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
Feeling the Pinch of Anxiety
One evening recently, I took a two-hour class at a local art center. In the class, each of us made a pinch pot — which could take 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 the opening. One then pinches (hence, the name) and turns 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 followed this process, I found myself feeling anxious about what I was deeming 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 person in the room to have this kind of response. Other members of the class were nervous, too, about the imperfections they saw in their own creations. The instructor was very kind and reassuring to all of us, offering pointers for addressing issues that may have really been serious — structurally speaking, I suppose — but also complimenting some of the other characteristics that seemed to worry us the most.
A Kintsukuroi Perspective
As I left the class that night, reflecting on the process of making my pinch pot, and on the anxiety 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,” 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 aspects of my pinch pot that I was perceiving as imperfect, parts that I was judging as “not good enough,” I was struggling to hold onto an idea that I associate with the Japanese art of kintsukuroi, or kintsugi: We can, in fact, choose to see beauty 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 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 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?