California living often feels truly out of the movies: sun-soaked beaches and valleys, golden-hued light, wavering palm trees overhead, and the scent of orange blossom wafting through the air. Life can be blissfully slow here, especially when the days are warm and quiet and windy, and all of life’s hurry is blown out the open windows. My husband and I moved to a quiet street near the beach a year ago; now we are three with a son who loves the sand, dogs, and raspberries as much, remarkably, as I do. We see the same cast of characters strolling our beach every day. Some we now know intimately, and some we have yet to meet. We live a pretty simple life, the success of which is mostly measured by how much time we get playing in the sun together.
Wabi-sabi came to me when I was living away from here, but it’s since come to season everything I see and do and strive for. Wabi-sabi is about the beauty of the perfectly imperfect; the loveliness of now—the fleeting present—and the complete embrace of simplicity in all facets of life. I’ve learned more wholeheartedly about what it means to practice a wabi-sabi mindset since having a baby than from anything else. My ten-month-old tests my ability to accept the inevitably of everything moving towards chaos (a true wabi-sabi tenet) on a minute-by-minute basis, and honestly, he’s probably teaching me the lesson I need the most. If I am so busily intent on achieving perfection in my home (impossible, by the way), I am apt to miss the quicker-than-quick moments that are flying by when he is just a tiny being, changing and growing and absorbing every detail of life at lightning speed. I can’t imagine regretting anything more than missing out on the development of his beautiful, chaotic personhood simply because I was too engrossed in trying to maintain a perfectly tidy, well-kept house.
I think the same lesson can readily be applied to the art of travel. Discovering a new place can be wonderfully messy and spontaneous and simple, if we let it be so. Take California, for example. This coastal state is the kind of place not to be hemmed in too tightly by schedules or plans; rather, you should keep it loose and follow the light. Seeing California in its best form calls for a Mediterranean mindset where the sun and good food guide your way, and time is of no consequence. It’s a destination demanding long, meandering drives through the hills—with somewhere, or nowhere, to go—lengthy brunches, and picnics on the beach. Letting oneself be present to the moment while traveling is what leads to happening upon those magical back alleyways (or eucalyptus-lined lanes) you never forget, meeting the locals, and savoring the perfectly-imperfect joys that are to be found in every place.
And that’s the thing, really. The proliferation of unending lists and travel guides and must-sees for practically every place on the planet means that no matter where we go, we can easily have the perfect itinerary in mind for our journey. We all know what I mean—the restaurants to eat at, the museums to explore, the shops to mosey through, and let’s be honest, the essential spots to Instagram. But I think this frenzy for checking off our travel to-dos only creates a sort of anxiety within us, akin to being obsessed with some kind of elusive perfection we’ll never achieve, whether at home or abroad. The need to see and do all these not-to-be-missed sensational highlights keeps us from really experiencing the present moment to be relished right in front of us, because we are so concerned with getting to the next thing. That’s why adopting wabi-sabi as a mantra, a lens for seeing beauty, and a holistic way of life, is such a relief—it gives us permission to slow down, and to love the miraculously mundane moments in fresh or familiar places. Wabi-sabi reminds us that perfectly imperfect, unexpected and unplanned delights are to be discovered everywhere we go, if only we have the eyes and state of mind to see them.