Wabi Sabi

One of the most formative experiences of my life was the five years I spent at military college. It’s not by accident that the Royal Military College of Canada’s march is “Precision.” I learned many useful things there, including self-discipline, resilience and an appreciation for comradeship and loyalty. I also gained the determination to strive for perfection.

I was an avid writer during my university days, although much of what I wrote never saw the light of day. I spent countless hours rewriting what I wrote, forever polishing work that was never quite “good enough.” Upon graduation, I stopped writing entirely.

Later in life, after enduring the set-backs and tribulations that are common to all of us, I found my way back to writing. This time, however, was different. I had learned of the concept of wabi-sabi.

It is a compound word. “Wabi”means something like “the elegant beauty of humble simplicity,” and “sabi” means “the passing of time and subsequent deterioration.” Together, they evoke the idea of the beauty found only in imperfection.

Often applied to visual arts such as pottery, the idea stands in contrast to many western ideals of beauty. Perfect form, unblemished surfaces, symmetry and consistency all play into this western ideal. A cup with wabi-sabi, however, might be imperfect: it have thumb prints from the maker in the clay, have subtle differences in the colour or texture of the surface, or even be cracked. All of these imperfections record the process of becoming, and the life of the object since.

In a similar way, my writing possesses wabi-sabi, just as my life does. In fact, the imperfections and blemishes in my life are reflected in my writing, whether I intend them to be there or not. Endless efforts to polish out the imperfections may create a work of art that is technically flawless, but therefore devoid of the imprint of the maker. I’ve come to realize that the “I” that creates is transient, shaped by experiences in ways that are unique to me. Similarly, my works are unique to the me that created them, available only in certain windows. I’ve learned to recognize the value in letting the truth of each of these stages of my life shine through my work, even if only in the imperfections.

Reading this, I realize why Zen Buddhists suggest that words are the enemy of understanding.

And so, I will leave it here.

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Phil Halton

Writer - Publisher - Creator

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