An alter of imperfection


I talk about imperfection all the time. I know that things need space to grow and evolve and to become what they are. I often think about how we stifle ourselves waiting for whatever it is in life to line up perfectly. But actually being in this untidy space is so much harder than I want it to be.

Every. Damn. Time...

Lately, my three year old son has taken to constantly handing me leaves, twigs, and berries that he finds outside. I genuinely share his awe, but it has come to a pitch that I can’t possibly sustain. My pockets are overflowing with leaves and twigs. He wants me to treasure and love each on of them, but I cant, their are just too many. I have the impulse to show just a few some serious love and attention, I decide to paint just four of them.

But my life is busy and here I am wanting to paint. My desk is a mess. I literally take my arm and push objects aside to make a clearing so that I can sit down and make something. You know, like I preach... My elbow bumps some papers, my chair knocks a stack of books down.

Just in case you had any ideas about me and my perfect life. Here is the reality check, I am crunched up at my desk painting in tiny 20 minute segments here amongst papers and odds and ends falling at my feet. I think I can even see some old paint water in a jar growing new life at its rim.

So I crawl up to my desk. Shove aside the dust and piles of stuff destined for some place else one day. I look at one of the leaves for a moment and I know instantly that a different pace is required. I need to slow down, slow way down. Pay attention to the details. Notice the imperfections and cherish them through my watercolour imitation. I begin and go slow but I need to go even slower. The slower I go the more I see.

My intention is to breathe and so I do from time to time. I let go of tension in my mouth but mostly I just wonder how long I have been clenching my teeth and not noticing.

The thing that I always tell people will happen, begins to happen... and it feels like a surprise. I start to see things in a new way, I shift my perspective on the leaves and insights and wisdom from somewhere start to emerge.

The leaves are stunning. Awe inspiring in their texture, nuance, and clinging life. It’s these ragged little edges, the spots of decay, the little stories of lives lived wrapped up in them that begin to speak to me.

I remember wabi sabi. The Japanese aesthetic worldview that honours imperfection, change, decay, the incomplete. I went through a phase once many years ago where wabi sabi was a small obsession. I remember looking for wabi sabi in love, in life, in everything. It was a thing I did for a while.

But it’s easy to fall out of appreciation for your mistakes and imperfections. To convince yourself that loving your saddle bags is folly. It’s just so natural to scold yourself for lessons you should have known, for all the unkept, untidy parts of our lives.

Then one of the little leaves starts to speak to me....

What if I made an alter for the imperfections in my life rather than push them away? What if I unearthed them all, and laid them out to dry and showed each once some slow thoughtful attention...

The corners I cut in the commitments I make.

The unchecked frustration that spills out toward my family.

The half baked ideas I test on my students.

The unreturned phone calls.

The secret resentment I hold towards others.

The late bills.

The messy laundry piled high... again.

The arrogance of being a colonizer.

The judgements I made.

The gossip I drink up.

The times I changed my mind.

The harm I have turned my back on.

The embellishments I insert.

All of it. My half have learned lessons. My incompleteness. My unfolding self.

Ragged edges, stains, spots, and imperfections all together on display held up with regard as a person unfolding and becoming. Always in motion, always growing even as I age. Maybe I was onto something so many years ago. Maybe that ancient worldview has some wisdom for modern living.

I sit alone amongst the piles and chaos, showing up to create, if only for a few minutes. Honouring the decay with slow slow reverence. And then I breathe and smile as I realize my jaw has clenched yet again...

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