The Beauty Of Imperfection

wabisabi Wabi-sabi is the term for a Japanese world-view which is centered on the acceptance of transience and based on a beauty described as imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. The aesthetic principles of wabi-sabi include asymmetry, a roughness and unevenness of surface, simplicity, modesty, and the suggestion of a natural process.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy is always interested in exploring the world of design, and was more than happy to recently stumble upon this concept of the beauty of imperfection. He also finds it interesting, the ease with which one can get caught up in the pursuit of perfection – when in reality there is no such thing as perfection.

Is it not better to achieve the possible instead of continually trying to attain what is impossible?

During the past few months it has been very difficult at times to look at my hands and feet when they are experiencing moments of extreme inflammation, resulting in their temporary disfigurement. During some of the earlier episodes I blocked the mental image so completely that it did not pop back into my mind until a day or so later. When this mental image did come back to my mind, I still had a hard time accepting that my hands and feet could indeed really look like that, even temporarily.

I don’t think I have reached full acceptance yet, but I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that any deformities caused by my rheumatoid arthritis are a thing of beauty, something that makes me unique. They are my imperfections.

A couple of days ago my yoga instructor called me to see how I was doing. She knows that I have rheumatoid arthritis, and saw firsthand my physical decline during the past few weeks when it came to my hands and feet. I had not been in class for about two weeks, so I guess she figured it was time to check in on me and see how I was doing. (I just found out today that the entire class was huddled around the phone as she called me, but unfortunately I had not yet woken up that day and ended up having to return her call later in the day.)

After bringing her up to date on the latest, I was surprised when she told me that I was more than welcome to continue going to class. She told me I could follow the routine during the parts that I was able to do, and I could make my own modifications during the parts that I was not able to do.

This morning I went back to the gym. With my crutches tucked away on the side and a folding chair set up for me to use during the standing part of the class, I returned to my yoga practice.  The synchronized nature of the room – with lined up exercise mats and people performing the routine with almost perfect timing – was definitely broken. (At moments I am sure it looked like a frat boy doing his best synchronized swimmer mock-impression.) I was originally concerned about the impact my presence might have on the environment of the yoga studio, but I later thought to myself – this is a moment of wabi-sabi, and it sure is beautiful.

After class the people who know I have rheumatoid arthritis told me it was great to see me back in class. A few people who did not know I have rheumatoid arthritis approached me to inquire on my condition. I gave them a short explanation, and they too told me that it was nice to see me back in class. One of my classmates has a mother who lives with RA, and I really appreciated the words of support that she gave me.

I had gone into the class wondering how much of the routine I was going to be able to follow, in terms of a percentage. I left with the knowledge that I got to know my body a little better this morning – and perfect or not, this is definitely not something that can be summed up in a number. And in focusing on my body instead of an ideal, I probably learned just a little bit more about the true nature of yoga practice.

Stay tuned…for the next adventure of Rheumatoid Arthritis Guy!

9 Comments
9 comments
  1. Sara says:

    What an absolutely beautiful and inspiring post. Your teacher sounds like she is one of the best kinds and full of compassion. You really did tap into the true nature of yoga, and it sounds like you are practicing with really great people, too. I’ve just started returning to practicing in a class setting, and I’ve had a lot of the same concerns you have had, but in the end, it is so great to be able to do anything at all, and to be present. Thanks for sharing this with us, and go you!

  2. Rebecca says:

    I too have hands and feet that are disfigured from 30 years of RA. When the arthritic changes first started to show in my hands, I was very upset and self-conscious. I was also saddened to see what was happening to my body.

    About 8 years ago, my tendons ruptured (after years of rubbing against the jagged, arthritic bones in my hands), leaving my fingers dangling and unable to move. Surgery repaired the damage, but then I had giant scars running down the top of both hands. I thought they looked worse than ever.

    But something changed in me then and I came to view my hands with pride, kind of like a badge of honor. They looked pretty beat up, but, like me, they were still there, still strong, and still working. Nowadays, I almost hope people will notice my hands and ask what’s wrong(even though I still think it’s rude!), so I can use that as an opportunity to educate them about RA.

    You said you don’t think you’ve reached full acceptance yet. That’s okay. You’ll get there. :-)

  3. Millicent says:

    For me, yoga is the complete package: body, mind, & spirit. My yoga teachers are always emphasizing acceptance of what your body can & cannot do in yoga & compassion for the limits of your body. It seems to me in my practice that when my body can’t go any farther, body & mind take over so that I still get the full amazing effects of the practice. It sounds like you’re there as well. This is one of the all-time great posts. Thank you!

  4. Millicent says:

    What I MEANT to say in the previous post was that when my body reaches its limit, mind & SPIRIT take over. Sorry…

  5. Kali says:

    When I came to yoga, I had a badly damaged shoulder (to the point where there were rumblings about an operation in my near future), a kneecap that dislocates frequently, and bad ankles.

    I went to my yogi the first day of class and I said, but I can’t do even the poses of a sun salutation! He said to me that yoga can be infinitely modified to suit the body, as long as the mind and spirit are there. I do so very much miss that yogi; I’ve never had another teacher like him.

    ~Kali

  6. Cathy says:

    RA GUY – You are such an inspiration. I wish you were writing when I was first diagnosed with RA. :)

    One of my greatest fears with RA was “deformed” hands and feet. But, as time has gone on I have also seen that these things can have beauty. RA causes us to think deeper and see what beautiful people we are, even with RA. Your life with RA is making a difference for so many and that in itself is beautiful. Thank you for seeing the beauty in life.

  7. RA Guy says:

    Thanks everyone, for your comments! Rebecca, you deserve to wear your badge of honor with pride! What a great example for the rest of us.

  8. Robert says:

    RA Guy, you truly have a beautiful spirit. YOU should write a book. It will be a best seller no doubt.

    A truly inspirational soul you are.

  9. ann marie says:

    i don’t know if you’ll see this comment since i’m writing so afetr the fact, but i really feel moved to write.

    yoga has been an incredible teacher for me over the last few years. the way i approach yoga, practice yoga, has gone through intresting stages that reflect changes in my thinking and being. i guess that’s what it’s all about, no?

    even though my buddhist yoga teacher said repeatedly to the class in general “this is your yoga, not mine. just do what you can. everything is optional.” i didn’t really hear her, i was too much absorbed in my own thinking, trying to “get it right”, and becoming furious when my body wouldn’t do it.

    now i am able to be far more present during class. i am learning to inhabit my body. there’s a lot i don’t do, when i’m not well. but i see the effect i have had on others in the class. my presence, my humility, my occassional tears have sort of brought an openness to the group, and others now feel freer to listen to their own bodies and refrain from pushing themselves past the point the body says “no”.

    we are a gift to the class, i think.

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