Wabi-Sabi and My Tax Bill

by Kee Kee on April 2, 2014

in Change,Inspiration,Texas

Be Happy

I’ve long subscribed to the Japanese view of wabi-sabi. Or at least I’ve aspired to subscribe to it, which isn’t always easy. Wabi-sabi loosely translates as seeing the beauty, or perfection, in imperfection. 

Think about how you would probably walk over a single blade of grass growing through an old, cracked uneven sidewalk. It’s easy to miss, and even if you notice it, chances are you’ll look at it as a messy weed growing out of a sidewalk that is in disrepair.  Yet if you stop and look at it, really look, you will see the miracle of how that tiny brilliant green blade of grass found its way to the sunlight through a block of concrete. It was a seemingly insurmountable task, but nature found its way.

The same might go for looking at the beauty of fallen petals that lay at the base of a vase of blooming flowers.  Or experiencing the delight that comes from drinking out of a lopsided hand-blown glass. Or being proud of your ugly pinkish elbow scar from a childhood biking accident because the story behind how you got it proves you’ve had your moments in life of being a complete badass. Or learning to love the deepening crows feet that appear when you smile, because they show you have lived, have a history, and are human. That’s a pretty beautiful thing.

My life has undergone many monumental changes over the past few years. Those changes have included everything from external things such as which state I live in, to internal things such as how I view the world and my place in it. The one big change that I still struggle with is how I make a living. After three years of working for myself, I’m still struggling to get back to the earning power that I had in my old LA life. My CPA called me today to break the news that I owe quite a large amount in taxes this year. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to come up with the money in the next twelve days. After I hung up the phone, I realized I could either have a panic attack about how my life is pockmarked with imperfections, or I could stop myself, and instead take Yoda for a walk.

mailboxWhen faced with moments of potential drama (like swimming in thoughts along the lines of “My life sucks”), I usually choose the dog walk.  There’s something about getting my legs moving and breathing in the fresh air with my best fur-friend at my side that helps settle my nerves so that I can see things clearly.  Today, towards the start of our walk, I crouched down to clean up after Yoda after he did his business in front of a large house on a corner lot. As I stood up I noticed a mailbox in front of me. A stack of tiny cards were placed in the clip on the base of the mailbox. Looking closer, I saw the cards said “BE HAPPY – pop open here.”

Oh how I wanted one of those BE HAPPY cards. What was inside? Could it possibly make me happy, right now, while I was struggling with processing the emotions of being faced with my tax bill?  After glancing around to see if anyone was watching, and then having a quick internal dialogue wondering if this stack of cards was here for the public or if it was someone’s private property, I decided that the cards were meant to be taken. So I took one and quickly slipped it in my pocket. Once Yoda and I rounded the street corner to the side of the house, I took the card out, opened it, and then read it:

Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful. –Annette Funicello

wabi-sabiI spontaneously smiled as I read the card, realizing that the quote is a reminder that I need to practice the art of wabi-sabi and find the beauty in my very imperfect life. I looked up and noticed a curtain moving from a side window of the house, like someone had been watching me and had just stepped back out of view. I hope he or she saw me open the card, and realized that it did the job, it made me happy.

Continuing on our walk, I held tightly to that tiny little card, which fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.  By the time we returned home thirty minutes later, my head was in a very different place than it was when we started out.  My life isn’t perfect, in fact it is far from perfect, as evidenced in part by my tax bill.  But I wouldn’t trade my life for anything. Getting over the hurdles and trudging through the muck is all part of the human experience. Navigating through the darkness is how we get to the light. When I look at things with the spirit of wabi-sabi and today’s BE HAPPY card, I really can say I love my perfectly imperfect life these days, tax bill and all.

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Post-it Note from Holly

My twenty-year friendship with Holly began with a Post-it Note. I had recently started my first post-law school job in Madison, Wisconsin, and Holly was a co-worker.  I was struggling with my new boss’s demands, and my lack of experience left me without the courage to voice my frustrations with the situation. I must have worn my emotions on my face, because when I returned from my lunch break one day, on my desk was a bright red gerbera daisy next to a Post-it Note that read “Tomorrow will be better. — Holly”

I kept that Post-It Note on my desk where I could count on it to bring a smile to my face every day. Six years later, when feeling stuck in my Los Angeles life and career, I doodled “I Welcome Change” on a Post-it Note at work. A full decade after that, I unearthed that tattered old “I Welcome Change” Post-it Note from the back of a junk drawer, and duct taped it to the dashboard  of Princess Leia the Prius to serve as a guiding beacon of hope as Yoda and I spent the next five months driving around the country searching for change and seeking shama.

Last year many of my friends joined me in a month-long “I Welcome Change Post-it Note Challenge,” where we created a Post-it Note mantra  welcoming a particular change into our lives. By seeing daily reminders of our Post-it Note mantras stuck in places where we were bound to see them on a regular basis, we found we started making choices and taking steps to help manifest those changes.

Post-it Note with cardSuffice it to say, Post-it Notes have a very special place in my heart. As does my friend Holly. She recently told me that her daughter left her a Post-it Note on her desk that said “I love you.” She remembered the I Welcome Change Post-it Note Challenge, and she began to wondering what changes might occur in people’s lives if their friends would send them messages of love and appreciation on Post-it Notes.  So she wrote one for me and mailed it off. It reads “I love and appreciate you for your honesty and openness.” I welled up with tears when I read it, because it arrived on a day when I really needed to hear those words. It now has a prominent place on my desk, much like the Post-it Note she left me years ago with the gerbera daisy.

A couple days ago I wrote some Post-it Notes myself, telling a few select people what I love and appreciate about them.  As I walked back from putting them in the mailbox, I wondered if these people would feel as good about themselves as I did when I opened Holly’s Post-it Note to me. But even more than the thought that I might be making someone else’s day better, I realized I had improved my own. Days later, I’m still happy about sending off those Post-it Notes. That’s because I realize the power of telling friends and loved ones how I feel about them. It makes me happy, it improves my day, and it makes me love myself just a little bit more. It’s like a release of bottled up tension that allows a surge of positive energy to fill the vacant space.

You should try it too, another Post-it Note challenge of sorts.  Write a Post-it Note telling someone what you love and appreciate about them and see what changes come about. You just may make someone a little bit happier, and that person could very well be you.

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