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Your Wabi-Sabi Self

You are broken, but better because of it

Close-up of the head of an ornamental blackbird. Bright black eye, ringed with white. Speckled feathers. A brownish beak, broken, but now repaired.
The ornamental blackbird at Evergreen, whose beak was broken, but has now been lovingly fixed.

I recently went to the Wabi-Sabi Ceramics Exhibition put on by the Albany Pottery Group.

As I wandered through the rooms looking at imperfect pots, sculptures with arms re-attached, and not quite symmetrical cups, I mused on the things about me that typify this Japanese concept that honours impermanence, imperfection, and incompleteness.

I am all three. My physical body will eventually turn to dust (impermanence), my face doesn’t tick all the boxes of flawlessness (imperfection), and I have two spaces in the back of my mouth where teeth should be (incompleteness).

At home, I’m surrounded by things that are impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. Everything growing at Evergreen – trees, vegetables, bushes, grass, flowers, and a vibrant selection of weeds - is impermanent.

The statue of a hatted Asian lady in the herb patch has a crack almost circling her neck, thus marring her sleekness.

An ornamental, curving brick wall that has been started in a section of the garden, isn’t finished.

And my tapestry project in the sewing box in the attic is all three – impermanent, imperfect, and (knowing me) will never be completed!

The point to remember about wabi-sabi is that these aspects are to be accepted, appreciated, and even celebrated. This can be hard to do because our culture focusses on perfect, complete things or people, and blinds us to the fact of inbuilt impermanence in the physical world.

Don't forget, one day the Eiffel Tower will topple, Miss World 2050 will grow old, and a few billion years from now the sun will die.

A Wabi- Sabi Incident

Last year I bought a blackbird as an ornament. Ornaments are few in our house because I don’t like dusting things, but this blackbird grabbed my attention through the shop window. He had a confident pose, a perky beak, and a slightly impish gleam in his dark eyes.

I brought him home and he sat on the lounge room table, king of all he saw, until the grandkids came. In their excitement, he was knocked to the floor, and half of his perky beak snapped off.

Now, I could have accepted, appreciated, and even celebrated his broken state, but decided that I’d prefer to have him fixed. The Japanese use an art technique called Kintsugi to repair broken ceramic objects. This ties in with their wabi-sabi principle because they lovingly put broken things back together using lacquer dusted with gold, as a way of celebrating their brokenness.

I gave the blackbird to my resident handyman Rob. He didn’t have any gold-dusted lacquer to repair him with, but he used his artistic skill to fix him up with an unromantic product from Bunnings called Liquid Nails. Then he did some finishing touches with a fine paintbrush.

Now, every time I see the blackbird on the table, I recall that once upon a time he was perfect, then he was broken, and now he is repaired. He is no longer perfect. His beak looks slightly askew, and the glance he casts me has a quieter, almost pensive quality. He has softened. Matured. He has been in a battle and has come out the other side a wiser, kinder blackbird.

He is broken, but better.

The blackbird is a daily reminder to me of the wabi-sabi principle.

You Are Better, Wiser, and Kinder When You've Been Broken

We’ve all been in battles and come out the other side dented, bruised, scarred, and broken. And, somehow, sometimes with help from other people, or just on our own, we get repaired. It may take only moments, or it may take years, but eventually, we are fixed.

We may not be perfect and complete anymore, but we are better because we’re wiser and kinder as a result of our experiences.

Next time you feel a bit broken, remember the wabi-sabi principle.

Being broken eventually makes you better.

With love, Marlane

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