The Wabi-Sabi Way: Simple Principles to Bring Calm, Meaning & Authenticity to Your Daily Life

The wabi-sabi way

Mike Sturm

Mike Sturm is an author and sales professional; he writes about productivity and self-improvement; he received his BA and MA in philosophy from Northern Illinois University, and has taught philosophy for several years and researched Buddhism and Taoism extensively.

The way we receive the world is, in part, shaped by our language. The more we can expose ourselves to inspiration from different languages and cultures, the more we can enrich our experience of the world. This book is an attempt to do just that: to introduce a rich and powerful concept into your life, with the aim of helping you live better. Wabi-sabi is a concept that can inform nearly every part of your life, and it’s something that - once grasped - can be practiced right now, no matter what task you’re taking up. 

The concept of wabi-sabi is an amalgamation of two ideas that were once distinct and unrelated within Japanese culture. The terms originally came together as a way to describe a visual style and thus lent themselves to discussions of art, architecture, and design. Over the centuries, wabi-sabi has begun to refer to people, our attitudes, how we carry ourselves, and how we can relate to the world. It opens the door to a way of life or a philosophy of how we can be at peace as human beings.

As Mark mentions, this book aims on helping people live better with the help of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi. In this review let’s see how this concept from the East can be applied to and be beneficial in our daily lives.

Interpretations and Reflections

Wabi-sabi as a way of life is about making an art of one’s life. It is an approach to crafting and cultivating an existence, a way of being that is understated but elegant. It is solitary but open and welcoming, weathered and imperfect. The imperfections are exactly what is considered beautiful. Wabi-sabi reminds us of the potent mix of time and experiences. By choosing to live life as a work of art, we can honor our own evolution and the marks that time leaves on us. 

Wabi-sabi is not a rigorous method or set of rules. There is no hard-and-fast process for creating something that’s wabi-sabi. It’s nothing if not natural and unique for each person.

This can be similar to the concept of ikigai; we all have unique ikigai, and we uncover our ikigai sources from the experiences that we encounter in life.

To be wabi-sabi is to exemplify the impermanence pervasive in our existence. The cracks, dings, or scratches on an object or work of art are signs of the life it has lived. These blemishes are marks of the reality of life as perpetually changing art. Seen this way, the scuffed object cannot rightly be called imperfect anymore. -- like Kamiya Meiko’s -- we learn from challenging experiences.

In life, we learn from challenging experiences, and move forward by learning to accept all those difficulties as part of life. This reminds me of Kamiya Meiko’s Ikigai-ni-tsuite. The subject of her work are leprosy patients; Kamiya wrote that most patients thought about committing suicide. However, Kamiya found out that among those patients, there were a few exceptions who did not lose the joy of living even under harsh conditions. These patients possessed ikigai, and this is what Kamiya focused on in her book. I would relate it to the concept of wabi-sabi - accepting the imperfections and living with them.

Personal Authenticity

In its most pared-down form, wabi-sabi is about two things: acceptance and appreciation.

If we can learn to view our journey in life in a way that accepts and appreciates the inevitable change, we can take a lighter, more philosophical approach to imperfection. Embracing wabi-sabi can dissolve much of our anxiety and restlessness through appreciation and acceptance of imperfection. It can help us cultivate more lasting and reliable fulfillment. 

Embracing wabi-sabi is primarily about authenticity - about letting your authentic self shine through and doing it with elegance and subtlety. The way to do this is through self-acceptance, which means taking an honest and fearless look at yourself, warts and all, and accepting what you see. More than that, you have to believe that you are okay as you are. Appreciate what makes you original.

This reminds me of Misako Yoke’s “Genki habits.” In my interview with Misako, she shared that she developed genki habits throughout her journey; she used genki as an acronym, with the core message being: “You are strongest when you are yourself; embrace your true self.” Her genki method helps people to just be themselves, which is similar to the concept of wabi-sabi; embracing our imperfections and learning to live with them.

Curation and Care

With curation comes care. A key element of wabi-sabi, which again comes from early chanoyu tea ceremonies, is the care and reverence for the objects you use. While wabi-sabi things are imperfect, perhaps scratched and dinged, they are not neglected.

In my interview with Dr. Iza Kavedzija, she mentioned that one of the things she learned from Japan is the way Japanese people relate to objects; in Japan, they place importance on all objects, and look after them; they don’t just dispose of their belongings like trash. Instead, they hand them over to someone who might have a use for it.

Living in Progress, not Perfection

When we get to a place where we can accept, appreciate, and freely express ourselves, the way forward in our lives becomes clearer. And the way forward is progress, not perfection.

It’s not about trying to be perfect. It’s seemingly ironic that trying to make progress, trying to be the best version of yourself you can be, will always improve some imperfections. Progress is about continuing to appreciate our world and ourselves and doing things that express our values, our deeper interests, and our unique worldviews.

This reminds me of my interview with Ken Mogi; we talked about the concept of kodawari (pursuit of perfection), Ken thinks that there’s no final state of “perfection.” Rather, people can continue improving, and can and should therefore always keep striving to get better. 

Life, what we do, is not about perfection or gaining recognition; it is more about doing the things that we love and learning from our experiences. Mike also mentions the importance of having a beginner’s mind, stating: ”Adopting a beginner’s mind allows you to become more attuned to moments in a way that the expert mind can’t. In living this way, you collect handfuls of unique experiences. You allow yourself to be shaped by them. You change. You grow. You become wiser. You maintain various imperfections, but you also have a path that you can appreciate having taken. You become wabi-sabi.”

Having a beginner’s mind is important; it’s like having this humility -- that we can always improve and strive to be better; that there is always something new to learn.

Contentment

Living wabi-sabi means becoming okay with things. It’s about trusting that however life might unfold, you can live in harmony with it. You don’t have to micromanage it. What’s more, you have the inner and outer resources you need for the moment at hand.

Mike also mentions how Wu wei, a Taoism principle meaning non-volitional action: acting in alignment with the cycles of the natural world,  ,describes not forcing things -- it’s about spending less time trying to manipulate situations, people, and environments to satisfy your desires and spending more time aligning yourself to the natural flow of things.

This is similar to one of Ken Mogi’s five pillars of ikigai, harmony and sustainability; Ken believes that harmony and sustainability are some of the best-kept principles of Japanese society. He shares that Japanese people don’t feel that being outspoken solves any social issues or makes progress. 

In fact, the Japanese language enables people to avoid conflict. An example of this is the common phrase wakarimashita. In my interview with Scott Haas, he explained that wakarimashita is a way of indicating that you understand what others are saying, even if you do not agree with them. It just goes to show that Japanese people have deep respect for people and things around them, they accept things as they are, instead of trying to change them.

Inspiration

To live life creatively, you need inspiration... 

It’s not an elusive, temporary magic. Inspiration is everywhere. It’s not a matter of it coming to you, but rather your awareness that it is already here.

Wabi-sabi is living in the present with the realization that the moment is infinitely rich.

I would compare it with the concept of ikigai; anything that motivates us and helps us to keep going, it’s not something that we seek for - we just feel it naturally.

Conclusion

Wabi-sabi objects are beautiful because they have persisted through time. 

We can look at aging as the natural process by which we are truly becoming the best version of ourselves, slowly and consistently. 

Life is filled with trade-offs. You have to say no to a million suggestions in order to say yes to one. You have to give up something now in order to see returns later. --  we can’t always have it all, sometimes we have to make difficult choices to gain something that we really want

It’s important to remember that wabi-sabi is not an ideal; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Wabi-sabi is something you relax into rather than something you strive for. It may feel like you’ve got a lot of work to do in order to be wabi-sabi. However, this work is not the work of addition or the acquisition of new things. It’s the work of letting go, of easing in, and of getting into harmony with who you are and how you live, of minimizing the cultural and emotional baggage you carry with you.

In the first part of this book, the author mentions how Eastern thought is filled with concepts that have no corresponding term or notion in the West. They indeed have all these terms that encapsulate their culture, and all of us can make use of these concepts in our daily lives. This concept of wabi-sabi teaches us that imperfection is part of our lives -- all those obstacles and difficulties that we encounter are vital parts of our lives -- we learn and grow from them. I believe that when we learn to live with our imperfections, we begin to feel ikigai; we learn to accept things as they are, and we realize the value of living.

>
Scroll to Top