Beauty in the Cracks

Beauty in the Cracks: A Kintsukuroi Perspective

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in      – Leonard Cohen

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.     – Confucius

I took a two-hour class at a local art center the other evening in which we made clay pinch pots — bowls or vases, basically, that we created out of a ball of clay. The process consisted of pushing one’s thumb into the center of the ball of clay to start the opening, and then pinching and turning the ball of clay between the thumb and fingers to form and thin the walls of the pot, and finally to shape the rim. As I worked, I found myself feeling anxious from time to time about what I deemed to be imperfections in my pot — cracks that had started to form in the clay, a lop side, an errant undulation in the rim. I was not the only one in the room to have this kind of response. Others were nervous, too, about their own creations. The instructor was very kind and reassuring to us all, offering pointers for addressing issues that may have really been serious — structurally speaking, I’m guessing — but also proffering compliments on some of the other characteristics that seemed to worry us the most.

As I left the class that night, reflecting on making my pinch pot, and on the anxiety that I had experienced in the process, I found my thoughts turning over an image and its accompanying text that I had seen on Facebook and Twitter a while ago, and that had recently resurfaced in my feeds. If you recognize the word, “kintsukuroi,” that I’m using in the title of this blog post, you may well know it, as I do, from the very image and text that I’m talking about. The image is one of a gray pottery bowl — veined with gold to dramatic effect — offered to illustrate the Japanese art of kintsukuroi, or kintsugi, in which broken pottery is mended with a lacquer resin to which powdered gold has been added. The text that accompanies this image describes the art as embracing a perspective that “the piece [of pottery] is more beautiful for having been broken.” As I had fretted in my pottery class over aspects of my pinch pot that I perceived to be imperfect, parts that I was judging as “not good enough,” I was struggling to remember the idea behind kintsukuroi – that we can choose to see beauty in the very cracks and errant undulations that we so often want to “correct,” cover up, distract attention from, or otherwise disavow.

I wonder how different our lives would be if we saw beauty, rather than imperfection and brokenness, in more of the “cracks” around us – in those aspects of ourselves, others, and our experiences to which we tend to respond with judgment and worry, fear, and sometimes animosity. Wouldn’t we feel more calm, compassionate, content, or even confident? If we imagine so, and these feelings interest us, what new ways of thinking and behaving would support the kind of perspective behind this shift? If we already experience “a kintsukuroi perspective” at times in our lives, what do we identify as contributing to it?

To our calmness, clarity, and confidence!

Featured image credit: iven401 / 123RF Stock Photo


About Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, CPC, ELI-MP

Scott Burns KahlerScott is a psychotherapist, life coach, and the founder of Thought Tonic.  He dedicates his work to those who identify themselves as struggling with anxious thinking, and often their self-esteem, to help them experience their lives with greater calm, clarity, and confidence.

Scott maintains a counseling practice in Indianapolis, Indiana, and does coaching in-person, over the telephone, and by Skype.

You can follow Scott and the Thought Tonic blog.  See our Social Media page for options.

Questions?  Contact us.


"It's Not Easy Being Green"

“It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green”

I have seen a cartoon recently that gives me a chuckle, and prompts reflection, every time I think of it.  In the foreground, the cartoon features a male physician sitting at his desk, looking at an X-ray.  On the other side of the desk, we see the patient whose X-ray the physician has in hand.  Although the cartoon is in Spanish, and the physician addresses his patient as “señor Gustavo,” I can hardly imagine a reader in the U.S. who would not recognize the patient as one of Jim Henson’s most famous Muppets, Kermit the Frog, who croons the song, “Bein’ Green,” with its well-known line, “It’s not easy bein’ green.”

In the X-ray that the physician is holding, we can see the bones of a human forearm inside the outline of the patient’s body, the wrist at neck level, and the hand occupying the head, thumb beneath the lower jaw and the rest — well, you know how a puppet works.  Loosely translated, the physician is saying to Kermit, who has been known as “la rana Gustavo” — Gustavo the Frog — in Spain, “Have a seat, Mr. Gustavo … what I have to tell you may come as a complete shock.”  There is another version of this cartoon making its way around Facebook, I’ve found, in which the physician’s words to Kermit are rendered, “What I’m about to tell you is gonna change your life forever.  Are you really sure you want to know it?”

When I think about this cartoon, I find myself reflecting on what Kermit hasn’t realized on his own, presumably, and is about to learn from his physician: in spite of any sense of autonomy and independence that Kermit has experienced and thought of himself as having in his life, he has been a puppet — not in nearly as much control of himself as he may have imagined.  For me, this idea parallels a realization that I often experience, contrastingly, whenever I have been feeling especially stymied or “stuck” — so, not free — in my life, either with a sense of being victimized, or angry at and blaming a situation, another person, or other people for my discontent or pain.  In these scenarios — and frequently only when things start to shift, unfortunately — I realize with a groan that I have been a puppet of sorts, subjecting myself to limited ways of thinking and talking about what I have identified as “the problem,” whatever that may be.  I have been a puppet to perspectives that have not been working for me, in other words, and I did not even notice.  Being held, so tightly and unconsciously, in the grip of these particular ways of thinking and talking has been the real issue for me all along!

Take, as just one example, the reaction that I have had to the recent arrival of colder temperatures in the area where I live.  Those of you who have been reading my blog know that I have been working since mid-July to develop a new, healthy habit of running outside, and that I have been excited about my achievements, and enjoying the process.  When cold weather came sooner than I was expecting, I began to complain, feeling reluctant to hit the trail in my shorts and a t-shirt, and grumpy about the idea of moving my running inside — to a treadmill at the gym — or investing in warmer running gear.  I found myself oscillating between an emotional state of “Woe is me!” and feeling mad-at-the-weather, an experience that I let grind my routine to a sulky halt for a few days.  In my pouting, I was a puppet to my feelings of disappointment, fear, frustration, and loss.  When I finally acknowledged to myself that, over the past few months, I had actually learned to love running outside, didn’t want to run in the cold, and would really miss running outside when there was snow and ice on the ground, I decided that, as much sense as my sulking made under the circumstances, I wanted to have a different experience.  Approaching the situation from the perspective of asking myself, “What’s the opportunity here?” I identified at least a couple of options that were open to me: I could learn about and purchase warmer workout gear, and tackle the trail in the colder temperatures with this added insulation, and/or I could get a head start on moving my running indoors for the winter, knowing that there would likely be days at a stretch of snow and ice on the ground when I wouldn’t want to run outside, even with warmer clothes.  I ended up choosing to take my running indoors earlier than I had anticipated.  I’m already looking forward to warmer weather, but in the meantime, I’ll still be running, which is what I want to be doing.

How do you deal with finding yourself a puppet to perspectives that harm or hinder rather than help you, or even other people?  If you took to heart the idea that you can choose to think and talk about things in ways that work for you and others, that you don’t have to be a puppet to the less helpful ways, how would this change you — your life — forever?

Featured image credit: alptraum / 123RF Stock Photo


SBKcroppedAbout Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, CPC, ELI-MP

Scott is a psychotherapist, personal development coach, and the founder of Thought Tonic.  He dedicates his work to those who identify themselves as struggling with anxious thinking, and often their self-esteem, to help them experience their lives with greater calm and confidence.

When he’s not running, writing, or enjoying cartoons, Scott maintains a counseling practice in Indianapolis, Indiana, and does coaching in-person, over the telephone, and by Skype.

You can follow Scott and the Thought Tonic blog  via e-mail, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or RSS feed.  Questions?  Contact Scott.


Are You "Shoulding" on Yourself?

Are You “Shoulding” on Yourself?

A week or so ago, I went running one morning after we had experienced stormy weather the evening before, and I encountered a couple of downed trees across the trail that I usually take.  While I could high step over the trunk of the first tree in order to get past, the second tree, which was larger, presented more of an obstacle: I had to duck under the trunk and sidle through an opening in the branches to continue along my way.  On my return trip – I had run up the trail a couple of miles, and then doubled-back – there was a work crew on the scene of the larger fallen tree, starting the process of sawing it into smaller pieces for removal from the trail.  One worker was standing in the opening that I had passed through previously; he was sawing off branches.  As I approached, another worker spotted me, and caught her colleague’s attention; the worker with the saw looked up, noticed me, turned off the saw, and stepped to the side to let me pass.  As I ducked under the trunk, once again, and slid past this worker with the saw, he made a declaration that I imagine — in hindsight — he might have been instructed to utter to anyone: “You’re proceeding at your own risk!”  Feeling a bit nervous, I’m guessing, in response to his warning (or disclaimer), I reacted by trying to be funny.  I replied, “I came this way.  I’ve got to go back this way!”  The other worker and I both laughed.

As I continued my run, I found myself reflecting on what I had said to the worker with the saw, and was struck by how inaccurate my statement had been.  Had I not been able to return the way that I had come up the trail, I was certain that I could have found an alternate, if less straightforward, route to take.  I would have had to backtrack my steps a bit, but there were, in fact, other places to get on and off the trail through neighborhoods that connected to streets I could follow back home.  The way would have been more winding, and I would have experienced it — at least initially — as frustratingly more inconvenient, but I would have ended up at my house all the same.  I might even have found something to appreciate and enjoy in the process!  I did not have to go back the way I came.

In my work as a therapist and a coach, I frequently hear people talk about feeling stymied when the path that they expected to take doesn’t pan out; because they have in their heads that they have to take a certain route to get where they want to go, they feel stumped and discouraged when plans don’t go as they “should,” when they encounter obstacles that they just can’t seem to get past.  They end up feeling stuck.  I have had the experience myself – when writing, as just one kind of example.  How many times have I worked myself into a state of frustrated paralysis because I’m struggling with the introduction or initial paragraph of whatever I’m writing, whether it is an article, a blog post, or a short story, until I stop to think, “Who says that I need to write the introduction (or the initial paragraph) first?”  Once I remember what my goal really is – to write a blog post, let’s say — and not to write a blog post in a particular order (the order in which I write the post is ultimately inconsequential), I am able to get myself unstuck, and moving again in the direction that I want to go.  In these kinds of situations, the block that I experience is a product of my own thinking about how I “should” do whatever it is that I want to do, how I’m telling myself that things are “supposed” to happen.  I fall into the trap of thinking that there is a certain way, even just one way, to meet the goal that I have for myself.

What are the ways in which you find yourself stuck by this kind of “shoulding” on yourself?  What helps you get yourself unstuck, and moving forward again?

Image credit: pinkarmy25 / 123RF Stock Photo


SBKcroppedAbout Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, CPC, ELI-MP

Scott is a psychotherapist, personal development coach, and the founder of Thought Tonic.  He dedicates his work to those who identify themselves as struggling with anxious thinking, and often their self-esteem, to help them experience their lives with greater calm and confidence.

When he’s not running, writing, or thinking about his experiences of running and writing, Scott maintains a counseling practice in Indianapolis, Indiana, and does coaching in-person, over the telephone, and by Skype.

You can follow Scott and the Thought Tonic blog  via e-mail, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or RSS feed.  Questions?  Contact Scott.


Source: Jastrow, J. (1899). The mind's eye. Popular Science Monthly, 54, 299-312.

What Do You Choose To See?

What do you see when you look at the featured image for today’s post?  A duck?  A rabbit?  Both?  If you see the image as one of these options — a duck, let’s say — are the other ways in which you could see the image — as a rabbit, or as both a duck and rabbit — somehow “not true”?  If multiple ways of seeing the imagine are possible, which one of them do you prefer?  Which one works better for you, in a manner of speaking?

While these kinds of questions may seem a bit silly when we’re talking about an image (“Do I see a duck, a rabbit, or both … what does it matter?”), the thought that I want to offer in posing them is that such considerations actually have significant implications in the context of our day-to-day lives.  In my own experience, what I choose to see in myself and the world around me, including other people — what they say, and what they do — has a profound influence on the ways in which I’m able to respond and interact; seeing multiple possibilities for meaning gives me a wider range of possible responses, more flexible interactions.

Imagine, for instance, that I am standing at the counter in a coffee shop placing my order and paying for my purchase.  The cashier doesn’t smile, greet me, inquire how my day is going, or thank me for my business.  I could, in this situation, see the cashier as “rude” and feel slighted, or succumb to my anxious thinking in the form of self-doubt, and worry that I have done something wrong.  With these interpretations as context, I might snap at the cashier for being “rude,” or keep my mouth shut and leave the coffee shop disgruntled, either way muttering under my breath as I stride out the door, vowing never to order from that person again.  I might feel embarrassed, thinking that I did something to offend the cashier, and accuse myself yet again of being a “loser” in social situations as I shuffle back to my car, berating myself.

Alternatively, I could see the cashier as not having been as courteous to me as I would have liked.  Perhaps the cashier is feeling unusually stressed, or distracted by her own worries.  If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I just don’t know what is going on for her.  Even if I did know the cashier’s story, I wouldn’t know — without asking, anyway — how the cashier would explain her own sense of her behavior in this moment.  If I could allow myself to see the cashier’s behavior as something less offensive to me than “rude,” I might wish her well — regardless of my discontent — and decide to address the issue of unsatisfyingly perfunctory service if I experience it again.

From my own perspective, one of these ways of seeing this experience at the coffee shop works better for me than the others.  If I give myself the opportunity to choose the option of softening my gaze — not looking so harshly, or even looking kindly, on the cashier and myself — I will leave the coffee shop in a better mood, feeling good about myself and how I have responded, with a sense of calm and confidence, happier all around — with my whole world!  While I will be aware of my disappointment in the cashier’s behavior, in the service that I received from her, I will not be consumed by the gap between this experience and the expectations that I had for the interaction, or by a negative way of seeing the cashier, her behavior, or myself that foments feelings of anger, indignation, resentment, or anxiety.

There is always more than one way to look at things.  In any given situation, we can choose to see in the way that works best for us, given the kind of experience that we want to have, how we want to live our lives, the type of person that we want to be, and more.

In your life, who or what are you seeing in ways that don’t work for you?  What would a different way of seeing be? If you saw differently, what would the benefits be?  What would support you in making this shift in perception?  Why are you waiting?

For more ideas about anxious thinking, and how we can respond in ways that help us foster a greater sense of calm and confidence in our lives, feel free to see other Thought Tonic posts by Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, ELI-MP, at thoughttonic.com; you can follow Thought Tonic via e-mail, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or RSS feed.  Thank you for reading!

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/inti/3128443786/

Show that Gremlin Some Sun!

Mr. Wing’s grandson: Look Mister, there are some rules that you’ve got to follow.

Rand Peltzer: Yeah, what kind of rules?

Mr. Wing’s grandson: First of all, keep him out of the light; he hates bright light, especially sunlight — it’ll kill him. Second, don’t give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs: Never feed him after midnight. (Gremlins, 1984)

Today, I offer the fifth and final post in a series that I began back in January, with Through a Glass Darkly. Throughout this series, I have been playing with the idea that all of us go through our lives wearing pairs of invisible eyeglasses with lenses comprised of thoughts and beliefs that we have come to hold about ourselves, other people, and the world. I have suggested that some of these thoughts and beliefs make for “dirtier” lenses than others, in that they restrict — rather than expand — our sense of what is possible for us, and in our lives. We can talk about these restrictive thoughts and beliefs as contributing to moods and behaviors that resonate with catabolic/negative energy, which weighs or even breaks us down, rather than anabolic/positive energy, which animates us and builds us up. In Energy Leadership: Transforming Your Workplace and Your Life from the Core (2008), Bruce D. Schneider writes about catabolic thoughts and beliefs as “energy blocks” that get in our way of making conscious choices, and prevent us from reaching our potential (129); he identifies four of these obstacles, and calls them limiting beliefs, assumptions, interpretations, and gremlins (with “gremlin” simply being another way to reference what many of us call our inner critic). In previous blog posts, we have looked at limiting beliefs, assumptions, and interpretations; today, we explore the last of the four “energy blocks” — gremlins.

Schneider defines a gremlin as that part of us that fears in some way (or many!) that we’re just “not good enough to cut it” (141); we may worry, for instance, that we’re not smart enough, attractive enough, and/or experienced enough — the list can go on and on, as most of us know. “Your gremlin,” Schneider writes, “tells you not to try, never to take a risk, always to take the safe road, and to compromise your life by playing small” (140); left unchecked, your gremlin can begin to convince you that you are small. As examples of gremlin activity, he points to thoughts that he has heard Richard, his fictional client in Energy Leadership, express during their conversations together. Richard, the owner of a small business that has fallen on hard times, has told Schneider that he feels like a failure, and that he has let his employees down, because his company is currently struggling (141). Schneider asserts that Richard is giving voice to his inner critic in thinking, feeling, and speaking of himself in this way, as “not good enough” (i.e., a “failure”). This kind of negative self-talk resonates with catabolic, rather than anabolic, energy; Richard feels beaten down, hopeless, and could tend to shrink from opportunities for improving the situation — after all, what’s the use?

As another example, on a personal level, I’ll confess that I wrestled with my own gremlin when I was thinking about leaving my salaried job as a therapist to go into private practice as a therapist and coach. While I believed that I was good at what I did, part of me wondered if I should take the risk, if it wasn’t better for me to remain where I was (with the steady paycheck!), rather than to follow my dream of having my own business (setting my own schedule; seeing clients that I wanted to see and who wanted to see me, specifically; etc.). As someone who identifies as an introvert, and also struggles with a sense of social anxiety, I worried that I wasn’t “good enough” socially to network successfully, or to communicate effectively to potential clients the benefits that they could experience through our work together. I fretted that if I couldn’t network or communicate in the ways that I imagined necessary to cultivate a thriving private practice (anyone also hear a limiting belief in this idea?), I wouldn’t be able to “cut it” on my own. I’m so happy now that I didn’t let my gremlin hold me back!

There are ways for us to challenge our gremlins, of course, which will likely sound familiar to anyone who is already familiar with cognitive-behavioral responses to anxious thinking, especially to those patterns of thought we can call negative core beliefs. The first step, in my own view — as with any of Schneider’s “energy blocks” — is to recognize that we do not have to accept everything that we think, even about ourselves, as “true.” We don’t have to believe everything we think! When we are able to hear the pronouncements of our inner critic as beliefs about ourselves that we have developed over time, based on what we have been seeing through the lenses in the invisible eyeglasses that we wear — rather than as “facts” — we create new possibilities in thought, feeling, and behavior for ourselves. When we catch our gremlin telling us that we’re “not good enough” in some way, and experience even the vaguest sense of dissonance reminding us that another part of us — our “inner genius” (142), Schneider says — knows better, we can begin to hear the voice of our inner critic more objectively, then, as saying less about us, and more about a habit that we have and can change of seeing ourselves in an unhelpful way. Some people find that naming their gremlin and describing it in physical terms helps them objectify it — separate from it, get some distance from it — more effectively. I once attended a training in which, as participants, we had the assignment of drawing, sculpting, or creating in some other fashion a physical representation of our gremlin. This was not long after I had undergone surgery for a salivary stone, an experience that I had decided to refer to as “having some of my fear removed” (at the time, I was working through those apprehensions I mentioned about leaving my job to start a private practice!). I used white Play-Doh to give my gremlin the shape that I imagined a large salivary stone to have, and put it in an empty medication bottle. I still keep this physical representation of my gremlin around to help remind me that my gremlin is only a part of me, not all of me, and not even the strongest or most influential part of me — not any longer.

In responding to your own gremlin over the next couple of weeks, should you choose to do so (the key to your cage is in your own hand!), I invite you to think about the three rules that Mr. Wing’s grandson passes along to Rand Peltzer in the movie, Gremlins (1984), when he sells Rand the creature that we later come to know as Gizmo: “First of all, keep him out of the light; he hates bright light, especially sunlight — it’ll kill him. Second, don’t give him any water, not even to drink. But the most important rule, the rule you can never forget, no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs: Never feed him after midnight.” Like the creatures in this movie, our own gremlins multiply, wreak havoc, take over our lives, and even get vicious towards us when we “give them water” with unquestioned acceptance and “feed them after midnight” with unchallenged influence over what we think, feel, and do. When we expose them to the light of day, on the other hand — that is, become aware of them, identify them as negative core beliefs to which we don’t have to (and won’t!) ascribe any longer, and challenge them with alternative, more helpful ways of seeing ourselves — they begin to lose their power.

Go on … show that gremlin some sun!

Featured image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GremlinStripeByInti.jpg

My Own Gremlin, Trapped in a Bottle, Exposed to Sunlight

My Own Gremlin, Trapped in a Bottle, Exposed to Sunlight

For more ideas about anxious thinking and responses to help us foster a greater sense of calm and confidence for ourselves, feel free to see other Thought Tonic posts by Scott Burns Kahler, MA, LMFT, ELI-MP, at thoughttonic.com; you can follow Scott Burns Kahler and this blog via e-mail, Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, or RSS feed. Thank you for reading!

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