Living with broken pieces

Living with broken pieces


I recently came across the Japanese concept of “kintsugi,” “golden joinery” or “golden repair.” This is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powder gold, silver or platinum. As a philosophy it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. The process of caring and attending to mend the broken object symbolizes a reconciliation with flaws and accidents of time. There’s no need to disguise the damage, because the point is to give the fault lines beauty and strength. The gold veins are there to remind us that breaks and faults, what has been damaged, what is vulnerable and scarred, has merit of its own.

This is all good for pottery and pieces of ceramic. But what about us? What about Kintsugi in our lives? How can this Japanese “repair technique” encourage us in our everyday life? 

We know how broken we feel sometimes, how full of scars and bruises we are: from playdates at the park in the middle of the summer – sometimes without enough water bottles – from our unclassified separation anxiety, or the lingering fantasy of an all-natural birth. We are sleep deprived, unable to finish dinners sitting down and interrupted while finally having reached the shower. These are seen as damaged pieces of life. And we need to remind ourselves that celebrating the bad and the ugly is part of noticing ways to appreciate our own precious scars. 

Find ways to refurbish yourself. Do what you have to do. Or stand still and don’t do anything. That’s also deciding to mend, to heal, to move on even if it sounds contradicting. Listen to the still and quieting voice within you.

Our children would benefit from practicing kintsugi in daily life: we don’t hide broken parts, we look for means to display them and express ourselves through them. Something went wrong at the recital? The math project was not as successful as expected? We fell at recess? Our best friend decided to be best friends with someone else? Those are wounds, the broken parts of our wholeness. But this same wholeness is made out of pieces. Treasure them. Learn to find the spark, learn to see and shine, and most of all, learn to accept the breaks and the sap to heal.

In kintsugi art there’s a substance used for gluing the broken parts, a type of sap that is extracted from the Toxicodendron vernicifluum, also known as the Chinese lacquer tree. This sap contains the allergenic compound urushiol, which is the oil found in poison ivy that causes a rash. So imagine, the adhesive used for gluing and mending is toxic in itself and yet it serves the purpose of regenerating. Same with the leaves, seeds and resin of the lacquer tree, which are used in Chinese medicine for the treatment of internal parasites and for stopping bleeding. 

It’s not only the smoothness and delicacy of the seashell found once at the beach. It’s also the silence we can always hear in its core. It does remind us of a time with no naps and feeding schedules, but it should also remind us how painfully beautiful it is to have these in our lives. We don’t need to hide the wounds, the breaks, the bends: we can expose the faults and make them beautiful as they are. Our scars are our stories. It may take up to a month to repair the largest and most refined pieces of ceramics with the kintsugi technique, given the different steps and the drying time required. Healing and resilience takes time.

The idea is not only to repair ourselves but also, and mostly, to do so with gold and sparkles! All the craze for wellness and selfcare is not something new. It’s thousands of years of parenting adventures that once again need to be recognized and honored.

The twists and turns are inevitable. But we can control the reaction and empower our creative forces to transform and revere our own gracefully imperfect experiences.