I came across the Japanese philsophy of wabi-sabi a while back now. You can distill into 3 simple words: impermanent, imperfect and incomplete.

Wabi-sabi philosophy values the process and the journey rather than some end-point or goal. Are there actually any endings or just constant becomings?

Having a vision to move towards is a useful guide, even if there is no definitive, set or infallible aim. A vision is something to bring you back to the path when you might follow your curiosity or get distracted. Though sometimes (a-lot-of-times) things don’t turn out exactly how we had planned in the beginning.

Having a vision but remaining flexible, allowing yourself to react (be reflexive) to the various influences and potential changes connected to what you are doing, helps you to be more resilient. Being rigid and inflexible can be destructive, as this separates you from the reality of impermanence, of constant change. It creates a separateness rather than being connected to what is happening around, through and within you. Resilience* is being able to adapt to change and not collapsing or falling apart completely. We can all have times where we feel cracked or broken, but we hope to come out the other side having learnt from our experiences.

Kintsugi is the Japanese practice and art of mending broken pottery with gold, drawing your eye to the beauty of a life which has met cracks and breaks along the way. Someone may make their social media feeds look perfect, but this is likely to be hiding cracks from view rather than valuing the learning to be drawn from them. Perfection is a fallacy, where being “perfect in our imperfections” is a more accurate ideal. Comparing everything to an objective measure of perfection is an impossibility.

Imperfect, impermanent and incomplete feel very relevant to life and to a PhD journey. You must decide on research questions to guide the research, but its very fluid and a learning pathway where you allow flexibility for failure to learn and move forward. The PhD is a part of the much longer journey beyond. There’s always more you could do or write or read. There’s a feeling of incompleteness.

I’ve heard many times from many people that you get to various stages in a PhD where you just have to decide what to do and stick with it. There’s so many potential routes to follow. You try something, tweak it, add to it and repeat until you get to the end of the time allowance and submit a thesis. The thesis could be grown and tweaked until…forever…but life is impermanent, imperfect and incomplete, and we need to keep moving along our path to learn, adapt and evolve. To keep becoming. Embrace the uknown.

*Resilience definition from C.S. Holling (1973): “…[A] measure of the persistence of systems and of their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables.” This definition originated in analysing ecosystems but has since been applied extensively to social systems. Relationships “between populations or state variables” could be applied to our human social networks, interactions between humans and non-humans, or even to our individual human body systems.

Published by hannahelizabethfield

I'm an artist, scientist, Permaculture Designer, gardener and nature connectedness guide. I'm currently a 1st year PhD student at the University of Cumbria in the Lake District. I'm researching the commons, how they are valued, governed and how decisions are made through Action Research and Ethnographic methods. Being in the fells, on the beach, in the landscapes is my home and I love to work here.

3 thoughts on “Wabi-sabi

  1. …so what a wonderful experience to wake up on the ‘first day of the English Summer’ – 01 June 2020 – hearing the pre-dawn morning chorus of wild bird song and to sit with a freshly brewed mug of strong black coffee taking the time to delve into these thoughts so beautifully – and imperfectly – expressed in your own words Hannah… verily this journey of self-discovery and the sharing of the stages/paths explored is beneficial to the many not just the few – I believe that you enrich our own experiences of life by choosing to share some of yours with us… observation, reflection, review are really useful skills – so here I am now manifesting an abundance of gratitude for you in doing so today…


    1. Hi Alan. I’m so glad to hear this post resonated so well with you and thank you for taking the time to comment and share your morning. It is my hope that my reflections might help others 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: