Planning For It

When You Might Use This Practice

  • To encourage greater appreciation for simplicity and imperfection
  • To foster greater appreciation for the beauty of life cycles in nature
  • To foster a greater sense of community among students
  • To help students begin to understand the impermanence of things and people as a natural process


Time Required

  • ≤ 1 hour



  • Equipment to project images on a screen (if unavailable, print out copies of the wabi-sabi images for students to view)
  • Wabi-sabi images
  • Life Cycle Reflection Worksheet
  • Pencils/pens
  • Access to computers/laptops/tablets or books that students can use to conduct research
  • Optional: Art supplies (e.g., markers, paper), devices for taking pictures


Learning Objectives

  • Students will:
    • Develop an understanding of wabi-sabi
    • Identify a life cycle in nature and reflect on its stages of growth, decay, and potential rebirth through a wabi-sabi perspective


Additional Supports


Character Strengths

  • Awe
  • Wonder
  • Curiosity


SEL Competencies

  • Self-Awareness


Mindfulness Components

  • Focused Attention
  • Open Awareness

How To Do It

Reflection Before the Practice

  • Wabi-sabi is an appreciation of the cycle of things or people; a recognition that things and people age, that they are imperfect, and that sometimes they fade away and disappear—but at every stage there is beauty to be found in the simplicity and natural processes that are taking place. For more information, consider reading Andrew Juniper’s book on wabi-sabi.
  • Take a moment to reflect on a life cycle in nature and consider how the life cycle of that organism is similar or different from your own life cycle.
  • Consider how the stages of growth, decay, and rebirth contribute to the overall beauty and significance of the life cycle you choose and your own life cycle.

Introducing Wabi-Sabi

  • Tell students that in this lesson they will explore and reflect on the concept of wabi-sabi, and consider how this concept is relevant to our appreciation of life cycles found in nature.
  • Display the following images on a large screen and ask students to comment on what they see.
    • What stands out to you?
    • How does the image make you feel?
    • How would you describe the image?
    • Where do you find beauty in this image?
  • Next, introduce students to the concept of wabi-sabi as an aesthetic and philosophical concept rooted in Japanese culture. Discuss the basic principles of wabi-sabi:
    • Appreciating imperfection
    • Embracing transience
    • Finding beauty in simplicity and natural processes
  • Explain that some consider wabi-sabi to be an appreciation of the cycle of things or people, a recognition that things and people age and sometimes fade away and disappear, but that at every stage there is beauty to be found.
  • Briefly review how one might find beauty in each of the projected images. You might refer back to comments made by students at the start of the lesson.


Discovering Wabi-Sabi in a Life Cycle

  • Tell students that they are going to experience wabi-sabi by investigating a life cycle.
  • In pairs or small groups, have students select a life cycle in nature (e.g., the life cycle of a plant, an animal, or an insect) and conduct research to better understand the life cycle of the chosen topic.
    • Remind students that a life cycle refers to the stages of growth and development that an organism goes through in its lifetime, starting with conception to death.
  • Share or distribute this worksheet containing questions to guide students’ research.


Sharing Students’ Experiences of Wabi-Sabi

  • When students are ready, encourage each group to share a few highlights from their findings.
  • To close, reflect on the following questions as a class:
    • How did the stages of growth, decay, and rebirth contribute to the overall beauty and significance of the life cycle? What makes this life cycle beautiful?
    • What are some similarities or differences they observed between the life cycles described by each group and our own life cycle as humans? What can we learn from comparing different life cycles?
    • Can you think of any human activities or environmental factors that may affect or disrupt the life cycle of any of the organisms the groups talked about? How can we protect and conserve their life cycles?
    • How does studying life cycles help us understand and appreciate the diversity and interconnectedness of the natural world, as well as the impermanence of organisms and other things?
    • How can we incorporate wabi-sabi into our daily lives?



  • As a homework assignment, invite students to search for a life cycle in nature, capture it through photographs or drawings, note what is beautiful in its imperfections (wabi-sabi), and share their pictures and reflections in class.
  • Have students create a storybook following the life cycle that they chose to research, highlighting the experience of wabi-sabi.



Dacher Keltner, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley

Reflection After the Practice

  • Did your students show greater curiosity about the topic covered in the lesson?
  • Were students able to find the beauty in the imperfections of a life cycle?
  • Are they more accepting of their own imperfections or those of others?
  • Did your students seem more relaxed, motivated, engaged, thoughtful, or kinder after experiencing this contemplative approach to life?

The Research Behind It

Evidence That It Works

One study of a diverse group of 254 undergraduate students found that exposure to a nature video that elicited awe compared to a nature video that elicited amusement or a neutral video led to a decreased sense of self, which was then related to greater generosity.

Another study with 1,108 participants from the U.S. found that people who experienced a greater connection to nature only experienced greater well-being when they also reported a tendency to notice the beauty found in nature.

And finally, researchers had 353 youth from the Netherlands (ages 8-13) watch a video clip that prompted either joy, awe, or a neutral response. Those who watched the awe video showed greater prosocial behavior, donating their experimental earnings towards benefitting refugee families. In addition, they had greater parasympathetic nervous system activation—the system that calms us down.


Why Does It Matter?

Not only is teaching children about life cycles and the concept of wabi-sabi a great way to help students experience awe and an appreciation for the beauty of the messiness and impermanence of life, but it can also help students begin to make sense of why someone they cared about might have passed away—an aspect of life that is only too real.

Teaching young people about the concept of wabi-sabi might also help reduce pressures of perfectionism that many students struggle with, which have been made worse by the rise of social media. It may also help students feel more connected to each other, fostering a sense of greater belonging in the classroom, by turning their attention away from themselves towards the needs of others.

“Wabi-sabi is an intuitive response to beauty that reflects the true nature of life. Wabi-sabi is an acceptance and appreciation of the impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete nature of everything.”
–Beth Kempton
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