We’ve all been broken and somehow repaired at least a few times in our lives, psychically split and sewn back together. The longer we live, the more there are emotional, mental and physical bumps and bruises, parts that break down and parts that break open. Rather than think of these fractures as flaws or weaknesses, however, we can choose a more affirmative view, expressed in the poet Rumi’s line, “The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Or, as in “Anthem,” Leonard Cohen voices a similar sentiment: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
In Japan there’s a most beautiful art called Kintsugi – which is an art form based on embracing imperfections and impermanence– when a ceramic bowl or vase breaks or cracks, it’s not discarded, but repaired with gold leaf – if the piece is particularly old or used a lot, there might be more gold lines belying the repairs, the gold veins proudly displayed as part of its value, design, and the degree to which it is loved and cared for. The scars become the gracious gold veins of life; they are integral and unique to each piece of pottery.
Our own impermanence — our breaks, cracks, tears and repairs aren’t so readily or even proudly shown, acknowledged or displayed on the outside. Though they shape and inform us and are an integral part of our inner landscape, they’re generally kept hidden. We tend to view our mistakes and our accidents, even our irregularities as something we should conceal because showing them exposes our vulnerabilities and weaknesses. Rather than honoring them as being part of our design, or uniqueness or even as glorious statements of having been on Earth long enough to earn them, we tend to shun our scars. We cover them or attempt to erase them, which requires a tremendous amount of energy.
Ajahn Cha, one of the most beloved teachers of the Thai Forest Monastery tradition, held up a glass and said that he already saw it as broken. Can we recognize and accept this impermanence in ourselves? Can we accept that we are simultaneously whole and broken? There’s no disappointment or failed expectations if we see the reality of impermanence, every moment is precious, and we appreciate what we have while we have it.
I share this reflection because soon, I will be just like the Kintsugi pottery. In February I will be having heart surgery after keeping it at bay for awhile, and rather than fade to black or just hide out and not be visible I’m revealing the reason I’ve been so close to home and purposefully not as active teaching. I may or may not choose gold leaf to honor and integrate my scars, but I can assure you that they will be colorful and not hidden. Our wounds do let light in – our cracks can be if we choose, an integral and well earned part of our magnificent design.
May you be well and stay well, and by chance if or when you are not—may you weather your storms with an open heart knowing that no matter what, your true nature, your spirit, your metaphoric heart can never be broken beyond repair. May we all wear the tears, the accidents, and the life we have lived so far proudly. And, as I am learning right now, may we ask for and receive help and support when we need it. This life is indeed fragile and impermanent and the knowing of that makes all the difference.