Learn how to live the wabi-sabi way and embrace imperfection

Are you looking to the wrong people for inspiration online? A slower and more honest approach to living – sometimes called Japanese mindfulness – is offering a new sense of candour and camaraderie, says Caroline Rowland

Wabi-sabi shelf

We live in a digital world where we almost voyeuristically observe other people live their lives, albeit through their own choosing, and it can often be easy to slip into a state of personal inadequacy – Look! Their home is pristine! Their clothes are trendy! Their children are perfect! – and begin to strive for this unattainable level of faultlessness that we perceive others to have.

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But what we often forget is that nobody is perfect and these ‘on screen’ lives are seldom a true representation of reality, or at the very least, there is editing out of the not-so-glamorous elements of daily life.

Emma takes a natural photograph

How to accept your imperfections

Instead, what we need to remember is that it is our flaws and imperfections – physically, mentally, domestically and professionally – that make us interesting, authentic and inspiring humans.

In fact, it is recognising the beauty in the imperfect that transcends the need for an impeccably perfect life and home, and we only have to look to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi to begin to wholeheartedly embrace a different outlook and make changes to improve our self-worth and enjoyment of the every day.

So what is a wabi-sabi lifestyle?

Julie Pointer Adams, author of Wabi Sabi Welcome describes it as “a way of life that celebrates the perfectly imperfect – beauty found in the unusual, unfashionable places or objects, and in moments usually overlooked or unappreciated.”

Aesthetically, it is the antithesis of modernism – it is crumpled linen napkins, it is a well-worn, well-loved leather handbag, it is irregular surfaces, it is chipped pottery. But it is not solely a visual concept – it is adopting a set of principles that can shift the way we think about how we live.

It is accepting ourselves for who we are, it is opening our homes to others without fear of judgement, it is appreciating what we have without the need to constantly replace and update, and it is the recognition of the passage of time – with its transience and its inevitable deterioration.

Emma has accepted herself for who she is
Emma Rice

Find your social media tribe

These days, peering into others’ lives via social media is almost inescapable, but rather than reject the use of the platforms completely, it can be used as a means to inspire a change in your life by simply engaging with the right people.

Many bloggers and creatives are embracing wabi-sabi and a slower approach to living by openly sharing their experiences – how they live, decorate and cook – often with a level of honesty and candidness that can offer both a source of inspiration and a sense of community.

Emma Rice, a photographer, writer and mother of three, tells us how she embraces the wabi-sabi lifestyle and hopes to inspire others to recognise the beauty in imperfection too. “It’s the way I’ve always lived, but later in life I discovered this word for the way that I already saw the world. I suppose for me wabi-sabi is, in essence, the loving acceptance of the imperfect.

“Being an imperfect person, like everyone, and struggling with dyslexia, ADD and certain mental health issues from when I was a teenager, it suddenly gave me a way of looking at myself and realising that all those imperfections were just part of me, and I could love myself the way I was.”

Emma finds inspiration in nature and the outdoors

Be inspired by nature

Emma has not only applied the principles of wabi-sabi to herself personally but also to cooking, parenting, decorating and exercise. When it comes to home décor, she explains that she is heavily influenced by nature: “Nature rarely draws a straight line. Even something as intricate as a spider’s web, on close inspection, has natural imperfections – it is not perfectly geometric.”

There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.
Leonard Cohen

When she’s decorating, Emma is drawn to asymmetry, imperfect lines, strong texture and a natural colour palette. She also admits: “My housekeeping leaves a lot to be desired! If I had an immaculate, modernist house and it all went a bit by the wayside it would really jar, but when you don’t strive for perfection and just need it to be harmonious, it’s easier to maintain.”

Emma’s home is filled with second-hand furniture, mixed with natural textiles and handmade objects she has collected over the years. Their kitchen is centred around a large wooden table (a flea-market find, scratched and dented by the passage of time), which is the perfect spot for her family to gather at mealtimes.

Wabi-sabi can also be applied to food

How to follow a wabi-sabi lifestyle

While Emma does not know of any Japanese ancestry (although wishes she did!), her father and grandparents did spend many years living in the country in the early part of the 20th century.

She grew up surrounded by beautiful lacquered tea chests and pen and ink drawings that her family had collected, and she says that they probably ate a lot more Far Eastern inspired dishes that the average UK family at that time.

She acknowledges that her upbringing probably has had some bearing on her affinity with Japanese culture, but explains that the way her own family now eats was born out of necessity.

“I don’t eat much wheat, and when we discovered my son was wheat intolerant, we began to create family wheat-free meals.

“Also, we have a mix of vegetarians and pescatarians in the house, so the concept of serving one big bowl of rice surrounded by lots of little dishes filled with vegetables, grilled fish or meat, tofu or egg, meant that everyone could take whichever elements of the meal suited them. It just so happens that this is how the Japanese serve and eat their food.”

Emma finds that living the wabi-sabi way has helped her happiness
Emma Rice

How wabi-sabi can improve your wellbeing

Emma has also found that her entire wellbeing has been improved through the practice of Tai Chi and Chi Gung (also spelled ‘Qi Gong’).

She explains: “Chi Gung is a bit like meditation but with a focus on slow movements that balance out all the energies in your body. I love it and it has helped me hugely in my attempt to navigate a somewhat turbulent mental path. I think everyone should learn a bit, it’s so important to have a quiet mental place to return to in today’s frantic world.”

As a busy working mother, Emma could easily succumb to the pressures of modern living, and she doesn’t disguise the fact that she has often struggled with her mental health, but says that sticking to the principles of Wabi-sabi allows her to keep balance in her life.

Her approach to social media has also changed: “I was touched by the response I got when I became more candid on my Instagram feed. Don’t get me wrong, I love posting beautiful photos, but I started leaning towards a raw, honest narrative to accompany those images.

“This seemed to resonate and hit a chord with people, as I’ve had such a big-hearted response. Some people might be wary of baring their soul online, but if they see others who they respect and whose lives ‘look’ shiny and perfect being truly honest, it gives people permission to love themselves and love their imperfections.

“This reflects the whole wabi-sabi principle of still loving yourself even though you’re not perfect.”

5 principles for living the wabi-sabi way

1

Get rid

Declutter your living space and it will help to declutter your mind.

2

Head outside

Give yourself time to sit and think in the outdoors, amongst nature.

3

Live seasonally

Observe the seasons as they come and as they pass.

4

Embrace the imperfect

Know and love your imperfections, and try to love them in others.

5

Enjoy your emotions

Allow yourself to be melancholy or wistful, enjoy it, we don’t have to be happy all the time.

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Photography taken by Emma Rice. See more about Emma’s wabi-sabi approach to life by following her on Instagram.

This article was originally published in In The Moment Magazine, issue 3. Discover our latest subscription offer, or buy back issues online.