One red leaf

One red leaf

Perfection isn't real. Perfection only exists in mind. Therefore, for something to be a perfect depiction of anything else -- a feeling, an image, a sound, an idea-- it must be imperfect.

That paradox gets my heart going every time I think about it.

Say it: wabi-sabi. It's balanced in the mouth like an aged cabernet. It's rhythmic to the ear like controlled breathing to a long distance runner. There is no perfect translation from the Japanese, it's source, but the measure of it's aesthetic is deep and profound. It speaks of balance and peacefulness, imperfection and beauty, and above all, life.

Nothing lasts forever, but in the digital age we're often led to believe otherwise. Everyone's heard that every bit of data we enter into our various electronic devices persists, eternally discoverable. There's always a record, we're told, always a copy backed up on a server, somewhere. Everything is searchable.

Wabi-sabi says otherwise. Impermanence defines all things. Wabi-sabi says that perfection is an unattainable goal. What we create––as individuals and as cultures--exists in finite time. In the digital world those lifespans may be artificially extended but ultimately they reach an end. All things are finite, and as such, all things are imperfect.

It's essential to realize that there's always a new creative discovery, a new idea to pursue, even if nothing lasts forever.  But the moment a creative person thinks his or her invention is so important that it can transcend time's infinite reach is the moment creativity fails to understand it's own finite heartbeat.  Nothing lasts forever, and an embrace of that melancholy thought confers vital license for creative people of all stripes to take passionate risks and dare to reach for greatness.

Perfection may be unattainable, but it is an asymptotic goal, and we can eternally approach it. To achieve the sublime, perfecting imperfection becomes one of the most fabulous koans of all.


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