Kintsugi, meaning “golden joinery,” is the 16th century Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by rejoining and mending the broken shards with precious metals.
As a philosophy, kintsugi is the principle of accepting change as an intrinsic part of life.
Applying kintsugi during this pandemic could sound glib. But, perhaps, if posited with sincerity and earnestness, it may offer something of a framework for encountering the temporary destruction of the life we are accustomed to.
If we examine kintsugi we see that it teaches us to go beyond accepting brokenness and mending it, beyond honoring or embracing it. It dares us to exalt the existence of a fracture by mending it with something valuable like gold and silver. It exalts the broken with a process that engages creativity, artistry, skill.
To make kintsugi useful to us, the first question we want to answer is, How do we develop these attributes: creativity, artistry, skill? After all, many of us say things like, I’m not an artist. I’m not the creative type. I don’t have the imagination.
But that’s just untrue. If you’ve ever had the desire to add a little bit of parsley as garnish, or cut a few carrot slices into the vegetable mix for “color,” you’ve met with the creative impulse. If you love and long for variety, that’s your invitation to artistry.
Think of a blue armchair on a blue rug. A blue pillow for the small of your back, and a blue throw rug for your knees or shoulders. Did you think, Too much blue! That’s your imagination! You “saw” the things I described and you wanted to change what you saw to be more pleasing to you. Well, that’s the impulse of artistry. You don’t have to “develop” these attributes, only the trust that you already possess them. And where skill is concerned, it is simply the evolution a process undergoes as a result of repetition.
The second question we want to answer is, What is that “something precious,” what is the "gold" with which we would exalt the problem?
It could ennobling it by honoring the experience. Giving the times we're in respect could be the gold because respect elevates. Applying love would be brilliant. Because, well, love. All these are healing agents. And, yet, they’re very different from exaltation.
To understand better, let’s look at what this word means. One of its definitions is “to praise.”
But how on earth could we ever praise this pandemic and the suffering it causes? It’s unimaginable. And yet, that is the spiritual concept of kintsugi.
Once the tea bowl is broken and rejoined with gold, it’s not only repaired, it’s more precious than before. In other words, it has been exalted.
Kintsugi doesn’t pretend the breakage isn’t there. It doesn’t say the breaking doesn’t matter or doesn’t do damage. It says nothing about whether one would have preferred the unbroken state. It only deals with the present reality: the broken pottery. Tthe pandemic.
We are felled by losing loved ones. We feel the fear these losses strike in our hearts. We despair in isolation. Lose our jobs, maybe our homes. This pandemic is a terrible thing, a catastrophe. We can meet it with resistance, denial, anger, fear which is only natural and an appropriate response to the enormity of the situation. And, additionally, we can meet it with kintsugi.
We can praise that people are devising ways to help each other, show love and appreciation while still “social distancing.” Science across the globe is working together to develop vaccines. There is a cathedral quiet with so few cars on the road.
We can praise that nature is bouncing back from the effects of human activity at an astonishing rate. Wildlife is resurging. Skies are bluer.
We can allow that this can also be a time of (however forced) rest. A time to reflect, learn a language, bake, garden, develop a new hobby, spend more time with the children, with your partner. Draw up plans to realize a dream that’s been on the back burner. Read, paint, share your activities on social media. It’s not an overstatement to say that this is a time of profound breakdown. And it can also become a time of breakthrough. These are the things we can recognize as parts of the pandemic and praise them as such. That is kintsugi.
The pandemic is all around us, unavoidable and undeniable, exacting a heavy toll. We don’t know how bad it might get or how long it will last. That’s all the more reason to reach for spiritual means that can keep us grounded and, thus, help mitigate the trauma.
Kintsugi uses three approaches from which we can learn
Putting broken pieces together to fit as they did before and using gold to hold them to each other. This is a method if we still have all we need but feel the stress and fracturing the pandemic is causing.
Replacing a missing piece with gold. This approach is for those who have lost a job, relationship, or community, leaving a hole. This is the method of reaching out and filling the hole with the love from friends, family, loved ones, through creative activities, or by offering our own helping hand.
Creating a patchwork by replacing a missing piece with an entirely different fragment and then golding it in. This approach is for those who have lost someone to the Coronavirus. We ask for support from loves ones, a therapist, minister, spiritual guide. This process is the most difficult and prolonged. Finding the right piece to fill in the hole is complex. And it is never filled completely. The people we love are irreplaceable. And that's as it should be. Applying kintsugi, we connect with what we can praise--such as a shared past, memories, the love we felt and feel..
Kintsugi offers that we can recognize our suffering and our joys as a part of the whole. It is an imperfect tool for meeting this moment, these experiences. An imperfect tool, creating imperfect solutions and results. Kintsugi suggests that we allow these imperfections.
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Henry India Holden
I write about the divineness of life in its many forms. Writer, artist, spiritual director, life coach, tarotist. Nonbinary.