Kintsugi: The Art of Appreciating our Brokenness
Repairing what's broken and appreciating the beauty in the transformation.
I was recently having a conversation with a friend about how most people we know have a knee jerk reaction to the question, “how are you?” Inevitably, we respond with, “I’m fine.” Regardless of how they actually are. Sometimes, we think it’s because we believe the person isn’t really asking the question, but more often, it’s because we don’t want to burden the other with how we really are; with our pain, our sorrow, or our frustrations.
We are encouraged by society at large to be fearless, to be strong and driven, and to keep our brokenness locked away from view. While the work of Brene Brown and others is starting to allow us to acknowledge—and even welcome—our vulnerability, we have a long way to go in the rapid course of our busy days in terms of actually standing in our vulnerability and our brokenness. Appreciating it becomes the next step.
In Japan, the art of kintsugi is a honored tradition. It is a practice of repairing broken pottery, using lacquer to seal the cracks, and then dusting those sealed places with gold, silver, or platinum. Candice Kumai, chef and author of Kintsugi Wellness: the Japanese Art of Nourishing Mind, Body, and Spirit, explores how this idea can be brought into how we treat ourselves. She offers the image of using kintsugi as a “metaphor for your life, to see the broken, difficult, or painful parts of you as radiating light, gold, and beauty.
Kumai became aware of this practice from her ancestral home when her own broken places became too much for her to ignore. She offers these ideas as guideposts for exploring and appreciating where you are in your journey, and what you have gone through to get here:
- Chart your progress. “Like a map of your heart,” writes Kumai, “kintsugi show us the lessons and reveals the truth.” When we can begin to see the lessons, and how we have learned and grown from our challenges, then we can begin to find the healing. She reminds us, “your kintsugi cracks become gold by doing the work.”
- Be kind to yourself. We can only truly offer kindness to others when we have first offered it to ourselves. As a practice of self-love and forgiveness, kintsugi reminds us that “the most beautiful, meaningful parts of yourself are the ones that have been broken, mended, and healed.”
- The practice doesn’t end. In this journey of life, there really is no destination. We are always learning, and there is always more for us to understand. Kumai writes, “to practice Japanese wellness, you must approach it with an open and honest heart.” This is simply about being willing to grow and to learn.
- Your beauty is in your brokenness. We are forever changed by our pain and our struggles. Kintsugi is about seeing these experiences for what they have to teach us, and the beauty they bring to our lives. “If you could see my heart,” writes Kumai, “you would see there are golden cracks all over it. Some run deep, some are still being sealed, and many more are still to come.”
The next time you feel that you won’t survive this experience, or that you will be broken forever, remember the core of your strength, remember that you are a resilient being, and that the struggles of life are an important part of the journey. Kintsugi can help you find solace in the awareness that “your broken places make you stronger and better than ever before.”