I’ve long written about immersive travel as a great transformational catalyst. These days, we are transformed instead by profound stillness.
In the Japanese art of kintsugi, broken pottery is mended with golden or silver lacquer, and what emerges when the project is completed is something even more beautiful than the original object.
I think of this concept a lot, and the power it has to transform our lives.
“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….often literally translated as “no mind,” but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions.” – Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics
Buildings that are old and crumbling, paint that is peeling, a broken heart, the end of a life well-lived, a barn that has withstood storms and sunshine; developing an appreciation for the beautiful decay of objects and experiences around us is a branch of the same tree as kinstsugi.
I covered a news story once about a summer camp for the children of service members who had been killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. In one camp activity, the children each broke a ceramic bowl into several pieces. Each child wrote an aspect of their pain on each pottery shard. And then, they glued the pottery back together. To them, it became a symbol of healing after loss.
I’m not much for platitudes or pep talks, which often ring hollow and even ridiculous to me. But I am fascinated by philosophical shifts that make us stronger. We are all broken. And we are all whole. And I believe we can be better prepared to weather the most difficult times in our lives if we simply and mindfully shift our perspective.
It’s hard, and it requires practice. It means stopping ourselves from thinking on autopilot when faced with adversity. Losing a job. A cut in pay. The death of a loved one. The closing of a business. The end of a relationship. An illness. A global crisis.
More than that, in a culture where it’s preferred to hide one’s brokenness, to conceal our mistakes and shortcomings, even the natural decay of our bodies, treating our world as kintsugi instead requires that we lay it all out there, highlight what’s broken, and even celebrate it. Beyond non-attachment, it requires that we put our life back together again, lessons learned, so that it’s better than it has ever been.
There’s a song by James, called “Sometimes,” that takes this a step further. A storm is closing in, a monsoon. “On a flat roof, there’s a boy leaning against the wall of rain/Aerial held high, calling, ‘come on thunder, come on thunder.'” Instead of hiding indoors, away from the discomfort, away from the danger, the boy makes himself into a lightning rod.
In this moment, every beautiful bowl is breaking. Every beloved ceramic construct in our fragile world is being crushed under the pressure of this global crisis. And we are frantically gathering the pieces, clutching them, trying desperately to glue them back together, to hide the cracks and make everything exactly as it once was. We are collectively undergoing transformation on the most massive scale imaginable, with the structures and norms we’ve come to depend upon crumbling around us.
But we must remember: there is profound beauty in being broken. The things that break us form who we will be on the other side. The difference in how we absorb these lessons and transmute our experience forms our reality when we’ve put ourselves back together again.
Beyond non-attachment, what if we could be grateful for the suffering we endure? And what if, even before our suffering occurred, we took a step back and welcomed the inevitable difficulties ahead, secure in the knowledge that we will be forged by the fire? What if we called to the storms in our lives, and held the aerial high? Whether we try to avoid the pain, pretend that we are immune, or embrace the inevitable thunder, it’s coming anyway. “The gap between crack and thunder is closing in, is closing in.”
There is beauty in death. There is beauty in decay. And there is beauty in being broken. It’s just incredibly hard to see through the swells of our individual suffering.
Once we push through this crisis, perhaps we’ll be able to embrace the proverbial kintsugi more fully. But it sure is hell in the meantime.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
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