Kintsugi – the art of repairing ourselves with gold

Several months ago, I spent a lovely day with friends on a warm glass making workshop. Only a couple of hours after I’d got my pieces home, the laptop slid gently onto one of my creations, breaking it into 4. Because of all my hours of yoga & meditation, my first reaction wasn’t anger & to hurl it into the bin never to be seen again, but sadness & disappointment, soon followed by wondering what to do next. I realised I had 3 choices:

  • Leave it broken & throw away the pieces,
  • Do a quick repair so it’s impossible to tell if & where it was broken,
  • To use it as an opportunity to learn Kintsugi, where you take time over the repair & highlight the scars.

What is Kintsugi?

Kintsugi is a 400+ year old Japanese a repair method where you use gold (or in my case golden powder) in the glue so that instead of hiding the breaks, they’re emphasised.

The process is built on the idea that by embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Every break is unique and instead of being invisible, each scar is highlighted. Depending on the complexity of the break it can be a lengthy process & it’s an opportunity to create something unique, beautiful and resilient.

So that’s what I did. I started asking for help from my husband Roger (as he’s more experienced with glue). We researched & sourced the materials &, over the course of a few days & piece by piece we glued the glass back together. And I believe the finished bowl looks better than the original.

This is not a blog about how to repair glass 

I’m sure you’ve realised that this blog is not about how to mend glass 😊 but what happens when life break us. (I’m using the term ‘break’ here as it fits with my story, however you could use ‘challenge’ or ‘trauma’, or any word which resonates with you to encapsulate those times when life throws a curve ball & upsets our equilibrium).

But the choices we have when life breaks us

I realise that each of the above options apply & perhaps we have one more choice:

  • Refuse to acknowledge we’re broken.

I was brought up Northern England & inherited the ‘Keep Calm & Carry On’ attitude from my family. After my parents died & despite mounting evidence to the contrary, I spent several years doggedly sticking to the story I was telling myself that I was Ok. ‘Giving in’ to my feelings felt like weakness & absolutely not what I wanted to do, despite the toll it was taking on my emotional & physical health & relationships.

Eventually some kind & wiser friends persuaded me that showing my emotions was strength & the gateway to a happier life. And the rest, as they say is history.

I see a similar attitude in friends who are steadfast in their refusal to acknowledge that anything is wrong & remind me of the 1970s toys, Weebles, which ‘wobble, but they don’t fall down.’

And to expand on the 3 options above;

  • To stay broken

When something happens & we break, we first need to grieve. Then at some point it’s time to move on & rebuild. And believe me I know this is a lot easier said than done.

I have friends who have been stuck in grief & sadness for many years & it’s like a cosy blanket they don’t want to take off. Because it’s more comfortable & familiar than the unknown of change, they stay wrapping it ever closer & refusing all offers of support. I often wonder if they’ll get to a point in life, look back & wish they’d made the effort to take off the blanket & open themselves to life.

  • To do an invisible repair

The quick & easy option is to get back to the previous normal as soon as possible. And many people do this with great success. However, to me this feels like a refusal to accept the reality of life as it is now, in this moment, & instead is about carrying on as if the break didn’t happen.

  • To rebuild from the ground up, celebrating our scars

When I interviewed Pamela Mahony Tsigdinos for my book Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness she said ‘we are given a chance to shape our lives younger than most people. There is flexibility that presents itself, and we have to decide is that luxury – an opportunity – or a constrictor? I see it as an opportunity.’

I love these words & I’ve quoted them many times regarding childlessness. I believe they apply more widely & that each break can be an opportunity to examine you & your life at the core & rebuild from the ground up, so that you become (to quote Earnest Hemingway) stronger at the broken places.

In their book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant found that after trauma, some people bounced forward & experienced Post Traumatic Growth.  

That’s been my experience over the past 4 or 5 years & I’ve experienced each of the 5 different types of growth they describe (finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationships, discovering new meaning in life & seeing new possibilities) to some level.

One of the hardest perhaps is to see new possibilities. Many of us have our future mapped out & when it doesn’t go to plan the future self & life we dreamed of is lost. Whether that self was a parent, daughter, wife, having a particular career, living in a specific area, learning a particular skill; using emotional energy to wish for the impossible dream to come true can be seductive at the expense of facing up to reality.

The first step is to let go of the life/future you dreamed of & face up to life as it is. And, yes I know it’s easy to write in one sentence something which can take a long time & lot of work to achieve. This blog is not about that process, but my wish is to open your eyes to the idea that there could be another life there if you choose to look for it.

This is absolutely my experience & I look around & see friends who are living a life which is full of possibilities they hadn’t previously imagined.

So what does this mean for you dear reader?

If you’ve read this far, the chances are that life has already broken you a few times & I’d encourage you to reflect on which of the options you use to put yourself back together.

I fully understand that it’s hard to see the opportunity for growth when you’re in the middle of a break, & if that’s where you feel you are, I ask that you’re open to the possibility that this could be an opportunity to do life differently & life could be at least as happy as it was before.

I’m open about my scars, the loss of my parents & my childlessness. As I wrote above, I’m also open about how I refused to acknowledge the need to break & how I’m putting myself back together from the ground up, so I hardly recognise even the Lesley who wrote Finding Joy 4 years ago. I’m excited about the future & what my future rebuilding process has in store.

As I look around at close friends & re-read some Inspirational Stories, I see women who, when life has thrown a challenge their way, mustered every bit of courage they had & kept moving forward to become stronger & more resilient. Their life is different from the one they planned & they’re happier in themselves because, in the process they’ve worked out who they are & what they love. They’re proud to celebrate their scars by saying ‘yes this happened, I did the work & this is who I am now.’

You, dear reader are the same as us, so I hope you can see that you too can build yourself back together with love & gold becoming unique, beautiful and resilient in the process.

And finally, some tough love

You will no doubt be familiar with the first sentence from this quote by Ernest Hemingway, ie that ‘The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places’ & I’d be surprised if you’re aware of the whole paragraph. The harshness & truth in it shocked me & I encourage you to read it to the end & absorb the reality behind it.

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.” ― Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms.

I’d love to read your thoughts.

I hope you’ve found this helpful; I’d love to know whether my words resonate with you what you think, what methods you’ve used when you’ve been broken & whether you may be open to a different possibility.

You can read book reviews and interviews I’ve done here.
And you can order your copy of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness on  Amazon UK  and Amazon USA

8 thoughts on “Kintsugi – the art of repairing ourselves with gold”

  1. Brilliant article. Thanks Lesley. I’m going through a fatigue episode at the moment and am finally accepting that I can’t do as much right now – and that doesn’t matter. It’s SO freeing and I’m sure this is going to stand me in good stead in the future. Love the Hemmingway quote, especially the bit about how it will kill those who won’t break. So often that denial is more threatening than accepting what has happened.
    P.S. The bowl is fabulous, with and without the gold. How amazing that you made this.

    • Thanks Cali, I’m sorry you’re fatigued. I’m guessing the Cali of a couple of years ago would have pushed through so well done for honouring what your body & mind need.
      I was surprised with both the severity & truth of the Hemingway quote – it certainly makes you stop & think doesn’t it.
      I hope your energy comes back soon, Lesley x

  2. A really brilliant blog Lesley. So often the issue or dilemma or even the argument is much less about the content and so much more about the process inside ourselves. You nailed that which we frequently don’t pay attention to and get stuck in fixing it!!! (Literally in this case!!)
    lots of love

  3. Such a great article and as mentioned already- arrived at just the right moment for me too!
    At each life changing moment, learning & accepting the opportunity to reassess is I am beginning to realise – an opportunity. I love the idea that we are ‘run through ‘ with gold!
    Thank you Lesley for wise words and thoughts wonderfully expressed.
    I love the ‘mended’ bowl.

    • Thanks Wendy, ‘learning & accepting the opportunity to reassess’ – what a lovely phrase to use, & I completely agree. Thank you, Lesley


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