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Drinking tea can help us to appreciate imperfection. Yes, it may sound a bit weird and new age, but in the old cultures of Asia drinking tea was seen as a way to accept life as it is. And we all know (and secretly try to object) that life as it is, is far from perfect.

Personally, I am quite a perfectionist and to be honest, I think all of us are quite perfectionistic. We try to improve ourselves constantly. At work, in our hobbies, in sports and in our lifestyle we try to get the best out of ourselves. Although we might not live the perfect life just yet, we do strive to get there, one day. One day I’ll have that perfect job, one day I’ll be a complete pro in my hobby, one day I’ll be perfectly fit with a perfect body, one day I’ll buy the perfect house and I’ll decorate it perfectly to my own style, one day I’ll… One day. A day that never comes. Years pass by and still we still haven’t arrived at that picture perfect image. Maybe it’s time to reconsider our ideas of what our lives should be. So, make yourself a big cup of tea and travel to the old Japan with me.

Your favourite tea mug might not be the prettiest mug of the house, yet its meaning makes it feel special to you. Wabi Sabi is about recognising that meaningfulness in everything that surrounds you.

Drinking tea has been a custom in China for thousands of years and it were the Chinese that brought the tradition to Japan in the 9th century. In Asia at the time, tea hadn’t been a ‘normal’ drink against the thirst, but a medical or even spiritual practice. One man in particular had an enormous influence on the development of the tea ceremony in Japan.
Sen no Rikyū was born in 1522 and chose to pursue a spiritual lifestyle, even though he had every opportunity to become a rich tradesman. He became a student by several Zen masters and later in life he made some great contributions to the Japanese tea ceremony.
Instead of using a big and luxurious looking tea house, he held his ceremonies in very small sheds. Also, he didn’t use the fine Chinese items that were fashionable at the time, but preferred to use the Japanese-made, simple (and somewhat out of shape) looking items instead.

Rikyū showed us what values drinking tea can have:
HARMONY, RESPECT, PURITY and TRANQUILITY

Among the common people – as in our culture to day – money and material welfare was seen as important and prestigious, but Rikyū promoted a different set of values. He made the people of Japan aware of Wabi Sabi: A Japanese worldview that defines beauty as the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete. The words ‘wabi’ and ‘sabi’ are difficult to translate, but both have a connection with imperfection in different ways. Whereas ‘wabi’ can be seen as the flaws that come with the creating of the object (either by nature or by humans), ‘sabi’ is the wear and tear on objects caused by its aging. So if you’d be making tea mug, ‘wabi’ would be the mistakes you make while shaping it and ‘sabi’ would be the cracks that come over time or other damage caused by using it on a regular basis. For us humans, ‘wabi’ are the irregularities we’re born with (e.g. a big nose, jug ears or a birthmark) and ‘sabi’ are the signs of age we start having as we grow older (e.g. wrinkles, a scar or a changing figure). Making your pottery look different than the instructor taught you isn’t ‘making mistakes’ but rather making it authentic, getting a little wrinkled as you grow older isn’t ugly, it’s identity.

“True beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally complete the incomplete.”
― Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea

Sen no Rikyū connected the Wabi Sabi idea to the drinking of tea. Drinking tea was for him a reminder of the true nature of life. By doing every act that involves the brewing and drinking of the tea very slowly in simple and rustic looking bowls, he practiced the typical Zen values of humility and awareness. And although the Wabi Sabi philosophy can be connected to almost everything, I think that if we’d practice it during our daily cup of tea, it would be a good strategy to accept what seems to be going ‘wrong’ in our lives.

Let your daily cup of tea be a reminder of the imperfect nature of everything.

Our lives are far from perfect and that can be very frustrating. We haven’t achieved what we wanted and things turn out a little less beautiful as we expected way too often. But this is what makes it interesting. Not the things that are perfect make you who you are, but rather the flaws and oddities. By embracing what’s imperfect, you’re embracing your authentic life.

So try to think this when you drink your tea:
My life is imperfect, impermanent and incomplete and that’s OK.
I am imperfect, impermanent and incomplete and that’s OK.
Don’t strive for the impossible, you don’t have to be perfect.

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Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with golden lacquer. The philosophy of kintsugi is strongly connected to Wabi Sabi: it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.

 

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Have a big cup of tea and think about your life. What imperfect (but very Wabi Sabi) pieces of beauty can you find?

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