Aging, Art, Mindfulness, Nature

Perfectly Imperfect

When I was a young girl my mother worked with pottery.  Glazed bowls and vessels would adorn countertops that looked earthy and imperfect.  She stressed the importance of finding imperfect beauty in art and nature.  I vividly remember a time she purchased a vase from an artist where a customer next to us was looking for the perfect piece free of cracks and imperfections.  My mother was grateful to purchase the most imperfect vase that seemed to be discarded by many.  She would say “look for the beauty in the warts.” These early remembrances somehow extended beyond art and have allowed me to honor the human element with all of its bumps, cracks and messy complications.

There is an ancient Japanese concept called Wabi-Sabi.  This teaching comes from a Buddhist approach which encourages individuals to honor imperfection.  This practice extends to how Japanese Zen gardens are tended, or how Raku tea ceremony pottery is crafted.  700 years ago, Japanese nobility were considered “enlightened” if they could understand imperfection and the idea of emptiness through these arts.  There is a form of pottery in Japan called Kintsugi where a pot is made with an intentional crack and filled with gold.  This allowed the observer to remember where beauty comes from.  Perfection cannot exist without imperfection.  Musician and poet, Leonard Cohen captured this beautifully with his words “there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in”.

How can we embody some of these ideas in our current culture of flawless beauty and perfect health? To some degree we have been corrupted by the idea of perfection with an eye of criticism and comparison.  We tend to easily veer towards ideas that we are not smart enough, thin enough, fit enough and the list continues.  This preoccupied perfectionistic headspace can lead to anxiety, depression and worst case scenario a risk of suicide.  This is especially prevalent with our younger generation.  The ideal way to keep some space in the mind to accept imperfection is to practice one or more of the following life experiences.

  • Honor art at a gallery, or something personally created, that embodies imperfection. Be mindful of a tendency to be critical of imperfection.
  • Spend some time hiking in nature or in a garden and look for the imperfections that create beauty surrounding you.
  • Practice yoga, meditation or any form of movement where space is created in the body and where the instructor discusses honoring the manifestation of the moment.
  • Instead of spending time doing things right, spend more time contemplating what is the right thing to do.
  • Look in the mirror and ask yourself what you see? Quirks, cracks, creases, pimples, furrows? Can you honor these characteristics and see the story they tell or evidence of your humanness?

We are all perfectly imperfect, and love of all the irregular is a basic sign of our potential freedom.  The next time you feel broken, reflect on the imperfect Kintsugi bowl with a gold thread and imagine that your flaw is a part of your unique history and beauty.  Your imperfection will be your “golden thread”.