Nurturing Integrity and Connection

There is a sign near my home that I pass several times a week that pitches Botox with the rationale: "Tired of looking tired?" and making its pitch for its faux-panacea.  It is among the more nakedly craven invitations to adopt the modern or the state-of-the-art but it is not alone. Time and again, the invitation is subtle and often it come sin the form of peer pressure.  Foregoing the modern and the high-tech is wrong because we are putting ourselves at some disadvantage.  Our kids are going to fall behind, or we could find better ways to use our time if we opted for the convenience that is being provided more and more of us. Botox is but one of the modern responses to what ails us. If you don't like your commute, you can buy a better car, or one that takes over the responsibility of attentiveness.

Still, there is a degree of self-deception in our reliance on the modern. I chatted briefly with my son about this Botox sign.

"If you looked tired what would you do?"
"I would feel tired."
"True, but what would you do about it?"
"Good. That sign says that if you look tired, to take a drug so that you don't look tired."
"That's silly."

That's how much sense it makes to an 8-year-old.

Ponder for a moment some of the benefits that the modern and technological offers us:
  • Autonomous driving to allow us to disengage from our surroundings and the navigation they require of us.
  • Algorithm-based informational carapaces to protect us from information or realities we are disposed to find discomfort in.
  • Botox to project the appearance of freshness, youth and or vitality while we eschew the effort and discipline to maintain those in reality.
  • Materials that are low- or no-maintenance, like vinyl or aluminum, that do not require our attention but do not beckon us the way stone, wood, cloth or paper do.
  • Speed, whether it serves or goads us.
  • The defeat of seasons with plastic-coffined produce available year-round, from next-door or, more often, the other end of the world.
  • The distant intimacy of social media.
  • Perfections that are ultimately low-stakes and low-reward in favour of the high-potential imperfections that make us or the things we see or own.
  • The affluence that allows us to live more separate from one another but to strive, at the same time, for a compliance or uniformity.
As technology has become a greater part of our lives, the one thing that we have not seen accrued with the changes that have occurred is certainty, at least not to an extent that we would like.  While quality control and other mechanisms can more or less assure that a Big Mac will taste the same in Tokyo or Topeka, it is less like to assure us of addressing bigger concerns

For all of our collective efforts to develop or cultivate the technologies that bolster our certainties or assert simplicity where there is none further to be found, we are finding ourselves living with, though not acknowledging the diminishing returns for our trust in the new, modern or technological.

Again and again, the simplicity, clarity, certainty and comfort that we seek in our modernizing world eludes us, partly because we are trying to find these things at the expense of fundamental truths that are at the core of wabi sabi:
- nothing is permanent
- nothing is complete
- nothing is perfect

Recently, in the West wabi sabi has come into some sort of vogue with the phrase "perfectly imperfect" used in manners that skirt too close to becoming a platitude. People recite the phrase, perhaps for little more than the sound or the rhetorical flourish it offers, but we remain oriented toward attaining permanence, perfection or completion.

It is a challenge to accept that our lives are defined by imperfection, incompletion and impermanence, and there is a risk pessimism in resigning ourselves to it and just letting ourselves go. There is, however, a need to live with that paradox and strive to accomplish our goals but to do so within human potential, rather than by invasively technological means.  With time, the body declines but there is the chance that experience and reflection makes us wiser.  Wabi sabi can ground us with a reminder that the technological and the modern do not offer as much as they promise. Despite the interventions that they offer, botox and other modern, technological "solutions" are finite, targeted and likely strive to defy the realities about permanence, completion and perfection.

Pondering wabi sabi with the intention of adopting a different outlook on life, rather than merely enhancing decor with the latest trend or look, can be a valuable step in reframing your life and your expectations of yourself and others in a manner that is healthier, more sustainable, and gives you a greater opportunity to develop your potential and commit yourself to your goals and intentions in a more constructive manner.

Many of the interventions that the modern offers undermine our integrity and disconnect us from our environment and one another. Acknowledging the three main pillars of wabi sabi and making more decisions with those in mind will help maintain connections to others and your environment in a more intimate manner.  That connection can come from more time spent walking, more face-to-face communications, and perhaps enough time pausing and reflecting to get a better sense of the triviality of the flaws and aspects of aging that might otherwise preoccupy you in the competitive, utilitarian and parallel paths that we follow with little consideration of the synergies that can emerge when we do not lose our selves in the attainment of a false ideal that will remain elusive or otherwise erode and decay.

Acknowledging impermanence can bring obvious comfort in the face of difficulty, but there is also perspective when times are good. In that appreciation is a humility that ground you and foster insights into details and nuances are often overlooked in favour of the grandeur of the ostentatious.  

When we go a step further and acknowledge that, among other things, perfection is temporary as well, it gives us the foundation to take a healthier relationship to ourselves with regards to the roles that we play as parent, employee, partner, friend, etc.  There ought to be an opportunity upon recognizing that to be more forgiving of yourself and even become excited about potential you still possess as long as perfection, which can ultimately be limiting, is kept at arm's reach.  Too many of those who talk about "perfect imperfection" risk suggesting that imperfection is but a garnish of decoration rather than something our essence and the source of our potential to not only achieve but find connection with one another.

For it is in our imperfection and the lack of completion that we can commit ourselves to other people in families, in organizations and communities and work together to see what we can contribute to one another's lives and to the world beyond.  In those realities of wabi sabi there are lessons that can be applied to a variety of aspects of our lives and foster unexpected benefits that are not going to occur if we simply lock ourselves into a more mechanical routine of modern consumption, accumulation and injection that treats our connections, not to mention our bodies in a more transactional way.