Parenting Wabi-sabi Style

You are perfect just as you are, and you could use a little improvement.
— Shunryu Suzuki

The word Wabi-sabi comes from Japan and represents a world view or aesthetic, which centers on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.  It is sometimes described as beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.  It’s a concept derived from Buddhist teachings as well having to do with impermanence.  Wabi-sabi acknowledges the authentic truth that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

A good example of Wabi-sabi can be seen in certain expressions of Japanese pottery such as Raku.  In the traditional Japanese tea ceremony pottery is often rustic and simple looking.  Shapes are not quite symmetrical, and the tea bowls are often deliberately chipped or nicked at the bottom to create a unique style. If a tea bowl is broken it is fixed and thought to be even more beautiful.  This aesthetic is akin to a simpler and more spiritual life which transcends the focus on the material world.  Following this Wabi-sabi style can help to train one to find the most basic, natural objects interesting, fascinating, and beautiful.  Therefore a chip or crack in the vase actually makes the vase more interesting and gives it greater meditative value.  It follows the idea that there is beauty in natural objects that change over time, and that show signs of real life and wear.  This philosophy influences one to accept and honor imperfection and impermanence.  Likewise it is said that weavers of Persian rugs sometimes add in small and deliberate imperfections to reflect a belief that only God can attain perfection.  The imperfections make each rug special and unique.  Each is imprecise, beautiful, and has a story of its own.

This is a lot like all of us humans isn’t it?  As parents we are reminded of our own imperfections and short comings often on a daily basis.  I have met hundreds of parents and I have not met a perfect one yet.  There is truly no perfect parent out there.  We are all Wabi-sabi.  There is something very humbling about acknowledging this.  Sometimes parents feel driven to be perfect and to have their children be perfect too; whether it be their parenting style, the school their child attends, their relationship, etc.  As a parent myself again and again life teaches me to go into the mess, the mud, the sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, or whatever it is that I am feeling or having an aversion to.  This is where the real story is, the healing and acceptance lies within all of this. It is precisely within the muck that I find understanding, truth, acceptance, love, growth, and freedom.  It is not perfect.  It’s often messy and unpleasant until you make friends with it and begin to let go.

I was eyeing my friend’s garden recently feeling envious of her abundant, alive, and bountiful plants bursting forth with fruits and vegetables.  I asked her what her secret was.  And she told me…”It’s the poop!”  This incredibly fertile garden grew from the chicken manure they spread all over it.  That struck me…it’s the poop!  Just like the beautiful lotus flower that springs forth from the dark dank mud below.  This far from perfect stinky waste is actually what sustains and nourishes the plants that feed us.  It is such a strong metaphor for using the dark uncomfortable parts of ourselves and our lives, from which to grow and blossom into our own unique and beautiful selves.  Those parts that we often judge as imperfect, that we need to hide, or somehow make go away.  It is actually by embracing those parts, being with them, and tenderly allowing them to be that we ultimately grow too.  Embracing our own imperfections allows us to accept the imperfections in others as well.  It allows us to see the imperfections and limitations in life itself and appreciate it even more.

So as you go about your parenting journey I encourage you to embrace this Wabi-sabi style of parenting.  Allow and even celebrate the imperfections of life!  Know that everyone and everything is imperfect and impermanent, and allow your heart to open to it all.  When things don’t go as planned remember to see what interesting new plan emerges.  When your kids wake you up at 5 am remember to enjoy this fleeting time you have with them.  In a few brief years you might not be able to get them out of bed in the morning when you need to get somewhere!  When the birthday party doesn’t go as planned, the ponies don’t show up, the face painter comes dressed in the wrong theme, the cup cakes are not ready on time…remember that this is it.  This is your life. It’s all imperfect and always changing.  Really we just have this moment right now in all its imperfect and impermanent glory.  How are you going to choose to live it?  Will you allow yourself to embrace the imperfect?

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