A Wabi-Sabi Approach To Life, OR Appreciating Moss Covered Pocketbooks In The Woods

Nothing’s perfect,

nothing’s finished,

nothing is forever.


Feeling quite chan right now.

So often conversations falter. We cannot find the word that translates what we want to say. There are languages that have words for these moments. Chan is an example. It’s Mandarin Chinese and it is untranslatable to English. It means having a sensation of wanting to eat, but you know you are not hungry…

I’m at the age where I’ve learned how different, how astoundingly different I am compared to most people I encounter. I also know, deep down that I am quite the same in many ways. The internet, (bless it!) has served a conduit to connect anyone with their people whether you collect salt shakers, are a burn survivor, or happen to live inside your head with the voices. Everyone has anger in common, as well as a myriad of other raw scary states-sadness, grief, and fear, depression, regret.

I get pissed off sometimes. I don’t like the feeling and I’m so laid back that you could louge on me (and sadly, I’d probably let you), so anger is not an emotion I am on a first name basis with. I don’t like it. But it’s there sometimes. When I do find myself in that dark place, it’s when

I’m frustrated to the boiling point. And when

I’m repeatedly not being heard,


or respected.

Two other human states can contribute to anger:

insomnia and

chronic pain.

You see, I’m more apt to snap when I’m tired and hurting. It might even be healthy as a ‘now-and-again’ thing. But it isn’t pleasant for me. I recognize that anger IS an emotion I have to deal with once in a while. But not if I can help it!

Wabi-Sabi Benefits

Long hikes, waterfalls, relaxation, meditative scenery in general, exercise that involves loud alternative music, occasional sin foods, a good book, a baby, child or animal, eating healthy, and expression through art…

What do these things have in common? They help me alleviate negativity. It’s nice when one of these de-stressors can be aligned so positively with my work. In my book “Under The Banana Moon,” I wrote a few paragraphs about wabi-sabi…but more of that in a little while.


Presently I’m working on a children’s/adult/educational book called “Is Your Filter Off Kilter?” My friend Judy, a speech pathologist, is working with me on it. My portion of this book involves


and art.

These are two of my fa-vor-ite things! I tell you this because I spent an hour in the children’s section of my local library today for inspiration and came across a book, quite by accident that compelled me to pick it up and open it just as sure as if it had a voice and called me over. Really. The phrase “wabi sabi,” written in a white pretty cursive script, just sort of waved a flag and said ‘over here, over here!’  It grabbed my attention because I have familiarity with the term but don’t hear much about it, let alone in the children’s section of my local library. It’s one of those phrases I talked about earlier in this blog post-for which there is no English translation. I do believe I have always known about it though…and maybe you too have practiced it for as long as you can remember even though you never knew it had a name.

Did I already say I think it’s great that someone has written a book to explain this term to American children? If I did not, then I am saying it now. Kudos Mark and Ed!

When I saw this book I had to smile. A little. I call this activity SALTS (smiled a little, then stopped). I’m not a full-out, ‘grinning ear to ear’ type person. I’m dysthymic. BUT even though such joys are not always reflected in my facial expressions, I assure you I feel elated sometimes. And you’d never know, right? An emotion unexpressed is nonetheless there…SO-

The book I came across today is pictured here. It’s written by Mark Reibstein. Storyline:


A kitty cat in the book explains how she got her name. ( Her name is Wabi-Sabi).

How many times am I going to type that phrase? Bear with me.

The illustrations in the book, by Ed Young, are so inspiring.


Maybe you’ve seen kids’ books illustrated in this style? It’s one I’m compelled to try myself. The backgrounds on each page appear rich and textured..Woven mats, crackled peeling paint surfaces, even real hair is used in the background pictures. So the texture on the pages looks real enough to touch and feel and experience. The photos of straw, leaves and toys… some figures and objects cut out of paper and glued to form kitties; interspersed with real photography, like cars and city scenes-it’s a book I could look at a dozen times and  find a new way to experience it, a new thing to see on every page. But that’s what wabi-sabi is all about. And it’s entirely the way I want to illustrate mine and Judy’s book. I have a direction now!



A sensation of beauty that makes one feel a spiritual connection with the world.

Nothing’s perfect,

nothing’s finished,

nothing is forever.

The Japanese have words for things that we don’t have in our language. How about this term: “shinrin-yoku?” I’ll use it in a sentence here:

“I feel good today for I have had shinrinyoku time.”

It is a Japanese noun meaning ‘A visit to the forest for relaxation.’ Taken literally, the phrase means: forest bathing. Aah, lovely. In English I know of no term for this. How about this sentence?

“I’ve got kumerspeck from all this stress.”

It’s a German word (kummerspeck). It means excess weight that has been gained as a direct result of emotional eating…Gee, I’ve always called ANY excess weight FAT, regardless of how the fat got there.

One more, although I could go on: You know that feeling of anticipation when you’re waiting for someone to show up at your house and you keep going outside to see if they’re there yet? I’ve got an Inuit word for that: Iktsuarpok. They actually have a name for that.

And so Wabi-sabi comes to us from the Japanese. We do not have a word for it in English but you may know the sensation, especially if you slow down to smell the roses, as they say…if you are sensitive or inclined to appreciate what is around you, no matter how small then you know this term. I feel this spiritual peace when I see an aged barn with its spaces between the boards that let in light to stir hay dust in beams that shine through. A barn that has gone  grey from the elements is breathtaking to me; with its  red paint that holds on stubbornly in hues of pink with touches of blue hinting from the barn board. A sunk in roof, moss covered, but maintaining dignity for having known so much in time and space, having been so useful. Seeing the calm serenity in such things is wabi-sabi.

Nothing’s perfect,

nothing’s finished,

nothing is forever.

A rough hewn pottery piece with a purposeful crack. Beauty in imperfection. Sensing the invisible and finding it sacred in its completeness. Artists in Japan often deliberately leave subtle fractures in their pots and creations on purpose. Sometimes they fill these cracks with real gold, and they have a word for that too…

A shattered window or mirror reflecting a hundred mini scenes.

A weed sprouting from cracks in the sidewalk.

Broken pottery shards repurposed into mosaiced art creations. Ever seen Watts Tower?

A straw pocketbook found in the woods; having almost completely gone back to nature, once disacrded, now an alive green thing in the shape of a pocketbook, handle strap and all covered in moss with seedlings sprouting from the inside of it. My grandson and I happened upon this last week and I was enraptured. He was too because although six year olds may not yet have the phrase ‘wabi-sabi’ in their vocabularies   (especially if they are not Japanese) they do have the phrase in their hearts. When he hands me a pebble to see the sparklies, it has my full attention and a place in my pocket; perhaps in my collection. Extraordinariness in the seemingly ordinary, yes.

And so this way of thinking may not be a cure-all for tension, it may not be a fail-safe for anger and it may not completely prevent you from snapping at loved ones from time to time. We are human after all. Works in progress. Imperfect and perfect too in the imperfectness of our own imperfection. Because

Nothing’s perfect,

nothing’s finished,

nothing is forever.

So that old saying “Always stop to smell the roses,” is a mantra to live by.

Believe it.

buy wabi sabi book by Mark Reibstein on amazon! Ed Young, amazing illustrator






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