Seeing breakdowns as a repair process on your journey to healing

(n.) (v.phr.) “to repair with gold”: the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

I was honored to speak as part of the 2014 Sack Lunch Series at the Venice Family Clinic, sponsored by the UCLA Healthcare System. The event is designed to inspire others to move through barriers and create positive change in their lives. Inspiring someone is a tall order, and I never know if what I’m offering is touching someone in the way I’ve intended. I simply share what is meaningful to me and hope that others find value in it, as well. What I shared that day was something I learned not long ago on a business trip to Japan about how art imitates life in the process of healing and change. I hope you find value in it, as well.

When we find ourselves facing a difficult issue, especially a health challenge, the experience can take quite a toll on every area of our lives. Our self-image is usually the first to feel the impact. Once the fear and shock from the diagnosis start to fade, our thoughts turn inward to feelings of inadequacy. Our bodies should be working perfectly, but they’re not. There’s something “wrong” with us. We’re broken. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. When we learn how to reframe illness as a means to a positive end, we can transmute the experience into energy that supports our healing.

This concept reminds me of a Japanese pottery technique called kintsukuroi. I was introduced to this art form when I was invited to Japan by the Ministry of Health to speak at a conference of alternative medical physicians. The legend of kintsukuroi perfectly explains how brokenness is really an illusion that can, in fact, create great beauty. In the 15th Century, shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a precious, but damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs. He was quite disappointed when it returned with crude metal binding holding the pieces together. He quickly employed craftsmen of his own to find a more aesthetic repair. After the metal clasps were removed, the pottery shards were set in place with a lacquer resin. To hide the adhesive and add elegance to its appearance, the craftsmen sprinkled powdered gold over the seams of the repair. In the end, the result of the broken pottery was a piece more beautiful than it was before. In fact, what started as a repair method for broken pottery quickly became an artisan technique. Kintsukuroi literally translates to golden repair or to repair with gold.

Kintsukuroi - Re-framing Illness to Support Healing

“Brokenness is really an illusion with the purpose of creating great beauty.” – Dr. Habib Sadeghi

How might our bodies respond to illness if we chose not to see ourselves as broken, but rather in a repair process from which we’ll emerge as something far more beautiful? Things of great beauty rarely just appear. More often, they’re the result of a fashioning process where pieces are removed or rearranged in a way that gives rise to perfection out of something we mistakenly saw as imperfect. A great sculptor doesn’t see a blunt block of marble. He sees the angel inside it and removes the pieces around her so that she may be freed. A diamond that begins as a crude, dull crystal must face four weeks at the grinding wheel before its brilliant scintillation can dazzle us. Old glass soda bottles must face the hammer first before their colorful pieces can be reassembled into a stunning mosaic.

Interestingly, when the designer asked me what I would like on my office wall in the new Be Hive of Healing in Agoura Hills, I sat in meditation on the subject. Long before I’d heard of kintsukuroi, an image of beautiful, aged pottery with threads of gold came to my mind. How beautiful now that this wonderful ancient legend should be a metaphor for my life and for anyone else on a healing journey? When I now look at the mural on the wall every day, I am reminded that what breaks us down is part of a process to build us back up into something far more beautiful than before. I cannot wait to host you all at the new center, to share the mural, and support each other through all our healing journeys, in service of creating an intentional healing community.

During these times in our lives, it’s important to remember that although it may feel like everything is breaking down, it is not the same as being broken. We’re not missing any of our parts. We haven’t lost anything that’s essential to who we are or what we need to heal. We’re still complete. It’s just a rearrangement of the pieces. Last month, I shared the story of Ben Underwood. Although he was blind, his mother, Aquanetta, never saw him as broken or missing something. That perspective was essential to helping him achieve miraculous independence.

Yes, what we go through fashions our lives into spiritual works of art. The lines etched on the soul provide a depth of character and level of wisdom that we could not have acquired otherwise, and isn’t that the real gold of life?