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The Joy of Imperfection

May, 2019

Dear Friends,

Sooner or later, all of us realize our lives aren't going to be perfect. And according to the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, that's a very good thing.

Wabi sabi sounds like a type of mustard, but I think it's actually one of the most useful concepts we can have in our mental tool kits. It originates in Japan, where it's used to describe the beauty to be found in that which is incomplete or imperfect.

A well-loved, worn T-shirt is wabi-sabi, as is a weathered old windmill and the somber beauty of a rainy afternoon in late autumn. In Japan, artists often leave subtle fractures in a vase or a rough surface on a bowl as a reminder of the wabi sabi nature of existence. Wabi sabi recognizes that all of life is in a constant state of change and that decay is as much a part of life as growth. There's a hint of melancholy in wabi sabi, but that just adds to its profundity.

I've loved the concept of wabi sabi from the first time I heard about it, but understanding its layers of meaning has taken me decades. I've come to realize that wabi sabi doesn't mean settling for less than we deserve--and it doesn't mean that we shouldn't work to improve our situation. Instead it's about balance and contentment rather than striving for the unattainable. It encourages us to accept our flaws and forgive those in others.

Here are some suggestions for living life with a little more wabi sabi:

Think twice before throwing something out: When something breaks, try to fix or mend it.

Embrace vintage rather than new: If you need to replace something, shop the thrift shop rather than the mall. 

Look in your mirror for the beauty in imperfection: It might be the lines around your eyes, or the extra pounds that you hate. Look beneath their surface and remember the laughter that created those lines and the wonderful meals that helped you put on that weight (and while you're at it, say a special prayer of gratitude for chocolate). 

Find the wabi sabi in your relationships: Especially the ones that frustrate you, like the strained relationship with your mother or the frustrating one with your teenage son. From conflict, growth can occur. And you just might become stronger in the places that once seemed broken.

Embrace wabi sabi in your home: Instead of thinking, "The living room couch really needs to be replaced," think, "Oh, what a lovely wabi sabi couch!"

And most of all:

Remember that life doesn't go on forever. It may end tomorrow, it may end 40 years from now. Either way, keep in mind the question asked by the poet Mary Oliver: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?"

As for me, I plan to find more room in my life for wabi sabi.

Blessings on all your journeys,



Recommended Reading:

Beth Kempton, who's spent many years living in Japan, gives an engaging and accessible introduction to this philosophy in Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life

In Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence, Andrew Juniper explores the roots of wabi sabi in Japanese culture and its implications for art, design, and spirituality.

Arielle Ford applies the wabi sabi philosophy to relationships in Wabi Sabi Love: The Ancient Art of Finding Perfect Love in Imperfect Relationships.


Book Updates:

My new book Near the Exit: Travels with the Not-So-Grim Reaper will be published in August by Westminster John Knox Press. The book is an exploration of places that have helped me come to terms with mortality. Reply to this email if you know of any reviewers, bloggers, podcast hosts, etc. who'd like to get a review copy!

In the meantime, don't forget about my Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God. It's a memoir told through trips to a dozen holy sites around the world. Iowa Public Radio re-broadcast an interview with me about Holy Rover recently during its pledge campaign. You can listen to it here. And if your book group is interested in reading it, download the Holy Rover Discussion Guide.

Coming Up:

Book Launch for Near the Exit: August 27, 7 pm, at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City, Iowa

Reading and signing at Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa, at 7 pm on September 5

Iowa City Book Festival: October 5, 1 pm



Lori Erickson is one of America’s top travel writers specializing in spiritual journeys. She's the author of the memoir Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles, and God and the creator of Spiritual Travels, a website featuring holy sites around the world. Her newest book Near the Exit: Travels With the Not-So-Grim Reaper will be published in August.
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