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The beauty of imperfection

Posted by Sōsen Tyas on

For the rite of tea, utensils that are slightly damaged, or slightly faulty shaped are favored over mechanically looking seemingly ‘perfect’ utensils. While in the West we would simply throw away a teacup that fell to pieces, in Japan these objects are skillfully mended with for example gold lacquered glue, and may in addition become even more valuable than when they were whole. In flower arrangement for tea, to give an additional example, one would chose to arrange flowers until he feels that adding just one more will complete the display.

When in the rite of tea, this notion of imperfection, or the preference for what is damaged or incomplete is mostly expressed through the objects chosen for a service, I believe that this concept also applies to our lives in general, and to our handling as a human being. The trait of being a perfectionist is simultaneously perceived as strength as well as weakness. I can relate to this, since in our family this characteristic has been passed down for generations on my father’s side. Being a perfectionist, when we create something and complete it to the point where we feel confident to release it, it is most likely to become something great, but in most cases perfectionism limits us from getting things finished.

Having realized this, I have also discovered that being a perfectionist, originates in a lack of self-confidence and in the illusion that something is not good enough while it may already sufficiently serve its purpose. This brings me to my following point. What actually is something that is perfect?

I don’t believe that something as a perfect thing exists. A creation can always be improved. And when something is seemingly perfect in one instant, it may be insufficient on another. Also, what one person perceives as perfect, may be different for someone else. Perfection is a concept that has as many possible forms as there are people on this globe. The concept of ‘a perfect thing’ or ‘a perfect occasion’ is an illusion we have created of something that is ideal, but will never actually come to existence. Achieving ‘perfect beauty’ is something that may be attempted by girls putting on make-up, or we may wait for ‘the perfect moment’ to start a business, but what we actually do is only to turn ourselves away from what actually matters in life. That is, to be happy with what we have, to be who we are, and to do what we love.

What the rite of tea teaches us in this respect is that while things do not need to perfect, they may at the most be suitable to create an enjoyable occasion. This occasion in effect does not have to be perfect. What is more important than the proper execution of the service itself is that all participants can be grateful for having gathered together, and to have shared this special occasion. Because, even if we wanted to, and even if we would try to re-construct the same occasion with exactly the same implements, on the same location, with the same people, it will never be the same. This is what the Japanese proverb ‘Ichi-go Ichi-e’ [once-and-once-only, 一期一会] refers to. Rather than to look for perfection in the execution, be grateful for what is happening here and now because it will never return.

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