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Brokenness and Beauty: What the Art of Kintsugi Can Teach Us

An ancient technique used to repair ceramics is a metaphor for healing.

Key points

  • Kintsugi is a form of Japanese art involving the repair of broken pottery. The broken pieces are reassembled using a gold-infused compound.
  • The ancient technique of Kintsugi can be applied to human life by inviting one to consider one's own brokenness.
  • Just as broken pieces become whole again through the artistic technique of Kintsugi, people can choose to take steps toward inner healing.

The image caught me by surprise. Unlike most images that dissolve quickly into the next sense-impression, this one kept reverberating within. What was it that so captivated my attention?

The image was of a vase. Made of pottery, the vase had been fired in a beautiful celadon green. It was about 12 inches in height with beautiful graceful lines. Then if you looked closely, you could see a random pattern of tiny cracks, crisscrossing the surface of the soft green. Clearly the vase had been broken and painstakingly repaired.

I soon learned that this is an ancient process known as Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery. Rather than throwing the broken pottery away, the broken pieces are assembled and carefully reconstructed with a special compound infused with gold. Gold! I could see how the pattern of tiny gold lines added to the beauty of the vase.

For me, the metaphor of brokenness and beauty took on a life of its own. What about our feelings of brokenness? These moments come and go, driven by a spectrum of emotions—sadness, anger, helplessness, fear, despair—whatever it may be for you. Besides our personal spectrum of feelings, we’re surrounded by the brokenness of the world: climate crisis, refugee migrations, racial injustice, political polarization, wildfires, floods—the list goes on.

How do we find healing in our brokenness? What is brokenness asking of us?

We remember our closest ally—the calming presence of our breath.

We bring awareness to our varying moods, seeking equanimity.

We do our inner work, perhaps turning to a trusted friend or therapist.

We seek community.

We take refuge in the wise perspective of the law of impermanence.

We realign with meaning in our lives.

The gold in our lives is every healing step toward wholeness. Granted, at times our brokenness feels overwhelming. But that is the sign of our humanness and an invitation to have compassion for oneself. However modest it may be, our aspiration is to heal our tiny corner of the universe. Every step we take with the aspiration to heal becomes a gift to the whole. That is the reality of our interconnectedness and the mystery of the metaphorical gold.

May the image of gold from the art of Kintsugi invoke a moment of beauty and inspiration for you. As you too visualize the beautiful vase, remember the well known phrase from a Leonard Cohen poem, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

With blessings and love,

Olivia

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