A Different Way of Living: The Wabi Sabi Aesthetic

Happy is the man who walks with beauty”
~ Anon

True beauty can be discovered only by one who mentally completes the incomplete.
~ Okakura Tenshin

Our built environment plays an important part in engendering a sense of belonging and joy. An ideal way to spark joy is to live closely with nature, for we are part of it. Alas, for most of us who live and work in big cities, this is a luxury we can only briefly reclaimed when we’re on holiday to somewhere rustic. Then when the trip is over, we’re back to our concrete jungles, detached from the nature’s beauty and her healing powers.

Still, we can learn to add small touches of nature to our lives. We can go for regular walks in the park, we can go into the woods for “forest baths”, soaking in the clean, crisp air and birdsongs, we can bring nature to our homes by way of plants and flowers, and we can create quiet spaces in our homes to read and reflect, to the soft sounds of wind-blown leaves and flowing streams. All it takes is a little imagination. The payoffs are immense.

Who can we learn from to pivot to this way of living? My immediate answer would be the Japanese, who are masters in blending nature into their daily lives, a practice that has sadly succumbed to the artificiality of the 21st century, though thankfully still preserved and practiced by those with discernment.

Where to begin? For centuries, the aesthetic known as Wabi Sabi has provided the organizing philosophy for the traditional Japanese way of living. Wabi Sabi honors the natural, which includes nature itself and objects made with natural elements such as bamboo, wood, and stone. Importantly, Wabi Sabi celebrates beauty in the imperfect and impermanent, as nature often is. Whether it is the unpolished stones that line a Japanese garden, the bamboo fence that rings it, the humble tea pot that graces a traditional tea ceremony, or the serene minimalism inside a traditional Japanese house, beauty is manifest in many humble ways. Wabi Sabi is a timeless concept, offering our stressed-out and material-crazed world an alternative way of living that is more attuned to nature.

The following images exemplify the Wabi Sabi way of living exhibited by the aesthetic of the build environment in traditional Japanese houses and their surrounding landscapes. There are other aspects of the Wabi Sabi aesthetic such as the art of the Japanese garden, the traditional tea ceremony and Ikebana (flower arrangement). I will leave these topics for future posts.

Photo Gallery: The Wabi Sabi Way

Video: 8 Minutes of Calm

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