The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

Patching Cracks

 

May 22, 2019



Wabi-sabi is the Japanese word referring to their cultural understanding of beauty. It’s an interesting perspective that is very different from what we generally accept in the west.

Whereas we tend to look at things that are perfect as beautiful, in wabi-sabi, beauty is based on the idea that all things are constantly changing and nothing is perfect.

Wabi-sabi looks at the imperfections as the source of beauty. This doesn’t mean that Japanese craftsmen and artists don’t work to improve. In fact, Japanese craftsmen are often meticulous in their efforts to produce quality work, but they accept that imperfection is a part of the nature of things and therefore should be viewed as beautiful in itself.

There’s a valuable lesson to be learned from this approach: perfection is impossible to attain and focusing on the things that are imperfect in a critical way serves little purpose other than to steal our happiness. There are all sorts of ways we do this.

I have a number of friends who are unhappy about the cleanliness/orderliness of their homes regardless of how much time or effort they put into cleaning and organizing. It becomes a point of self criticism on a regular basis and brings on embarrassment whenever they have houseguests.

The thing is that no one else notices the “mess” in their home except for them. They could clean all day and night but never feel satisfied with their work. I have friends who nitpick their own work regardless of the quality.

Any project or effort becomes an excuse for beating themselves up. I think the biggest problem with this “perfectionist” mindset is that it involves standards that are either unattainable or not defined at all.

One example of unattainable standards can be seen any time a woman compares herself negatively to the airbrushed pictures of supermodels that appear on the covers of magazines.

The reason it’s unattainable is that the women in those pictures have been through hours of hair and makeup, after years of working out and winning the genetic lottery. After all that, their photos have been airbrushed and touched up to the point where the women in the pictures couldn’t even manage to look like that in real life.

Comparing yourself to those sorts of things is crazy because it is an utterly unattainable standard. The far more insidious version of “perfection” standards happens when an individual can’t clearly define what perfection is.

This is often the case with folks who feel embarrassed about the cleanliness of their homes, regardless of how clean it actually is. When asked what else should be done to improve the order of their homes, in my experience, very few people can define it.

This isn’t limited to housecleaning, of course. I have met many men who feel like failures in life because they aren’t achieving more. When asked what else they could reasonably do to achieve success, I rarely get a clear answer. They just know it should be more.

Many people suffer from a sense that they should somehow magically attain perfection regardless of whether they can even identify what that perfection is.

These are people who would rarely, if ever, expect the same thing from anyone else in their lives. The reality is that the kind of perfectionism that leads to regular self reproach is totally unrealistic.

In my experience, the start of dealing with this tendency in your own life involves accepting the core tenet of wabi-sabi: perfection is impossible. After that, we must begin to celebrate the things we accomplish and create, rather than attack the ways we didn’t do better. This is a huge deal because we cannot achieve more or get better by demoralizing ourselves for imagined failures. The key to accomplishing great things is being real about what we have already done.

 
 

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