A rusted can in the mud by the river

Once I found a rusted can in the mud by the river, halfway corroded into nothing. I took it home—to the disgust of my mother—and placed a tea light in it. I loved its delicate landscape of decay in red, orange and brown, the shadows that appeared on the walls. It became a treasure.

This was my first wabi sabi moment, long before I came across the term.

It is time to eliminate the enigma around wabi sabi, like “difficult to translate” or “hard to grasp in its entirety”, because wabi sabi can do us a much-needed favour: Radically change our relationship with things.

Wabi sabi is something that manifests in objects, spaces, atmospheres. Thus, we can experience it with our five senses and emotional responses. That shall be our guide.

Imagine a cup or bowl for beverages, rough, odd in shape, far from the ideal of Euclidean geometry. Judgement made.Now take it in your hands and feel how this distorted shape snuggles into your hands, like it always had belonged there. Judgment melts away.

Imagine a wooden table with water stains and scratches. “Time for a new one”, you might think.You could also cherish it and be grateful for all the people who sat around it and all the meals that were served on it—hear the conversations, the laughter; sense the smells and tastes.

Have you ever adored something that others might despise as “old”, “ugly”, “poor”, “dull”, “worn out”? And has it, rather than leaving you in low spirits, bathed you in tranquility and contentment? If so, I would dare to say, you encountered wabi sabi.And you will agree that the moment you honored these usually neglected qualities, you allowed them to transcend. Into their opposites, into wholeness.

Imperfection becomes, or: is perfection, evanescence = eternity.

Such a sad thing like a broken vase turns glamorous when repaired with the kintsugi technique. It does not try to conceal the glued cracks, on the contrary, they are highlighted in gold.

Humbleness equals uniqueness when a potter entrusts her work to the temperatures, ashes and flames in the kiln, or the textile designer brings together dye and cloth only to let them merge by their inherent ways. Both let go of control and surrender the final result to something greater.

Wabi sabi questions mainstream ideas of beauty. It wants us to not only accept but also enjoy all stages of the perpetual becoming and fading. The more we invite wabi sabi into our everyday life, the more it will shift our perspective and show us alternatives to wasteful forms of consumption. Wabi sabi increases our independence from the latest “must-haves” and helps us realize that there is nothing to miss. Only to gain.

The Writer’s info:

Bianca Beuttel

Bianca Beuttel lives in Kyoto where her favorite place to be is at the river Kamogawa.As a designer-essayist she is interested in how design impacts our thoughts, feelings and behaviours, and how to apply that for positive changes.

Previous Article Next Article