As I was preparing dinner this evening I laid out the plates on the work surface ready to serve the food. As I was doing so, my eyes fell upon the wear marks on their enamel and I felt a little pang of dissatisfaction. My mind wandered to the beautiful earthen ware and geometric design plates I’ve seen recently on some of the lifestyle blogs I follow and I found myself wanting to replace these plates with those beautiful plates I had seen. I observed myself having this thought and I probably would have left it at that and let it go normally, but today was different. I’d been geeking out listening to Joseph Goldstein this morning talking about mindfulness and what it is and what it is not. He talks about how mindfulness is not just the practice of being in the present moment and noticing what is happening. The quality of your attention is a necessary element of mindfulness and he uses the example of the catalogue mindset. Of leafing through a catalogue trying to find something to want. This is the ‘lens of wanting’ and when we start to view life through the lens of wanting, we will invariably be disappointed.
The lens of wanting is never sated. When we’ve gotten what we want, there’s always something else we want next. It seems our entire culture is set up to reinforce this lens of wanting. We’re constantly exposed to advertising, to social media, to education even that reinforces the idea that we should want more. In observing our lives through this lens, we invariably notch up many little pangs of dissatisfaction throughout the day. The car that is no longer shiny and new. The same wardrobe we sift through every day, wondering what to wear. The kettle that takes just a little too long to heat up. The table that is scratched. Each of these pangs is relatively inconsequential and we probably don’t even consciously realise they are there, but they set the background hum of dissatisfaction. Regular, little moments of unhappiness fuse together to create an overall feeling of unhappiness.
Today however, I’d become aware of this lens of wanting, and when I did so, it naturally started to dissipate. As I looked at the plates I began to feel more warmly to them. I remembered buying these plates to set up home with husband. I thought fondly about all the meals our family had eaten off them. I noticed that whilst they showed some wear marks, there was no loss of utility to them. They functioned perfectly well to eat from. They took on a new form of beauty and were no longer a source of dissatisfaction. In fact, I felt happy to look at them.
(I love how you can see the reflection of the sky and the tree in the plate in this image.)
The Japanese have a beautiful term for this appreciation of the imperfect which is ‘wabi-sabi’. “Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.” Robyn Griggs Lawrence
I’m not suggesting here that holding on to all of our items for ever and collecting clutter is a positive thing. Far from it. Think about it more like a marriage. Once the initial rush of excitement passes, we need to look after our cherished possessions and extend some gratitude. To appreciate them for what they are, rather than seeking out the next thing. A wabi-sabi perspective encourages us to cherish a small number of well-loved and useful objects, that embody our home. It’s not fast consumerism and it’s not keeping up with the latest fashions. It’s loving the things that make our unique hearts sing. That are part of our life story.
Cultivating a wabi-sabi mindset will take persistence and awareness. Ingrained habits are not easy to change, and the lens of wanting has been so conditioned into us, that it will take some time to overcome. When we are aware of our thoughts and we notice those moments of dissatisfaction, taking an open, curious mindset can start the process of change. When you notice a thought, ask yourself what mindset you are seeing that from? There’s no need to add any further judgement on to what you uncover, just allow yourself to notice. Perhaps explore what other mindset you can see that from. The key is to not see these thoughts as fixed facts, but to see them as one of many possible points of view.
Can you open your heart to the beauty around you in all its imperfection? Let me know what you see when you take off the lens of wanting.