Before I get to the story, let me relate this to writing. If we are writing fiction, we must create a main character, who is imperfect. We need there to be a flaw, so that there is room for growth in the character.
When we write non-fiction, we usually present a problem. Problems mean there is an imperfection. And while, our job of writing in non-fiction does not deal so directly with perfection vs imperfection, we build our problem out of the fodder of imperfection and serve our solution, which is perfectly matched to the problem.
The story, I hope, will show you the reasons why we should not strive for perfection, but be realistic in that errors are a natural phenomenon in our Universe.
Perfection and the Wabi Sabi
(A Retelling of a Japanese Tea Ceremony Story)
by Connie Dunn
There was a student of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, who had come to the end of his study with the Master teacher. His last thing to do was to create the Tea Ceremony for his Master.
The student took great strides in making the space for the tea ceremony. He swept and cleaned to make sure it was perfectly clean. After all, he could not serve his Master in a place that was not clean.
The student set out the table and the cushions to make sure the Master was perfectly comfortable. After all, he could not serve his Master in a place that was not comfortable.
The student looked about the ceremonial space, and then decorated the table with nicely perfect flowers in a perfectly gorgeous vase. After all, he could not serve his Master without perfect flowers.
Next, the student laid out the tea service. He looked over all the pieces to make sure they were perfect with no nicks or scratches. After all, he could not have the Master drinking out of a chipped service.
As the student looked around, and around his space. He wanted it all to be perfect for the Master. He made sure that the table was placed in the perfect place where light would fall on it when the Master was drinking his tea.
The last task was to make the tea. The student knew that the tea would have to be perfectly made. After all, he could not serve imperfect tea to the Master.
The student pondered over the space, the tea, and the décor for the last moments before the Master was to arrive. After all, everything needed to be perfect for the Master, because anything less would not honor the Master.
When the Master arrived, the student was perfectly attentive and was quick to make the Master comfortable on the cushions at the table. He served the Master the tea at just the perfect temperature. The student was so proud, because he thought everything was perfect. He had the perfect smile for the Master, as well.
The Master, however, did not return his smile nor was the Master impressed by the tea ceremony that his student had prepared for him.
The student was quite distressed. “But Master,” the student said, “I prepared the space, I made it perfectly clean and decorated with perfect flowers in the perfect vase. I set the table in the perfect place so that the perfect light would fall on it when you had your tea. I got the perfect cushions to make you comfortable, and then I made the perfect tea for you.
The Master said, “My student, have you learned nothing from your studies with me? Did you not remember that Wabi Sabi is at the heart of the tea ceremony? Did you not remember that Wabi Sabi means embracing the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete? Did you remember this beauty also celebrates modest, humble, and unconventional.”
The student felt deflated, and answered with bowed head, “No, Master. I focused on making things perfect so that it would honor you.”
The Master acknowledged the student for having good intentions, and then told him that he had a lot to learn. So, the student was to repeat his Tea Ceremony class.
The student was elated by the Masters’ decision to keep him on as a student. So you see, as we each are imperfect in our own ways, we, too, keep Wabi-Sabi alive.