As I struggle to hang on to Summer fleeting, I remember the fine day this past Spring when I proudly hung my upside down tomato planters. True, at the time I do recall my subconscious farmer muttering something about it not being natural for tomatoes to grow upside down, but I overrode the dubious voices by pointing out (to me) the Babylonians had hanging gardens and they were legendary. Like Mr. Douglas of Green Acres fame and with history at my back, I thanked the crowd and congratulated myself on being a true urban farmer of the new age. Besides, it had to be good. Both boxes proclaimed they were “As Seen On TV”. Gold standard warranties like that don’t come along every day.
I had chosen healthy seedlings from a local garden club’s park sale, one Roma and the other, Super Sweet. The ranking garden master at the fund raiser assured me slices would be covering my grilled hamburger like a Beefsteak but only, well, sweeter. Sold.
Filled with purpose, I enriched their soil, strategically located the hanging points so they would have the best Sun and watered both religiously. I hummed tunes to myself as I worked with them through the Summer, imagining all the money we were saving once the harvest came in. Zen achieved, our salads and sauces were in for a treat.
My Roma yield stands at 5. 1 is still on the vine. 1 went into a salad and 3 fell victim to high winds whereupon the squirrels finished them off. My Super Sweet? I haven’t eaten a one until just tonight when I spread a handful of them across the top of my pizza. You see, not one of them has gotten much larger than a marble. It’s been frustrating but I, ever the merciful farmer, had decided not to pick them, thinking if I granted them more time, they would catapult into the size category to which they were promised. But instead, they have been falling to the ground for a few weeks now, becoming a perpetual salad bar for all things wild and free. Having since conducted independent research, I think my elderly gardening club expert was smoking some of what she grew because Super Sweets are pretty much intended to be in the cherry tomato family…little. So for all my cussing and fussing, turns out the tomatoes held up their part of the bargain. Except for disappointing yields, they did what they were supposed to do (and be). The core of my frustration came from the rub between what was actually there in front of me being different than what I had imagined it to be. Sound familiar?
All of which brings me to wabi-sabi.
No, wabi-sabi is not an exotic tomato or a Japanese law firm. It is the concept of ‘imperfect beauty’. Having had a few really good Japanese friends in my turn on this planet, wabi-sabi is at the heart of the traditional tea ceremony. As a culture, if anyone could have produced and used the finest polished porcelain anywhere, it would have been the ancient Japanese. But if you ever have the chance, pay attention to the ceremony. What is the vessel for the tea? It is often a favorite, worn and sometimes chipped cup – hardly beautiful from a Western perspective and that’s where the classical Greek still influences us.
The Greeks depicted beauty defined in terms symmetrical, virile and smooth, absent of flaw or imperfection. But not many of the other Ancients bought the Greek version of what defined beauty. Persian rug makers deliberately left an imperfection in their hand-woven rugs as a display of humility. Indiana Jones had the same counterintuitive epiphany as the Japanese and the Persians as he tried to decide which of the hundreds of choices was the true holy grail. And if you’ll remember the scene, it wasn’t the diamond encrusted gold one.
For its part, wabi-sabi celebrates beauty found in the authentic, the ‘what is’ of any given moment. As a philosophy, it doesn’t mourn cracks and imperfections. To the wabisabian (yeah, I think I just made that up), cracks are symbols of use and wear, the honorable evidence of durable service and truth of Purpose (that part, I didn’t make up). Says Robyn Griggs Lawrence (Simply Imperfect: Revisiting the Wabi-Sabi House (New Society Publishers, 2011)), “It’s the true acceptance of finding beauty in things as they are.” Looking at the cultural scoreboard of beauty, wabi-sabi wins, 3 to 1. Sorry Greeks, maybe next year.
But don’t be fooled into thinking wabi-sabi is some blissful ‘stick your head in the sand and sing a rousing chorus of ‘Everything is Beautiful’. Wabi-sabi doesn’t pretend life is not complex, it accepts that too. The wabi-sabi potency is found in the value it places on simplicity…on celebrating the beauty to be found in what is, as it is, right there in front of you. If you’ve ever watched little kids play on the floor at your feet, you’ve felt the joy in that very moment. It wasn’t complicated. In truth, it was simple. That’s wabi-sabi.
How many of us are walking around with inside images of being chipped, worn and otherwise ugly. And I might add at this juncture, those images? More than likely put there by someone other than you. No wonder we’re miserable. We’re not being authentic to ourselves when we’re living someone else’s definition. Any good accountant will tell you that what is done to one side of the ledger has a corresponding entry on the other side. There are consequences to living someone else’s standards. Toxicity will leak out to our surfaces. Count on it. But as tempting as it is to descend into a deep introspective discourse on the intrinsic nature of self-concept, deception and worth, let’s take this conversation outside instead…you heard me. Outside. Right now.
Eleanor Roosevelt is attributed to having said, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art”. I concur.
I see an endless parade of some really good looking people walking around downtown every day. If you watch long enough (without being creepy), you’ll inevitably catch them noting their own reflection in whatever shiny thing they happen to pass by and making some kind of adjustment. Talk about an insane level of perpetual maintenance! And with all of that, there’s no correlation to them being any happier than any other group. If anything, they’re often less satisfied than their neighbors. All that work and still no tomatoes.
Ladies — Instead of mourning you don’t look like Sofia Vergara, call out one of your flaws and really take stock of it. That ‘thing you don’t like’ about yourself (and you know you have one, or two, or thirty of them), that ‘thing’ could actually turn out to be your signature. Think about it. You, kind reader, have been walking around this whole time without appreciating the fact you are an original masterwork. Your autograph is yours. When you simply surrender and own it, others will find your rediscovered sense of value infectiously attractive. Not because you tell them, but because it shows – all on its own. Besides, whose yardstick are we really depending on anyway? Magazine covers and billboards? Anyone remember Cindy Crawfords mole? Of course you do. That’s my point. I don’t know this for certain, but I have to imagine she had plenty of ‘knowledgeable’ people who were ‘in the business’ counseling her to remove it if she ever wanted to work a day in her field, much less be overwhelmingly successful. She did not heed their advice and to her credit, made the perceived ‘imperfection’ her calling card. Does she have problems like the rest of us? You can count on it. But look at what she’s done for accepting that which just simply, was. She went wabi-sabi.
And guys…ticked off that you’re not tossing around 80 pound bales of hay like they were marshmallows the way you did when you were 19? Has it dragged you down that people on the street no longer mistake you for Channing Tatum or a collegiate rower? Guess what? Same rules apply to us as do for the gals. Go wabi-sabi.
Instead of being bummed you don’t have the abs only 4-hours a day and 6 days a week in the gym will buy you, realize there is genuine worth in having figured out ways to stay fit and be able to redirect those same 24-hours into doing stuff with the people you love. There is nothing hotter than getting it done when it comes to showing people what they mean to you; creating experiences with them. That’s where beauty is to be found. That’s wabi-sabi.
Even I am coming to understand there is very little as attractive as a brain flexed effectively. To me, when I can see the miles on someone and see they are enjoying their walk in the process? I guarantee you there is a ‘something’ when you look into that person’s eyes as beautiful as the Grand Canyon at sunrise. It’s just a matter of looking at what you’ve got through a different set of lenses.
And this just in, Life gets so much easier when you change your perspective. You can’t bowl 300? What’s the problem? You never liked bowling anyway. You’re not a size 1? Good! I give great hugs and if you’re a Size 1, I’m afraid I’m going to break you. You’re stealing my joy here. Let me hug you like I mean it and I do. You know what weight you feel comfortable at. So what if it’s 25 pounds off from what some stupid chart said back in high school gym class. If you’re healthy and comfortable at the weight you are, wake up! It’s your beauty calling.
To the same point, I felt miserable as 250 pounds came into the viewfinder on my scale. But I’m a big guy so I would take some rationalizing comfort when people said I ‘wore it well’. Poppy cock. It wasn’t good for me. I was always tired, self-conscious and putting myself down when I saw someone else who wasn’t what I was. So I changed it. I started thinking about what I was eating (portion size mainly) and doing more than just playing tennis once a week. I just don’t get into weights (never have). I don’t have regular access to a lap pool so I started walking…every day. I found something I enjoyed and I love it. I’m not preoccupied with a number. But if you have to know and 6-months later, I’m hovering in a natural range of 212-215. I like what I see. I like how I feel at the end of a long day. Others can tell and that’s not only attractive, but it means so much more than a stupid number on a scale because it’s me, not them. Wabi-sabi.
So now that you’ve been thoroughly wabi-sabified, it’s time for some homework. Run through your list of the things you don’t like about yourself with an eye to finding one or two you could flip into beautiful positives if you let wabi-sabi help you choose.
Being the giver that I am (ha!) let me get you started with a couple of mine.
Pizza. I love a good pizza. I value the person (whom I happen to live with) who makes pizza into an artisan event. But if I really value pizza’s beauty, I am not going to have one every night. It wouldn’t be special anymore. So now, once a week, I savor it. I celebrate it and I don’t have to go to the gym to work off perceived shame for having had a good time at the table. Moderation.
Smoking. To the Greeks way of thinking, I have failed in my efforts to quit smoking at least 8 or 9 times in that last several months. Meds, cold turkey…none of the methods were lasting more than a week and a half (at best). And being brought up the way I was, when I fail, it is demoralizing…I am spent. “What’s the point, I’m just going to fail again.”
But then, it dawned on me. What would wabi-sabi do? Since that big ‘duh’ idea, each week I’ve reduced my intake by one or two smokes. And now, I’m to the point where a pack will last me pretty much the whole week. And by the time it lasts 2-weeks? Then I’ll be ready to step across the finish line, relaxed in my plan and proud of each tiny step I’ve taken in the weeks leading up to that day in the winners circle. For me, this is proving to be so much more effective than putting myself in the position of going postal in the gas station because the lady in front of me doesn’t remember which side her gas tank is on…and I NEED A… No, I don’t’. Steady, at my pace and for my reasons. For me, the slow route is working when nothing else has. Wabi-sabi.
Now you. Go back to the list I mentioned and see if there aren’t one or two things that, if you went wabi-sabi, could lose their negative charge and become one with the instrument that is you.
Big nose? Outstanding. You can be the honored guest at the next wine tasting.
Tiny feet? You will be the one to lead the rest of us up the side of the mountain, picking out the safest path like a mountain goat. Let others more suited carry the heavy packs. You are there to find the way for the rest of us.
So the next time someone compliments you on your salad-making prowess and says, “Where did you get these? I love these tomatoes!” You simply pivot from what you’re doing at the counter and say, “Why wabi-sabi, of course.” Promptly turn back to your work because now you can let your grin out. Why? You just made your point and messed with their minds, all in the same pass. Well done, good and faithful student. I’m so proud. Go for it. Do the wabi-sabi.
Banner Coastal Redwood Forest by Eric E Photography is used with permission.
Wabi Sabi Upside Down Tomatoes: The real source of this tomato ad “As Seen on TV” has had the product name redacted in order to protect the innocent. ; Muppet Newscaster: http://www.comicvine.com/muppet-newscaster/4005-60872/; Still Life with Cracked Bowl: http://www.pinterest.com/osurya/wonderful-tea/; Ocha: http://www.pinterest.com/applering/japanese-green-tea-matcha/; Abercrombie: http://teenvogue.tumblr.com/post/75156359338/abercrombie-young-hollywood; Sofia Vergara: http://www.beinglatino.us/entertainment/sofia-vergaras-still-got-it/; Authentic Farmer Ross Potter: http://hickchic.blogspot.com/2007/08/farm-boy-friday.html; Scale: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2014/05/the-numbers-on-the-scale.html; Pizza: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7f/Flickr_-_cyclonebill_-_Kartoffelpizza_med_rosmarinpesto.jpg; Smoking: http://www.abc.net.au/news/image/2564498-3×2-700×467.jpg; Old Couple Kissing by Capital FM: http://www.capitalfm.co.ke/lifestyle/files/2011/12/OLD-COUPLE-KISSING.jpg
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