What is wabi-sabi? 4 ways to practice it

We live in a world of high-stress levels, forever chasing the next big thing, picture-perfect social media feeds, self-improvement books, videos and podcasts…phew, it’s not easy to stop and appreciate what we have. 

Enter: the traditional Japanese ideology of wabi-sabi.

Originally ‘wabi’ and ‘sabi’ were two separate concepts. Wabi is about recognising the beauty in the simplicity of things and life, while sabi refers to an appreciation of how things age and grow, and noticing the beauty in that. Together they form an overarching philosophy of appreciating the simple, yet impermanent states of life. It could be the browning pages of a favourite book you’ve read over and over, or the patina on a much-loved and used leather bag or even noticing and appreciating that new strand of grey hair that signifies a life well-lived. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? 

Here are a few ways you can apply the wabi-sabi philosophy to your own life:

Embrace imperfections: One of the teachings of wabi-sabi is to let go of the notion of perfection and instead, realise that each of us is ‘perfectly imperfect’. Physically, emotionally, and more – it is our flaws and imperfections that make us unique and interesting individuals, and there’s a certain beauty in that. For instance, when it comes to appearances today, whether it is freckles, gap teeth, acne, or vitiligo, all these so-called ‘imperfections’ are now embraced whole-heartedly because we’re slowly realising how they make us who we uniquely are. Similarly, embrace a scar and let it remind you of the adventures you once had, accept those laugh lines and appreciate the laughter that caused them. Think of one of yours, and embrace it! 

Declutter, declutter, declutter: The Japanese view of life endorses a simple aesthetic that trims away and eliminates the inessentials. It is believed that decluttering will bring clarity in other aspects of your life. So go ahead and get rid of things you do not need – in your home, at the office, in all your spaces. Apply this to your wardrobes and beauty cabinets as well. Think about what the items mean to you and keep only the ones you really need. For example, when it comes to skincare, try paring down using the minimalistic style of J-beauty with 4 simple and effective steps – double cleanse and double moisturize – instead of crowding your cabinets (and life!) with countless bottles and jars.

Skincare over makeup: All thanks to the pandemic-induced lockdown, our relationship with makeup has been altered tremendously over the last year or so. The shift in mindset of having healthy, radiant skin versus covering up flaws has taken centre stage, and how! People are today comfortable posting their bare-faced selfies revealing their blemishes, acne, lines and more without makeup. There’s a realisation that well-nourished and cared-for skin trumps layers of makeup. Now, wabi-sabi is not anti-makeup but promotes looking at things and accepting them for what they are, thus letting one’s natural beauty shine through. It encourages a culture of self-love rather than self-improvement.

Accept all emotions: Throughout our lives we’ve been conditioned to believe that negative emotions are hurdles that must be dealt with immediately. But wabi-sabi prescribes that one should take note of these emotions too – be it anger, frustration, worry, melancholy, etc. It’s okay to feel and accept all these sentiments without judging them and yourself. We are, after all, human and it is impossible to be happy all the time. Isn’t it?

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