Beauty in the Cracks

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.


Feeling the Pinch of Anxiety

One evening recently, I took a two-hour pottery class at a local art center. In the class, each of us made a “pinch pot” — in the form of a mug, bowl, or vase — from a ball of clay. To make a pinch pot, I learned, one pushes one’s thumb into the center of a ball of clay to start an opening. One then pinches and turns the ball of clay between one’s thumb and fingers to form and thin the walls of the pot, and finally to shape the rim.

As I followed this process, I found myself feeling anxious about the various imperfections that I was noticing in my pot — cracks that had formed in the clay, a lop side, an errant undulation in the rim. I was not the only person in the room to have this kind of response. Other members of the class were nervous, too, and we all starting talking aloud about the imperfections we saw in our creations. The instructor was exceedingly kind and reassuring, giving us pointers for addressing issues that may have really been serious — structurally speaking, I suppose — but also complimenting some of the other characteristics that were worrying us.

A Kintsukuroi Perspective

As I left the class that night, reflecting on the process of making my pinch pot, and the anxiety I had experienced in the process, I found myself remembering an image and its accompanying text that I had seen a while ago on Facebook and Twitter, and that had recently resurfaced in my feeds.

If you recognize the word, “kintsukuroi,” you may well know it, as I do, from the very image and text that I’m talking about; for an example of the image, click here. The image is one of a gray pottery bowl, veined with gold to dramatic effect, which illustrates the Japanese art of kintsukuroi, or kintsugi. In this art, broken pottery is mended with a lacquer resin to which powdered gold has been added. In the text accompanying the image that I had seen, kintsukuroi is described as demonstrating the perspective that “the piece [of pottery] is more beautiful for having been broken.”

As I had fretted in my pottery class over imperfections in my pinch pot, aspects of it that I was judging to be “not good enough,” I was struggling to hold onto an idea that I associate with kintsukuroi. The idea is that we can, in fact, choose to see beauty in everything, even in the very cracks and errant undulations that we so frequently want to correct, cover up, distract attention from, or otherwise disavow.

What if We Saw More Beauty in the Cracks?

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 that tend to rouse our judgment and worry, fear, and sometimes animosity. Wouldn’t we feel more calm, compassionate, content, and even confident? If we imagine that we would, and these feelings interest us, what new ways of thinking and behaving would support this shift in perspective? If we are already able to experience “a kintsukuroi perspective” at times in our lives, what do we identify as contributing to it?

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Featured image: Photo by Matt Perkins on Unsplash

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About The Author

Scott Burns Kahler, PhD, LMFT, CPC

Scott (he/him) is a licensed therapist, certified life coach, and credentialed clinical supervisor at Thought Tonic. He specializes in helping adults struggling with anxiety, and often their self-esteem, to feel less controlled by worry, fear, and self-criticism so they can live their lives with greater calm, courage, and confidence.

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