The Japanese art of kintsugi offers a lovely metaphor for human growth and relationship repair. Broken pottery is repaired with gold-dusted lacquer, creating gold seams in place of the original cracks. The resulting piece is more beautiful than the original.
Kintsugi (“joined with gold”) may have originated in the late 14th century when shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite tea bowl and sent it to be repaired in China. Apparently when it came back with the pieces put together with ugly metal staples, he charged his craftspeople to come up with a more aesthetically pleasing approach. The kintsugi method they devised highlighted the damage rather than disguising it, illuminating the repair as part of the bowl’s history.
Kintsugi is a visual reminder of the central and even beautiful role repair can play in our lives. We all experience disappointment and loss. What matters most in determining our fulfillment and happiness is our capacity for repair and resilience.
At a time of loss or betrayal, people often ask me, “Will I ever feel the same again?” No, not exactly the same, not with the blind trust and innocence that often characterize youth and newfound love. Yet when we choose to put the pieces back together, we can discover that our lives have more dimension, more texture than before. As we let go of the need for perfection, we grow more and more richly human.
I guess therapy is a kind of golden joining, helping with that piecing-together process until we create beauty and harmony. For years I’ve shown an iPad photo of a kintsugi bowl to people in my New York psychotherapy practice at moments when hope seemed far away to them. One day it finally dawned on me that I could keep a real kintsugi bowl in my Manhattan office. And so here it is!
Beautiful not in spite of wear and tear, but because of it. Just like us and our relationships.