Instead of viewing ourselves as "damaged," how about embracing our imperfections, confident that we are better than before?
Once or twice a year, my friend Jessi and I catch up over coffee or tea. Now Jessi is a powerhouse. Her youthful enthusiasm and creativity never fail to boost my sprits, and I always learn something from her. Last month's takeaway: Kintsugi Pottery.
Kintsugi, a traditional Japanese art that repairs broken pottery, has been around for at least 5,000 years. It sometimes is called, "the art of precious scars." What makes this process unique is its intention. Instead of trying to make a piece look brand new again, precious metals are used to fill in the seams. As a result, the pottery becomes whole again, and repairing the cracks with liquid gold, liquid silver, or lacquer dusted with gold enhances the piece's beauty and strength. Far from being useless, the repaired piece is better than before, in a way that couldn't have been anticipated.
In our throwaway culture, we tend to toss damaged items in the garbage and forget about them. Too often, we'd like to apply the same concept to parts of ourselves when we feel broken. To me, however, the repair from our hurts makes us that much more beautiful and useful, just as with Kinsugi.
If the transformation of broken pottery requires a skilled artisan and specialized materials, what "precious metals" help human scars become beautiful? In my experience, such healing comes from two primary sources: community and acceptance. Being in the presence of loved ones who embrace us, warts and all, lets us know deep in our souls that we are okay. While the going is often tough, sorting through the many waves of complicated emotions that follow trauma and loss—from fear and denial to anger and depression and finally acceptance—helps us eventually come to a place of beautiful equanimity. Our scars will always be there, but we can wear them like high art.
A silver lining (pardon the pun) of my own challenges—such as being bullied for being different in school and losing my beloved dream job as an adult—is that I have far greater compassion for others' struggles. Because I am a survivor, I deeply understand and can relate to the traumas and losses of my friends, family and clients. For added alchemy, I learned much about my own fortitude and determination along the way. As a result, I daresay I'm a better friend, therapist, and coach.
Like a piece of pottery that's been artfully repaired with the right intention and attention, our wounds can make us stronger, better and even more beautiful than before. Now that's a gift greater than gold.
TODAY'S CONVERSATION SPARKS
* How has coming back from the hard times in your life made you more beautiful, or better than before?
* What are the "precious metals" that soothe and repair any chinks in your shell?
For more on self-acceptance, see Chapter 16 in Full Heart Living. My brother-in-law Steve Leder's new book, More Beautiful Than Before, is also a terrific resource on transformation following life's inevitable hardships.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Tom Glaser is the author of Full Heart Living: Conversations with the Happiest People I Know. A psychologist and life coach, he lives in Minneapolis with his husband and son. When he isn't teaching Full Heart Living workshops—which explore how to listen and provide dynamic conversation sparks—you'll find him working on a second book about resilience following trauma.