With its seeming love for the one-of-a-kind and constant change, the natural world can be quite worthy of our detailed inspection. Even an oddly unique, or broken and incomplete natural object can be so beautiful it can take our breath away. So can an ordinary vista or an object that has been eroded by time. There is a story about Sen no Rikyu, a famous Japanese tea ceremony master – he shook a few leaves onto the moss after a tea garden was cleaned a bit too perfectly. Leaving a few fallen leaves on the moss points to the wonder and mystery of reality as it really is.
We care about others’ approval because we need others in order to survive, and that can have us wanting to be perfect. But perfection in the abstract is a rather odd concept when you think about it. Toward what end? According to what standards does it operate, anyway? What matters to one person may not matter at all to another and different cultures value different things.
I have found that people actually love it when we can accept ourselves, imperfections and all, and when we are open about feeling vulnerable at times. Those who can accept their own imperfections tend to have an easier time accepting them in others which can be a great relief given how much we tend to fear being negatively judged.
Japanese tea ceremony teaches many lessons through the actions involved in sharing tea while engaging with various objects. Take, for example, the beautiful tactile tea bowl below that was made by my Japanese tea ceremony teacher, Giselle Maya. While it is misshapen and has imperfections in its glaze that resulted from a collaboration with the kiln fire, irregularities and burnishing from age add depth to its beauty, something that we can learn to appreciate in each other as well as in tea bowls, even mended ones.
The subtle and hard to define Japanese concept of “wabi sabi” embraces imperfection. It recognizes that since everything is constantly changing, perfection is impossible, except, perhaps, in perfect moments as Beth Kempton notes along with examples in her Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life.
I find that looking for a beauty that embraces imperfection can provide great solace. At times we can even catch others and ourselves in the act of being beautiful. And seeing the light shining through that deeper beauty can connect us to all that is.
Below are examples of what might be considered imperfect beauty that called out to me. I recommend the wonderful adventure of finding your own examples.