Wabi-Sabi

I am an anxious person.

It's not really a bad thing, necessarily. It's just a fact. In fact, I think I feel a lot of emotions bigger than most people. It's part of how I process things. My highs are very high and I prolong them-- I've been known to laugh more and fuller than most people, and I get on kicks where I'm obsessed with something that makes me happy, like people who have to listen to their favorite song non-stop until they find a new one. My lows are fairly intense but if I express them outwardly I move on very quickly. It's very strange to most people the way I process things, but it's how I work. I'm not like that when it comes to work or when I generally have to keep it together but that's my natural state. I don't like to mentally distance myself from the things happening around me which I think is a big part of it-- I get really emotionally invested in movies, for example.

When I was a kid, I always had a lot of pressure put on me. Not necessarily by my parents, but just from the whole way I saw the world and the way I thought the world saw me. I was always told how smart I was, from the very beginning when my mother told me I was born with a twinkle in my eye like I knew things, to when I was pulled out of Spanish Immersion and into the Gifted and Talented magnet school program in elementary school. I had this anxious awareness of how very small I was in the world and how very big my brain was supposed to be, and how big it was supposed to make me. It was hard enough to make a splash in the world, and I felt like the world expected a tidal wave from me. I was a ripple. It was overwhelming.

This all lead to me being odd. I'm pretty well-adjusted, all things considered, but that definitely doesn't preclude me from being strange. I was hyper-aware of death as a kid, which as someone who grew up unathletic and over-analytical seemed to lurk around every corner. I could get run over. I could drown in the pool. I could fall and crack my head open. I didn't have the confidence in my body or sense of coordination to dismiss these thoughts like any other kid who could outrun an adult with bad intentions or jump out of the way of a car or had a basic awareness of their surroundings. These thoughts were fleeting but frequent. Thy almost became routine, in fact.

I grew up in a home that encouraged me to feel empowered and to challenge myself, to embarrass myself by unabashedly pursuing something, and to take pride in what I did. And I did-- but this also lead to a constant anxiety that there would come a day when I would disappoint, when I would fail to out-do myself. I would grind my teeth at night, to the point where I've never really had fully formed molars-- they're about down to the gums. They could hear me destroying my teeth during my naps in kindergarten. And that's because it's not something that's all in my head-- it's part of how I'm programmed. My anxiety is part of who I am, much like any other behavioral pattern we deem part of a "personality."

But like other parts of a personality, it isn't an absolute. Some people are angry people and they learn to curb it. Some people are more introverted, but they can teach themselves ways to be more extraverted at parties or work functions. One of the things that made me incredibly anxious was the pressure I put on myself. It was the way I saw the world and valued good things and bad things, success and failure. I was not only hungry for achievement, but terrified of failure. It made me so anxious. I would lay in bed at night and think of my failings and how everyone had noticed them (they didn't).

Enter the concept known as wabi-sabi. It's a Japanese concept that has no real translation in English. I stumbled across it while reading art blogs back in early high school. Wabi-sabi is something close to transience. The idea of impermanence and imperfection and the beauty that results from that. It's the beauty of a balance struck between light and dark. Wabi-sabi is a concept of reverence for time, nature, and the everyday. It's a concept of authenticity and earnestness. It is an abandonment of the search for perfection. It is an acknowledgement of how small and impermanent we are and an appreciation and a pride in that. It's a still pond disturbed by a ripple. It's a blade of grass growing between cracks in the cement. It's a rusty trinket that was once held dear, now abandoned. It's a little melancholic, and a little nostalgic, and a soft, glowing kind of happy.

I read about this philosophy, and I found it comforting. It was a philosophy that reconciled my feeling of smallness in the world with my need to establish my worth. It set up in my mind a system of worth that was not necessarily easier to meet, but that was more nuanced than the rigid standards I had previously held. It made it okay to fail sometimes. It valued how imperfect and insignificant and lost I felt. It made me happier with less. It made me more able to appreciate the richness of my experience and be able to laugh at myself with more ease.

I think this was a really important step in my managing my anxiety. I didn't always feel like I was in a race against my peers as I had for so long. I didn't feel the need to be a great force in the world-- I just needed to be a force in my own. I still grind. I still freak out every once in a while. I've discovered in the past few years that I have Panic Disorder. But I am faced with a little bit less stress now that I don't solely draw my sense of place and worth from achievement.
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1 comment:

  1. Great post. I can totally relate, and I appreciate your honesty!

    ReplyDelete