Kintsugi translated “golden joinery” or “golden repair” is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold. This practice is related to the Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which calls for seeing beauty in the flawed or imperfect. The repair method was also born from the Japanese feeling of mottainai, which expresses regret when something is wasted, as well as mushin, the acceptance of change.
The word “sincere” has a history of meaning: honest, free from adulteration, marked by genuineness and “without wax.” When a potter had a cracked pot, the dilemma was to throw it away and experience a loss of income or another choice was to fill the holes or cracks with wax and some clay dust – so it looks “perfect.” But later when the pot was used to cook – the wax would melt and the pot exposed as broken and flawed. Therefore a pot that was purchased that was “sincere” was a pot that was “without wax” – true and honest.
Gold or wax . . .
Denial, pretending, hiding, being ‘insincere’. . . can so often feel like the only way to survival and success. Vulnerability – our flaws and brokenness being exposed – feels contrary to feeling safe and effective.
Pretending and denial is how I got through my childhood. I didn’t know I was pretending – I was trying to create a reality that I could handle, cope with, and please those around me – which was a good survival choice during that period of my life. But once I was an adult, it morphed into a goal of trying to conform and “not do anything wrong”and to try to hide my imperfection. I was still trying to create a reality where I felt safe and accepted and it seemed to me that the best way was to spin things so I looked good. My experience told me that was the way to acceptance and love.
Parker Palmer shares, “Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the integrity that comes from being what you are.”
This is a life-long journey of courage to face my divided self and begin to open my eyes to when and how I am in denial, hiding, or pretending. It takes courage because I believe we have often closed down in an effort to keep our hearts safe from pain, abandonment, rejection. . . but I must choose to begin to SEE.
“There’s something so human about feeling embarrassed, about wanting to hide, about wanting to conceal and control the out-of-control and painful things about our lives and stories and families. Love, though, doesn’t allow hiding. Love invites selves and whole stories out into the light.”Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist.
Richard Rohr shares, “We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right . . . yet nothing in us wants to believe it. . . . Falling down is how humans come to consciousness! . . . If there is such a thing as human perfection, it seems to emerge precisely how we handle the imperfection that is everywhere, especially in ourselves. What a clever place for God to hide His holiness, so that only the humble and earnest will find it. . . . I would say that the demand for the perfect is the greatest enemy of true goodness. . . . When I am weak, then I am strong.”
As I begin to observe myself covering up my mistakes, flaws, and imperfections – how I respond is crucial. Since my fear of rejection and pain, and my deep need to feel safe are all key motivations – its important that I don’t beat myself up. “Seriously, you did that again?” No, the path to truth and authenticity is compassion and gentleness. “It’s His kindness that leads us. . .”Romans 2:4 “The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.”Psalm 103:8. That may sound counter-intuitive, since we human beings tend to want to punish and shame – which does not invite the shy, quiet, gentle soul to presence – God’s original purpose and intended beauty for me. I need to be a safe place – not just for you, but for me – to be authentic with myself! Because when I pretend, I don’t just fool you – I fool me too. Being honest starts with being truthful with my own heart. If I feel safe and can trust one person – me – then I am on the path to being able to be authentic with you – which then brings you and me to a beautiful connection that blesses not just us but the larger community as well.
Finding the beauty in my humanness takes courage. Getting comfortable with the words, “I’m sorry”– that takes a while – it hurts sometimes to even let those words come out of my mouth. Actual pain. Choosing to embrace my humanity – flawed and imperfect, beautiful and unique. But it doesn’t feel good to have cracks. Things leak out. But the more I choose to cover over my cracks with the false medium of wax – to be in denial of my truth, the less I am able to be present with others. Connection is lost. I’m choosing to live in my own little pretend world where I can live without conflict or pain (which is not true – this plan to be creator of my own world actually creates more distance and loss). My dissociation (being somewhere other than the present) and inability to see my reality kept me from connection and intimacy with those around me. Anne Lamott shares in her book, Almost Everything, “Its ridiculous how hard life is. Denial and avoidance are unsuccessful strategies, but truth and awareness mend.”But truth and awareness require me choosing a million times a day to be in the moment. But owning my mess is so slippery – like trying to hold a tadpole or tapioca pearls. It reminds me of water – how if there is even the tiniest crack, it will find a way out. Pain for me is like that – right in the middle of choosing to be present to something hard – I find that my mind has found an escape hatch and I realize I shut down my processing or being present to the current difficulty and I find myself thinking about posting that treadmill on Craigslist.
I want to conclude with some more wisdom from Richard Rohr:
“Maybe its about forgiving our imperfections– to embrace them and even weep over them. Jesus was never upset at those who ‘do it wrong’but only with people who pretend (hypocrites – which means ‘actor’) that they are “perfect.”
“The path to union (putting the broken pieces together – or holding the cracks in me) is different than the path of perfection. Perfection gives the impression that by effort I can achieve wholeness separate from God, from anyone else, or from connection to the Whole. It appeals to our individualism and our ego. Union is instead about forgiveness, integration, patience and compassion.”
“The transformed self, living in union, no longer lives in shame or denial of its weakness, but even lives with rejoicing because it does not need to pretend that it is any more than it actually is which is now more than enough.”
“We’ve spent all our life trying to avoid falling because we don’t want to look bad. Yet spirituality isn’t about perfection . . . The only perfection available to us humans is the ability to include and forgive our imperfection. But the ego doesn’t want to believe that. The ego doesn’t want to surrender to its inherent brokenness and poverty. Yet, the truth is realizing your imperfection is the beginning of freedom and grace. There is such freedom in no longer pretending to be something I’m not.”
My story screams, “hide your flaws!” It seems to be imbedded in my cells. But the good news is that God has access to my cells and yours. He is present in us and loves and values each and every part of us – cracks and all – even if our cracks have some wax carefully stuffed in there. I wonder if compassion and forgiveness has the power to transform wax into gold. I think so.