Japanese garden
Wabi Sabi is an aesthetic philosophy that embraces the 'beauty of imperfection.' Wabi sabi influences many aspects of Japanese culture from garden to arts and culture. A wabi sabi based garden incorporates natural and manmade elements. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Navigating your career in a post-pandemic world is complicated and ominous thoughts can consume your mind, especially for fresh graduates and college students. Many might not have got their dream job as envisioned after graduation or didn't end their semester with the grades they wanted. It's easy to ball up in your room, and drown in your sorrows, and isolate yourself from friends and family.

Many people assume a rosy picture of life after college but might not be prepared for the real picture. The constant rejection, waiting weeks for a reply back from the job you applied for, going through numerous rounds of interviews only to be turned away.

In college, everyone draws up their post-graduation plans. But life is unpredictable, and sometimes things can go haywire. I can relate to these emotions, because I had a plan and depended on it, and when things didn’t go my way I felt like an utter failure.

These experiences can break your psyche. Your feelings and emotions are valid, but they can also devour your mind. But what if I told you to embrace your failures and that you have the power to see your flaws as beautiful. Our world is obsessed with perfection and uniformity. But in East Asian philosophy, specifically Japan, it’s the opposite. This ancient Japanese philosophy is known as Wabi Sabi, which seems to have gripped the post-pandemic world. So, as a twenty-something trying to navigate this post pandemic world, I decided to find out what it was about and if it could help me cope better.

What is Wabi Sabi?

The book ‘Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for Perfectly Imperfect Life’ by Beth Kempton explained that Wabi Sabi is a traditional Japanese aesthetic that stems from the Buddhist teachings of the three marks of existence (which are principles):

  • Impermanence
  • Suffering
  • The emptiness of or absence of self-nature

Kempton stated that Wabi Sabi originated as two separate words. Wabi is about finding beauty in simplicity, and Sabi is concerned with the passage of time. These two conjoined words remind us of the transient nature of life.

Wabi Sabi rejects the Western notion of perfection. The West is accustomed to permanence. Roman architecture was obsessed with symmetry and sharp lines. The idea of beauty in modern society has become more refined and unattainable. The Japanese belief of Wabi Sabi embraces the flaws and rustic ruggedness of nature. It is reflected in their aesthetic, from gardens, architecture to art - a way of life.

This is why the Japanese practise the art of Kintsugi, wherein broken pottery is repaired by using paint mixed with gold, silver or platinum. Instead of covering the broken parts. It embraces the cracks of the damaged cutlery. In the process of repairing the broken items, Kintsugi creates something more beautiful and stronger.

Kintsugi sees the reparation of items as a part of the history of the object, not something one should disguise. Different forms of adversity can break you, but it is important to remind yourself to see these moments as lessons for resilience and willpower.

Kintsugi, is a Japanese art form that emphasizes and highlights imperfections. It repairs the cracks in broken pottery with golden paint and embraces the broken areas instead of covering them up. Image Credit: Shutterstock

How Gen Z can relate

Due to social media, young people are under constant pressure to have a perfectly curated image. We only share the best moments from our life and try to hide our darkest moments. Therefore, we give off this aesthetic and a life of constant perfection that is unrealistic and non-existent.

Dr Pavithra Reddy

Dr Pavithra Reddy, Specialist of Internal Medicine at Prime Medical Center’s Motor City branch

The havoc caused by the pandemic is settling but its mental impact will still linger in the minds of a whole generation. Dr Pavithra Reddy, Specialist of Internal Medicine at Prime Medical Center’s Motor City branch, told Gulf News: “Gen Z has been traumatised by COVID-19… but the art of living fearlessly and peacefully is to embrace the imperfections of life and make the best possible use of it.”

Dr Arun Kumar K, a Specialist Psychiatrist at Aster Clinic Bur Dubai, explains that the pandemic has made people aware of their flaws and negatives. He said: “It [pandemic] has been an eye-opener for many to be aware of their negatives and to work on it, but there is no single solution or strategy. Being aware and acknowledging your shortcomings and accepting failure, and also adopting better coping strategies is the first step towards self-improvement. 

Wabi Sabi principle says ‘nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect’.”

- Dr Arun Kumar K, a Specialist Psychiatrist at Aster Clinic Bur Dubai

How can Wabi Sabi be practised today?

We live in a world where algorithms control everything we do, what to eat, what music to listen to, what to buy or what we should look like. Constantly looking down at our phones and mindlessly scrolling through our social media feed while it reflects onto our eyes has more cons than pros. Persistent and addictive use of social media leads to us feeling overstimulated and untethered from the real world.

Social media has turned us into craving constant validation from strangers. We stumble upon someone's highly curated Instagram page and foam with jealously. Every time you find yourself doing this, you're missing out on an opportunity for self-improvement and betterment.

Shreya Parthasarathy, a 21-year-old graduate student, found herself becoming addicted to Instagram and decided to deactivate her account. She said: “I quit Instagram a year ago during quarantine. I spent up to five hours a day on the app and after scrolling through everyone’s stories, it made me feel empty inside. It felt like they were doing occupied more significant part of my thoughts than I wanted. My brain felt cluttered, and I recognised how much of an addiction it can be, Instagram is a good platform for artists and influencers as their work can reach a much larger audience than ever before.”

social media
Addictive use of social media can cause anxiety and depression, taking a social media break can improve your mental wellbeing Image Credit: Photo by Kerde Severin from Pexels

Parthasarathy also added that she isn’t planning to completely abandon the social media platform. She said: “The solution isn’t to cut off entirely but to work through one’s boundaries with it to have a healthy relationship with social media. I plan on joining it again, soon, but limiting my usage and following what matters.”

Kempton simply explains that Wabi Sabi permits you to be yourself, and it encourages you to do your best but to not hurt yourself in pursuit of the unattainable goal of perfection.

Practising Wabi Sabi also means to curb desire, especially as we are always on the lookout for the next best thing.

According to the book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to Long and Happy Life, the concept of Wabi Sabi stems from Zen Buddhism, and meditation is a part of this ancient Japanese philosophy. Meditation makes us hyper-aware of desires and in tune with our emotions, therefore, freeing us from unwanted negative emotions. The book states that meditation can train our minds to not get swept away with jealousy or resentment.

Wabi Sabi is an offshoot of Zen Buddhism, and meditation is an integral part of Wabi Sabi. Meditation heals past wounds and creates a deep state of relaxation and tranquility. Image Credit: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich from Pexels

Nida Gulzar, a psychology student studying in the UK routinely practices meditation, and it has helped her relieve the anxiety and stress caused by the pandemic. She said: “I believe the pandemic has caused a lot of overthinking and anxiety because it disrupted our goals and the future we had planned. The sudden change and lack of control can become very overwhelming. Usually when I am overwhelmed my natural instinct is to suppress those feelings and they end up piling up and overflowing. Meditation has eased such stressful events by creating a safe space and time for my thoughts. My thoughts now feel prioritised and validated rather than being swept under a carpet. Meditation lets me have a healthy relationship with my emotions and thoughts by reducing how often I used to overthink.”

Gulzar further explained that mediation isn’t just for alleviating unwanted negative emotions, it can be also used to cure deep rooted problems and issues. She said: “Meditation is great for everyone because it can be used for a vast number of problems. For instance, it can improve your sleeping, eating, addiction, social and relationship problems. The objective of the meditation can be set by the meditator. Additionally, how many times or for how long or where the meditation session is carried out is also in the hands of the meditator. The convenience of meditation is what brought me close to it.”

Wabi Sabi teaches us that life is impermanent and perishable and that we should keep this in mind without being pessimistic - address the impermanence of life but it should not make us sad. It should help us appreciate the present with our loved ones.

It has made me realise how frivolous my problems are and how ungrateful I can be - we forget to value every second, minute and hour of the present.