“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
So I went through a divorce in 2016. I’ve been through some tough breakups before, but divorce is like a breakup times 10, because you have entangled your hopes and dreams and practical life, such as bank accounts and home ownership, with this other person. When that doesn’t work out, when you find out that you are totally incompatible with your spouse, you have a lot of work to do to untangle, emotionally and physically. From the moment one of you understands that it is not going to work out, the whole relationship starts to unravel in the most excruciatingly tense and painful way.
My ex and I had a really weird breakup and divorce. We lived on the same property in two different buildings because we were farmers. We helped each other out now and then. Our marriage was like tooth decay in the last months, a constant pain that distracted me from everything good and wonderful about life. Finally, the rotten tooth was extracted and we were both free from each other. Thank God.
What I learned in the aftermath was that while I was in the marriage I had lost my sense of self, that sense of who I really was.
I knew I was still somewhere in there. The core of me was still there, but that core was badly beaten down by the circumstances and stress of the marriage and divorce. These days I can see this same feeling in so many other people’s faces — there is this fucking beautiful core of who we are deep inside of us, but our relationships with our partners causes us to bury it, day by day, until we have forgotten it even exists.
Sometimes we bury our authentic self because we want to please others, and sometimes we let others bury us because we don’t want them to be displeased by our real selves, who we are deep inside. Either way, we lose our essence, our joi de vivre, that which makes us who we are.
People like us, who have been broken down in one way or another by life but have not given up, need to remind ourselves daily that we are whole, that we are 100% ourselves, and that our authentic self is beautiful.
And I’m not talking about beauty in the conventional sense of a person who looks bland, thin, and has symmetrical features- I’m talking about the kind of beauty that shines forth from a ragged bare soul, old eyes and experience, and the innocence of a youthful heart.
We need to stop thinking that beauty can be arbitrated by anyone else — the only real arbiter of beauty is our selves.
The Japanese have a concept called Wabi Sabi. Essentially, the term Wabi means our essential self, the rustic beauty and solitude of our existence. It indicates someone who is perfectly at home with themselves, someone satisfied to use three objects to solve a problem rather than ten. The root word “Wa” means harmony. Sabi means “The Bloom Of Time”, the beauty that comes with aging, of weathering and corrosion. It is the meaning behind the passing of the hours, the silent language of sun-bleached wood and rusted iron.
For decades I have pondered this catchy phrase. I thought I understood what Wabi Sabi was all about — it was what makes Japanese culture so distinct, much like the ideals of Purity and Virtue have influenced Greek culture so strongly. It was a cool aesthetic, filled with meaningful items and nifty antiques. It was the romantic lifestyle of the poet, stricken with poverty and yet filled with optimism toward life.
But after my divorce, I realized that the ideas of Purity and Virtue, as well as any aesthetic or romantic ideas, can sometimes be more harmful than helpful to our sense of self. At that time, my ex certainly did not think I was a noble and virtuous man, and I didn’t think she was a kind and generous woman. Our empty bank account didn’t help our relationship grow strong, nor did my philosophical musings about life and love.
At some point before the divorce we had cared for eachother, but those feelings were not what I would now call love. Those feelings searched for completion with the other, somehow. The reality is that those types of feelings will never be satisfied with another person, because what we are really searching for is somewhere within our selves, the wholeness of our core. We have to accept our selves as whole complete beings before we can be in a loving relationship with another person.
Regardless of our vices or virtues, my ex and I were both just people trying to do the best that we could at the time.
Setting aside any ideas of good and bad for a moment, most of us share the same types of struggles and joys in life, and mostly we are all trying to do the best that we can.
What the idea of Wabi Sabi is really all about is our shared experience of the lonely transience of life. The sooner that we can accept the reality that all us human beings share essentially the same experience of life, the sooner that we can get on with living authentically in a place of peace and beauty.
I am what I am.
100% acceptance of who I am right now, wherever I find myself, is how I experience the peace of Wabi Sabi. Experiencing Wabi Sabi is how I open myself up to love. Without that love, I can never be free.
There will always be struggles. We will always yearn for something new, for something different, to lose a few pounds or to gain a few friends. All of these things are universal experiences of being human.
Our lives are always changing, day in and day out. We don’t notice the changes until a year has passed. Then we look in the mirror and find that a different person is looking back at us. But instead of fighting this inevitability, which is the inclination of our modern society, we should be reveling in the changes that we see there, the patina of our own lives etched in the storylines that mark the skin of our faces.
It is a beautiful, wonderful thing, that everything always changes. That realization gives us peace in the hard times, and perspective in the good times.
Most likely you have had your own divorce, your own weight problems, your own struggles with addiction, your own experiences with violence, pain, heartbreak, and suffering, and you have made it through, all the way to Now. There is no guarantee in life that bad things will not happen, that complex problems will not arise and cause us to question everything we thought we knew, and feel immense sorrow.
Each of us are immensely unique. Many of us have been broken apart and repaired so many times that that our storylines are numerous, plentiful, and easy to see. Wabi Sabi is the practice of not looking outside of the Self for confirmation of beauty and meaning, but instead realizing that every Self has an inherent beauty and meaning within them. In our so-called flaws and mistakes we find the crystalline veins that binds our shattered hearts together.
Accepting that the passage of time will change you is a first step toward accepting the totality of you, with all the wrinkles, scars, anxieties, mood swings, wildness, depression, fatigue, and heartache that makes up any one of your days. To refrain from judging yourself according to any other person’s arbitrary standards is paramount to finding out what your own standards are, what you care about, how you want to live, and what you want to do with your life.
Exploring Wabi Sabi is one way to examine the beauty of individuality, the passage of time, and the importance of impermanence. To make that exploration meaningful, first we must accept our own so-called flaws and mistakes as who we really are, and find the beauty in the storylines that run through our own galaxy.
“We are part of this universe; we are in this universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts, is that the universe is in us.”
-Neil deGrasse Tyson