One of those sleepless nights that seem to be plaguing me lately, I opened my tablet and clicked on some streaming app of the many that have joined my screen during the pandemic. TV has a dozing effect on me, I chose some random movie about coming to age and first love. The only thing that left an impression was one of the character’s practices of a form of art I did not know: kintsukuroi (to repair with gold.)
This Japanese form of art repairs broken ceramic pots or bowls by putting the pieces together again using gold or silver lacquer to create something stronger and more beautiful than it was before.
I resist a “mess.” I would try fixing utility-practical things, but when it comes to broken or “imperfect” knicks and knacks or art pieces, I go for the trash can. This might be reverted if I am extremely fond of the piece and the ‘wound” is not noticeable. However, my eyes have the annoying tendency to go straight to whatever damage is there on the piece, bringing up all over again the feelings of frustration and annoyance of its brokenness.
This realization made me reflect beyond bowls into life and explore how this tendency has affected my self-confidence, and colored my experiences. The experiment rendered some mind-blowing premises which helped me appreciate the beauty in these works of art and softened my harsh inner critic.
My Default is not a Kintsukuroi Story
Why is putting a happy face and act as if we are imperturbable to pain so common? How does the culture’s emphasis on hiding our emotions and overcoming our weaknesses affect us?
A “professional identity” usually excludes the very qualities that makes us beautifully human and flawed creatives. We are pushed to behave as productive compartmentalized robots!
“Overcoming” struggle and pain are harder for me than hiding them. My “flaws” appear to have secret powers -immortality the most obvious. They exhibit an unmerciful skill for tailing me around leaving no dark corner of my mind or heart unvisited. They pounce inadvertently at the smallest sign of memories triggered by well-known and yet unconscious beliefs, flooding my whole being with emotions that render me powerless and exhausted.
I am caught in the “fixing me” mania that affects those with validation issues and perfectionist syndrome. History has proven that no matter how intent or truthful my commitment to redemption, there is never enough to conquer that impossible dream of feeling worthy and reclaim the freedom to be me.
After many years of study, therapy, apprenticeship, and trying every self-improvement program out there, I should have earned my badge no? Or at least moved onto the “next color belt!”
Instead, I am trapped in the illusion that being a good and lovable person means, being flawless, strong, virtuous, and make everybody happy. Avoid stirring the waters! A voice in my head warns about the dangers of not behaving like a saint. Grounded in practical survival day-to-day living mode has hindered my trust in life and disconnect me from the joy of growing. Time to move on!
The “Breaking” is not Something to Hide
“Even the knowledge of my own fallibility cannot keep me from making mistakes. Only when I fall do I get up again.” – Vincent Van Gogh
It is hard to acknowledge our vulnerabilities and be open when our way of life is constantly trying to strip us of our humanity. We are drowning in distractions serving as band-aids to the immeasurable pain of feeling less than human and isolated among the crowds.
Our society not only gives a negative connotation but punishes failure. We abhor making mistakes or acknowledging our wounds because we are shamed for them. Nothing is more terrifying than being ridiculed or called out because of our shortcomings. The inner conflict that arises when our beliefs or/and self-image are threatened is so insufferable that we might shut ourselves off or throw an angry tantrum to regain an illusion of control. Our ability to succeed is tied to our ability to reframe our failures and move on.
Failure hurts, but it is a necessary step to improvement
In a world where cognitive dissonance and blame-avoidance becomes the norm, no one admits mistakes, and no one learns from their failures. This is a world where mistakes are repeated over and over again with drastic consequences. (*) I see great improvement in my overall wellness when I reframe mistakes as feedback ( something I learned from Design Thinking). Designers use prototypes as a way to make space for them to experiment and play. If I assume my mistakes as experiments to become better at whatever I am aiming for, I give myself permission to try something crazy without worrying whether it would fail or anyone will like it. It also allows me a space to sort out my emotions, take responsibility for the outcome and let it go.
Imperfection is beautiful & Valuable
Kintsukuroi embraces the flawed treating brokenness, and the repair of brokenness, as a story that should be cherished and celebrated, not hidden, disguised, or denied. Instead trying to prove that we are whole and perfect, or clinging to toxic situations and relationships for fear of failure, acknowledging the “break” gives us the chance to see the gift and heal.
A “work of art” is not ruined or without value because it suffered, it has just turned into something different than planned.
The soul and effort embedded in the craft that gave birth to it dwell in every tiny piece, crack and rip, just as the whole exists in the fractal patterns creating diversity in nature and the cosmos.
The Story of rebirth and recreation
We have been told many times that our spirits grow through challenges, that there is no rebirth without destruction, without death.
Yet, it is only when we look back in life that we can acknowledge how our losses might have opened the door for better opportunities and possibilities. How cherished achievements and relationships that fell to pieces gave birth to circumstances that would have never presented themselves had life not been torn to rags.
It is in the face of broken promises and dreams that our blurred eyesight is capable of journeying through fears and discover that we are stronger than we think and that we can withstand the unimaginable, stand up and keep walking.
Reconstructive Healing. Turning Lead into Gold
Alchemy was not about perfection, immortality, and unlimited riches. The transmutation of base metals into gold was merely a figurative expression for the transformation of man, a way to regenerate physical, spiritual, and emotional wounds and help elevate us into the divine Beings we are supposed to be.
Growth demands adaptability and strength, it demands exploration and sometimes brutal honesty about who we are and where we stand. Kintsokuroi invites us to embrace and appreciate another idea of beauty, one forged in gold and wisdom. The energy of Kintsukuroi supports our healing process by reminding us that despite our appearance or the depth of the wounds, we are perfect and whole.
Kintsukuroi is a way of living that embraces every crack or wound as part of our beautiful story of unfolding and evolving. Stripping life from its wounds can make it lacking cohesion and meaning. Kintsukuroi invites us to remember that we are better than we think we are, and we do not need to be defined by our traumas.
In the words of prominent social thinker and philanthropist of the Victorian Era, John Ruskin:
“To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality.”
Whatever we bring into the world and the world itself benefits from our experiences and wisdom.
Keep doing you.
(*) This premise is clearly explained in Matthew Syed’s book, “Black Box Thinking.”