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Imperfection As Teacher

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Imperfection As Teacher

For Light

Light cannot see inside things.
That is what the dark is for:
Minding the interior,
Nurturing the draw of growth
Through places where death
In its own way turns into life.

In the glare of neon times,
Let our eyes not be worn
By surfaces that shine
With hunger made attractive.

That our thoughts may be true light,
Finding their way into words
Which have the weight of shadow
To hold the layers of truth.

That we never place our trust
In minds claimed by empty light,
Where one-sided certainties
Are driven by false desire.

When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.

That the searching of our minds
Be equal to the oblique

Crevices and corners where
The mystery continues to dwell,
Glimmering in fugitive light.

When we are confined inside
The dark house of suffering
That moonlight might find a window.

When we become false and lost
That the severe noon-light
Would cast our shadow clear.

When we love, that dawn-light
Would lighten our feet
Upon the waters.

As we grow old, that twilight
Would illuminate treasure
In the fields of memory.

And when we come to search for God,
Let us first be robed in night,
Put on the mind of morning
To feel the rush of light
Spread slowly inside
The color and stillness
Of a found world.

~ John O'Donohue
(To Bless the Space Between Us)

 

My (unintentional) experiment with light and shadow

The lines above summarize a teaching I was given a few days ago, which was so profound that I thought it deserves a blog post of its own. 

It was 2 AM, and I was wide awake. I had just heard a difficult news about someone I care deeply about. To sort through my own feelings, I decided to do something that often helps me. I decided to create an image that captured strands of what I was feeling. The image I had in my mind as I started was: joined palms holding a candle, as if shielding it from a breeze. It appeared to me as a symbol of hope in the midst of darkness. So, I downloaded an image of the palms, and that of a candle, making sure that neither was copyrighted. I opened them both on Photoshop. The candle image was on a black background. I thought I would be done in just a few minutes. All I had to do was resize the hands and copy them onto the image with the candle. So, I started using the magic wand function in Photoshop to copy the hands - an act that I have done thousands of times before. 

That's when I realized that there were just too many shades of pink through brown in the hands, and that some of these colors were very, very close to the background color! If I chose one area, I was losing another one, or picking up too much background! By this time, it was past 3:30 AM, and I was getting really frustrated. I was about to give up.

And then, I had a thought - a kind of throwing up of my hands in resignation! Or, may be it was a revelation! I said, ok, I'll just take all the pieces I can get with the magic wand, copy them, and then try to fill in the gaps. 

So, I did.

And lo and behold! I had parts of the hand that I had copied, and the black background showed through the places where there was no copied content. As I moved the pieces of the palms around the candle - I realized that I had created something much more complex, much more textured, than I had originally set out to create! In fact, it was much more than what I had conceptualized, and much closer to what I was actually feeling!

I had created these cupped hands holding both light and shadow! Literally - holding the paradox - the pairs of opposites! It was something I had not planned to do. I realized then that if I had continued to insist on perfection, I would have never received this gift! What I had to do was to stop struggling for perfection, and trust that the Universe knows what is best - better than me. I had to stop "managing" my life.

I am now sitting with this realization. How many genuinely worthwhile thoughts and ideas and projects do I sacrifice every day at the altar of perfection? And how would it be, if I really start to see every project as alive, as having its own intention? What if I truly accept my job as a custodian of creativity, as a conduit, rather than a task master? What if I am fully present, moment to moment, to what is arising? What if I stop defining when something is "perfect?"

First, I feel a warm wave of freedom ripple through my body! What? You mean that the responsibility of this entire Universe is not on my shoulders? That I am actually allowed to play? To have fun? Even to mess up? And that things of unexpected beauty can arise from my failings, my imperfections? And then... Does this also mean that I can let others be imperfect? That they don't have to live up to my definition of what is acceptable? And I can still love them? And love their work?

This is my radical realization. Not only is imperfection okay, but it is one of the best teachers.

So, I end with the words of Jalaluddin Rumi:

“Dance, when you're broken open.
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you're perfectly free.”

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Kintsugi: The Japanese Art of Celebrating Brokenness

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Kintsugi: The Japanese Art of Celebrating Brokenness

“The wound is the place where the light enters you” ~ Rumi

Can you imagine a life where we do not hasten to hide our wounds, or paste a smile on our faces when we are hurting inside? At the same time, we do not mope and blame and feel eternally sorry for ourselves or murderous toward someone else? Instead, what if we are able to turn our wounds, our brokenness, into works of art?

That is exactly what the Japanese art form of Kintsugi does. When a precious porcelain object is broken, instead of repairing it and hoping that no one will see the cracks, the seams and cracks are deliberately highlighted by filling them with varnish or resin mixed with powdered gold (sometimes silver or platinum).

The lightning cracks highlighted with gold now tell the history of the object. It dignifies the brokenness, even celebrates it. Kintsugi (“golden joinery”) reflects a more general philosophy one finds in Japanese aesthetics, that of wabi-sabi – an embracing of the flawed or the imperfect. The Japanese have a word – mono no aware – which is impossible to fully translate. It is a word that can form the core of a lifelong meditation, may be the only one we need to live our amazingly beautiful flawed lives! Mono no aware has been translated as “the pathos of things.” It is a word whose contemplation can bring us in touch with the poignancy of impermanence, of the transience of things, even with our own imminent death and dissolution.

In our Western culture, the way we deal with brokenness is primarily clinical. It is a sterile, tense type of attention that we offer to a wound – external or internal. The attention has a quality of intellectual aggression. Why was this object (or this part of me) broken? Who was/is responsible? Could it have been avoided? Can it be avoided in the future? And most importantly, how can I fix it so no one can see that it/I is/am broken? This is what the Irish poet, John O’Donohue, referred to as the “neon glare” of our usual mode of attention. What if, instead, we sat with our brokenness, illuminating the space with candlelight, which in O’Donohue’s words, has a certain “hospitality for the shadow?” How would our brokenness feel then – to be held gently in this welcoming light, just as it is?

Maybe modern technology offers us a way today. We can find a piece of Kintsugi that speaks to us, and just sit with it. We can just look at the pattern of brokenness and let it wash over us. Welcome all the feelings that arise. Ride them like waves, without judging whatever arises. Trusting our inner wisdom.

We do not have to understand our brokenness. We have to learn to see the hidden gifts it bears.

Image courtesy: Wikimedia, Creative Commons License

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