Repairing with gold

Kintsukuroi – the Japanese art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken

It is a beautiful image – a broken ceramic bowl, put back together with glue of gold, so that the strands of gold weave through the bowl and it looks more beautiful than before it was broken.

In our lives, the gold we heal with is love, kindness, compassion. We sometimes come across people who seem to have a ‘beautiful soul’, who emanate kindness and strength. Usually, when we hear their story, we find out that they have been through some very difficult times in their lives. Sometimes suffering can make us bitter, cynical, disengaged from those around us. Other times, suffering can infuse our lives with qualities like love, patience, equanimity. It’s difficult to know why some people seem broken by suffering, and others are strengthened. It’s a complex interplay between our attitudes, personality, upbringing, the supports available us, the attitudes of our society to suffering, and a range of biological and neurological influences. One person might have a plethora of supports available and reject them all, while someone else might get only one brief opportunity which they grasp with both hands and use to transform their lives.

The image of the wounded healer is a person who is able to support others in their healing, because they’ve been broken and put back together themselves. When you work in the helping professions, you find that most of your colleagues have their own back story of suffering and healing. In certain shamanic cultures, the signs that someone might be called to be a shaman include – being hit by lightning, having a serious illness which nearly kills them, or having a nervous breakdown. They are broken apart and have to put themselves back together in a new, transformed way. The current shaman will support this person as they go on their healing journey, and eventually, if all goes well, that person will become the next healer of the community.

We can see the past suffering of someone as the gold which has strengthened them and made them more beautiful, rather than a shameful secret which needs to be hidden from view. It can be tempting to attempt to repair our broken lives with invisible glue, so no one will ever guess there are any cracks in us. To repair a broken bowl with gold is no doubt patient and taxing work. It’s not a matter of sticking a few pieces together and hoping for the best. Sometimes, the repair may not be successful. The bowl which has been repaired with gold does not wallow in its brokenness, but nor does it hide it. Life goes on for the bowl – it is transformed, and it has become more beautiful.

Weekly practice idea:

Put aside some quiet time and reflect on what is the gold in your life which you have used to repair the cracks in you. Think of this gold as precious and healing, rather than something which needs to be hidden. How does it feel to think about healing in this way?

Anja Tanhane

Taking care

Welcome to the second in our summer series of the most popular mindfulness reflections – this post was first published on 10.6.2013:

In the Japanese film ‘Departures’, a young unemployed cellist, Daigo, inadvertently finds himself in a job preparing recently deceased for the coffin. This is done in a highly ritualised manner, at the house of the deceased, in front of the family. His new boss, Sasaki, is an older man of few words. However, when Daigo follows him to his assignments, he sees with what care and attentiveness Sasaki prepares the bodies. Following a closely-prescribed ritual so the body is always treated with respect and never exposed, Sasaki washes the deceased, dresses them in a beautiful kimono, applies make up and arranges the hair. Family members are invited to wipe the face of their loved one with a cloth and say good-bye. Through his gentle tending of the body, Sasaki creates a space for the family to be with their loved one final time before the deceased is locked into the coffin. Daigo witnesses the gratitude of the families at being able to participate in this ritual. Despite the stigma associated with the profession, and the opposition of his wife Mika, who thinks it is disgusting, he finds the job deeply rewarding and stays committed to it.

What is beautifully portrayed in this film is the healing power of taking care. There will be no national honours for Daigo and Sasaki, no widespread adoration, or lucrative engagements running motivational seminars. In fact, they operate at the edge of their society, shunned unless needed, constantly dealing with prejudice and rudeness. But the service they provide, and it is a service in the deepest meaning of the word, is profoundly healing and transformative for those whose houses they enter. The healing power doesn’t lie in the job itself, but in the tender, mindful way they go about it. The ritual space they create allows the families to grieve, to express their love, and to begin the long journey of saying good-bye.

We come across people like Daigo and Sasaki every day, but often we may hardly notice them. They don’t draw attention to themselves, and their tasks can be mundane and unglamorous. But we know when we are in their presence, because the care they take when interacting with the world leaves us feeling at ease and appreciated.

Weekly practice idea:

Find an ordinary, routine task and perform it with attentive care throughout the week. Take time to notice how this feels.

Anja Tanhane