By Linda Merrill, Networx
Have you read or heard the term “Wabi-Sabi” recently? If some of the design blogs are to be believed, itís becoming a “thing” in interiors. Yet, the very act of force, of trying to make something a “thing,” opposes the essence of Wabi-Sabi.
To truly understand Wabi-Sabi, one likely has to spend years studying Zen Buddhism and the social and cultural mores of the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony. Wabi-Sabi has developed from two different philosophies, and can be (sort of) summed up by Richard R. Powell, who wrote in his book Wabi Sabi Simple, “It nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”
“Wabi” can mean loneliness or distance from society, a sense or remoteness that is grounded in the natural world. The four seasons, most especially autumn, are deeply connected to the spirit of Wabi. Unlike Western cultures, which celebrate autumn as the season of bounty and harvest in preparation for the long winter ahead, Japanese and Zen Buddhist cultures see the autumn as the unavoidable path to death, the ultimate distance or separation from all we know.† However, this is not a state to feared, but to aspire too. It is the shucking off of worldly possessions to live in an other-worldly state.
“Sabi,” while closely related, is focused more towards the transience of life and the inherent beauty of change. In the BBC Four Documentary “Searching for Wabi-Sabi,” an elderly Japanese woman describes herself as an example of Sabi. She is who she has always been, even as her outward appearance has changed over time. In Eastern cultures, the elderly are revered for their knowledge and wisdom and the natural aging process is seen as beautiful.† Itís the process of transformation, the celebration that nothing is permanent and perfection cannot be achieved.† “Wabi is a guiding principal of life, the stripping away of anything that is unnecessary. But itís ultimately indefinable as words are not adequate when trying to understand the world,” says a monk in “Searching for Wabi-Sabi.”