Broken but Beautiful - The Kintsugi Philosophy

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Navigating through life isn't a linear, direct path. In fact, it's quite the opposite. We're confronted with countless setbacks, discouragements and mistakes that incite feelings of inadequacy and self-resentment, only perpetuated by images and stories of perfection and success that constantly bombard us on the Internet and social media. I'm sure that we've all been consumed by such ideals at least once in our lifetime. And because of that, we try so hard to conceal our flaws and feel ashamed of our failures in our quest to be, or appear, perfect.

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Yet, the ancient Japanese art form of Kintsugi shares a completely different perspective; cracks and fractures in broken ceramics are repaired using gold leaf to highlight the pottery's damaged history rather than hide it. It follows the broader Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi that finds beauty in Buddhist concepts of impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness, especially as things age and grow closer to their natural form. Through this transformation, broken objects are given a fresh start, all while wearing the flaws and accidents of time proudly on their sleeves.

Image Credit: Tim Wright

There is much wisdom to derive from the beautiful art of
Kintsugi. Here are some of our takeaways and simple suggestions on how you may integrate them into your lives:

  1. For those of you going through any kind of hardship or struggle, take comfort in the Kintsugi process of reparation. As Tokyo-based repairer Michihiro Hori puts it, "I appreciate Kintsugi's simple lesson - that it's possible to start over." Trust in your own abilities to overcome and heal yourself from such suffering, and believe that you will emerge from it stronger and even more beautiful the way Irish philosopher John O'Donohue defines it.  

Image Credit: Fabrizio Verrechia

"Beauty isn't all about just nice, loveliness like. Beauty is about more rounded substantial becoming. So I think beauty in that sense is about an emerging fullness, a greater sense of grace and elegance, a deeper sense of depth, and also a kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life." -John O’Donohue

  1. After recovering from your brokenness, do not feel ashamed of or compelled to hide your scars and vulnerabilities. Rather, reconcile and accept them as an essential part of your history the way Kintsugi emphasises the defects in a shape with golden significance.

Image Credit: Nicole Polk
  1. In another sense, Kintsugi is a refined artistry of upcycling. Before throwing away something that is old or broken, think of possible ways you can give it a new life by repairing or upcycling them (Google's your best friend). Just because an object is in a less than perfect condition doesn't mean that it deserves any less respect and attention than a new, pristine item.

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  1.  Many of you reading are probably in your youth or prime age and most likely haven't given much thought about ageing. You may freak out or lament when you spot your first few strands of grey hairs or notice wrinkles you've never seen before appearing on your face. Perhaps you'll resort to dying your hair or purchasing anti-ageing products in an attempt to conceal these signs of ageing, but the spirit of Kintsugi and Wabi Sabi reminds us of the grace that comes with age and experience. So why resist the natural forces instead of embracing them?

Image Credit: Huyen Nguyen

Ultimately, Kintsugi imparts to us, more than anything, an attitude towards life. By simply changing the way we perceive and understand things and people around us, there is so much potential to bring greater joy and purpose into our lives. So take the first step by being more forgiving of any mistakes and flaws and respectful towards the damaged or incomplete – starting with yourselves and those around you.

Written by Evelyn Goh
Edited by Cynthea Lam