Healthy Families 1.12: Wabi Sabi

The Whole Pie

Twelve days ago, on Thanksgiving, we began looking at 12 competencies of healthy families:

  1. The family welcomes change and growth.
  2. Emotional problems are seen as existing in the unit, with components in each person.
  3. Connectedness is maintained across generations with all members of the family.
  4. There is a minimum of fusion, and distance is not used to solve problems.
  5. Each dyad can deal with all problems that occur between them. Triangulation is avoided.
  6. Differences between people are encouraged.
  7. Each person accesses both thinking and feeling systems with other members of the family.
  8. There is a keen awareness of what each person gets functionally from himself, and what he gets from others.
  9. Each person is allowed to have his or her own emptiness. There is no attempt made to fill it up.
  10. What creates a positive emotional climate takes precedence of what “should” be done or what is “right.”
  11. Function is defined as each member being able to authentically say that this is a pretty good family to live in over time.
  12. Members of the family can use others in the family as a source of feedback and learning, but not as an enemy.

Wabi Sabi

It takes tremendous emotional maturity to pull this off, and not many families do it well. No families do it perfectly.

Wabi sabi is the ancient Japanese art form that finds beauty in imperfection, impermanence, incompletion—in things that are humble, modest and unconventional. In her book Wabi Sabi Love, Arielle Ford tells this story:

I remember being spellbound when I first came across the concept of Wabi Sabi. It was late afternoon on a cold November day more than twenty years ago. I was gazing out my office window, enjoying the western sky as it turned shades of crimson with splashes of orange light around the setting sun. I picked up a magazine and came across an article with a striking black-and-white photograph of a large Asian urn sitting on a pedestal, with a long, crooked crack down the middle. The crack was highlighted by gallery lighting. Huh? It did not compute. The headline read, “The Art of Wabi Sabi.”

Curious, I began reading about this exotic-sounding phrase. In the world of Wabi Sabi, the urn in the photograph was even more beautiful and valued because of the crack, because of its imperfection. Singer and poet Leonard Cohen clearly expressed this basic Wabi Sabi principle in his haunting song, “Anthem”: “Ring the bells that still can ring; forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.”


Seeing the ways that Wabi Sabi helps to illuminate the hidden beauty in life had an immediate and profound impact on me, and it wasn’t long before I began to realize how this ancient are form relates to love. So man things began to make sense. I mean, I already knew I wasn’t perfect and wasn’t capable of perfection, but I had never entertained the idea that not only should I not strive for perfection, but that my imperfection is in its own way more valuable than perfection itself.


I sensed the weight of the world lifting off my shoulders. I could now breathe a little deeper and with more ease. The mess of papers on my desk was no longer evidence of my disorganized mind but rather a testament to my creativity and hard work. The stain on my skirt, obtained at a lunch meeting, was no longer embarrassing proof of my klutzy cutlery skills, but instead proof of my strong appetite for nourishment and for life. I decided then and there to become a Wabi Sabi artisan, and what started as simply a sincere desire to honor the imperfection in myself and others soon became a deliberate way of life. (pp. 4-5)


How freeing to have a spiritual experience in which one comes to a heartfelt knowledge that mercy is more desirable than a perfect offering. And it’s even more freeing to live this way—to love your own humanity and the humanity of others. Although Ford alludes to Cohen’s “Anthem,” it was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “There is a crack in everything God has made.” That includes your family.

A Caveat

Make no mistake: Imperfections–human foibles–are not the same as maltreatment, which shouldn’t be overlooked or euphemized. The concept of wabi sabi is no excuse or justification for irresponsible behavior and emotional immaturity; we’re still responsible for ourselves and to others. Wabi sabi simply recognizes that perfection is over-rated, especially as a standard for human functioning, and encourages us to reframe our perspective on our expectations and demands on life and relationships.

If you were to do that….

And if your family system were to follow suit….

And if all families were so mature….

OMG! Can you imagine…?!






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