I was first introduced to this concept through Death Cab For Cutie's recent LP bearing Kintsugi as the title. I was raised in a very conservative Christian town from middle school through my high school graduation. I've realized recently that growing up in this setting has left me wounded by a lot of ideas in Americanized-Christianity; Fear of hell, angry God in the sky...(multiply that by daddy-issues)...and you’ve got yourself an thoroughbred emo kid. I’ve lived most of my life from underneath that shadow. This art form has helped lift up the hood and shine a light down into some of those dark places.
Kintsugi is the remarkable Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with elegance and grace - a tradition with a lot to teach us more generally about how to handle the broken bits of ourselves.
Over time, Zen Masters developed an outlook that pots, bowls, cups and ceramics that had been damaged should not be neglected and tossed out. Rather, they should have our respect and attention and be repaired with enormous care.
Kin meaning “gold” and Sugi meaning "join". The definition of the word means to “join together with gold”. In Zen, the broken pieces of a piece of pottery should be carefully collected, reassembled and joined together with gold. There should be NO ATTEMPT to disguise the damage. The point is to render the imperfections beautiful and strong.
Kintsugi belongs to the Zen Ideals of Wabi Sabi which cherishes things that have a rustic or weathered quality. One of the great proponents of Wabi Sabi was a man named Sen No Reku. On a journey through Japan he was once invited to dinner where the host sought to impress him with a precious and expensive tea jar he purchased from China. Reku never seemed to notice the jar and spent most of his time admiring a branch outside swaying in the wind. Shattered by his lack of interest after Reku left the host smashed the jar to pieces and ran to his room.
Some other guests found the pieces, swept them up, melted down gold and reassembled the jar. Months later when Reku returned he saw the repaired tea jar and said, “Ah, now it’s magnificent.”
Kintsugi encourages us to respect what is damaged, vulnerable and imperfect within ourselves and others.
Ultimately we have two choices: To live in fear or love. Fear takes a microscope to the darkest parts of our lives. Love zooms wide and reveals how every blemish, crack, mistake and failure all swirl together to create a rugged piece of art. We are breathing masterpieces wrapped in flesh. Our imperfections can be the gold we use to glue our lives back together.
In a rough patch a dear friend gave me this Leonard Cohen lyric. May it give you courage.
“There is a crack
A crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in”