“You are flawed, you are stuck in old patterns, you become carried away with yourself. Indeed you are quite impossible in many ways. And still, you are beautiful beyond measure.”
— John Welwood via Whiskey River
“The greatest work of all is to show up each day willing to not be “there” yet. So long as we believe we should be better than we are, we will be blind to our own light and resentful of the light of others. Our greatest error is to interpret failure to be present as evidence that we are irredeemably flawed. There is no way back to ourselves and to each other that does not begin with compassionate awareness that we’ve once again lost our way.” — Molly Gordon
An ancient gnarled tree:
Too fibrous for a logger’s saw,
Too twisted to fit a carpenter’s square,
Outlasts the whole forest.
Loggers delight in straight grained, strong, fragrant wood. If the timber is too difficult to cut, too twisted to be made straight, too foul-odored for cabinets, and too spongy for firewood, it is left alone. Useful trees are cut down. Useless ones survive.
The same is true of people. The strong are conscripted. The beautiful are exploited. Those who are too plain to be noticed are the ones who survive. They are left alone and safe.
But what if we ourselves are among such plain persons? Though others may neglect us, we should not thing of ourselves as being without value. We must not accept the judgment of others as the measure of our own self worth. Instead, we should live our lives in simplicity.
Surely, we will have flaws, but we must take stock in them according to our own judgment and then use them as a measure of self-improvement. Since we need not expend energy in putting on airs or maintaining a position, we are actually free to cultivate the best parts of our personalities. Thus, to be considered useless in not a reason for despair, but an opportunity. It is the chance to live without interference and to express one’s own individuality.
Sabi by itself means “the bloom of time.” It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust-the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled. It’s the understanding that beauty is fleeting. The word’s meaning has changed over time, from its ancient definition, “to be desolate,” to the more neutral “to grow old.” By the thirteenth century, sabi’s meaning had evolved into taking pleasure in things that were old and faded. A proverb emerged: “Time is kind to things, but unkind to man.”
Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn bough. An old car left in a field to rust, as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, could be considered America’s contribution to the evolution of sabi. An abandoned barn, as it collapses in on itself, holds this mystique.
There’s an aching poetry in things that carry this patina, and it transcends the Japanese. We Americans are ineffably drawn to old European towns with their crooked cobblestone streets and chipping plaster, to places battle scarred with history much deeper than our own. We seek sabi in antiques and even try to manufacture it in distressed furnishings. True sabi cannot be acquired, however. It is a gift of time.
Can you celebrate your flaws, enjoy the sabi in your nature? Can you paint your cracks with gold, and learn that the flaws in your nature are what make you whole?