Wabi Sabi Your Relationships
It isn't often that a concept that has the power to alter relationships has a name that is
fun to say. Wabi sabi (wobby sobby)--a Japanese term that is difficult to say without
smiling--describes a profound way of viewing relationships with oneself, other people, and life in general. Richard Powell, the author of Wabi Sabi Simple, defined it as, "Accepting the world as imperfect, unfinished, and transient, and then going deeper and celebrating that reality." An heirloom that has been passed down from generation to generation is prized not despite the signs of use it shows, but because of those marks. Nobody ever claimed Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, or Lead Belly are great singers in the conventional sense of the word, but they are excellent singers from a wabi sabi viewpoint.
To be wabi sabi in a relationship with another is more than tolerating that person's imperfections, it is to find the good in those so-called defects. It is to find acceptance not despite the imperfections, but because of them. The Twelve Step program is an excellent example of wabi sabi in action. The newcomer is accepted because of his or her powerlessness and unmanageability, those problems are the very ticket into the program. When someone introduces herself at an A.A. meeting with, "I'm Mary, and I'm an alcoholic," and everyone responds, "Hi Mary," that is wabi sabi.
The Al-Anon program is another example of wabi sabi. Members are taught to accept the fact that their loved ones have an illness, not to take the behavior associated with that affliction personally, and to respond with love. To be wabi sabi in a relationship with an alcoholic is to give up on trying to "fix" that person, and opens up more time and energy to be together with less conflict.
Perhaps the most challenging relationship in which to practice wabi sabi is with oneself. Again the Twelve Step program provides guidance. Step One suggests accepting one's powerlessness and unmanageability, Step Five encourages acceptance of one's wrongs, and Step Ten implies acceptance that one will continue to commit wrongs. These "defects of character," and, "shortcomings," are what made us who we are today. They are the psychological, emotional, and spiritual equivalent of the winkles, scars, and laugh-lines on our bodies. We will never be perfect humans, but we can be perfectly human. As Leonard Cohen croaked in his wabi sabi song Anthem, "There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."
Mic Hunter, Psy.D. is the author of Conscious Contact: The 12 Steps As Prayer, and Back To The Source: The Spiritual Principles Of Jesus. He facilitates a communication retreat for couples at the Renewal Center.