Once you’ve been working as a therapist or a life coach for a while, you develop a toolbox of go-to methodologies and approaches that work for you and your clients. But sometimes you’re ready to explore something new, or you have a client who needs a different approach. 

Here’s a brief rundown of four ancient Japanese concepts of well-being that your out-of-the-box clients might appreciate, and that you might enjoy discovering. 

#1 – Wabi-Sabi: Finding beauty in imperfection

Wabi-sabi is hard to translate, but wabi means simple elegance, and sabi means the beauty of age or wear. Put together, it means celebrating the beauty of items that are battered, used, or flawed, and appreciating and respecting the imperfect. 

Wabi-sabi involves embracing authenticity and the impact of age, like handmade items that are uneven, well-loved things that are chipped with long use, or the beauty of wild nature. 

Wabi-sabi includes 7 principles:

  • Kanso – simplicity and focus
  • Fukinsei – the beauty of asymmetry
  • Shibumi – living with understatement
  • Shizen – nature in harmony with human intervention
  • Yugen – the grace of that which is hidden
  • Datsuzoku – freedom from habit
  • Seijaku – tranquility among the chaos

How to apply Wabi-sabi in your practice

When you use Wabi-sabi, you’ll encourage clients to appreciate the flaws in themselves, their lives, and those around them. Here are some practical ways to apply Wabi-sabi with your clients:

  1. Accept imperfection within you and the people around you. This often means redefining your idea of beauty. Begin with appreciating the beauty of something physical that’s imperfect, like a lovely but misshapen stone or tree. 
  2. Focus on the now. Part of Wabi-sabi is letting go of your expectations and instead focusing on your present experience. Savor the taste of your food, the feel of the sun or wind on your face, the texture of your clothes, and the sound of the person you’re talking to.  
  3. Embrace your nature. Wabi-sabi teaches you to identify whatever is distinctive and unique about yourself and to highlight it instead of covering it up. It means valuing your flaws, not airbrushing them out. 
  4. Find something to learn from every experience. Just like there’s still beauty in imperfect physical items, there’s also value even in flawed experiences. Instead of getting frustrated when things don’t go the way you planned, look for something you can learn from them. 

Further reading:


#2 – Kensho: Accepting your true self

Kensho is one of the steps towards Buddhist enlightenment. Ken means seeing, and sho means nature of essence, so Kensho is the experience of seeing the true essence of things around you. 

In Zen Buddhism, Kensho is a moment of initial insight or understanding about the world around you. Buddhists describe it as pure awareness without any ego involved. It often includes immersing yourself in nature until you realize that you’re part of all the things that you’re seeing. 

How to apply Kensho in your practice

When you use Kensho, you’ll encourage clients to look for their true selves and realize that their experiences, mistakes, and challenges don’t define them. Here are some practical ways to apply Kensho with your clients:

  1. Identify your flaws. Kensho doesn’t mean ignoring the flaws in your character but accepting them as part of who you are. Encourage your clients to be honest with themselves about their true essence. 
  2. Let go of the past. Kensho teaches you that your past mistakes and missteps don’t hold you back. Guide your clients to recognize which experiences they’d like to leave behind because they aren’t part of who they really are.
  3. Discover your inner being. Empower clients to spend time with themselves, instead of filling every moment with distractions and entertainment. 

Further reading:


#3 – Kintsugi: Celebrating the beauty of the broken 

Kintsugi literally means golden repair. It’s an art form that uses gold dust to fix broken pottery, so the shining cracks attract the eye, but it’s also a philosophy. Kintsugi philosophy goes beyond appreciating that something broken can still be beautiful, to realize that there is beauty in the breaks and cracks themselves.

With Kintsugi, you don’t throw things away when they break or get damaged. Instead, you look for ways to fix them, and then you value them even more because of the visible signs of repair. 

How to apply Kintsugi in your practice

When you use Kintsugi, you’ll lead your clients to understand that broken hearts and broken lives can have beauty too, so that they can grow from their experiences. Here are some practical ways to apply Kintsugi with your clients:

  1. Don’t hide the damage in life. Instead of covering up failures, suffering, or terrible experiences, and pretending that they didn’t happen, Kintsugi means teaching your clients to focus on them directly. 
  2. Accept that damage has happened. Kintsugi means avoiding analyzing exactly what went wrong and how you could have prevented it, but just accepting that the damage took place. 
  3. Look for the positive that comes from bad experiences. Encourage clients to recognize that they became more resilient because of the suffering they felt, for example. These are the golden threads joining together the pieces of their lives or their character. 

Further reading


#4 – Ikigai: Identifying your life’s purpose

In Japanese, iki means life and gai is value or worth, but the concept of Ikigai is hard to translate properly. It means the reason for being, happiness in living, and the reason for life. As a philosophy, Ikigai means spending your life doing the things that make you feel happy and fulfilled. 

You can have more than one Ikigai. Part of Ikigai philosophy is to find meaning in everyday activities, so people have found their Ikigai in wood carving, dance, raising a family, or starting a business, to name just a few.

Ikigai is the intersection of 4 principles:

  • What you love doing
  • What the world needs
  • What you’re naturally skilled or talented at
  • What you can earn money doing

It’s often represented as a Venn diagram:

Ikigai is considered to be one of the secrets to Japanese longevity. 

How to apply Ikigai in your practice

When you use Ikigai as a therapist or life coach, you’ll guide your clients to identify the activities that make them feel joy and meaning in their lives. Here are some practical ways to apply Ikigai with your clients:

  1. Make lists of the things you love, the things you’re good at, the things the world needs, and the things you can be paid for. When items appear on more than one list, your clients will be on the way to finding their Ikigai. 
  2. Experience the here and now. Ikigai has a lot in common with “flow,” when you’re absorbed in the task at hand. Focusing on the moment helps you achieve flow and move towards Ikigai.
  3. Stop setting goals and deadlines for personal achievement. Ikigai is about doing what delights you and has meaning, so external goals and deadlines are irrelevant. 
  4. Don’t rush yourself. Ikigai is not something that you need to check off a list. Remind your clients that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to master a skill, what matters is that you’re on the road. 
  5. Stop thinking and start doing. The hardest part of Ikigai is finding the courage to stop acting out of habit, leave the conventional path, and do what really makes you feel happy and fulfilled. 

Further reading

Now you’ve scratched the surface of the 4 ancient Japanese life philosophies, you might like to apply them to your own business development and growth. The sky’s the limit!