“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”Ernest Hemingway
What is kintsugi?
The Japanese concept of kintsugi or kintsukuroi (meaning “golden repair”) is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery.
If a precious piece of pottery is cracked or broken, it is repaired with gold dust mixed through the lacquer, to emphasise the cracks rather than trying to disguise them.
In Japan, kintsugi is an art form and a firm part of celebration, such as in tea ceremonies. Masters in the tea ceremony embrace using implements that time has worn and may have been broken and repaired over the years, rather than using new, perfect or luxurious implements.
Kintsugi is part of a greater Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, which embraces the beauty in imperfection. This tacit appreciation of things imperfect transcends into a metaphor of our lives.
Beauty in imperfection
We all carry broken pieces in different ways. Kintsugi teaches us that through the process of repairing, through looking within ourselves with mindfulness, friendships, family, community, faith…we heal and use our past wounds to make us stronger.
And we do it with gold. Not with paste, glue or duct tape.
But with gold.
The art of kintsugi, whether it is repairing an object or your life, honours the survival of imperfection. The piece is more beautiful for being broken.
It is evidence that we are all capable of making mistakes. But we learn, heal and grow. We survive blows to the spirit, ego or reputation, and we can still live to tell the tale.
The gold is your badge of honour. It signifies that you are a phoenix that has risen from the ashes.
How does mindfulness help in embracing imperfection?
You may find it a bit daunting to practice something like mindfulness. If you are naturally organised or like things to be controlled or perfect, then you may wonder how you can embrace a practice where you need to completely empty your mind.
Mindfulness is actually an amazing practice because it is not about emptying your mind. It is the nature of our minds to have thoughts.
It is the practice of being fully present, be aware of what we are doing and where we are. It teaches you not to be over-reactive to what is around you.
I love how in mindfulness the sensory anchor can be anything. This way you can practice mindfulness no matter what you are doing, such as driving, doing the dishes, or putting your kids to bed.
Mindfulness with tea
You can also use five minutes to maximum mental benefit by just sitting and having a cup of tea as your mindful activity.
You then focus completely on each step of the tea-making process (selecting the cup, feeling the porcelain under your fingertips, the sound of the tea leaves rustling, the fragrance of the steeping tea), as well as the sensory experience of drinking it.
Using mindfulness, the key is to not get drawn into the feelings and emotions of your thoughts (like anxiety, worry, regret, guilt, sadness etc.) and learn not to judge yourself because of these thoughts.
It teaches you to extricate yourself from guilt or worry by accepting that feeling negative things is normal, and one of your many beautiful celebrated flaws.
Don’t judge yourself by thinking negative thoughts (or for thinking negative thoughts), but instead accept that negative thinking is part of a normal human brain. And your own special brand of negative thinking comes from your history and is part of who you are today.
In mindfulness, you practice acknowledging that your mind has wandered, gently reminding yourself that whatever thoughts your mind wandered to are part of the beautiful imperfections of you, and in true kintsugi style you accept them as part of you, without judgment.
Then you bring your attention back to your focus, such as your amazing cup of tea.
Essence of tea and you
Tea drinking has its own rituals, but the emphasis is on the tea. While beautiful tea implements may enhance the experience, at its essence, it is the tea that speaks and nourishes.
You may even drink from a cracked cup, but the crack does not detract from the essence of the tea.
Like a teacup, you may fall over the edge and as a result, chip or break into pieces. You will then need repairs. And that’s fine.
After all, it is the cracks that give you character. And they become beacons of your humanity – you extend empathy, understanding, love and compassion – because of what you have been through.
So, the cracked teacup is the flaws. But the tea, metaphorically, is the true essence of yourself. And that will not change.
In kintsugi and in mindfulness, the things that have broken you in the past are not to be ignored or hidden, but they are also not given the ability to break you again.
You can arise stronger because of your flaws and celebrate the person (and masterpiece) that they have helped to make.