Wabi-Sabi – Celebrating the Imperfect

Posted on 27. Oct, 2015 by in Brad, He-Said-She-Said

Syd_wabiSabiRecently Carla, my assistant, and I joined Toastmaster International to improve our public speaking skills. Carla suggested I share this speech with my readers. I was thinking about what topic I wanted to give a speech on and saw the words Wabi – Sabi. It reminded me of how I first came to hear of this concept. Funny how something so simple can jog your memory and get your creative ideas going! This is the text of the speech from today.

It was in the afternoon, the sun was warmly filtering in through the large plate glass windows on the 4th floor. There were 12 of us sitting in a semi-circle listening to our instructor, Jeremy Sutton. Wabi – Sabi he said and we all looked at him questioningly. What had he said? Wabi – Sabi, he repeated, is the Japanese philosophy based on Zen Buddhism that celebrates beauty in what is natural, flaws and all.

He went on to explain that it had its origins in the Japanese tea ceremony in which bowls were prized for being handmade with uneven textures and glazes. I was fascinated. As someone who had grown up in an environment where perfection in everything was the goal, where if you did not reach it you were considered a failure, this was interesting. He went on to show how many of the greatest works of art throughout history had imperfections in their design.

Leonard Koren says in his book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers, “Wabi-Sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring and monumental.”

I began to think of my own life and six areas where this philosophy applies.


When I was 15 years old I had the good fortune to sit beside an older gentleman on a long cross country plane ride, he gave me some great advice that I have never forgotten. After first asking if I had a girlfriend, the answer was no, he said let me tell you one secret to a great relationship, it is in accepting the person you are with on their own terms without the desire to change them. Don’t look for Miss Perfect, he told me, instead choose someone you enjoy being with and that you find interesting. Then make sure to celebrate her quirks and differences because she will have to do the same for you. Hard to believe but I did listen.


I have had a lifelong love affair with food. Every kind of ethnic food and I thrive on all kinds of variety. I love the smells, textures and the different tastes. I always enjoy local fruit and veggies even though they often have defects or spots, they always taste better, more so than the more perfect stuff shipped in from who knows where. Lumpy Heirloom tomatoes, yum, so tasty compared with those bland, perfect, tasteless ones.


My home is a collection of eclectic things. Contemporary art mixed with very traditional art. Chinese art with Italian art. Oil Paintings mixed with photographic portraits. Furniture that was chosen because I liked it, not because it all matched. Each thing has a meaning and a story. With my art, I always subscribed to the notion that art is something you love, you don’t buy it because your interior decorator told you it goes with the couch.


I have a little different view on beauty too. In today’s botoxed, nipped and tucked society, I find uniqueness interesting and beautiful. The most beautiful women in the world are not perfectly symmetrical. My mom once said she didn’t want me to take photographs of her because she was old and wrinkled. I told her she had to take photographs with her granddaughter because that is how my daughter knew her. Recently, on one of the forums I participate in, everyone was posting images of all these gorgeous young women, I posted a portrait of my mother who is 89. I said this is my submission for a beautiful woman, she has earned those lines in her face and they all mean something.


What is in your closet? When I was younger it was important to wear the latest cool trendy clothes. Very quickly I tired of that and decided I would buy things that would look good for a long time. Wabi – Sabi in regard to clothing means appreciating what you have and not being a slave to what the fashion world says is in, this week.


Ooh this can be a tough one, how to apply the Wabi – Sabi philosophy at work? Simply put it means to appreciate others and to be appreciated by them for the value in who you and they are and the contribution you both bring to the workplace.  This mindset if embraced, would eliminate so much workplace drama and angst.

Wabi – Sabi, a philosophy and a way to live.  Ultimately it helps us to accept ourselves even with our flaws and finally, it encourages us to live in harmony with each other and our earth.

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