In the run up to my birthday (yesterday) I found myself thinking about the Japanese craft of mending a bowl by joining the shards together with golden lacquer. I even went to the Ashmolean to see if I could find some examples (I didn’t find any). The Book of Life, part of the School of Life, explains it like this:
It means, literally, ‘to join with gold’. In Zen aesthetics, the broken pieces of an accidentally-smashed pot should be carefully picked up, reassembled and then glued together with lacquer inflected with a very luxuriant gold powder. There should be no attempt to disguise the damage, the point is to render the fault-lines beautiful and strong. The precious veins of gold are there to emphasise that breaks have a philosophically-rich merit all of their own.
and here is the full text, an essay on their rich and carefully thought-through website. I’m not sure what to make of the organisation, but I passed their shop/centre in Marchmont Street last weekend before my final visit to the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library, which I blogged about before.
Plenty of people have explored the psychological metaphor before me.
Gold-Joining, Kintsugi. Too easy to go back to my crises of the spring and summer (and the Christmas that has just gone) and say “There! Broken – but at least I shine with gold!” Being broken is not like that. Whether a sudden crisis, or a dam-burst of emotional turmoil, or a long, limping condition, the brokenness of mental ill-health does not always shine with gold: but it invites a painstaking mending that will not hide but will (eventually) accept and celebrate. That painstaking is core, and for me it also invites two related things: silence and compassion. They are not easy, and I know I am really not good at these two things that, joined together, are transformational. Here I am, for example, blogging when the house is quiet and I could be sat still.
Cyprian Smith, whose book on Meister Eckhart has yet to be surpassed, writes in his book The Path of Life that silence
…takes us into the depths, the depths of our own minds….There is no spiritual progress without that descent into the darkness.
But (to some extent) the descent into darkness, the pains-taking of spirituality, is not taken alone. That descent into darkness is partly the acceptance of our weakness, but the mending is informed and mitigated by the communal aspects of our lives. Cyprian goes on to talk of the silence of the carefully swept room, lifeless and suffocating, and some of that comes from not listening to our compassionate selves – or to others (in person, in written form, whatever) who extend a genuine compassion to us. Feel (y)our own weakness, be confronted by it, stare at it; acknowledge and accept; be compassionate and know it is who you are, who makes you the lovely person you can be. It is in this compassion that we move to add the gold to the mend.
To extend the metaphor with which kintsugi is heavy, it is not the pot that mends itself.