Kintsugi Living: An Aesthetic Blueprint For A Post-Covid World
Many years ago, I received notice about an exhibition of Japanese pottery in the Kintsugi tradition that was held at the Smithsonian Museum. Kintsugi means “golden joinery.” The Japanese believe that a piece of pottery that’s been handed down through the generations within a family is part of the family’s story, that the piece has a history all its own. If it needs mending, the cracks or missing pieces are patched with a specially formulated lacquer filled with gold, silver or platinum, and the repairs are visible to the eye. In this way, the pottery becomes aggrandized: it grows more beautiful and more valuable, it increases in status in the family, and the story of its restoration becomes a part of the family’s history.
Though its origin is still debated, Kintsugi is an art form in keeping with the Zen tenets of non-attachment and the mindful awareness of the beauty in all things — even objects that are flawed or imperfect or worn thin by time. Imperfections are highlighted or emphasized — even venerated — rather than disdained, in much the same way that Japanese elders are revered.
The name of the Smithsonian exhibit was “Kintsugi: Granting New Life to Broken Dreams.” Though many years have passed since I first read these words, they have stayed with me, and remind me that Kintsugi is a thoughtful and spiritually rich metaphor for how we in the West — as individuals, families, healthcare providers, and healthcare systems — might approach caring for bodies that break and bend and rupture and age.
As we seemingly prepare to return to a world that has kept us scrambling for some semblance of normalcy and balance, Kintsugi may well be a way to make sense of — or, at least, find some spark of meaning and purpose from the wounding and loss of this global exile. Kintsugi is an apt metaphor and a doorway in to conversations that help us make peace with the demon Covid, and the losses every one of us have incurred and continue to live with.
Westerners — and Americans, in particular — privatize our flaws and our vulnerabilities. We keep our cracks hidden from view by pretending they do not exist, by engaging in intentional busy-ness, by fearing the necessary confrontations of truth to power, both within and without us. Denial does not repair our wounds; it only prolongs and deepens the effect they have on our hearts, minds, and bodies, and our loved ones.
We do these things because we are quick to fear discomfort. Any pop in our knee or blip in our digestion or error in our computations or relationship that falls wide of the mark puts us on the defensive. And shrinks our possibilities. We suspect the worst and medicate our anomalies because we fear change and disability, and we do not know how to honor the passage of time. We are loath to admit we need help. We do not know how to grow new beauty from the challenges we face, or repurpose the cardinal aspects of the lives we’ve lived in new ways, that will inspire our sense of purpose and bring comfort and joy to others. As our imperfections become harder to hide, we simply feel “less than,” and ashamed.
Things fall apart. Accidents happen. Bodies wear out over time. Change is inevitable, and challenge is the mother of simplicity and authenticity, as well as invention. But what if being vulnerable, if reaching out for help, if telling our story to others, if finding value in imperfections became part of our mindset about what constitutes health care? What if our lives were Kintsugi-driven, and we learned to aggrandize the cards we were dealt, and lived our lives — every last juicy part of them — as a sacred encounter? How beautiful.
Every human being, whether we realize it or not, is waiting for the moment when we can finally say a resounding, “Yes!” to the beauty inside us — to the joy, the peace, the truth of who we really are. Psychotherapist Carl Jung called this part of us “the Hidden Immortal.” We’ve always known there was something special about us.
You don’t have to be Japanese to live Kintsugi, you just have to be willing and sincere and true to yourself. And perhaps “a shade braver,” as poet David Whyte is fond of saying. It’s a soul thing, an inner awakening and commitment to a mindset that has nothing to do with religion, race, economics, social prominence, age, gender, or even health. All that outer stuff is a wall, not a window.
Mindfulness Gold For Kintsugi Living
Make an ordinary life extraordinary. Go for the gold and restore the beauty with simple mindfulness techniques.
There is a beautiful affirmation from the teachings of the great yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda, in his book, Scientific Healing Affirmations, that if recited frequently, with deep attention and feeling — before bed, upon rising, at any time of the day when the press of life begins to make you feel small — can jumpstart and strengthen your relationship with the sacredness of all life.
I am submerged in eternal light.
It permeates every particle of my being.
I am living in that light.
The divine spirit fills me within and without.
Ask yourself what is sacred to you — what attributes, values, feelings and ideas inspire and energize you. Make a list. Make these things your friends. Keep their company.
- If this is not clear, explore what is not sacred to you, what your God, the God of your heart, is not. This often calls up images of a didactic, distant, authoritarian arbitrator of right and wrong, of heaven and hell. Obviously not someone you want to have any relationship with at all! Find your “yes!” opposite your “no!”
- Start an internal dialog with that sacredness you are courting. Frequent, honest, warm-hearted conversations are integral to every good partnership.
- Ask for help when you need it. Ask the universe to show you what’s next or to lead you to someone who knows what you need to know or who will witness your story or who needs a witness to their story.
- Do the legwork. Start an exploratory conversation. Read spiritual books, such as Autobiography of a Yogi. Be in nature. Practice stillness. Mine the silence. Listen to your inner voice. Ask “What if I …? instead of “Why can’t I …”
- Push the edge of your habitual envelope. The sacredness you are courting is also courting you. Open your eyes, your mind, your heart. “If you build it, he/she/it will come.”
- Learn to meditate. The Sanskrit word yoga means “union.” Meditation opens your heart and your mind to the truth, goodness and beauty of all life. It facilitates a gradual reparation and restoration of your relationship with the healthiest part of yourself, your soul, your wholeness. It helps you make peace with your past, live in the holiness of the present moment and, thus, alter the course of your future. Meditation is the adventure of a lifetime.
Margaret Wolff is an art therapist, retreat leader, and author of “Coming Home: Finding Shelter in the Love and Wisdom of Paramahansa Yogananda,” and “In Sweet Company: Conversations with Extraordinary Women About Living A Spiritual Life.” Her work celebrates the collective wisdom and the power of creativity to reveal the truth and beauty of our inner lives. Visit ComingHomeStories.com.