In Living Wabi Sabi, by Taro Gold, a 14-year-old American boy visits his Japanese grandmother — Obaa-san — for a summer after his father dies:
The Chinese characters used to write ‘Wabi Sabi’ originated more than three thousand years ago.
The character for Wabi represents the inner, or spiritual, experiences of our lives. Its original meaning indicated an ’empty,’ ‘lonely,’ or ‘basic’ state.
The character for Sabi represents the outer, or material, aspects of life. Originally, it meant ‘worn,’ ‘weathered,’ or ‘decayed.’
. . . . .
Over time, the meanings of both words (Wabi and Sabi) shifted to become more lighthearted and hopeful. Around seven hundred years ago, the humble Wabi Sabi images of ’emptiness’ and ‘imperfection’ began to take on a distinctly more enlightened tone.
. . . . .
In today’s Japan, the meaning of Wabi Sabi is often condensed to ‘wisdom in natural simplicity.’ In art books, it is typically defined as ‘flawed beauty.’
. . . .
[Obaa-san speaking of Wabi Sabi] brought to mind a friend, Samantha. Sam once broke her leg in a bizarre accident involving a cardboard box and a French poodle. (I never understood the details.) Sam ended up in the hospital overnight, lamenting her woes. The worst part was that she had been training for months to run a marathon the following week.
“All that effort wasted,” she cried.
Sam made a choice. “I could have just climbed under a rock, drowning in self-pity — and, believe me, that was very appealing,” she later told me. “Or I could look for the rainbow in the rainstorm.” And that’s what she did. When the marathon was under way, Sam was standing on the sidelines cheering on her fellow runners.
Since she was in such outstanding emotional and physical condition, Sam’s recovery was remarkable. One doctor was more than impressed: He fell in love and later became her husband.
“Breaking my leg was the best thing that ever happened to me,” Sam said. “I met my partner, plus I realized how much I enjoy running and helping other athletes perform better.” Today, Sam is a successful track coach with a special appreciation for the twists and turns of life.
. . . . .
“The ancient Wabi Sabi masters understood this well,” Obaa-san said. “They knew that happiness does not mean ‘absence of problems.’ There has never been, nor will there ever be, a life free from problems. Since there is no such thing as a perfect life, Wabi Sabi teaches us a way of looking at life that accepts imperfections, makes peace with the difficulties and mishaps, and strives to use them for our ultimate enrichment.”