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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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