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Kintsugi and the Human Spirit – Prof. Rajendra Desai

19 Jan, 2023.

A recent news article saddened me to read of the suicide of a 52-year-old software engineer Vijay Kumar in Bangalore. He locked himself with a nitrogen cylinder in his Ford Ecosport and put a note on the windshield ‘Poisonous Gas Inside’ so no one else would get affected. He had a wife and 2 children. He had everything going for him in life until his recent heart surgery. He had looked up Google on the quality of his life post-surgery and the impact on his family. What he possibly saw was a deterioration of the high quality of life that he was leading before the surgery and this resulted in his depression and subsequent suicide.

For most of us life periodically throws these ‘curved ball’ events and our lives after the event look very different from before. The event is typically unexpected and sometimes the severity such that one’s spirit can break. Breaking of one’s spirit entails loss of self-worth and if this is not managed, it results in a deep depression.

At these times one is reminded of the Japanese art form of Kintsugi – a metaphor for the human experience of rebuilding and repairing ourselves when something breaks our spirit.

Kintsugi, also known as “golden joinery,” involves repairing broken pottery with lacquer and gold or silver. The philosophy behind kintsugi is that the repaired pottery becomes even more beautiful and valuable because of the visible repair work. Kintsugi celebrates the imperfections and flaws of an object, rather than hiding or disguising them.

The origins of kintsugi can be traced back to the 15th century, when a shogun’s favorite tea bowl was broken and repaired using gold lacquer. The repaired bowl became so popular that it inspired the creation of kintsugi as an art form.

Kintsugi involves several steps. First, the broken pieces of pottery are carefully cleaned and dried. Next, the pieces are carefully reassembled using lacquer and gold or silver. The lacquer acts as a binding agent, while the gold or silver adds a decorative touch. The repaired pottery is then left to dry and cure, which can take several days.

One of the key features of kintsugi is the use of gold or silver to repair the pottery. These precious metals add a decorative touch to the repaired pottery and give it a unique and beautiful appearance. In this way, kintsugi elevates the repair process from a simple fix to a work of art.

In life, we all experience moments of ‘brokenness’. We may face challenges, setbacks, and heartbreak that leave us feeling broken and in need of repair. These moments can be difficult to navigate, and it can be tempting to try to hide or ignore the flaws and imperfections exposed by these setbacks. Kintsugi provides a way to celebrate imperfections and embrace the uniqueness and beauty of broken objects..

This process of rebuilding and repairing ourselves requires courage, perseverance, and a willingness to embrace change. It may not be easy, but it is a powerful and transformative journey that can lead to a more meaningful and fulfilling life.

Oprah Winfrey is known for her resilience and determination, and she has spoken about using kintsugi as a metaphor for her own journey of healing and growth. In an interview with Oprah Magazine, she said, “I see my life as a series of broken pieces that have been repaired and pieced back together with gold. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through all the things I’ve gone through.”

What could be the process of leveraging the power of kintsugi to rebuild and repair the human spirit. The first thought appears to be acceptance of the broken state – loss of a loved one, loss of one’s health or wealth or source of happiness, like the broken pieces of pottery need to be ‘carefully cleaned and dried’  with the flaws and imperfections. Next possibly, the person has to find the ‘lacquer to act as a binding agent’. Could this be in the form of pictures, memories, recalling events and time spent with one’s family and friends?  Finally, one needs ‘gold or silver’ to add the decorative touch – could this be adopting something outside of ourselves – faith in God, religion, a social cause..? Applying all these to one’s spirit and letting the spirit ‘dry and cure’ for several days is the Kintsugi recommendation.

Vijay Kumar’s circumstances would be highly individual and we have no way of understanding them completely. Some thoughts from the kintsugi way could have saved him. He could have spent time on acceptance of the broken state – along with researching how the event would affected his family and himself – maybe lookup how people dealt with the reduced quality of life. Look for the ‘lacquer’ in the love of his family and friends to act as a binding agent of the broken pieces of life post the event.

What could be the gold paste for Vijay Kumar to give the reconstructed spirit a new life.  Could it be an interest external to one’s self –something that can add the decorative touch to the re-joined pieces of life. This maybe the hardest for most of us, as work dominates our lives and we pay little attention to cultivating interests / passions outside our work. Spirit breaking events bring out the need to make work a part of our existence and spend time finding the gold paste for the kintsugi way.

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