When Something Beautiful Breaks (by Heidi Priebe)
When Something Beautiful Breaks
There is a Japanese practice called ‘Kintsugi’ or ‘golden joinery’ that takes previously shattered items and fuses them back together using a lacquer made of gold, silver or platinum.
The idea is that the brokenness makes the things more beautiful. Don’t close this article right now. I know you’ve heard this anecdote a thousand times before. I have too. It’s popped up on my Pinterest. It’s circulated my news feed. It’s endorsed that faint, yet pleasant idea that anything once lost can be recovered. That anything once broken can mend.
It’s a wonderful idea. Sometimes it resembles the truth.
Sometimes what we’ve lost, damaged, hindered or neglected can serve as a turning point. Sometimes gold can be poured into the absences. Sometimes what’s broken comes back stronger.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
I have spent my whole life attempting to be a makeshift goldsmith. Every problem must infer its own solution. Every ache must come equipped with an ability to mend. My belief in repairing, in redeeming, in finding strength where there was once only emptiness, has been unwavering. I have believed in ‘Kintsugi’ of the spirit. I have believed in ‘Kintsugi’ of the mind.
But I’ve stopped believing in it holistically as of late.
Have you ever reached a point in your life where you cannot go on?
I realize this raises a paradox. Anyone who has, must not be reading this. Anyone who hasn’t is still here. But I’m not talking about death of the physical body. I’m talking death of the psyche, the spirit. I am asking you if you’ve ever reached a point where you cannot continue living your life as the person you’ve always been, because something inside of you has broken.
Something that no amount of glue can piece back together. Something that the world’s finest gold could not repair.
If you have come to this point, I do not further need to explain it to you. If you have not, I hope with incredible sincerity that you never do.
One of the hardest lessons any of us might ever have to learn in life is that beautiful things can break.
Irreparably. Unmistakably. Irrevocably.
Things we’ve had, things we’ve been, things we’ve loved, inside ourselves or other people — some are not built to last forever. Some things can’t be resurrected after their moment of inevitable shatter. Some things ought not to be.
The loss of anything that was once a pure source of beauty and guidance in our lives is a form of unmatchable grief. There’s the desire to go back. There’s the desire to relive the crash. There’s the desire to pick up every broken piece up off the floor and find the world’s most elaborate materials for reconstructing it.
I know, I know. We have all been that delusional goldsmith.
But sometimes these desires are in vain. Sometimes what’s broken won’t mend. Sometimes what’s hurting won’t heal. Sometimes there’s no answer, there’s no way to go on. And when we reach these moments, these moments of no-going-on, we must respect them. We must accept them. We must leave the broken pieces on the floor and realize what has to happen next.
We have to lay down the thing that is lost and resign ourselves — to letting them simply stay broken.
There is a quote by Cheryl Strayed that reads: “It is impossible for you to go on as you were before. So you must go on as you never have.”
It’s so easy to forget this is an option.
When we break, we look only for repair tools. When we’re hurting, we search only for balms. We seldom realize that we are the misguided hammer-holders, looking at every problem like it is a nail.
Sometimes it’s not a nail. Sometimes it’s not an opportunity for Kintsugi. Sometimes the incredible grief of brokenness serves as a reminder that we cannot change our past or our experiences. Now, the only thing left we can change is our own hearts.
We cannot go on as we’ve been. So we have to lay down our old tools and start over.
There is a philosopher named Pema Chodron who claims that we must be ready and willing to let our egos die — over and over and over again in life.
She claims that when you reach the point of can’t-go-on, something inside you must die. And what must die is your ego. The part of you that was attached to that thing as a measure of your own worthiness. The belief that you cannot go on in life without it.
It is hard to let our egos die. It’s beyond hard. It is exquisitely and excruciatingly painful. Most of us die clinging desperately to our egos, believing they’re all that’s keeping us afloat. Most of us never realize we do not need life preservers. Most of us never stopped to realize we could swim.
But this is the exact situation we find ourselves in, when we try over and over and over to fix something that cannot be repaired. A mistake. An error of judgment. A relationship with somebody else. A relationship we have with ourselves.
We are aching so desperately to undo the damage that we are keeping ourselves stuck in it; cutting our fingers over and over and over again in an attempt to put the pieces back together and reverse what has transpired.
Instead of putting the pieces down. Surrendering the part of our egos that so desperately wanted to be capable of fixing that problem. And learning to use new tools that will help us in the future.
The idea of Kintsugi is an undeniably beautiful one. And when we can apply it, we should. But there are times when we need to know our limits. When a loss ought to simply be a loss. When something broken cannot be resurrected, even with the most beautiful gold work in the Universe.
And when we allow ourselves to admit that — truly, deeply and completely, a new sense of beauty emerges.
The gold shards come to fill in not the broken parts of the relationship, the ideology or the belief that we’ve lost, but to fill in the parts of ourselves that once needed those things so desperately.
We realize that what’s broken was not the relationship, the situation or the object. What was broken was us.
What was broken was our ability to move on. Our ability to let go. Our ability to heal ourselves instead of clinging direly to the past.
What needed to be mended was not the thing we dropped, it was the tremble in our hand that caused us to drop it. It was the pattern of self-destruction that wove its way into our lives and disrupted us. It was the over-arching voice of our ego that led us to the moment of destruction.
We all want to be the goldsmith — capable of beauty and redemption and power — not the broken thing that needs to be fixed.
But when we allow ourselves to finally accept ourselves as we are — with all our chipped parts and fragments and cracks — we open ourselves up to a new sort of power and understanding.
We open ourselves up to helplessness. To brokenness. To the exquisite pain of being a human that most people spend their whole lives running from.
We open ourselves up to the understanding that we are not the masters of our Universe.
We open our hearts up to the process of Kintsugi. And we, ourselves, begin to heal at last.