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Wabi-Sabi: A Key to Life With Multiple Sclerosis?
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To say that I’ve had a bit of time on my hands this past two weeks would be putting it lightly. Just about my only commute since before the New Year has been between my sickbed and the armchair in front of the fire. I’ve had a fair amount of time but energy for little more than reading and poking about the interweb.
An old friend posted something about non-American cultural concepts on Facebook. These aren’t just things that don’t translate well with words because, as I found in my research, they seem to be threads left out of the tapestry of American life.
Coined in 15th century Japan as a counter-response to the lavish, the ornate, and society’s obsession with perfection, wabi-sabi is the soulful idea of embracing the imperfect, of celebrating the worn, the cracked, the patinaed. Wabi-sabi is a decorative concept as well as a spiritual one. It's an acceptance and appreciation of the toll that time and tide take on everything and everyone.
Now I accept that this western translation is far from exact. The simple fact that one word does not exist in my native tongue doesn’t help. Maybe it would be like me trying to explain to some lifeform from Pluto how baseball can be more than just a game. Or, perhaps, like trying to explain living with a chronic disease to another human being.
Rather than a constant fight with imperfection, wabi-sabi affords that we welcome it as a natural part of our life. It’s sort of like the MS Détente that I’ve found to work for me.
I’ll still go to the gym but it is not to sculpt a perfect physique. Rather I’m trying to keep the strength I have and hope to regain some of what MS has taken. I’m sitting in trousers I bought nine years ago. They’ve been torn by briars and patched, tailored and retailored; they’ve even been re-dyed once. But they are warm and comfortable, and though I might not wear them past the garden gate, they remind me of the life I’ve lived in them.
I suspect we all have a favorite chipped mug with which we can’t seem to part, a beloved book that has a cover loose with wear but that still adorns the shelf, or a piece of folk art that no one else seems to appreciate. So too can it be for a mind and body living with multiple sclerosis.
One could break both bank and spirit striving for unattainable perfections. As yoga teaches us to observe and meet our bodies where they are, I think wabi-sabi allows us to not only accept but to appreciate and even love our imperfections. I’ll not love the disease that created them, but if they are now a part of who I am and I hate them, then I hate a part of me.
Maybe I’ve had too much time on my hands. Perhaps my brain is still a little fried from my fever. Then again, I might just walk the dogs wearing these old corduroys and not give a damn what anybody thinks.
Wishing you and your family the best of health.
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Photo: Carola Harrison Holmberg/Alamy
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