Ever dropped your favourite vase? Your heart is in your throat as you pick up the pieces and painstakingly glue it back together again. You find all the pieces, it seems to have shattered “whole” yet you can see the almost imperceptible holes. You never really use it again for its actual intended use – you just keep it on the shelf and protect it as much as possible.
Then it falls again. This time though there are smaller pieces that you know you won’t be able to find. Pieces that are lost forever. Still you glue that vase back together and you are still only the person who can see the cracks and flaws. You are not throwing this away – its value is beyond measure.
The Japanese have an art form – Kintsugi – the art of repairing broken pottery with a lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver or platinum. Basically the premise is to treat the breakage as part of the objects history rather than something that should be disguised.
In my earlier paragraphs I mentioned that we glue the broken vase together – we try and hide the brokenness of the vase. We still see the missing pieces even if it is not perceptible to others and we hide this. We relegate the vase to the shelf never using it again for its intended use.
Yet, if we practiced the Japanese art form, we would be making the vase even more unique and making it useful because it could be used. It wouldn’t just sit on the shelf.
But then it would really showcase the breaks and faults. Hmm … we are a culture that values perfection not flaws. We value things that fit a specific set of ideals and if it is flawed or broken we throw it away. We are taught not to keep things that are damaged or flawed, or heaven forbid – broken.
This quote sums it up quite well:
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
This can easily be transferred to life and relationships. Once things are damaged, they are never quite the same again. We “glue” them back together in an effort to appear whole and undamaged. Ever seeking that perfect exterior to the outside world. Yet from the inside the cracks and holes are visible. We see what others do not see.
I wonder what would happen if we practiced a little kintsugi on our relationships? If we highlighted the flaws and then existed within them? If we live in the moment, accept our brokenness and then show those off.
It is what makes us unique at the end of it all. Our flaws, our brokenness, our differences, our imperfections are what ultimately make us perfect. Within a relationship, and especially one that has taken a knock, instead of hiding the flaws, what if we brought them out into the open? They could well be the things that make a relationship stronger.
Broken relationships made beautiful with kintsugi. I am not oblivious – some relationships are beyond repair, but for most of us, a little kintsugi would go far in making us able to weather the next lot of knocks that life offers to those that seek to build together.