contemporary wabi-sabi tea bowl
Wabi Sabi is a way of life rather than a religion. It reflects the principles of simplicity and naturalness associated with Zen Buddhism.
To reach enlightenment the Zen Buddhists undertook daily meditations. To help them stay awake during these long days they were taught how to make tea.
Do you strive for perfection? Are you constantly in fear that what you are doing won’t last? Do you feel like you’re never finished?
Just a few thoughts that come to mind when reading the title of this blogpost, looking for inspiration.
I’ve wanted to blog about Wabi-Sabi for a long time but never felt that I could fully grasp it. Now I realise that it’s not to be grasped completely, not to be understood. It’s just here to enjoy.
Do you have any idea what I’m talking about? Perhaps not. Here’s a quote from one of my favourite architects on the subject:
The Japanese view of life embraced a simple aesthetic that grew stronger as inessentials were eliminated and trimmed away. – Tadao Ando
Did that help a bit? I hope so. This view is based on the natural way of things and it’ derived from the Buddhist idea that everything is impermanent. We’re here to enjoy what we have while it lasts.

Nothing lasts

The computer you’re using to read this blogpost, will you have it your entire life? Of course not. That would be silly. In a few years it will be old, and slow compared to the newest models. You’ll buy a new one and the old one will be recycled in some way.
The same goes for your house, will you live there for ever?
A keyword here is “for ever”. Let me make this absolutely clear: There is no such things as “for ever”. It might be a long time, really long even. But eventually everything will cease to exist. Your body, your house, your teacup, the memory of you.

Reduction to the essentials

Reducing to the essentials and then reducing a bit more. Looking for those things that are essential because of their function or their beauty, or both. Until al that is left is a collection of things that are stunning and useful.
Because nothing is permanent, it seems logical to make them as useful as possible. Because nothing is permanent, why would you bother with elaborate decorations that serve no purpose. Because nothing is permanent, why strive to make it perfect.
Perfection is impossible, there is always some sort of flaw somewhere, a small blemish. It’s the imperfections that hold beauty, something most people don’t understand. The unglazed bit in a handmade teacup. The asymmetry of a bonsai tree.
Nature is quite beautiful. Have you very looked closely at a single leaf, or the beauty of a koi carp? Nothing man-made can compare to them. It’s this natural beauty that’s so important. The complete cycle of birth, growth and finally death and decay.

Beauty in decay

Rustspots, frayed edges, reminding us that time creeps on. Wabi-Sabi celebrates these things. A quiet beauty that’s not doing it’s best to be discovered. It’s there, but you’ll have to look for it yourself. Signs of use show that it’s actually being used, it’s fulfilling it’s purpose for as long as it’s here.
Wabi Sabi is “an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty.” – D.T. Suzuki
An interesting quote that I don’t think I agree with completely. That something is simple, minimal and “just the thing without anything added” doesn’t mean poverty. But that’s because poverty has a negative connotation, we don’t want to be associated with poverty if we can help it.

The spirit in the table

A Wabi-Sabi home is full of things that perish. Wood is chosen above steel because it can crack, weather, warp. Natural materials are preferred because of this.
There is a difference between a table bought at Ikea and one made by your grandfather. Not only the materials (Ikea has wooden tables after all) and the age, but all the attention that went into making this table. Energy invested in making something always shows, or rather, if something is made without attention you will notice.
It’s this small difference that is actually a big deal but you will have to look for it. Most people just don’t care about this and to them any table would be good. Why do you think Ikea is so popular. It’s cheap, soulless furniture for the masses. It says nothing who made it, who designed it, who uses it.
That old table with dents in it you made when you were a kid. Now your kids are adding new dents. A table lovingly crafted by your grandfather and that will be passed on. Or perhaps it ends with you and the table will be recycled. That’s perfectly okay! It served it’s purpose.

The natural way of things

Wabi-Sabi is the result of the natural way of things. Being mindful, and being satisfied with life the way it can be once you rid yourself of all the useless things. Stripping away the uselessness so the essentials remain.
Wabi-Sabi is not purely a decorative style for your home or your life. It’s a state of mind, a way of looking at things. Things do not last forever and this entire cycle is beautiful.

Caring and letting go

Even the best cared for piece of furniture will eventually cease to be. Some things just can’t be repaired. But until that time it will be cared for, loved and cherished. It won’t be dirty or messy.
You could write off that dirty carpet at wabi-sabi, it’s in a state of decay. You just didn’t get round to throwing it out yet. Likewise with a broken teacup or the old lawn mower.
But that’s wrong. Everything gets cared for. Form the moment you have it, until the moment you finally let it go. And even letting go is done with care as the few things you own are like your close friends and family. (You can make the analogy yourself on the caring in the final letting go there.)

Try it for yourself

The computer you are using to read this blogpost. Do you care for it? Is it dirty? Perhaps there are fingerprints all over the screen and you never take the time to wipe them off.
Your coffee mug, imagine it’s a priceless antique that is also your only mug. You still need to use it for coffee, but would you be more careful with it? Would you do anything differently?
With minimalism and wabi-sabi combined, you have few things, and those things you do own get cared for until one day you let them go. They might have marks of use and wear, but are beautiful.
Enjoy using what you own, care for it as if it were priceless and know that it’s time is finite.
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