Beauty & Brokenness: the Art of Mending (from Episode 2 of the Growing Creative Podcast)
Beauty and brokenness. This is a vital concept that I find to have many, many applications, and it's been an underlying theme in my work for my whole life. As we consider beauty and brokenness today, I’d like to tell you about the beautiful metaphor of the Japanese art of Kintsugi: gold mending (where you take resin and you explore all the broken parts of an object and apply resin and gold dust to bind it back together.)
In our consumer American culture there is a sense that everything we have was made in a factory, it's replaceable. So when it breaks, we toss it. It gives us this idea that when there are broken parts of ourselves, it means we're no good-- destined for destruction and the doom of being cast aside. The question is, what would embracing the act of mending speak to your heart?
I want to ask the question, why is beauty and brokenness and this concept of holding both of them together, something that's revolutionary and not easy for us to do? Our brains are just so programmed to simplify things. We tend to categorize things as good or bad. If you talk to two children from the same family, perhaps it was a dysfunctional family with an alcoholic parent. One child might remember all the good times and their brain just couldn't hold the complication of somebody being good and bad. So they just remembered the good and tossed out the bad. And then another child from that same family might say, “Our childhood was traumatic and this terrible thing happened- this was all bad.” They couldn't even remember the good memories because their brain just simply couldn't bear the complexity of that tension that someone could be good and bad; that the family experience could have good and bad in it.
Another aspect to consider is that our brains are wired to remember traumatic or difficult negative experiences. I think this is sad. Although, I'm sure it is something that's key to our survival and safety. If something happens quickly/briefly, but it's very detrimental to our health and safety, it's good for us to remember it. The flip side of this is that while it takes only a split second of a negative experience to have it committed to memory, positive experiences require 30 seconds or more. It takes a far, far longer for you to be paying attention to a positive experience for it to get recorded into your memory. So what do we do with this? It takes effort and work to see that there is goodness, beauty, and joy available to us in the midst of trauma, heartache, and difficulty.
We can take the challenge to stay alive and awake to the beauty that is there in moments of heartache. Be on the lookout for beauty, train our heart and our eyes to watch for it. Notice a Cardinal flying by; notice the compassion in the eyes of a friend, as they listen to your heartache. That is a beautiful thing. And we want to stay present to that beauty. It's a more honest way to live when we can admit that in the midst of heartache, beauty is still there. And that beauty is often the most poignant deep well to draw from. It is also more honest to admit that the good parts of life are not just sunshine & lollipops, not just pink, sparkly, puff paint, or a Thomas Kincaid painting. There is some degree of heartache or brokenness underlying those good times. And there is honesty in admitting that truth.
I had the experience of walking with a friend through some grief lately. She had a lot of heartache. I won't go into details about it, but a lot of things in her life just felt like they were falling apart. And I remember her saying, “I know there's value in feeling broken, opens your heart to compassion. It opens you to see maybe you need a Savior outside of yourself, but why do I have to keep breaking? Why are there so many broken places?” Kintsugi had been on my mind and I said, “Maybe it's like the Kintsugi practice and each place that's broken gets filled in with gold that reflects the light, lets more beauty in…and brings a strength beyond what was there before. You wouldn't shy away from the brokenness if you saw it like that.
I want to invite us all to pick up this practice of mending, maybe a sweater, as fall season comes along, that you've loved, but you stopped wearing because it had a few holes and was looking worn. Some people even go so far as to mend in an opposite color of thread (Sashiko is a Japanese style of stitching to visibly mend), just to draw attention to the mending and let it be a part of the design and beauty. Instead of seeing something that has broken or become worn as needing to be thrown out, why don't we allow the mending to become part of its history, part of the story. The mending brings a deeper richness to an item as it can to our own hearts.
I have a favorite mug that I had made with a butterfly painted on it. It reminded me of the transformation we can find when we are willing to go into the cocoon and then bust out into greater creative freedom. I love that mug. And as things do sometimes, it broke. I have it sitting on my counter because I will not throw it away. I've ordered a Kintsugi kit. If you are interested in joining me in this practice, you'll find that if you get a kit that allows your mended pieces to be food safe, they are rather expensive. I've even seen a friend, however, take a DIY process of just taking fingernail polish and mending things that way. Well, I've kind of split the difference and purchased a Sandy Leaf Farm Kintsugi kit. It has an epoxy resin and gold colored dust, but it won't be food safe.
I want to invite us all to let this act of mending be a practice of compassion for the broken messy places within us. Can we have the willingness to come in, to trace the extent of the harm, that's there, to grieve it and then bring in forgiveness instead of holding on with resentment to that hurt. If we can release the person who is behind our harm and our hurt, if we can release them through forgiveness, it frees us to have our hands open to hope. Hope can be a rather defiant thing. Hope in the face of known vulnerability, known possibility of pain. That forgiveness is like the gold layer on top. I truly believe forgiveness is the icing on the cake— the most powerful part of really bringing healing into those hurt places. But we can't forgive somebody deeply if we don't admit how deeply harmed we had been.
Sometimes we get stuck with this freeze frame of a trauma experience and something that triggered hurt in us. We want to just avoid the pain of it, so we don't let ourselves sit with it long enough to see what message was there. What was the lie that we believed in the midst of that trauma? The lie we believed about ourselves is where pain, trauma and harm has the most power. It invites us to believe a lie about ourselves. Can we sit with those hurtful experiences long enough to see what the damage was, what the lie we believed about ourself was and who was behind it? Sometimes it's someone we really love and care about and we don't want the complicated tension of admitting that someone we love can be someone who is good and yet also hurts us.
There's so much power in exploring the depth of the hurt enough to find the lie that we believed. So we can bring truth in instead and see who it is that was behind that hurt, who allowed it or contributed to it because that allows us to see that we likely have a seed of resentment, and a place where we've been trying to protect ourself against that hurt. That resentment keeps us in bondage. It's like drinking poison and hoping the other person gets hurt. Choosing forgiveness doesn't mean that you have to be in relationship again with somebody who is not safe, but it means that you are choosing to not hold onto the hurt anymore. I heard someone speaking about the Forgiveness Project and they explained that when we don't forgive, it's like having an airport full of planes still in the terminals and no place for new experiences of good things to land. When we forgive, it's like letting those planes that have been taking up space at the airport move out of the way and make room for new positive experiences to come in.
I hope that you've found encouragement to step into this risky defiant hope, a willingness to watch for beauty, even though that makes your heart more open, which makes it open to pain as well. Can we be brave enough to hold beauty and brokenness together to see that they're both existing around us all the time? They're both within our own hearts and those we love. Can we choose to do mending, whether it's gold mending or another form of mending, as a tangible ritual— a metaphor to our own hearts to invite us into this process of bringing gold and light and beauty into these hurting places? May we hold our hands open to all the beauty and the brokenness that we find. May we hold onto a defiant hope that doesn’t settle for half truths.