Arielle Ford is a leading presence in the personal growth and contemporary spirituality movement. She is the bestselling author of eight books including Wabi Sabi Love. She believes that with a simple Wabi Sabi shift in perception, couples can discover the beauty in themselves and their partners, leading to a deeper, more loving and more fulfilling relationship.
Ken: Arielle, I'm inspired by your concept of Wabi Sabi love. Can you explain what it means and why it’s such a healing approach to intimacy?
Arielle: Wabi Sabi is an ancient Japanese aesthetic that honors all things old, worn, weathered, imperfect and impermanent. And it seeks to find beauty and perfection in imperfection. Imagine that you had a beautiful vase--with a long crooked crack down the middle of it. The Japanese might take this vase, put it on a pedestal and then shine a spotlight on the crack. Wabi Sabi love is about learning to honor the cracks in ourselves, and especially in our mate.
This brings us to a place where we can be more at peace, have more joy, have deeper love, and more fun. Because we can be whining, complaining, bitching and moaning for years about the things that drive us crazy and nothing ever changes. But when we seek a shift in perception about these behaviors, then we change. We don't even have to tell our partner what we're doing. Only one person has to make a difference. Because we're living as if the problem's "over there."
One of the biggest parts of Wabi Sibi love is to begin to take personal responsibility for how we're reacting to the stuff that we think is “over there.” And if we can make up a new story about it, we can start to have more love and laughter in our life.
I want to tell you a quick story that really illustrates this. It's about my friends Jerry and Diane. Every single morning Jerry wakes up, goes in the kitchen and slices a poppy seed bagel, which spreads thousands of little black poppy seeds all over Diane’s white tile floor. And every morning Diane gets up and she gets on her hands and knees with a wet paper towel and wipes up the little black poppy seeds. And most mornings it's really not a problem for her.
But one morning she was having a particularly bad day and she was really grouchy. And while she was picking up the poppy seeds she had this thought, “I wonder what it would take to never have to do this again?” Which was followed by the thought, “Oh, that would mean Jerry's no longer with me.” And she began to cry. And from that day on those poppy seeds now meant she had another day to spend with Jerry. So she made this little Wabi Sabi shift in perception. The thing that suddenly made her crazy was now something that was a very big reminder of something and someone she loved the most.
Ken: So when we do that, we experience a shift not just in our relationships, but in ourselves as well.
Arielle: Yes. And isn't that what we want? And there are lots of ways to do it. It just requires a little intention, some attention and a willingness to do it.
There are so many people out there thinking, “Oh, I can’t have a serious relationship until I heal all my baggage.” And yes, working on your baggage is a good thing. But the truth is, when you’re with somebody who loves you and is your safe place to land and has your back, you can have a rapid ascent into healing.
We all know that fifty percent of first marriages end in divorce. But sixty two percent of second marriages, and more than seventy percent of third marriages end in divorce. And why? Because so many of us have been brainwashed by society to seek perfection. We’re seeking the perfect mate. We’re seeking that we be perfect, our bodies be perfect, our children be perfect. HGTV wants our houses to be perfect. And there is no such thing as perfection. In fact I want to lobby the world that we need to change the word perfection to "pure fiction."
Ken: I love that!
Arielle: Yes. If we don’t learn to love the cracks in ourselves and in others we can never be happy. Because we’re in a constant state of upset and frustration and disappointment when things aren’t perfect. But if you could just give yourself a break and give your mate a break and go, “Oh you’re just being a little Wabi Sabi today. I love you anyway. I love your Wabi Sabiness." Think of them as a piece of driftwood. Think of yourself as a piece of driftwood. What could be more Wabi Sabi then an ancient, pitted, rotting piece of wood that has its own innate beauty?
Let me tell you a story. In the mid 1980’s, I used to have a PR firm in Beverly Hills. And I had a lot of clients who were art gallery owners. So I subscribed to all the art trade publications. One day I was reading one of them. And the cover of the magazine had a black and white photo of a big Ming vase with a crooked crack down the middle of it. And the headline said Wabi Sabi.
So I started reading the article and understanding what Wabi Sabi was all about. And when I finished the article I glanced down at my skirt where I had this big spaghetti stain from lunch. And I had really been beating myself up over it, that I was such a slob. And I looked down at that stain and I started to laugh. Because I realized that I could make up a new story about it. My story was no longer that I’m such a slob. My new story was that I have such a big appetite for life, and such a big appetite for food that I’m not only going to get my food on me when I eat, I’m probably going to get it on you, and that’s okay.
Ken: What I appreciate so much about that your book is just that—its simple generosity of spirit. You don’t dive in looking for the pathology and trying to fix it. You find a way to laugh. That’s really refreshing.
Arielle: Well that’s really the essence of Wabi Sabi love, is finding a way to laugh, to take the significance out. Stop making everything such a big deal. Because that’s where we’re getting tripped up all the time. And, you know what, it’s not all going to matter. So let’s make up a new story about it. And since we’re making it all up anyway, let’s make up stories that empower us and support us and inspire us.
At the same time, though, I do want to give a disclaimer: You cannot Wabi Sabi your way out of bad behavior, addiction or abuse! If any of that is going on you need professional help. Run, don't walk to your nearest therapist.
Ken: Yes, right. Or twelve-step program. Arielle, what would you want to share with single people seeking love?
Arielle: Well the first thing is, is start being a Wabi Sabi artisan with yourself. Stop trying to be perfect. And then realize everybody else is imperfect. So when you’re dating give people a break. Don’t be so hard on them. Don’t try to figure out in the first ninety seconds; “Is this my soul mate?” Is the person I’m going to spend my life with?" Approach dating with this idea, “Can I make a new friend? What can I learn and discover about this person?” And see who they are as a human being.
Ken: That’s so true. Arielle, is there one exercise from your book that you could share with readers?
Arielle: Yes. One of the “feelingizations” that I guide people through is called a Heart Lock-In, an exercise created by the brilliant people at the research institute called HeartMath. It’s a very simple process where you put your attention on the area around your heart. And you remember and re-experience feelings of love and appreciation and gratitude. And I’ve got a prerecorded one on my website. If you’re in a state where you’re really upset with somebody, this process will take you to feelings of deep love and compassion for the person that you have the upset with.
Ken: Arielle is there any last thing that you want to share?
Arielle: Yes, there is. It's a Sam King quote “We come to love not by finding the perfect person, but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.”
Ken: Thank you so much, Arielle.
© Ken Page, LCSW 2015
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