Wabi Sabi & Dichotomy of Control

Wabi Sabi is a fascinating Japanese ideology. It implies a very simple philosophy:

Nothing is perfect, Nothing is permanent and, Nothing is finished (But….. you make your peace with it.)

I think this is quite relevant to health, weight, fitness and wellness. One could of course interpret those words to imply that you simply accept the inevitable deterioration of your body or consider obesity, ill health and lifestyle disease a natural part of ageing and make peace with it. Since nothing is perfect, why bother trying to make it so? Since nothing is finished, why bother starting? And since nothing is permanent what is the point of attempting to stay fit or improve health?

I think however, it embodies something slightly different. It signifies the very essence of taking care of oneself for the right reasons and by using the right methods.

Nothing is perfect

Life situations are never perfect. You make the best of them. You may believe you don’t have the time to exercise, you may have a hectic travel schedule or sick kids to contend with. You may work long hours, be highly stressed and living under the duress of deadlines.

You don’t always have the time. You make the time. That’s just what you do when something is an important priority in your life. Even a twenty-minute workout at home (like a HIIT routine), is better than nothing at all if you can’t get to the gym. A quick run on the treadmill or a swim in the hotel pool is better than sulking in your room about your endless travel and how it impedes your fitness.

You may be obliged to (or want to) attend social lunches and dinners. This certainly influences your diet resolutions, but instead of sampling everything on the menu and living with the guilt, strategize how to eat out sensibly. Weigh your food options and make reasonable choices at every meal. Compensate for an indulgence by having a few light meals and making sure you workout. These are coping strategies that the clever people use to stay on track.

The myth of perfection – We are also confronted with another kind of perfection that often gets in the way of regular humans exercising for themselves and to improve their own health, mood and quality of life. We have been programmed into believing in perfection. More importantly, the kind of physical perfection portrayed by the media. Not everyone can look like the model on the cover of a magazine, not even the model on the cover of the magazine!! And neither should we try. Trying to look like somebody else is simply a wasteful exercise. Trying to adhere to the dictates of society to be certain size or appear a certain way will not necessarily get you a healthier body. Likely it will get you on the roller coaster ride of binge eating, starving, yo-yo-dieting, over exercising coupled with a lot of angst and frustration. Instead of watching your weight, counting calories, exercising maniacally, talking endlessly about it and worrying about not losing weight…..spend that time establishing healthy, sustainable LIFE HABITS.

Nothing is finished

The human body is a work in progress. We usually start exercising with simple goals like

  •  Lose ten kilos
  •  Get into that dress/those jeans
  • Run a marathon
  • Trek to the Himalayas
  • Control my diabetes

Once we achieve those goals, then what? Ideally,  we need to continue to include fitness into our day. Change our routine to make us better. Try new forms of exercise. Mostly, we are in a hurry to perfect and finish a process. We forget that the process itself is part of the journey and is more relevant than the end-point. The journey is the ‘now’ the destination is the ‘future’. We are in a hurry to lose weight, to reach the destination faster. We find ways to do it quickly, shabbily and with no regard for the true physiology or functioning of the human body or how to truly support its wellbeing. We fail to understand that we as humans can never be a finished product, perfect or permanent.

Fitness is a journey, not a destination – In our quest for weight loss or a better physique we tend to lose perspective. Understanding the larger picture, that losing weight is not the one and only objective of fitness, is what keeps us from falling off the wagon. If we spent half as much time focusing on our overall health, emotional wellbeing and level of fitness as much as on our physique, we would be much better off and more successful at it. Feeling defeated by a few setbacks and giving up at the first signs of difficulty is a sure way to take two steps forward and three steps back. Pick yourself up and move on!

Nothing is permanent.

Life changes. We change. Nothing is permanent.

We age. This is the normal physiological process. Yet, youth is revered. Even when we know it is never permanent, we strive to hang on to it with our teeth and the tips of our fingernails. The tremendous surge in clientele for botox, laser, face lifts, tummy tucks and so on are testimony to our infinite yearning to stay young and beautiful. This is a personal choice of course. There is no moral judgement against it. Ageing gracefully however is a science and an art. Keeping your body strong all the while growing intellectually, emotionally and spiritually is not the same as trying to hold on desperately to ones youth. Work with the flow, rather than against it. Build strength, maintain stamina improve flexibility. Understanding that nothing is permanent is what should keep us moving forward. Even good health, a great body, astounding intellect or a superior athletic capability is not permanent.  Elite athletes understand that their athletic prowess declines with age. Our bodies change in a myriad ways and we need to design new and more effective strategies of working towards bettering ourselves. We may not be able to run a marathon in our latter years (although I know many who do), but we will be able to continue to exercise, strengthen our bodies and keep ourselves free from disease (or at least manage disease better). We don’t have to succumb to obesity or ill-health resulting form poor lifestyle habits.

~ When you come to value our body for its uniqueness and for what it can do rather than simply what it looks like.

~ When we start to actually listen to it, give it what it needs not just what we thank we want.

~ When we stop punishing it for not looking the way we think it should.

~ When we use exercise as a way to celebrate and enjoy our body’s capabilities.

~ When we thrill in the aftermath of a long strenuous weight training session or a feel the joy of quivering legs after a run……….

Then Fitness has become a ‘way of life’ and not just a means to an end……… and this in itself is a gift.

On another note, Stoicism, (from ancient Greek and Roman Philosophy) talks about the ‘Dichotomy of Control’ and how one cannot completely control ones body or its deterioration as that is outside of our control. One should therefore be cognisant of this fact. This is certainly true and we’ve all heard of this ‘health freak” who dropped dead (and am sure, told ourselves ‘so what was the point?!). But we do have much under our control. How we lead our existing lives is certainly under our control and will determine the quality of life of day-to-day living  (and not just our demise). The attitude that allows a semblance of peace within us is, I think, one of coming-to-terms with a given situation. Accepting the true nature of everything and all the while staying motivated to continue to improve ones body, ones mind and ones life and the discipline and mindfulness despite this reality is one way we can make our way through this imperfect, impermanent and unfinished business of life.