Return to wabi-sabi, mushin

©2022 Michael Raven

The term wabi-sabi came back into my attention the past few days.

I’ve drifted away from my Tao/Zen practice over the past year or so, and that is a good thing. I was starting to become all mind-oriented and not balanced enough with spirit. I needed to dig back into the dirt and find soul, unfuck the thinking a bit, find some of that original me that I had left out of the equation since going sober some 12 years ago and delving deeper into the cavern of philosophical ramblings. I retained some of original me because I retained my appreciation for the absurdity of everything (in general), but I largely masked that person behind it all. It was a useful tool to get wrapped up in that mind-space, in terms of keeping me sober, but I needed to recover the part of me that I feared more than just a little.

Before diving into the deep waters of more spirit and less mind, I was quite enamored with several concepts, one of them being this wabi-sabi, especially as I began to realize I needed to recover some of my original scary self, but it fell by the wayside as I through myself into what I needed.

The idea of wabi-sabi is that, well, there is beauty in imperfection, impermanence, simplicity, and a rough asymmetry. Internally, I know most artists — writing, music, visual art — strive for some kind of perfection in their art; that the erasure of imperfection is what makes their craft better. Perhaps they are right, but I have discovered, and am re-discovering, that it is the imperfections have their own beauty too as long as they are unintentional or done with another Zen concept: mushin, or no-mind (from the longer phrase, mushin no shin or, mind-without-mind). As soon as you try to create imperfection, the imperfection lacks the wabi-sabi nature. However, learning how to approach things with mushin tends to allow fertile ground for slight, natural imperfections to occur, resulting in something that captures the wabi-sabi aesthetic.

Here I go playing mind games with myself. Amusing, isn’t it?

Anyway, I had the phrase wabi-sabi reenter into my life (I forget how/why, not sure it matters) and I got to thinking about my approach towards the arts probably drives most people up a wall. I’m okay with flaws and imperfection. I’m okay with impermanence too, or I wouldn’t leave unrecorded Twitter poetry float off in the aether as I am wont to doing (not everything gets cross-posted and I supposed there’s a way to filter to such things, but I can’t be arsed to figure out how).

That doesn’t make my approach better; it’s just a different aesthetic mindset.

And now that these thoughts are filtering back to me, I think I am apt to explore those elements even further. I don’t mind looking like a fool or a hack, it has always been about reaching beyond what is comfortable when it comes to my music or my writing. And now, I need to learn how to wabi-sabi myself and embrace all those imperfections and flaws.

I think that application could have serious potential.

6 thoughts on “Return to wabi-sabi, mushin

  1. Sometimes that striving for ‘perfection’ is what kills a piece of art (and whose ‘perfection ‘ are we talking about anyway?). I think that it is the process which is the essence of creativity, and, sometimes, we seem to tap into something ethereal/otherworldly/spiritual/(insert own choice here) which creates a piece that does resonate with others. Best then not to mess, I feel. I think that (and a lot of this is perhaps due to social media and no one seemingly being able to keep their opinions to themselves (I’m not talking about constructive criticism here, more the slagging off that seems to have become an acceptable norm)) that feeling that we have to be ‘perfect’ is potentially quite harming, so good luck embracing wabi-sabi and stay creative.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Granted, my attitude will probably never make me a world-famous writer, but one of the most soul-sucking thing I keep reading on social media is the “I write, the revise. Then revise. Then revise. Then wake up in the morning and wonder how I thought it was any good last night and revise again.”

      Good gods, that sounds horrible.

      I *don’t* want to be a writer of note if the main function each day as a writer of note is editing things to death. And yet, this is sold as the key to success on social media. I remain unconvinced that this is that key. It may work for some, but how self-defeating it sounds to read that editing until you don’t hate your own writing is how to “make it”. (side: I’ve never heard of most writers who claim this is the key to success, by the way).

      Society seems fixated on idealized perfection (often masquerading as automation), something that I’ve never quite grasped — which is why I like the old bands with their imperfect analogue chord progressions and bad notes over the sterile quantitized music of today. It’s why I prefer live theatre and low-budget arthouse films over blockbuster movies (don’t get me started on superhero action flicks, ugh!).

      Thanks for your thoughts, Chris. Always appreciated to hear a thoughtful bit of insight.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That is an interesting view… I don’t really know on which end of the spectrum I stand… not really give it a deep thought yet, I guess. I tend to write then fire and forget, because I always have something else to write about.

    But I also revise my own work, editing here and there over time, as I re-read them. I guess it depend of the work I do… some less or more important than other.. to me.

    I will bring mr. Cohen in, because he had very good insight on the matter. He definitely was an edit, then re-edit, and do it some more again. He said that it was easy writing, the hard part was always to remove the words that did not need to be there…

    Bob Dylan was the opposite, he could write a masterpiece on a napkin and take the 1st place on the billboard..

    Anyway, thank you for the theme and opinion on the matter, it was an interesting read all along. Take care 🙏💙

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the thoughts. I am okay with revising myself, I just don’t understand the obsessiveness that people put on the act. At some point, you have to accept it is good enough. And, what if you excise the part that made a piece great but you were too fixated on perfection to see just how great it was?

      One of my new ideas is to start trying to write with no-mind at least one piece a day and see what happens. It might be terrible, or it might be great. I won’t know until I try.


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