Wabi and sabi are, strictly speaking, aesthetic principles, but because ultimately they originate in the aesthetic experience of the Japanese hermits, these principles confirm a given philosophy of life as clearly as does any other likely correspondence between a way of life, a philosophy, and an aesthetic sensibility.
Wabi and sabi have a formal or definitional understanding (touched upon in a 2004 Hermitary article: http://www.hermitary.com/solitude/wabisabi.html — one of the most popular articles on the site, by the way). A technical understanding is a prerequisite to an aesthetics of solitude. However, the application of wabi-sabi outside of the specific Japanese arts of poetry, tea ceremony, gardening, etc., is not easy for anyone without a specific skill and aesthetic taste. One may admire from afar but dare not attempt to mimic the effect.
At least one can drill down from the principles to practical applications in one’s daily life. A 2004 book by American writer Robyn Griggs Lawrence is a successful popularization of the complexities and nuances of wabi-sabi. The book offers practical suggestions with a warm and and a worldly-wise tone that encourages the possible: The Wabi-sabi House: the Japanese Art of Imperfect Beauty, by Robyn Griggs Lawrence.
Here is the very useful table from Lawrence to correspond with the more technical one in the Hermitary article. These principles can be put to good use in one’s immediate surroundings.
|wabi-sabi is …||wabi-sabi isn’t …|
|dry leaves||cherry blossoms|
|bare branches||floral arrangements|
|weathered wood||plastic laminate|
|crumbling stone||polished marble|
|rice paper||plate glass|
|arts and crafts||rococo|
|flea markets||warehouse stores|
|salvaged||made to order|
|native landscaping||kentucky bluegrass|
|frank lloyd wright||ludwig mies van der rohe|
|natural light||fluorescent light|