Embracing your perfectly imperfect life

I’m standing on the beach watching black clouds roll in as the wind whips at my youngest daughter’s frothy blonde curls. She is crouched, oblivious to the darkening weather, completely focused on the hole she is digging in the sand.

Woman sat on the beach drinking tea

A joyous whoop carries across the salty air to my ears, and I turn to see my husband spinning my eldest round and round. Exhaling slowly, I send a silent note of gratitude out across the sea. We did it.

For the past six months, our lives have been something of a whirlwind; since the moment our eldest daughter didn’t get into any of the decent primary schools in the city where we lived.

For years we have thought about moving to the South West of England, closer to the sea and the restorative power of the forests down this way. But it was never quite the right time until, suddenly, it was.

In the past eight weeks, we have sold our home, moved between temporary rentals three times, settled our eldest into her new school, kept three businesses running; and I have travelled 10,000 miles to teach at a retreat, and launched my new book Wabi Sabi: Japanese wisdom for a perfectly imperfect life.

We have had to employ military-grade logistics and a whole lot of patience, as our whole family packed, unpacked, moved away from relatives, discovered somewhere new and learned to cope with daily change.

Through it all, there have been so many opportunities to get stressed and grouchy, feel under pressure and overwhelmed, and berate ourselves for not being perfect parents, business owners and friends – as so much had to be pushed aside just to get through each day. And, yet, here we are, on the other side, and I actually feel more relaxed than I have in a long while. 

I have no doubt that I owe much of that to the wisdom I discovered in researching the philosophy of wabi-sabi earlier in the year, as I was writing my book.

Beth Kempton reading her notebook

What is wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi is a captivating concept from Japanese aesthetics, which helps us to see the beauty in imperfection, appreciate simplicity and accept the transient nature of all things. With roots in Zen and the way of tea, the timeless wisdom of wabi-sabi is more relevant than ever for modern life as we search for new ways to approach life’s challenges and seek meaning beyond materialism.

In my case, these past few months have helped me see that imperfection is the natural state of all things, including ourselves. We are not supposed to be perfect. We are meant to be works-in-progress. This brings an immense sense of relief and feels like a blessed permission slip to let go of the things that do not really matter and focus on what does. 

To make progress in the direction of your dreams, within the context of your perfectly imperfect life, you will need preparation, dedication and trust in yourself and in the process. You have to let go of the need to have all the answers or a ‘perfect’ picture of the future before playing your part in creating it.

A wabi-sabi-inspired world view gives us permission to feel our way through life, paying less attention to what we think others think (or what we think we should do based on what others think) and more attention to what really matters to us.

We have to keep asking questions, and keep moving, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, depending on the ebb and flow of life.

We are not supposed to be perfect

In researching for my book, I read Nihonjin no kokoro, tsutaemasu, a fascinating little book about the world of tea by former iemoto (head) of the Urasenke school of tea, Sen Genshitsu. In it, I came across the word johakyū (), which refers to three different speeds of action – slow, a little faster and fast. Genshitsu explained how there is a tempo to the tea ceremony, and practitioners must vary the speed, as required.

He went on to say how they must vary their effort level too – sometimes being gentle, sometimes adding a little strength, sometimes really going for it. As he concluded, this can also be great advice for life.

Beth Kempton holding a tea pot

Slowing down from time to time is vital for noticing more, sensing more, seeing more and experiencing more. This comes from a starting point of rushing, which seems to be the default pace for so many of us these days. But, slowing down doesn’t mean calling time on a desire to do meaningful work in the world, or having ambition or getting involved in exciting things. Slowing down is important as a counterpoint to running fast and, sometimes, it’s good to vary the pace.

Just as Genshitsu said, varying our effort levels is vital for our well-being, too. We cannot give any project, meeting, opportunity or conversation our full attention when we are trying to juggle many things at once. We have to prioritise well, get organised and focus on one thing at a time.

For every time we give something our everything, we have to put other things to one side. When we put our effort where it is going to have the greatest impact, it takes us in a direction we actually want to travel in. After a major effort, we have to build-in recovery time and give ourselves permission to take it easy for a while. 

Using these three gears of speed and three gears of effort can make all the difference to whether or not we enjoy our career and life journeys, and stay well along the way. I’m making it a daily practice to remind myself of this.

As the tide pushes the sea up the beach and gentle rain starts to fall, I gather up my little family and together we rush into the shallows in our wellies, laughing out loud. It’s moments like this that remind me what really matters, and how much I love my perfectly imperfect life.

‘Your Perfectly Imperfect Life’ by Beth Kempton was written for Soulhub Journal – The Collective, a collection of stories, illustrations and artwork fuelled by the question ‘what makes you feel soulful?’.

Soulhub Journal – The Collective is available from Amazon.

Soulhub journal

Beth is the founder of ‘Do what you love for life’, and writes and teaches about living well. To find out more about Beth, visit bethkempton.com or dowhatyouloveforlife.com.

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Written by Beth Kempton
Beth Kempton is a bestselling self-help author, mama, Japanologist and curious explorer of the world.
Written by Beth Kempton
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