On Kintsugi

In a society such as ours, which glorifies the flawless, unblemished and perfect, we have a conditioned (but by no means natural) desire to hide our flaws, minimising the parts of ourselves that are damaged, warped, or otherwise ugly, in the hope that we too will appear as an object of perfection and therefore, worthy of being loved.

We have this deep seated (yet misguided) belief in necessary perfection. We despise our own bodies because they do not live up to the photoshopped standards of the models and athletes that don magazine covers. We believe that healthy relationships should be free of fights and disagreements; a smooth, frictionless affair. We believe everything from our emotional and psychological states, down to our very DNA (as the global interest in gene editing demonstrates) should be free of blemishes and stains. Cracks in the heart (take a pill) or cracks in the face (inject some Botox) must be promptly eradicated.

It is considered improper and indicative of poor etiquette to share personal travails and tribulations with those whom we do not know exceptionally well. The proper response to ‘how are you?’ must always be a flat, asexual ‘good, thank you’. Dismay and misfortune must be kept at bay. While nobody explicitly states it, your Facebook posts must recount your successes, not failures; and your Instagram must only show you on a cruise in Croatia surrounded by other beautiful (and presumably) young acquaintances, and not you curled up on the couch eating pizza and crying over your dismal university marks.

First dates exemplify the problem. We extoll our wonderful qualities. We focus on what makes us wonderful, exceptional, and talented. We make ourselves out to be (even if we know it is not the case) to be perfectly complete, whole, and high-functioning individuals with no trace of animosity or brokenness within. We do not mention our past failures, misdemeanours, or that mental breakdown we had just one month ago. We like to keep hidden the parts about ourselves we see as defective. Nobody wants to buy a broken toy.

But, there is an entirely different way to look at things. Sure, you cheated on your girlfriend. But, from the repercussions you learnt the importance of honesty, openness, and loyalty to another person; and what it means to live not only for yourself, but for someone else too. You developed a debilitating injury, but in becoming so depressed, you developed an inner strength that allowed you to rise above your injury and enjoy life in a way that someone who has never been deeply in pain ever could. You had a mental breakdown just a month ago, but that gave you the space to observe and conquer parts of yourself that you never would have been able to without it. These ‘flaws’ have not made you ugly at all; rather, they have made you beautiful in an entirely new way.

It is here that the Japanese practice of Kintsugi reveals itself as an art form deeply embedded in the human experience. In Kintsugi, a broken bowl, vase, or any object, is repaired, the cracks joined together with a gold lacquer so that rather than minimising the signs of repair, they are instead highlighted and celebrated as something beautiful.

Image result for kintsugi

What Kintsugi teaches us is that what has damaged, warped, or broken us, is not something to be ashamed of. You have lived through it, and although you do not exemplify an abstract and perfected standard of beauty, you have become beautiful in your own way.

Consider this tree. It does not fit into our standard notion of what a ‘tree’ should look like. It is not stern, upright and solid. It is twisted, warped, and altogether precariously perched on a rocky mountain top. What events happened to the young sapling that led it to grow in such a ‘deformed’ and peculiar way? By all accounts, the tree fails to achieve the standard set by the trees in the forest beyond. The very hardships this tree experienced – an awkward growing position, complete exposure to the elements, snapped limbs from overly excitable animals – are precisely the things which has made it so unique, exceptional, and in its own way, beautiful.

The events in our lives that have left us scarred, broken and bruised, are not necessarily indicators that we are in some way deformed and ugly. Rather, they can be, like a Kintsugi bowl, celebrations of what makes us so unique and, in the hands of a properly attentive person, beautiful.

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