Wabi Sabi


What’s the difference between people in the first world and those in the third world? I would argue that one big difference is first world people (myself included) are obsessed with control.

Control is the default setting that has been wired into us from day one, living in this push-button “first-world” civilization.

A story:

I was driving the other day, trying to meet a friend, and rain started. It was a hell of a rain. Streets getting beat down by sheets of water from overhead.

But for me, instead of standing in awe of the rainstorm, I just got frustrated. This will slow me down, make me late. This rain that 100 years ago would have meant crops would have had water now meant nothing to me. Just something I could zip through in my hermetically-sealed car.

Our cult of control is pervasive, present in nearly every part of our lives.

Some more examples:

  • Death isn’t a natural part of life, it isn’t celebrated. It’s something to be battled against with medical interventions, which sometimes bring their own brand of suffering.
  • Hunger is remedied by prepackaged protein bars.
  • Tiredness is medicated by coffee.
  • Lawns are kept green by calling the guy who sprays and fertilizes.
  • Even in the day-time, we put blinds on the windows and use electric lights.

And this is how we live. But it wasn’t always like that.

^ ^ ^

In Japan, there is the concept of wabi sabi. Roughly, this is an appreciation of imperfection. For the transience of life. A wabi sabi bowl is one that has cracks. And the cracks are beautiful.

In the first world, we don’t appreciate the beauty of the cracks.

^ ^ ^

Here’s one for you: Organic apples are not apples that have “organic” stickers. Organic apples are apples that have worms. Unless humans intervene, apples will have worms. I’ve seen it with my own two eyes, I swear, it’s true. Wormy is the natural state of apples.

But somehow, somewhere, we decided that apples should be worm-free. And by golly, we’ll blast ’em up with chemicals until they look just right.

The crappy thing is that by trying to control it all, we suffer. In the wabi sabi perspective, we shrug our shoulders and say “Shit happens, that’s life.” But in the control perspective, we are so, so serious. The apples are shiny and the streets are clean and we get so much done it’s true, but the catecholemines rush through our vessels and harden our arteries and mess up our brains.

^ ^ ^

My friend Greta and I were talking about natural building the other day.

I’ve been thinking about why it’s important for me to have natural building materials (e.g. unfinished wood, straw) visible inside my house. You could say: what’s the big deal. Who cares?

I think it’s a constant reminder that I’m just a part of nature.

Some people say “I keep G-d in my heart.” But I flip it and say to myself “G-d keeps me in his heart.” It makes me think that I’m not so big and important. That I’m just a little part of this world.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s