Wabi-Sabi Principles: Finding the beauty in imperfection

As we step out of months of lockdown and back into our lives, some of us may tiptoe cautiously, looking over our shoulders, taking care to look up to the left and down to the right and left again, whilst others may run into the new felt freedom full steam ahead, bold and brave. No matter our pace or temperament we are all likely to remember this time for many years to come. Some have equated this moment as to what it may have felt like on hearing that the great war was over, and in the relief of the moment, not taking time to consider the magnitude of disruption this global wave of reckoning has had on our ordinary, everyday lives. 

If we were to pause and think deeply about any new learning we may have gleaned living through a pandemic, we may adjust our past patterns of being, and choose to do some things differently. For most of us, we would rely on our capacity to move through what may feel like a significant life-transition with just the right amount of deep-felt anticipation, mixed in with a dash of both calculated risk and cautious optimism – perhaps the very same cocktail of emotions many of our children feel as we start to wrap up a very strange school year and prepare for the new year ahead. 

For me, as I try to realign my life with my learning, I will endeavour to embrace the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi; an approach to living that offers to improve life in a world that is saturated in high stress and extreme expectations, propelled by unrealistic pursuits of perfection and happiness, fast-paced and constantly changing. Wabi-Sabi ever so gently offers us an alternative way of being, of realising we hold power in our capacity to choose to live a life of true connection and appreciation as we find acceptance of a transient and imperfect world. 

Leonard Koren, author of “Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers”, explains “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.”

Wabi is about recognising value in humble simplicity, to open our hearts and to find reward in relationships and a connection and beauty in what is our natural world;

Sabi is concerned with the passage of time, the way things grow, transform, age and decay – and the loveliness hidden below all that we see.  

We can be guided by Wabi-Sabi practices in all areas of our lives – in our relationships with others, in the food we prepare and eat, the learning and home environments we create, our working life and our personal self-care. When we action Wabi-Sabi principles we de-clutter, cleanse and prioritise what is important; we open up spaces and spend less time taking care of too many things, freeing us up to spend more time outdoors, finding pleasure in what nature has to offer. We can mix old and new, take time to refresh and reframe, as will find beauty in the ordinary and mundane, noticing the form and function of everyday, ordinary objects and experiences.

By embracing Wabi-Sabi traditions I believe we may enjoy new felt freedoms – to feel lighter, less burdened, and the ability to think more clearly and to restore calm to our lives.

As parents and educators during this time of collective transition, following the precarious and unchartered months of lockdown, our focus and responsibilities are compelled to support and prepare our children in new and different ways. What was naturally part and parcel of a typical school year has been replaced with a different way of being – and now, more than ever, children are longing to return to what is familiar, what is ordinary, what is deserved. Never before has the emotional health and wellbeing of children been so broadly considered, so deeply discussed. The return to an every-day routine, a reliable and safe way of moving together through their final school days of 2021 calls for us, parents and educators, to consider how best to support this transition and make meaning of the months when COVID-19 demanded a new kind of living. 

For us in the Early Years, we have had the privilege of a less drastic lockdown, as many of the children have attended and enjoyed their days as little children should – playing and connecting, exploring and practicing. We are, though, very cognizant that each child is part of a family, and every family has had to make some kind of adjustments that would in some way impact and disrupt the lives of each child. We know that children will keep this time stored in their memory banks; memories and feelings that will resurface and inform their next transition. 

Therefore, the way we guide our children through these coming weeks is crucial. We can find our strength and confidence in knowing we are not alone, that each of us is experiencing something new and unusual; that every child will experience some degree of change. Talking with our children, unpacking their worries, reminding them of their supports, and giving them time to re-settle and re-adjust would be helpful. Allowing children to spend time with each other and re-establishing authentic connections is possibly more important than anything else as we know that when children feel a sense of belonging, feel safe and connected then learning is possible. 

Perhaps explore and research Wabi-Sabi principles together as a family – hold onto the meaningful moments found in the lockdown days, tidy your spaces, simplify daily routines and enjoy the now. Embrace the imperfections for they offer learning and light – and be reminded by what Leonard Cohen wrote in his song Anthem: 

“There is a crack in everything; that is how the light gets in”

Take care to take the time to wrap up and end this year well, so that moving into 2022 can be and should be smooth and joy-full.


About the author

Cathy Milwidsky is the Director of Early Learning and Development at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW

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