Lessons from Kintsugi: What the Ancient Japanese Art Taught Me About Trying Something New

Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken things in such a way that the finished item is even more beautiful, and perhaps even more valuable than the original.

If you’re asking how a broken thing can be made more valuable, here’s a clue: the added element is gold. And the result is often stunning. In the final piece, gold cracks weave throughout broken pottery or ceramics to create a unique work of art, a labor of love.

Kintsugi, given the elements of brokenness and repair, is often used as a beautiful metaphor for human healing. This past weekend I decided to try it and learned it is also an incredible teacher of valuable lessons anyone can apply when attempting to achieve something new.

Following are a few of my takeaways.

Patience

Learning something new requires patience. I’m not sure why it is, but many of us expect to be virtuosos straight out of the gate each time we decide to be bold and try our hand at something we’ve never done before. Maybe it’s the old ego that steps in the way. Wrangling this feisty aspect of ourselves while trying something difficult, like piecing together broken ceramics with gold and glue, provides great exercise. Throughout the project I had to keep wrangling my ego chatter into submission. Every step forward I seemed to take two steps back as pieces I thought had dried sufficiently fell apart while I worked on another elsewhere. My monkey mind insisted, “You’ll never get this right. This is so not your thing. You know this is impossible, right? What’s the point of this again?”

Time

Porcelain pieces are held together with gold mica and epoxy (I chose to try gold paint and epoxy). Well, note to future self, epoxy takes forever to dry. Hubby watched as I sat in a meditative pose holding two pieces together for what felt like an eternity, only to gently settle them down to see them fall apart within seconds. My expectation that 30 seconds should suffice needed to settle down into another truth, it could take 20-30 minutes. “This is going to take days!” my ego brain complained.

Experimentation

Although I’d watched YouTube videos in advance, I quickly realized I’d need to figure out a strategy that would work for me. For the first two hours my stubborn mind thought it best to stick with the plan, what I’d seen them do in the videos. That resulted in a Day 1 epic fail. I gave up. Day 2, however, I approached a new piece with a new strategy. I purchased a different glue, one that wouldn’t take so long to dry, and a chose a flatter piece so I wouldn’t have to contend with all the curves and shapes of a more complex design. Day 2, I am happy to report, resulted in my first win: my first Kintsugi DIY piece. And while I’m sure it won’t win any prizes, I managed to complete it, and a big mantra for me this year is “Done is better than perfect.” My willingness to try a different approach, technique, and tools helped me move forward. Experimentation is key.

Best Practices

The last lesson I’ll share with you might seem to contradict the one I just shared but stay with me here. As my piece dried, I noticed how the gold didn’t shine as bright. Although I did like the rope-like texture it took on as the gold paint blended with the glue, in fact, it worked rather well with the tree-like shape of the break in the ceramic plate, I realized my decision to work with different materials meant I was lacking the beauty of the gold shimmer that real gold and gold mica created in Kintsugi art pieces. Moral of the story here is best practices exist for a reason. As an ancient art, one which dates back to attempts to appease a famous shogun warrior centuries ago—Kintsugi has earned a place as an art form. If we choose to continue to pursue learning and development around a new skill, it might be time to get serious and study with someone who’s perfected their technique, skill, and practice.

Challenging, but also rewarding, I enjoyed my DIY attempt at Kintsugi. One thing is certain, there’s plenty of room for improvement, but that’s a good thing. As we head into the summer months, I just might be keeping an eye out for Kintsugi art classes in my area.


Connect with Susan Eckert and be sure to read Chapter 16 in The Wellness Universe Guide to Complete Self-Care, 25 Tools to Achieve Anything available on Amazon June 22nd.


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