Wabi Sabi, Decay and Potential

Given wabi sabi’s recognition that all things are imperfect, incomplete and impermanent, it is easy to settle for images of withering, wilting and decay as the embodiment of the aesthetic. 

From such a set of images, no matter how appealing the patina of wear or the peeling paint can be, there can be an invitation to a pessimistic or resigned perspective. (Whether that is an individual's inclination or something that they get accused of when we clad so much of out  -- one that accepts that from their outset things are flawed and are fated only to decay and decline. Those things are probably inevitable, but in the recognition that nothing is perfect is a latent potential that exists and waits to be tapped.

Obvious examples of potential found in apparent decline are refurbished pieces of furniture.  The repurposed slabs of wood  salvaged from a declining barn and given new life as an earthy dining room table, its wear infused with a warmth that makes the back and forth over a meal more fluent. Out of that forged attachment is the desire to linger longer at the table, whether it be with cocoa, whiskey, tea or homework. 

I may not be playing fair with such an upcycling of obvious comfort. The rusticity of a worn dining room table and all that it can connote embodies this potential, but it is not limited to the decor that adds to our homes. As much as wabi sabi has been discussed in relation to interior design, identify latent potential in what, in this modern, tech-addicted era, we are too prompt to discard.

Viewed through the lens of wabi sabi, life cycles that culminate in autumn, death or other endings are imbued with acceptance that is melancholic and poignant.  ought to be complemented by the recognition that in the imperfect or incomplete, improvement is possible. Potential is, if not always, often present in the people things that surround us and within ourselves. When more and more individuals, governments and businesses (whether in the glare of media spotlight or not) insist that they are certain about their positions, their strengths and the absence of weaknesses, the opportunity to be honest about, and ultimately fulfill, potential is squandered.

Upon realizing that things are imperfect, incomplete, and impermanent, it is pretty easy to surrender to gravity and assume decay the lone destiny available. Leonard Koren acknowledges two possibilities when he says that everything is "devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness." 

Potential is always there.

Even in decay there is an appreciation and a forming attachment between ourselves and the things we surround ourselves with. We patch our jeans, we buy new handles for our tools when they need replacing, we pause and appreciate the wear that has surfaced with the passage of time and regular contact and ritual with the things that we use.

The same can be said of ideas that we may be inclined to discard. As we get immersed in an environment which is more digital and virtual, the habits of connection, socialization and communication have drifted out of style, but they remain valuable no matter how unpracticed we have become in these ways of connecting and asserting that decay is not always inevitable, especially when it pertains to the ways we connect, communicate and seek truth or meaning in a virtual world.

The reality is that we may not always see the potential that we expect or want, but the potential that an object or idea has.  We might wish to try to remake reality to suit or tastes or needs, but that is where decay will emerge most quickly and were are left with disappointment. If we choose to be open and patient we will see potentials that we had not anticipated, but in that we will see something that is closer to truth and reality.  We may not like it and it may not suit our needs but that would be an occasion to adapt and find enlightenment or new meaning from the things as they are and accept them rather than assume that there is something of a personal affront to the world as we wish it to be.