Summer Wellbeing - Wabi-Sabi

Four Scents Team

What Perspectives Does Wabi-Sabi Give to Summer?


What is Wabi-Sabi?

Not to be confused with wasabi! This is a Japanese world view based on accepting imperfection and transience. Again, this is difficult to capture with a simple definition. “Wabi” loosely translates as “austere beauty, contentment in simplicity and imperfection” while “Sabi” means “rust, old and elegant”. It can be a personal feeling, a philosophy and an artistic concept, and can be related to objects, the landscape or even people. It is appreciating the fleetingness of beauty or a contemplation of something that becomes more beautiful as it ages.
Acceptance, contemplation and appreciation sit well with the summer season. The season of long days, holidays and warmth is one that seems to fly by after looking forward to it for so long. Wabi-Sabi can help us to enjoy the season one day at a time, appreciate its beauty, and (despite the messages we’re bombarded with) enjoy experiences for what they are rather than striving for perfection.
   Japanese Zen Garden    

A Little Background

Rooted in Chinese Taoism and Zen Buddhism, it began to shape Japanese culture when a Zen priest called Murato Juko (1423 – 1502) modified the Tea Ceremony. Instead of using the popular jade, gold and porcelain instruments, he introduced simple, unfinished wood and clay ones. Around a century later, Sen no Rikyu, a tea master, according to legend, shook a cherry tree and Sakura flowers fell to the ground of the garden he’d perfectly tidied. The brush with imperfection, in fact, added beauty to the scene. The concept of Wabi-Sabi was born, and he introduced it to royalty with his design of a teahouse. The door was so low that the emperor would have to bow to enter – a lesson in humility before tradition. This evolved into a characteristically Japanese ideal, becoming more hopeful and light-hearted. This was honoured around 700 years ago as being the first step to enlightenment representing liberation from materialism and transcendence to a simpler life.   

Traditional Japanese Tea Set

How can Wabi-Sabi Work for Us?

Japanese styles, art and aesthetic are admired and emulated worldwide – and Wabi-Sabi is the secret to their success. By bringing beauty and simplicity into the everyday, this concept can work to help our wellbeing in summertime and beyond…
   Imperfect door opening onto beach with grey sky

Perfectly Imperfect

Scrolling through social media posts and seeing stunning adverts have the ability to affect even the most cynical of us. Before we know it, we have an idyllic picture in our minds and by extension set up unrealistic expectations on ourselves and others - even our summer events and travels. When one or all of them inevitably don’t match up, we find ourselves frustrated, let down and disappointed.
While it’s a positive thing to anticipate events and dream (we looked at the benefits of this in our Summer Wellbeing Blog), there’s something to be said for holding them lightly. Looking for beauty in imperfection proactively counters the negative reactions we’d otherwise have. For instance, valuing authenticity, accepting our vulnerability and having compassion on ourselves and others lends perspective to the situation. There’s something liberating about acceptance that sets us in a more peaceful and open-hearted direction. With others, it helps us develop flexibility and depth in relationships. With ourselves, recognising our vulnerability enhances empathy and emotional intelligence, and even courageous sharing with safe people is not only brave, but builds trust. When it comes to events, it’s OK to acknowledge what could have gone better. But instead of being fixated of this, looking for the aspects that did go well is a gratitude practice, which has a host of well-documented health benefits, including improved sleep, immunity and resilience.
    Holding a cup of coffee with latte art pattern

Enjoy the Moment

It’s easy to rush past the days towards the next big event, day out or holiday only to find that it’s over within what feels like the blink of an eye. In summer, I’m especially guilty of this, and the anticlimax can feel like it outweighs the anticipation. Yet how often do I miss the beauty of the everyday and what’s in front of me? Wabi-Sabi is a healthy reminder of the impermanence of things – to have a healthy respect of this opens my eyes better to the present. For instance, on holiday, embrace the smaller events as well as the larger ones in a more engaged way, using the senses. This is a great example of a mindfulness practice, slowing down and in so doing, maximising the experience and the precious time off life’s hamster wheel.
As the days move on, and little signs of Autumn appearing on the horizon, being at peace with this change doesn’t tend to come naturally. A shift in perspective to help in this is, rather than longing for past times, embrace what is happening now. What changes can I notice? What beauty can I find in this? Open-mindedness towards change helps us not only to practice acceptance, but boosts confidence as we discover our adaptability. Taking the sting out of melancholy and anxiety positively impacts our wellbeing – reducing digestive issues, headaches and improving overall mental health.
    Kintsugi style repair of broken bowl

The Simple Things

Wabi-Sabi encourages us to move away from the trappings of materialism, focusing on what we already have. Given a window into the highlight reels of others, it isn’t long before we fall into the comparison trap, believing that everyone has better stuff and experiences. It takes intention to stop and savour what we do have. Simpler living can look like decluttering instead of acquiring more. This can reduce the low-level stress response that comes with clutter, giving more space for creativity.
Objects that are imperfect have a rustic charm to them, and this leads to the closely-related Japanese art of Kintsugi. This is where a broken vessel is repaired with lacquer mixed with gold powder, giving it a unique beauty. Instead of throwing an item away, it can become useful – and indeed beautiful – once more. Making the most of what we have could be upcycling something as a mindful summer weekend project. Not only does it give the item a fresh lease of life, but the satisfaction boosts psychological wellbeing.
Simple living can also look like appreciating the ordinary; the company of friends at a picnic, the smell of freshly-brewed coffee on a sunny morning, or a stunning summer sunset can be both meditation and gratitude practices. Much like enjoying each moment, these small happenings can become significant events in themselves and enrich summer’s experiences.
   Mother working on laptop while child plays 

Finding Balance

Harmony and tranquillity are important components in Wabi-Sabi, countering society’s striving towards ambition, busyness and climbing the ladder. Taking time out in summer gives us the opportunity to slow down and have the courage to reflect a little more deeply as to our work-life balance. So often busyness comes at the expense of quality time with loved ones and high stress levels without us even noticing. It’s when we stop, that we realise what we’re missing – and what matters to us. Carving out time to rest with the important people in your life is central to good physical and mental health. The interesting thing is that a healthy balance actually improves productivity as well as the ability to deal better with challenges, and take less time off ill.

This also can loop back to the practice of acceptance and looking for the good in where you’re at now. Delaying happiness until that promotion or the weekend doesn’t guarantee happiness when those things do come round. What positive benefits do you notice in the here and now and how can you make the most of them? In the mundane of the everyday, these things can be easily missed. Noticing can bring in a sense of harmony and peace in the present. The philosophy at the heart of Wabi-Sabi – Uketamo – means “I humbly accept with an open heart” enables feelings of contentment, even in the most insignificant of circumstances.
   Selection of Four Scents essential oils

Wabi-Sabi and Essential Oils

As this concept embraces many themes, aromatherapy can relate to the various aspects…
For acceptance:    
Bergamot – its balancing qualities help to reduce feelings on inadequacy and promote self-acceptance. A top note in our Spring Vitality and Serenity Spa blends.
Chamomile – this gentle oil soothes impatience and anger, helping to instil a gentler and more positive outlook.
Clove – enhances feelings of empowerment, breaking negative patterns and so leading to acceptance. This warming oil tops our Winter Rest blend.
Neroli – a deeply soothing oil that settles the emotions and encourages peace in the moment. A heart note in our Summer Radiance blend.
Spikenard – settling the emotions, it helps replace resentment with acceptance and compassion. A grounding base note in our Winter Rest blend.

For contemplation:

Frankincense – this spicy and resinous oil soothes the nervous system while assisting concentration, making this beneficial for meditation. A heart note in our Autumn Harmony blend.
Jasmine – a sedative oil that assists in focus as well as boosting the mood. This beautiful base note features in our Summer Radiance and Serenity Spa blends.
Labdanum – like other resinous oils, this has meditative qualities that bring in clarity. One of the central notes in our Serenity Spa blend.
Vetiver – called “the oil of tranquillity”, it has a grounding effect that encourages a more mindful state. This underpins our Autumn Harmony and Winter Rest blends.
Ylang-Ylang – the exotic fragrance soothes anxiety while gently uplifting the spirits, helping assist in meditation. Features as a base note in our Spring Vitality and Summer Radiance blends.

For balance:

Cedarwood – centring and grounding, it uplifts the mood and settles the emotions. This underpins our Winter Rest blend.
Geranium – calming without being sedating, it has cooling properties that soothe restlessness. A heart note in our Autumn Harmony and Serenity Spa blends.
Mandarin – its cheering, uplifting yet relaxing aroma helps calm irritability. This tops our Summer Radiance blend.
Patchouli – helps improve focus but also has sedative qualities, bringing balance to the emotions. Features as a base note in our Serenity Spa blend.
Petitgrain – promotes self-esteem while helping protect the nerves from the effects of anxiety. This tops our Summer Radiance and Winter Rest blends.
With this beautiful season that is paradoxically busy and relaxing, it can help us to view it through the lens of this Japanese concept. Wabi-Sabi can give us the opportunity to go gentler on our expectations, make the most of summer’s highlights and relish each day.

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