“Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional.” Leonard Koren
Imperfect, humble, unconventional. A prized bowl in Japan, if broken, is pieced back together, the cracks filled with gold. That which was broken is now more valuable. When we are broken there is tremendous strength and beauty in the place where we mend. Often this is hard for us to see. It has taken me more than twenty years to come to terms with my “broken” face, still paralyzed from Bell’s Palsy, but it has caused a tremendous softening. And like my paralyzed face the other broken places in my life from divorce, broken relationships, to a house that burned down are now healing. I am growing stronger by the day. Women are amazing in their ability to heal and make beauty, they make gardens in barren places, they make cozy homes with thrift store finds, they make nourishing meals with few ingredients, they live, they survive, they thrive. I am a Wabi Sabi Woman, are you? I believe that you are.
A Wabi Sabi Woman is a woman who makes peace with the imperfections in her body and in her life. But sometimes there are wounds from childhood, invisible to the outside world except in the way we carry ourselves, holding back, or hiding. Or tender women may have grown hard to survive in a modern world not in keeping with a woman’s gentle, intuitive ways. This will take a toll. The reverse is true for some women whose inability to survive in the outside world has caused them to withdraw to the safety of their homes, so crippled by fear they no longer leave. Many women go through their everyday lives shouldering their responsibilities, bravely carrying on and taking care of everyone and everything around them, but they don’t stop to take care of themselves. And in today’s world very often things are moving so fast that women don’t have time to reach out to other women for healing and help. How does a woman get in touch with her wabi sabi nature? How do we get back in touch with ourselves?
Wabi Sabi Women have stories to tell, and in the telling of their stories they heal themselves. And often, until they do tell their stories, they don’t see the value and the beauty in their lives. I have seen this for forty years of teaching journal writing classes, women from all walks of life gathering together in circles with their notebooks and pens, writing together, reading their stories aloud, and laughing and crying as they share their stories, from the heart, to the group. I have also taught journal classes online and while the writing took place in individual women’s homes they shared in online women’s circles and beautiful friendships grew between the women. We need to be able to tell our stories. Today I watched a woman tell her story in a TedTalk and it made me cry. I want to share it here with you because it is so powerful. Please take time to watch it. It will change you, it will touch you deeply, you will better understand wabi sabi, but more importantly how you are wabi sabi. It will help you value your own life…
Watching Cheryl Hunter’s TedTalk opened my heart and my mind to something I had never thought of before, well, not exactly in this way. I have thought of myself as becoming wabi sabi when I got Bell’s Palsy and was left paralyzed for life, but it started much earlier than that, almost at the beginning of my life. Sexually and emotionally abused from the time I was 4 years old until I was 18 I was marked by the experiences, shy and withdrawn, and when I was young I did not get along with the kids on the playground. They were mean to me, and I was afraid of them. To be fair I can only imagine what an odd child I must have been due to what was happening to me. Children do not like odd and different, they are comfortable with other kids around them that are like them. To this day I am not comfortable around children. I adore my own, but other people’s children make me nervous. I was a broken thing at 4 years old, and no one had pieced me back together with gold. By the time I was 10 the nuns in the school made my mother take me to a psychiatrist. He had me do ink blot tests and other similar tests popular at the time but sexual abuse was not only not acknowledged or discussed it wasn’t something doctors and teachers were looking for at the time. They told my mother that I was a very sensitive child and I would get over it and she took me home and the abuse continued. My edges were so cracked and broken I was constantly bumping up against things and getting hurt. As I grew older I began to black out these experiences. Today I don’t remember most of gradeschool. I have been wabi sabi from the get go. And I can only now see the gifts in my brokenness.
I am soft and gentle and kind. Compassionate and empathetic. I feel people’s pain and I want to help heal them. I do that by being very present with people. I have done that by mentoring, teaching, and in my writing. I have pieced back together my broken places and while the cracks are still visible I have become a burnished thing. With age there has been a deeper softening, there is a patina. I glow. I am just beginning to see this for myself, and to understand that in healing the broken places, finding the gifts in them, and using them to help others I am living the Wabi Sabi Woman’s Way, and in helping others to heal, to tell their stories, and to find the gifts in their broken places I am helping them walk the Wabi Sabi Woman’s Way as well. I am sitting very quietly with this right now. I am sitting, as if with a loom in my lap, weaving together the threads of many textures and colors. When the tapestry is complete I will have created a map to follow into this work I am meant to do. I will better be able to live, and walk the Wabi Sabi Woman’s Way myself.
Know this, dear one… If you feel broken, if you are hurting, if there are cracks in your exterior, if it hurts when you breathe in through these cracks, you can be healed, you can fill the cracks in with breath, and life, and love. With someone willing to listen. With someone who can help you tell your story. This is what I hope to do. I am not a doctor or a therapist and I don’t pretend to be. If you need a good therapist you should find one. But there are other tools that provide a powerful addendum to therapy, writing is one, community is another. Not feeling alone is one of the most important things. I am learning how to piece these things together. And remember that there is beauty, there is strength, in that that is deemed imperfect, like the beautiful green verdigris that forms on a copper pot with age. Wabi sabi is about the passage of time and its impact on both physical objects and the natural world. It is also true with us. Where we are broken, in the ways that we age, we become more wabi sabi with time, and we are things to be cherished, honored, revered. I am coming to a deep peace with all of this as I look back over my life through abuse, mental breakdowns, divorce, broken relationships, and the fire that wiped out so much of my life I didn’t know how I could survive and go on, I have gone on, and I continue to. I will continue to find my way and I will reach out to others. I am afraid, I feel a little shy, but it is time and I am ready. May I find my wabi sabi way…