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Beloveds, it was three times! Phew.

I knew I wanted to write on failure this week, and as is my pattern, I hold my subject up to the Light every day for a whole week and I listen and wait to see what comes flowing towards me. This week, it was so loud that I ran to my computer and started typing feverishly! LOL.

First, I love Seth Godin’s new podcast and he was talking about “Wabi-Sabi.” I thought I knew what the word meant (every time I think of the term, I conjure up images of the green paste ‘wasabi’ on sushi trays – but it is not that!) Seth says that perfection is so overrated and the small nuances that are imperfection are what makes art, well…. Art! You know I am all about the art!

Then, last night, I was in church and not listening to the sermon. I was twiddling away on my phone, my mind, far, far away as I worried about something inane and senseless and all of a sudden, the words “wabi-sabi” wafted into my ears and I look up totally perplexed and the speaker is discussing this concept as it relates to flaws in architecture. Huh?

When I hear something new, a couple of times, back to back, I know something is up.

This morning, I am reading the book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, and here comes a chapter on Wabi-Sabi waving at me saying “Are you getting this? And I got chills – that feeling that lets me know something is up! Three times, in a couple of days?

I know I am in trouble and I better listen! O, boy! I am in deep waters here. Dig in folks and hold on for a ride!

This morning, I made a cup of coffee and was still groggy and tired. I poured hot water into the French press and missed it by about a mile. Hot water splattered on the counter and I immediately began to berate myself. After a couple of harsh sentences in my mind, I halted the negative self-talk. “It is fine,” I said out loud, “I am ok. The counter is ok. Today is already an amazing day. In the grand scheme of things, this is totally irrelevant.” I went on and wiped it up and actually got some stains off the counter that I had not been able to get off as the water was piping hot.

The miracle is that I did not hear in my head, the voices of my parents who would yell at me for doing that, (I have a long history of such things) or my sister who is an extremely neat and tidy person who would have gently fussed at me about that (I am truly famous for it), observe the deeply burrowed frown of my brother, or the worst, my ex-husband who was totally OCD and would have yelled at me and shook his head sooooo disapprovingly! There was a time when this entire team, or should I say, choir of disapproval, would instantaneously drown out my sense of self in such a moment. But not today! Get back devil!. Not today!

A few minutes later, when I sat down to do my morning journaling, I checked in with myself and I was surprised how calm I was. I reflected back on that incident and saw how I did not let it take “root” and I was actually in a very sublime place. In that moment, I felt deep gratitude and beauty. Tears came to my eyes. I had chosen to value myself over my history, judgment, perceived failure, other’s opinions of me, and any crazy emotional need to beat up on myself for no reason whatsoever.  Enter Wabi-Sabi!

Definition of Wabi Sabi:

Wabi Sabi  is “a Japanese concept that shows us the beauty of the fleeting, changeable and imperfect nature of the world around us. Instead of searching for beauty in perfection, we should look for it in things that are flawed, incomplete” (Ikigai, pg 172). The authors go on to say, “Only things that are imperfect, incomplete, and ephemeral can truly be beautiful, because only those things resemble the natural world.”

Wabi-Sabi is important because it deepens your seeing. It helps you perceive way beyond the surface. It brings your whole self into the seeing and perceiving experience.

This is why the Japanese place such value for example on an irregular or cracked teacup, and when they repair pottery, often they repair the cracks with gold. It’s called “kintsukuroi.”  Here is an image of a broken vase repaired with gold, Japanese style.

Yup, beloveds, it is natural to be flawed and our failures are what show off our imperfections and are what make us beautiful.

I am beautiful. Not because I am perfect. But because I am flawed.
You too. Say it. Utter those words out loud. It is Truth!

(I think about 10 layers of hardness just fell off my heart and made room for deep grace. So humbling.)

Seth Godin’s podcast goes on to tell us about meeting quality and how “quality” is meeting a prescribed standard. Yet that product, and thousands of others meet the same identical standard. There is no nuance, distinguishing difference. No individuality. No uniqueness. No identifying beauty. It is like masterful cookie cutting. Wabi-Sabi, on the other hand, is about uniqueness and individuality and the beauty therein.

Growing Perception:
How you perceive your own hard places of flaws and lack of perfection has nothing to do with the external world and everything to do with you internally.

“Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.” ~Parker Palmer

So often, when we experience the hard, dark places such as failure, suffering, mistakes, flaws and errors, we get angry, sad and reactive. We reach for perfection. We judge ourselves against an invisible, pervasive, nonexistent perfection. We self-flagellate and beat ourselves up verbally and emotionally that how could we do anything so “stupid” or “dumb!” The external experience is only a reflection that internally, we already see ourselves as “failure,” “flawed,” not “enough” and “inadequate.” The external event only confirms what we have believed internally for so very long – too long.

We become violent towards ourselves as a result of our perception of our own ugliness.

But, what if…..?

What if that very thing that you fear the most internally, that very thing that feels dark and murky and sludgy inside is the most precious amazing thing about you?

That gunkiness is actually your uniqueness, your own genius, and your own dazzle. The thing that makes you unique is probably the thing that you hate the most about yourself.

Yet, it is where your beauty lies. What a paradox! Yet, it is our perceptions that affect whether we see beauty or ugliness.


“Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness. Wabi-sabi is ambivalent about separating beauty from non-beauty or ugliness. The beauty of wabi-sabi is in one respect, the condition of coming to terms with what you consider ugly. Wabi-sabi suggests that beauty is a dynamic event that occurs between you and something else. Beauty can spontaneously occur at any moment given the proper circumstances, context, or point of view. Beauty is thus an altered state of consciousness, an extraordinary moment of poetry and grace.” 
― Leonard Koren, Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
Beauty is not out there it is in here (pointing to the heart). It is based on your perception. It is defined as: “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.” This aspect of beauty is what makes life worth living. Pleasure is always beckoning us through our senses, pointing us in the right direction in life. And, beauty, we know, lies in the eye of the eye of the beholder, or the perceiver. You get to measure what is pleasurable to you.

I know someone who does not like touch.  He does not like touch in any way shape or form. He is not a hugger. Nothing wrong with that. But I love hugs. I love hugs from my loved ones and those I feel safe with. I am an all day long hugger. What is pleasurable for me is anathema to that other person. He is allowed, and I am allowed. I get to define what is pleasurable to me. He gets to define what is pleasurable to him. Thus, beauty is an inside job.

Oftentimes, your perception of failure is a reflection of what you consider ugly. If you looked for beauty, you would find more of it.

Your beauty is not just your physical beauty. It is the thing that makes you unique and it is your own individual expression in the world. It is a combination of your gifts, talents, strengths and way of moving and being in the world. It is all of you. It is your wholeness.

Wholeness versus Perfection:

Parker Palmer tells us, “Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.”

Ok, smart sage. Thanks for that Parker!

Really? Do you know how we have all struggled to be perfect? Gee! Thanks!

How do we embrace this brokenness as an integral part of life? We do it by embracing our own Wabi-Sabi:

Embrace Your Wabi-Sabi:

  1. Make peace with the fact that you are not perfect, and you will not be. Face your failures head on.
  2. Redefine for yourself words like beauty and perfection knowing that the media has unconsciously trained us to perceive such things in a way that does not exist.
  3. Watch your language with yourself especially when you perceive mistakes.
  4. Where you see your imperfections, bring beauty to it by handling it with grace.
  5. Celebrate those that honestly hold on to their wholeness and do not pretend to be perfect all the time.
  6. When others point out flaws and failures, counter it with words that point to the beauty in the situation.
  7. Practice perceiving beauty in yourself and others. Daily.

Your Wabi-Sabi is where we find positivity in the midst of failure and other kinds of gunkiness. It is how we turn things around and find excellence in ourselves and in others. Leaders often have this instinct to find beauty in the mess. It is holy. It is sacred work.

Beloveds, this week, my invitation to you is:

  • Carve out time to visit with your internal ecology to discover your own Wabi-Sabi. Instead of aggrandizing your beauty in the unconscious hope that it will hide your failures and your flaws, let your beauty sit side by side, your quirks, failures, mistakes, errors, flaws. Let them just sit together with one another, each other’s best company.
  • In your community, begin to practice seeing others and the landscape with eyes of beauty. On my street, there is a particular tree that is half dead and it feels like an eyesore to me. But I am challenging myself this week to find something beautiful about the tree and see it with new eyes. Instead of aggravating me, it might just become a reminder of my own inner beauty.
  • In your business, work or institution, discover or re-discover the unique thing that makes your institutional DNA. Find it and celebrate it and work from it and share that beauty with the world. It is a gateway to your success.

You let me know how it goes Ok? Life-giving hugs to you as you explore Wabi-Sabi.

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