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How 'Wabi-Sabi' can help you in the times of COVID-19

M3 India Newsdesk Jan 10, 2021

Guidelines, lockdowns, and other curbs have helped physically protect us from the new coronavirus. But nothing has helped us with the anxiety we have experienced during the pandemic. We call it the new normal and sail through it now, but have we healed? This Sunday, we present to you from our archives, this article on ‘Wabi-Sabi’, a Japanese concept that will perhaps help us heal and truly move on.

COVID-19 - the pandemic has turned our lives upside down. The virus and its effects quickly spread like waves of a tsunami, shocking us and not giving any time to prepare or react. Between the challenges and the helplessness, the year 2020 has looked like a year of survival. The times still remain uncertain and we remain scarred from the experiences. So how do we really move on?


...a Japanese concept, which we think, can help us all with acceptance and healing. The word ‘Wabi’ means simplicity or elegance of what is rustic, natural and ‘Sabi’ means to be happy with or accept the imperfect. The combination of the words tells us to accept imperfection and make the most of life.

Adopting Wabi-Sabi opens our minds to the possibility of events unfolding differently than we anticipated. After all, giving away control over events would also lower our anxiety. In the context of the pandemic, we could look at Wabi-Sabi as a way to allow nature to take its course while continuing to do what we had to do.

Not chasing after perfection

Life has always been unpredictable, we only controlled events by setting a routine for ourselves and preparing for foreseen circumstances. If we accept that there will be days when we will be faced with the unprecedented, the struggle will seem less intense and the disturbance will not overpower your strengths – mental and personal. So trying to let go control over life and not be after perfection.

Being accepting of changes

Yes, Wabi-Sabi also applies in the case of our pursuits of perfection. We constantly seek perfection in the people around us, our relationships, even our future. As per Wabi-Sabi, instead of being relentless in trying to make things perfect, if we focus on how they are and celebrate the authenticity, it can prevent depression and stress among us and cause lesser disharmony in office, families and the society at large. This also means being accepting of changes.

COVID-19 & Wabi-Sabi: Taking comfort in 'what is'

At the beginning of the pandemic, a steep deviation from the normal overwhelmed us and every situation seemed unfavourable to our existence. Applying Wabi-Sabi here would mean making the most of life by counting on what we have and not focusing on the ‘lack’. Like counting on our blessings in a moment of suffering helps us remain emotionally stable and in harmony with ourselves and our surroundings. So Wabi-Sabi also tells us to take comfort in ‘what is’.

The last few months we have seen people feeling ashamed in testing positive for COVID-19, even hostility towards those sneezing under their mask in public. The approach of Wabi-Sabi when applied here would mean staying comforted with the safety measures we take instead of making it about another person. And with acceptance of the unpredictability, our anxiety about contracting the infection would also be low.

While Wabi-Sabi may sound like a mere idea of acceptance, let us tell you it is in fact, a lot more than just that. Wabi-Sabi makes us include what’s odd or unique, celebrate the natural form of something even if imperfect in our eyes, and allow people in our lives just as they are.

Being accepting also makes us compassionate.

While the philosophy teaches us to not seek perfection, it doesn’t negate the idea of changing something to make it better, nor does it teach us to accept carelessness. The Japanese art form of ‘Kintsugi’ is a good example to understand this.

As per Kintsugi, old ceramic items are renewed by giving its faulty features a make-over. Imagine an old, red teapot with cracks showing – a sign of its age and wear and tear. A Kintsugi artist fills the cracks with golden lacquer to accentuate the cracks instead of hiding them. By doing so, the aging teapot was accepted with its natural wear and tear and also made better to celebrate the value of its age. Because being accepting also makes us compassionate.

We have witnessed many disturbing events this year; the exodus of migrants and their struggles, mass funerals, and the professional and personal difficulties faced by lakhs of frontline healthcare personnel. Compassion plays an important role when we, as a society undergo difficulties. Wabi-Sabi tells us to understand the difficulty, the struggle and be compassionate with others and yourself.

Compassion here would mean neighbours of a COVID-suspect patient being understanding, so he will not worry about being shamed on testing positive. Or say hospital administration allowing an over-worked, frustrated healthcare worker some personal time, so he recuperates mentally and physically instead of succumbing to pressure.

Keeping the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi in mind, we can look at the pandemic in a new light: as an opportunity many got to be with their families, the time we could use to grow through hobbies – i.e. focus on the blessings in disguise. It made us grateful for a lot of things and health and life itself.

Without the rush to get through with tasks and the need to have things under control, one can start enjoying little joys; this approach can be useful under a lockdown and even on a regular day at work. With compassion for our imperfect selves, we also become accepting of others and learn to co-exist; this can help us establish a sense of harmony in our surroundings.

Lastly, pandemic or no pandemic, approaching life with Wabi-Sabi in mind can help us embrace changes in life and also accept impermanence!

This article was originally published on October 9, 2020.

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