Recently I’ve been pondering the Japanese art of Kintsugi, or the practice of mending broken pottery by filling the cracks with gold resin. There was an image of such a piece circulating around Facebook, and the metaphorical implications were quite profound.
I know no more about Kintsugi than that which was revealed via a quick Google search, but here is the main idea. The goal is to honor the history of the pottery. It makes no attempt to hide its cracks and imperfections, but rather incorporates them into its design and restoration, thus repairing its wholeness and making it even more intricate than before in the process. It’s a very honest way of dealing with something, one that respects the scars that life has thrown at it and even sees beauty in its rough history.
An interesting comparison is how ancient Romans would repair their pottery. They would use wax that can seamlessly blend into the work and be painted over. It’s somewhat of a folktale that this was a way for dishonest potters to cover the flaws of their work, and so a piece that was made without wax (sine cera) or sincerely, was more valuable and honest. However, there is probably little truth to this story, but like Kintsugi, its metaphorical implications resonate with people, which is probably why it’s a popular explanation. Whereas Kintsugi highlights the imperfections of a piece, using wax would hide them, giving the guise of perfection when in fact a pot repaired with wax would be just as cracked as one repaired with gold.
When we relate to people, it seems to me that we have the option to be the mythological unscrupulous Roman potter or the honest Kintsugi artist. We can either try to cover imperfections or embrace and respect them. No one is perfect, and in fact accepting our imperfection can be a great relief with the gift of permission to live authentically. Everyone goes through hard times, some more than others, but that just means that they need more gold to put the pieces back together.
So, why would people use wax instead of gold when interacting? Well, wax is inexpensive. It does not take as much effort to plaster over something. Wax can blend in, helping uphold the impossible image of perfection. However, wax is also a cheap substitute compared to ceramics. Gold on the other hand is a highly valuable heavy metal that stands out. Similarly, interacting sincerely –without wax as the story goes- is valuable, substantial, and beautiful. The cracks will still be clearly visible, but that has become part of the charm rather than something to stress about covering up.
Perhaps even worse than using wax is throwing something away completely. Just look at our society’s collective junk that is bloating landfills, polluting the oceans, and getting shipped to poorer countries. Those could be valuable resources if we would go through the effort of sorting things out, or, even better, built things that were designed to be reused and recycled in an ecologically respectful manner. However, we keep seeking more and more pristine resources. At some point someone needs to say enough, and many people are because they have had enough.
Saying enough means taking a stand, asserting yourself and your boundaries and reaffirming your individuality. There’s this annoying aether of not-enoughness or scarcity in our culture. Just fill in the blank: I’m not ________ enough. There’s plenty of things I could put in that blank. That same craving for more that is manifest large in how we interact with the environment as a society also exists more or less in each of us. Depending on your circumstances, you may really need more, but if not, it’s time to say no.
Since wax is blends in like make-up, it can create a false image that appears more complete and pristine than reality. If we judge ourselves to this illusion, then that will support the feeling of not-enoughness. So, use gold instead and use it well, because in addition to being valuable, it’s also rare.
And as nice as it would be for the gold in our lives to look like this
Odds are good that it will look like this, where it ought to be, reconstructing beauty out of life’s challenges.