The strength in our scars

“Embrace your emotional scars…they are proof that you have suffered; let them remind you that you are strong.” (Tomas Navarro) How Kintsugi is teaching us to love our scars…

When something breaks, it is changed forever. Shape, structure, form and function may all be affected, and the way it is put back together, the bonds forged to fix it, become as much a part of its new incarnation, as its older parts.

In kintsugi – the ancient Japanese art form of fusing broken pieces of pottery back together with gold – we see, not only how beautiful something can be when it breaks, but also how strong.

Translating literally as ‘golden joinery’, kintsugi first appeared in the 1400s as a response to the tradition of fixing of broken pots with ugly metal staples. In a kintsugi repair, there are no attempts to disguise or minimise the damage. The crucial point is to celebrate the breaks and the bonds, to draw the eye to what was broken, and how it was mended. Kintsugi shows us that scars and breaks are important, we shouldn’t be looking to cover them up, instead to recognise and acknowledge both the part they have played in shaping us, and the work we have done to fix them.

This is true of pottery, and it is true of people. Like the golden fault lines running through kintsugi, just as we are broken, we can be repaired – and the manner of that repair, the learning in that growth, becomes a strong and beautiful part of who we are.

American counsellor and therapist Tammy Lenski explains how this philosophy is starting to be applied in a therapeutic context too. “When the fault lines of conflict show up in a personal, professional, or business relationship, we have this idea that resolution must somehow make things as good as new…But no cure erases the remnants of damage done.

Traces of our pain, of the distrust that gnawed our souls, of fear of what would happen — those traces live in the recesses of our minds, a trickle of unease that haunts us when we try to glue the fault lines back together and make it appear as if they never happened. When we’re sorting out relationship conflict, let us instead transform that trickle of unease into a trickle of radiant gold by revering, perhaps even illuminating, the flaws that make our relationship unique — one of a kind, imperfectly special, a relationship that has weathered something difficult and come out stronger on the other side.”

The use of kintsugi as a philosophy is becoming increasingly popular. In an age when we are all too focused on perfection and youth, Kintsugi teaches us that imperfection and age are two things to be celebrated and protected.

Increasingly, you can find these concepts being translated into life coaching, counselling, art therapy, sports theory and team coaching, and even business management techniques and self-development. Psychologist Tomás Navarro published his book ‘Kintsugi: Embrace your imperfections and find happiness – the Japanese way’ in 2018 and uses the philosophy as a way to provide practical applications for problems in our lives – from career disappointment to heartbreak or illness. “Everyone faces suffering, but it is the way in which we overcome our troubles, and heal our emotional wounds, that is key. We shouldn’t conceal our repairs, they are proof of our strength,” he says.

In her 2018 book Kintsugi Wellness, bestselling author, chef and health journalist Candice Kumai returned to her Japanese heritage and took the traditions of both kintsugi and wabi sabi and developed a book featuring recipes and pratical tools for living well and celebrating the things that have already brought us to where we are now. She says: “Perfection is overrated, and the Japanese have the most graceful and humble way of communicating reality. Wabi-sabi is how we reflect on imperfection and the beauty in all things.

The realisation that pain awakes you and makes you feel alive. It will remind you of what is important and how without darkness, light cannot exist. All is actually perfectly imperfect just as it is. They call me, the “golden girl of wellness” and even on my darkest and toughest days, you’ll find these splitting cracks on my heart being mended with gold. Look deep inside of your heart, because it’s full of those golden cracks, where the light, the grace, the humility comes in. We are not perfect, yet we are kintsugi.”

The particular wisdom in the art of kintsugi, lies in the knowledge that the time and love put into fixing something that is broken can apply just as much for ourselves as it can for a broken tea cup. And the beauty and precious nature of the gold used to fuse them together, signifies the strength, confidence and value we should put into repairing these breaks.

In an age that puts more importance on beauty, youth and perfection, we could all do with remembering that the most special things in our lives are often those that have a history and journey to share, and that includes our own selves. “The world breaks every one, and afterward many are strong at the broken places,” wrote Ernest Hemmingway in A Farewell to Arms. It is in the way we survive, thrive, flourish and repair those breaks that the real beauty of imperfection is found.




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