Last year a friend and I co-directed a women’s retreat. In fact, I talked about the fun and laughter in a post right after we all returned. This past weekend we did it again. And I noticed some startling differences.
Last year we had wanted to do some kind of fun activity on Saturday evening, so we asked a very talented artist, Bethany Joy, to come in and work with us. She came and ran a class for us and showed us how to paint a certain picture. To begin with, she showed us her example of what we would be painting. I loved her choice of colors and the whole look of what she had done. I wanted to make sure I followed the steps exactly so that mine would look as good as hers, which was a ridiculous idea to begin with.
But because of the idea that mine could look like hers, I asked her a ton of questions. What color should I use next? What would she recommend? Would this mess it up? I was up and down from my seat a million times.
The ironic thing is that for the retreat, we were studying a book called Good Enough. It’s all about how we hold ourselves to unattainable standards and end up making ourselves miserable. Of course I didn’t see any of that in myself.
The whole weekend we joked about the book title. We said that it might not be a perfect weekend, but meh, it was good enough. And then, here I was the very first time I sat down to paint, wanting to create a masterpiece as good as the teacher’s.
This year when we arrived, something had changed. No, I feel sure I had not grown or matured or become enlightened, but I did have a different mindset. I wanted to have fun and to simply try. So when the wonderfully talented Bethany Joy came back again this year and showed us a picture of what we would be trying to copy, for a moment I wanted perfection, but just as suddenly, I knew it wouldn’t happen; it couldn’t, and I needed to roll with the punches.
Bethany gave us a set of instructions, and I set to work. I wasn’t looking for perfection; I was simply giving it a shot. Before I knew it, I was completely absorbed in painting my leaves, and then my flowers. I stayed in my seat; I asked no questions. I focused on what I was doing and quit worrying or even thinking of anything else.
When I finished painting, I looked at the canvas. Was it perfect? Not even close. Was it pretty? Yes. (In my opinion anyway.) Had it been fun and engaging? Yes, and yes.
It reminded me of the Japanese concept Wabi Sabi: a view of life centered on the acceptance and appreciation of beauty that is “imperfect, and permanent, and incomplete.“
My painting checked all three of those boxes, but I was not upset or disturbed by this. I had spent time with people I love; I was able to appreciate the art of a true artist (Bethany, not me, in case you were confused), and I left with a painting that, while imperfect, made me happy. How’s that for a little wabi sabi?