Japanese aesthetics values marks of wear and tear that come with the prolonged use of an object. Keeping an object around even after it is broken, highlighting the cracks and repairs, is seen as simply an event in the life of an object, rather than considering that its usefulness ends when it becomes damaged or breaks.
Kintsugi, a Japanese term meaning `golden joinery', or Kintsukuroi, `golden repair', refers to the art of fixing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold. The piece often ends up looking more beautiful than before.
A story is told to perhaps trace the origin of this process. In the 15th century, the favourite tea-bowl of the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke, and wanting to drink out of no other cup, he sent it to China for repair. Unfortunately, it came back held together with unsightly metal staples. The Shogun was very disappointed, and challenged his own Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more pleasing means of repair. The potters decided to fill the cracks with lacquered resin and powdered gold. The broken cup became a stunning work of art, valued precisely because of the exquisite way it was repaired.
Often, we try to repair broken things in such a way as to conceal the repair, and make it `as good as new', but the tea masters and potters understood that by repairing a broken bowl with the distinctive beauty of radiant gold, they could instead employ a `better than new' aesthetic.
After mending, the bowl's unique fault lines were transformed into little rivers of gold that made it even more special because the bowl was now unlike any other; completely, uniquely beautiful; a radical physical transformation from broken to newly whole, from useless to priceless.
In Japan there is a kind of reverence for the art of mending, related to the Japanese philosophy of mushin that embraces the concepts of nonattachment, recognition of change and fate as aspects of human life, of living with equanimity amid changing conditions. The philosophy invites us to recognise the history of the object or person and to visibly incorporate the repair instead of disguising it.
Experiencing knocks and breaks and wounds is an unavoidable part of living. It happens to all of us. Relationships break, friendships break, hopes and dreams remain unfulfilled, health and wealth suffer cracks and many times we feel incapable of repairing ourselves. We handle the breaks in different ways. We may get stuck in the brokenness, indulging in self-pity, or becoming consumed with anger, and never heal. Or else, we pretend the brokenness never happened or we drive it into our `shadow', and as a result deny it and act against it in others without quite knowing why we do this. Sometimes, a bit wiser, we give ourselves the time and attention we need to heal those broken parts, but the resulting scars still feel painful, and remind us of the wounding. And then there are times when we give ourselves the time and attention, but also work to slowly make those places stronger than they were before.
In the throes of an event perceived as negative, it is impossible to see the good in that situation, but looking back we can see that most often, events of brokenness brought in new understanding, or our life took a different course.
It is then that our breaks and scars, as we mend from them, can seem beautiful, in the way they allow us to bring healing, and with it acceptance of the gilded beauty within us.
By Marguerite Theophil - First Published in SpeakingTree.in