We all have dreams at some point as to how our life will turn out. Naturally we will find “the one” for us and have a deeply fulfilling relationship leading to a wonderful marriage. We will find financially and creatively rewarding career and win the respect of others. It all sounds so easy and we all can remember one point in our young lives when we just knew that was waiting for us if we make the right decisions and live by the golden rule.
Unfortunately, life has a nasty habit of interfering at some point and reminding us how little control we really do have and deals us a series of smashing blows. We find ourselves left with nothing much of our dreams except some shattered and seemingly worthless fragments. For many of us, our bodies are also shattered and left in seemingly worthless fragments of what we once were.
How to deal with such a devastating blow? Perhaps it is worthwhile to look at Japanese Philosophy and, in particular the Zen Buddhist concept known as KINTSUGI (Kin-Sugi). This is the Zen Buddhist approach to Ceramics.
Over the centuries, Zen masters developed an argument that pots, cups and bowls that have become damaged should not be neglected and simply discarded. They should continue to attract our respect and attention and, if possible, repaired with enormous care. Certainly an incurable disease falls into the category of the flaws and accidents that life delivers with a cold indifference to our dreams and aspirations, however noble, and can leave our bodies damaged and shattered. There is a part of Japanese Biddhist Philosophy that is symbolic of and intended to reinforce one of the underlying themes in Zen, which is reconciliation with the flaws and accidents of time.
The word that describes this tradition of ceramic repair is KINTSUGI. Kin (Golden) Tsugi (joinery) – it literally means to join with gold. In Zen aesthetics the broken pieces of an accidentally smashed pot should be carefully collected, reassembled and glued together with lacquer that is generously infused with most expensive gold powder with absolutely no attempt to hide the original damage. The very point is to render the fault lines strong and beautiful. The gold veins are there to represent the breaks of a philosophical merit all of iTD own.
The origins of Kintsugi are believed to date back to the Muromachi or Ashikaga shogunate (circa 1336-1573) when the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) broke his favorite tea bowl and was so distraught he sent it to China for repair. When it was returned the Shogun was appalled at the crude and ugly metal staples that were used to hold the broken pieces together that he had his craftsman come up with a better solution. What they came up with was a delightful method that did not disguise the damage, but rather made something artistic and beautiful out of it.
Kintsugi belongs to the Zen concept of Wabi Sabi, which is a reverence for the simple, unpretentious and aged – especially those items with a rustic or aged quality. There is a story of Japanese Philosopher Sen No Rikyu (Re-que) (1522-1599) who was a great believer in Wabi Sabi.
While traveling through southern Japan, he was invited to a dinner. The host of the dinner thought his honored guest would be impressed with an expensive, antique tea pot he bought from China. The host was greatly disappointed when the philosopher paid no attention to the elaborate and expensive tea jar. Instead he spent his time chatting and admiring a branch on an old tree swaying in the breeze outside.
The host was so upset about Riky’s lack of interest that, once the philosopher left, he smashed the jar on the ground and retired in despair to his room. The other guests wisely gathered up all the pieces and had the jar repaired using Kintsugi. When Riky returned for another visit, the philosopher turned to the repaired Jar and exclaimed with a knowing smile, “Now it is Magnificent.”
In these modern times where we are consumed with worships of the new, of youth and perfection, the Art of Kintsugi holds a particular wisdom that applies to modern life as much it does to ancient Japanese ceramics. The love and care expended to repair the shattered pieces should encourage us to respect what is damaged and scarred, vulnerable and imperfect – starting with ourselves, and those around us.
As hard as it is to apply such wisdom when it is ones broken body and constant pain has left our perfect and likely never attainable dreams in life shattered to pieces, all we can do is try our very best each day. We know there will be days that are almost unbearable and it is easy to write these words and make it seem as if I am contentedly consoled by philosophy, but I assure you it I am not.
I turn to the wisdom as a form of consolation or perhaps as merely a distraction until I can remove the dreams shattered into far too many pieces for Kintsugi to work and permit me the time to sweep away the shards and the overwhelming shame in an effort redefine life and find new dreams.
Thank you for taking the time to read my humble contribution to wisdom in an effort to help myself and, it is my sincere hope, others live a better, more satisfying life through applied philosophy.