What is Wabi Sabi?

Look no further for the ultimate in stress free, green, spiritual, healthy living. This amazing subject is simply a new way of seeing the world and requires no extra time or special practices. You can enjoy your wabi sabi living whilst enjoying any kind of life. Originally wabi sabi was applied to creating the ideal environment to meditate.

The traditional Zen practitioner could walk through a garden that brought about a mood of introspection and reflection, enter a teahouse that had an atmosphere that made it easier to be of an empty mind, completely engaged in the reality of the ritual of feeling, smelling and tasting herbal tea. The objects used in the ceremony would further enhance the process of appreciation and gaining mental freedom.

Today Wabi sabi is most readily applied to gardens, homes and household objects and art, however, the same ideas could be applied to anything. In a modern context it is used to help shift a little closer to living in the moment through creating a more calming, peaceful atmosphere at home. It is the ideal tool for turning your home into a sanctuary from the stress of modern living.

The words wabi and sabi have evolved in meaning over many centuries and have a new meaning again when put together. In the Zen style the meaning is subjective and open to interpretation. Wabi can be applied to a way of life that is simple, unmaterialistic, humble, appreciative, considered. A wabi person would be happy with very little and content within him or herself, someone who has transcended the need for material wealth to define him or herself. Sabi can be applied to an imagery that is transient. The look of something that shows its age, that imparts something of its life. This could be the patina of an old leather jacket, weathered stone or seasoned wood. Sabi represents the passing of time. When put together wabi sabi would logically mean being in a simple state of living placed in the context of the passing of time, however, I will leave you the freedom to develop your own feel for the words by studying wabi sabi further.

Bringing wabi sabi into my life resulted in subtle changes to the way I reacted to the world around me. With a similar influence you might find you see things that once irritated you in a new light, you may find that there is more to the parts of life that once seemed mundane, you could discover greater patience and acceptance with other people. It is impossible to predict how you will react but I have found a gradual shift in my perception of myself and everything around me. There seems to be a little more time, I look for greater quality in every experience, I want to explore and enjoy deeper experiences. I would like to think I treat people with greater compassion, that I am more accepting and understanding. As a result my relationships have evolved to a new level.

One of the benefits of Zen thinking is that it takes power away from the kind of beliefs, ideologies, doctrines or concepts that often get imposed upon us and allows us to take back control of those areas of our life. Living in a wabi sabi home reinforces the idea that there are no rules, that it is all inside us. Cultivating a Wabi Sabi attitude develops inner strength, greater self-reliance and an independence of thought. The Zen personality stands out as his or her own person who does not get blown in every direction by trends, gossip, fashion or other people’s theories.

The main point of wabi sabi is to make more of your life as it happens. Settled in your wabi sabi surroundings you will find it easier to appreciate the moment and learn to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Wabi sabi is about your ability to be happy with what you have not how much you need to feel happy. Happiness is internal and comes from within. You can encourage yourself to be happy more of the time regardless of what is going on around you. This is preferable to relying on external factors to be happy and find your happiness is victim to other people’s whims. This is linked to an appreciation of the aging process and an acceptance of death, helping to diminish common sources of fear, anxiety and depression.

When involved in careers, success, relationships or social life it is easy to find ourselves trapped in patterns. I notice people get stuck in the high points of their lives, even though life moves on. This could be the pub and party culture after leaving school, a high point in a career or first taste of wealth. Sometimes we become so attached to these highs that they remain the main reason for living even though life and the world has changed. These periods of elation can ultimately hold us back or in extremes even be destructive. Wabi sabi helps escape those superficial distractions making it easier to move forwards into new phases of life, ultimately enjoying a bigger journey in life.

Too many concepts and beliefs can make our world smaller. Our minds will tend to block out things that do not fit our belief systems. For example if a pink elephant flashed across Oxford Street, even though we would see it with our eyes our minds would block it out. A child would register it as he or she would not have been conditioned into thinking a flying pink elephant is impossible. Entering a wabi sabi mind set helps reverse the process of adopting rigid beliefs and reopens our minds to new possibilities, to be able to see our world in its entirety. It gently leads us to rediscover our childhood appetite for wonder and curiosity.
Naturally wabi sabi is the antithesis of a modern materialistic world, full of rampant consumerism and provides a welcomed contrast for anyone wanting to get a better balance in life and experience a different perception of him or herself.

Wabi sabi is the ultimate in environmental conservation as it teaches us to be happy with very little and places an emphasis on natural materials.

In terms of health wabi sabi has all the components to escape stress and develop an attitude that makes it easier to rise to challenges without suffering the ill effects of severe stress. Under stress we tend to become more acidic and many people claim illnesses start after a period of great stress. The Taoist view is that we can greatly improve our health and life expectancy by freeing ourselves of emotional upsets, by taking a bigger, longer-term view of life and using meditative arts like tai chi to spend more time in the now rather than getting stressed by our perception of the future or past. Wabi sabi creates an environment where it is easier to be kinder and gentler with ourselves, to escape some of the pressures and expectations we put ourselves under. It is the emphasis of acceptance, lack of attachments combined with living life as it happens that brings greater freedom from measuring ourselves against self imposed targets.


* Living in the moment – escaping unnecessary thoughts of the past and future.
* Simplicity – putting the greatest attention into the few things that are most important to you.
* Emptiness – leaving the space for new things to come into your life.
* Sobriety – retaining dignity, self control, common sense and level headedness.
* Intuition – to be able to understand without analytical or logic reasoning.
* Transient beauty – an appreciation of beauty that comes and goes.
* Nothing is complete – understanding that life is a process without clear beginnings and ends.
* Acceptance – to adapt to changing circumstances and make the best of any situation.
* Imperfection – embracing and loving people, things, nature as they are.
* Asymmetry – to be free from trying to make objects and layout symmetrical or in regimented patterns.
* Appreciation – to cultivate an attitude of endless appreciation for ourselves and the world we live in. Seeing the best in everything.
* Tranquillity – to free ourselves from all the unnecessary noise, clutter and distractions that distract us from find that inner peace.
* Naturalness – living close to nature, using natural materials.
* Nothing contrived – to express yourself freely without trying to satisfy superficial trends or fashions.
* Non attachment – freedom from doctrines, concepts and beliefs.
* Humbleness – being yourself without projecting your ego. Leading an unassuming, unpretentious, unostentatious life.
* Modesty – to live a life that is varied without indulging in excesses or extremes.
* Austerity – to be free from pandering to luxuries and making the most of very little.
* Embracing change – enjoying the idea that everyday is new and different, that our world is full of variables and that nothing is static.

The wabi sabi approach to choosing crockery and kitchen equipment requires a change of attitude. Here you would not look for a sterile, pristine, shiny kitchen with everything in the right place but something that is more earthy, organic and tactile. Interestingly research indicates that eating food that is too clean and drinking water that is too pure may make us more susceptible to food poisoning and allergies as our intestines and immune system lose the ability to regularly work with a range of bacteria and viruses. The kitchen would ideally be a place you would feel tranquil and calm and most importantly a room you would want to spend time in. In an age of pre-packed meals and processed foods it helps to get biologically closer to nature by preparing your own meals using whole living ingredients.

The wabi sabi mentality does not recognise the need for matching sets. Using your intuition and creativity you can mix styles and materials at a table setting. Different sizes, textures and designs all add to the interest and atmosphere of the eating area. In a family you can let each member choose his or her favourite dishes. When inviting guests you can intuitively choose the crockery you think best suits each friend. This will be more interesting for each person than everyone having the same matching set of plate, bowl and cutlery.

Chips and cracks
Try to re-orientate your mind to accept chips and cracks as part of the aging process of your crockery. The obvious exception to this is anything that results in a sharp dangerous edge, for example a chipped glass, and these should be discarded or ground down to make safe.

Crazing and yellowing
Glazes can craze with age adding an attractive patina to a plate or bowl, whites will yellow and colours fade. In addition to reflecting the passing of time these items take on a special appearance that can only come through age.

Resist the temptation to ‘lay’ the table. Look for ways to intuitively place items in a way that is functional and yet does not follow an obvious pattern.

Individuality and craftsmanship
Wabi sabi objects would generally be hand made and demonstrate an easy uncontrived appearance. Ideally each piece would be recognisably individual and even better might show something of the maker’s identity, a small flaw or certain mark. Looking at the object you would hope to gain some insight into its maker.

Tea Kettle
The classic wabi sabi tea pot would be of a simple design and made leaving a rough, textured surface. Look for tea pots with a functional shape but made of a material that feels interesting and perhaps has a texture that holds your gaze, something meditative.

There is no need to have a matching set and here you can mix mugs with cups and saucers. Indeed the saucers do not need to match the cups. Typical wabi sabi styles would be simple, earthy and hand made.

Iron Pot
Traditional Japanese cooking employs an iron pot with a handle and wooden lid. This simple pot is ideal for soups, stews and grain or bean dishes. Season the inside with oil to resist rust. The heaviness and course finish of the pot helps give your food that rural, simple but satisfying feel.

Frying Pan Cast iron frying pans will bring more of a wabi sabi feel to your kitchen. They tarnish and age well and give a more rustic feel to your cooking. Try to get a pan that is uncoated and season it yourself with oil.

Wood plates and bowls
Wooden plates and bowls carry a more textured, mat, porous finish than glazed crockery and make for a simple surface to eat your food from. Also consider wooden utensils and chopsticks. Simple designs would best represent wabi sabi thinking. Rough clay bowls, dishes and plates Look out for interesting plates, bowls and serving dishes. These do not have to be round. You may find an attractive square plate or hexagonal bowl. Seek out designs that are asymmetrical and look out of balance. Simple, elegant dishes may help you feel in the mood for more healthy, natural foods. More modest, humble designs will let the food provide the colour and forms on your table.

By Simon Brown

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