Living Wabi-Sabi: Beauty of Things Imperfect


wabisabi“Beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”

That was the password to the file share (motherboard) at the technology company where I used to work. I was expecting, “Cloud123,” or something boring and bland like that. Not the quintessential Japanese aesthetic known as “wabi-sabi.”

I shed a tear or two when the engineer setting up my computer told me the password.

It brought me such consolation. Here I was, a mental health writer with a mission to save people from suicide, confined to an office job where I sat in a cubicle for eight hours a day composing press releases about cloud text analytics.

What about my dream? My purpose?

It was on hold. Until the economy was kinder to architects and writers.

The job clashed with who I was, what I felt as though I had been born to do; however, in some strange way it must have blended into the canvas that was my life, because it was giving us what we needed at that time: health insurance coverage and money to put food on the table.

It taught me that it’s okay if things don’t make sense.

I really struggle with that. Maybe it’s the OCD in me. I want everything in my life to have a neat category, which exists in perfect harmony with the other neat categories. Together they comprise a happy land where smiley people sing all day, “La la la la la la … Sing a happy song …”

Wabi-sabi is about being messy.

“There is no such thing as a perfect basketball player,” I heard a basketball coach say the other day to a very frustrated 15-year-old girl.

“We’re paying all this money for lessons,” her mom whined, “and then she’s afraid to shoot when she has the ball at a game.”

“It’s okay,” said the coach. “We’re all scared to shoot. You just keep doing it. You keep shooting even when you feel scared.”

There’s no such thing as perfect health, either, or perfect recovery from a mood disorder.

Last week I celebrated 65 consecutive days of no death thoughts (“I wish I were dead”). That was the longest stretch in over six years, a resounding victory for me. I attributed some of the success to eliminating gluten, dairy, sugar, and caffeine from my diet nine months ago.

Feeling a little more resilient this last past weekend, I skipped my workout for two mornings and had half of a piece of banana nut bread from Starbucks on Saturday morning and a half of a bagel on Sunday morning.

By Sunday evening the thoughts were back.

“It’s so unfair,” I complained to my husband. “People have no idea how lucky they are by being able to eat a bagel for breakfast or sleep in on a Saturday morning, skip their run, and still feel okay. I can’t relax in any way unless my brain attacks me and starts brainstorming on ways to die. I guess I just have to bring a baggie of veggies and fruits with me wherever we go—and a jump rope for exercise — and resign myself to a life of complete and utter discipline. It’s that or fight death thoughts.”

I was back in the cubicle again … back to crafting press releases on cloud technology. Back to “this doesn’t make sense.” Is my brain really that sensitive to food and exercise? Then I remembered wabi-sabi: the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

I tried to relax and just accept my fragile brain for what it is.

“Did you know that the numerous imperfections, failures, and mistakes led to the discovery of DNA, penicillin, aspirin, X-rays, Teflon, Velcro, nylon, cornflakes, Coca-Cola, and chocolate-chip cookies?” writes Taro Gold in her book, “Living Wabi Sabi.” “In our own lives, it’s not the parties and vacations but the mind-opening trials of heart and soul that lead us to our greatest personal discoveries.”

It’s all those times that we were afraid to shoot. It’s all the days battling the death thoughts. It’s the jobs we did when we were desperate. It’s the imperfection, the impermanence, and the things half done—that’s where the beauty is.

Originally published on Sanity Break at Everyday Health.

Artwork by the talented Anya Getter.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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2 Responses
  1. Jen

    Thank you for your candor. You always seem to make me try harder at this already hard challenge( mental health disorders).

  2. Robert

    This is a powerful lesson that people like me – who overwhelmingly value logic, not least in our religious lives – need to recall. Chesterton made the following point, which I pass on for whatever it might be worth, because it could be relevant:

    “Every one who has had the misfortune to talk with people in the heart or on the edge of mental disorder, knows that their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail; a connecting of one thing with another in a map more elaborate than a maze. If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humor or by charity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”