Ugly yellow door. I drove by my parent’s old house this week as I hadn’t been there in years. In 2016, Dad and I kept meaning to go and knock on the current owner’s door and ask if we could see the place. We kept waiting for him to feel better but he passed away in January 2017 and we never went.
I was shocked to see so many changes. The roof looked weird – they put some kind of metal on it instead of shingles. There was a pile of rocks in the front yard. It wasn’t any artful display. It was just a pile of big gravel rocks.
The worst to me was the front door. Mom and Dad had chosen really gorgeous wooden double-doors for the front entranceway. They had really cool squares carved into them. When I drove by the house this week, one door was missing and there was plywood where it used to be. The other door was painted yellow.
It was ugly to me.
Later, I looked at a website my friend Anne shared with me. It involves the term “wabi-sabi”. There’s a really good restaurant in Petersburg called Wabi Sabi and when we first went to eat there, I looked up the term. It described finding the beauty in the imperfect. But this website dug deeper into the meaning. I’ll share some of it, and the link. The author of the articleshared a picture of a sake cup which is quite attractive but does have a noticeable crack:
“This first one is a common example. You'll see hundreds of sake cups made in a wabi-sabi-esque style. The cup in this photo is one of mine. I chose it because it exemplifies certain aspects of the aesthetic.
First, note the finish. The glaze is patchy and absent at the bottom on the outside. The colors are speckled. Inside you can see further specks of off-white. In short, it is imperfect. The decoration is simple. It relies strongly on texture and material, rather than detailed painting or color.
This is not to say the maker was sloppy (wabi-sabi isn't an excuse for poor craftsmanship), but conditions conspired to make the color and finish "imperfect." The fact it was made in a rustic style doesn't make perfection any less attainable, but it does draw attention to the imperfections and the natural process of its creation.
But arguably more important is the crack on the lip. This happened, despite my best efforts, on the plane trip home to England. It is unavoidable damage, and a visible part of the cup's "story." The dust that once occupied the crack is scattered all over the possessions that were also in my suitcase, and from there has been spread further and further.
Are they still part of the cup? Is the cup the same without them? Wabi-sabi draws attention to these questions as part of the beauty of the object. I was once shown by an antiques collector that it is traditional to fill in such cracks with gold (a technique called kintsugi 金継(きんつ)ぎ), which draws attention to the history of the object as something to be celebrated rather than hidden or repaired.” https://www.tofugu.com/japan/wabi-sabi/
This was interesting to me, but especially in light of seeing my parent’s old house. Because I knew the original story, I was unhappy at seeing the changes. I remembered my parents picking out the style of house, called a Deck House, and traveling to Massachusetts so they could buy the floorplans. I remember helping my Dad as we wired the house. I remember my Mom choosing the furniture and drapes. I remember that the really tall tree in the yard was once our Christmas tree one year because Mom bought it with the root ball and we planted it together after Christmas.
And the pile of rocks and yellow door weren’t part of that.
But I only knew part of the story of the house. When Mom and Dad moved out of it and into a smaller condo to downsize, the house started a new chapter. After changing hands several times, several new chapters have been added to the story. Just because I wasn’t a part of it doesn’t mean the house didn’t continue on.
I’ve been taking life coach training and we studied The Work of Byron Katie. (http://thework.com/en) At the crux of The Work is the question, “Who would you be without your story? The Work is a way to identify and question the thoughts that cause all your suffering.” The thing that is amazing about The Work is that it teaches you to think differently, to examine and ultimately defeat limiting beliefs because they are caused by our own thoughts.
Byron Katie’s The Work can also be described as “loving what is.” And yes, this can be just as difficult as it sounds. In fact, I joke around often with my fellow cadets in life coach training about it. “I’m stuck in traffic, but I’M LOVING WHAT IS, DAMNIT!”
But Byron Katie’s The Work works because you simply cannot argue with reality. For example, if I get angry about people who don’t recycle, I will stay one pissed off individual. Because just because I don’t like the fact that people don’t recycle doesn’t change the fact that some people just flat won’t recycle. You have to “love what is” or you could make yourself insane over whatever it is that ticks you off.
One quote of hers is “Thoughts aren’t personal. They just appear, like raindrops. Would you argue with a raindrop?” How can you argue with reality, in other words. Or "It is what it is."
So to me The Work and wabi sabi are kindred ways of looking at the world. With Byron Katie, once you examine the thoughts that hold you back, you can be a calmer and more peaceful person. With wabi sabi, once you look at the imperfections as part of the story rather than a defect or imperfection, you can also be a calmer and more peaceful person.
But just leaving it there doesn’t work for me. People have challenged Byron Katie and asked, “But if you just accept what is, doesn’t that mean you don’t have any thoughts.” And that’s not completely true…Katie asks people to drop the negative thoughts. That still leaves me feeling antsy, like "I gotta do something."
I’ve come to peace with The Work and with wabi sabi by also embracing something I knew about long before I heard of the other two, and that is the Serenity Prayer. Well, at least the well-know start of the Serenity Prayer:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Whatever your definition of a higher power can fit here. It can be the Source or the Universe. I call it my Big Amigo. Even if you don't believe in a higher power, you can drop the God part and it still works.
I like to apply this along with The Work. I have a negative thought and I deal with it. But if my reality isn’t how I like it, can’t I make some changes? I mean, I can’t change the world but I can change things locally. For example, I can pull a can or bottle out of the trash at work and put it into recycling. (My co-workers can attest to this! LOL) I accept that I cannot change everyone in the world. But I can change things around me.
I can change my thoughts about my parents’ old house. Yes, it does not look like the house I remember from my Mom and Dad’s story. It has been through changes. I did not originally like the yellow door. But could the yellow door be similar to the gold poured into the crack of the broken sake cup? (Is it a coincidence that it is yellow? I laughed when I had that thought.) What story led to its being painted?
I have decided that the house is continuing its own story. But some things will not change. My parents designed and built the house. It was filled with memories and love with the Wells family until the year that Mom and Dad moved out. I can’t change the yellow door. I am wise enough to know I shouldn’t change it (or the current owner might have issues with me – LOL). I accept that the house is beautifully imperfect and exactly how it should be. And I’m loving what is.