I learned about the Grace of Kintsugi from a classmate of mine at Georgetown. At the very end of our last class as Cohort 47 of the Leadership Coaching program, we had the opportunity to “exchange” gifts–both physical ones and spiritual gifts of affirmation and encouragement. This one beautiful SWOG classmate stood in front of the room and told us about the philosophy of Kintsugi. I won’t do justice to how she shared her story nor to her explanation of how this delicate art is such a metaphor for all of our lives. Moved to tears is an understatement and words can’t capture the emotional mountains she moved. I’ll simply explain a bit about Kintsugi and allow you to reflect what it means to you.
Kintsugi (きんつぎ, “golden joinery”), also known as Kintsukuroi (きんつくろい, “golden repair”), is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.
As a philosophy, kintsugi can be seen to have similarities to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, an embracing of the flawed or imperfect. Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear by the use of an object. This can be seen as a rationale for keeping an object around even after it has broken and as a justification of kintsugi itself, highlighting the cracks and repairs as simply an event in the life of an object rather than allowing its service to end at the time of its damage or breakage.
“ Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated… a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin….Mushin is often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions. …The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware too is subject. This poignancy or aesthetic of existence has been known in Japan as mono no aware, a compassionate sensitivity, or perhaps identiﬁcation with, [things] outside oneself. ” — Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics
Think about that for a moment. Think about being valued for wear and tear and imperfection. Wow. I wonder how much of our therapy dollars, our broken relationships, our devalued older generations, our cover-ups and defensiveness come from the intense drive for perfection. Think of smiling at our scars– both the physical and emotional ones –because they’ve made us a more interesting piece of art.
Let’s start a new movement! Be proud of those scars and imperfections! And value those imperfections in others as a true work of art. As a SWOG far wiser than me once said, “We all make quilts throughout our life…some are just a color or two with nicely coordinating fabric. Yours is a patchwork of many colors, block sizes, and fabrics. AND, it’s nice to look at, too.”
Kintsugi on dear SWOG’s!!