Kintsugi is the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with powdered gold. Day after day, week after week, stage by stage, the object is cleaned, groomed, treated, healed, and finally enhanced. Nowadays it has also become a well-known therapy metaphor for resilience. Personal Development Coach and Blogger Céline Santini explore the art of kintsugi in all its facets.
Kintsugi is the art of exalting past injuries. The Way of Kintsugi can be understood as a kind of art therapy, inviting you to transcend your struggles and transform your personal hardships into gold. It reminds you that your scars, visible or invisible, are proof that you’ve overcome your difficulties. By marking your history, they demonstrate you’ve survived, and they enrich your soul.
This ancestral technique, developed in Japan during the fifteenth century, consists of repairing a broken object by accentuating its cracks with gold—instead of hiding them. But the philosophy behind it goes much deeper than a simple artistic practice. It has to do with the symbolism of healing and resilience. First taken care of and then honored, the broken object accepts its past and paradoxically becomes more robust, more beautiful, and more precious than before it was broken. This metaphor can provide insight into all stages of healing, whether the ailment is physical or emotional.
Favorite Takeaways -Kintsugi by Céline Santini
The word kintsugi comes from the Japanese kin (gold) and tsugi (joint), literally meaning “golden joint.” The art of kintsugi is named kintsukuroi, which means “mending with gold.” It is a long and extremely detailed process, executed in numerous stages, lasting several weeks—even months. In some cases, it might even take a year to achieve the best kintsugi.
The art of kintsugi is so valued that some connoisseurs have even been known to intentionally break their precious vases or bowls in order to transform them . . . Without going through the trouble of smashing all your valuables, you can be inspired by the kintsugi philosophy through all the different stages of your personal healing process until you rediscover your wholeness and radiance.
No matter what your injury is, physical (car accident, mastectomy, illness, amputation, disability, old age, burns, assault) or emotional (splitting from a friend or lover, divorce, mourning, depression, unemployment, abandonment, rumors, painful childhood), kintsugi’s energy can support and accompany you along your healing process. Think of it as an initiatory journey, with your injury as the starting point. As you move through the healing process, you will slowly become stronger and eventually turn into gold, as if by alchemy.
STAGE 1: BREAK
During great misfortunes, hearts are broken or strengthened. -Honoré de Balzac
Something unforeseen happens, a wrong move, a shock, and everything falls apart . . . You’re shattered into a thousand pieces, like a broken object smashed violently on the floor. No matter what awful situation you’re experiencing, whether it’s physical or psychological, you’re under the impression that it can’t be overcome. You feel that you’ll never get over it or that you’ll never be the same person again.
Something did fall apart for you today. Events and experiences of your past have injured you deeply. Like an open wound, your flaws and your weaknesses uncover hidden corners of your soul. It is this same place where you will also find unsuspected strength for rebuilding a better version of yourself! Remember: Up until now, you have survived 100 percent of your worst experiences.
What’s done cannot be undone. -William Shakespeare
Clear your mind and pick up the pieces. Like an object that is damaged and broken, your ordeal is upon you. You may still be in shock. Hesitatingly, you pick yourself up, still somewhat dizzy, still a bit groggy.
Sometimes the pain may be so intense that the slightest incident revives it all. So your natural reaction may be to ignore it, flee from it, as if denying the problem could make it go away. You may try to protect yourself by quickly hiding away the pieces, removing them to a place as far away as possible. Alternatively you may cover them up completely, smoothing out the surface with a mask of smiles as if everything is okay. And sometimes when you can’t stand the pain, you suppress it by all available means, strangling it in any way possible .
Don’t look away: Accept the problem’s existence. Get in touch with the part of you that makes you suffer, and let yourself feel it in all of its intensity. Identify the type of emotion you are suffering from. Without trying to avoid the pain, look at it calmly, as if through a magnifying glass, and try to progressively relax about it. Feel grateful for this sensation and be thankful for its action. It has done its work as a witness. If you really concentrate calmly and with gentleness, the suffering will disappear.
“The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is. – Oscar Wilde”
Make the choice to give the object a second chance, rather than throwing it away.
Convince yourself that you can be like the broken object repaired by the kintsugi technique. You are a valuable jewel that deserves to be healed with gold, one of the most precious metals on the planet. You are invaluable and are worth the best. In deciding to repair what has been broken, you not only simply recognize its value but add sentiment to the object. As in the art of kintsugi, in deciding to take control of your life in spite of the sufferings experienced, you give yourself an invaluable gift: your self-esteem!
You must choose among the dreams that warm your soul the most. – Louis-Ferdinand Céline
Consider the different methods of repair and choose the one that suits you best: the illusionist method (invisible repair), staples (metal clamps along the cracks), or kintsugi (golden joints).
No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it. – Albert Einstein
When we break an object, our first reaction might be to throw it away, or to repair it superficially, so that the break isn’t visible.
The art of kintsugi, however, proposes to approach the problem from the opposite intent. Instead of hiding the fissures, kintsugi suggests to emphasize them and even embellish them. Instead of losing its value, the object becomes even more precious than before it was broken.
Vision is the art of seeing things invisible. – Jonathan Swift
Concentrate and imagine the repaired object in all its splendor.
Before starting to work on the broken object, the kintsugi master first imagines what it will look like when it’s splendidly restored. This is a good metaphor for your own life. It is, after all, well known that the brain can program itself to act in both a positive or negative mode.
STAGE 2: ASSEMBLE – urayama shi / omoi kire tok / neko no koi
In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind. – Louis Pasteur
Clean the pieces of the object, gather all the tools (palette knife, palette, lacquer, paintbrush, gold powder, drying box, wooden sticks, turpentine, sandpaper, silk cotton balls), and protect yourself by wearing gloves.
While preparing for his work, the kintsugi master is not in a hurry. First, he steps back, evaluates, prepares, and carefully arranges his materials. He takes his time with slow, precise, and measured gestures. He knows that once the procedure starts, time is of the essence and he cannot afford to make any mistakes. This is why it’s essential that everything is organized and accessible before the actual work begins, like a surgical operation. This step may appear to be unnecessary, but this ritual of preparation is already part of the healing process.
Just as the materials for kintsugi are carefully assembled, you can prepare yourself with care before starting your own healing process. Take a step back, slow down, and get ready for the sacred event of your own transformation.
Life is nothing but a sequence of small, fleeting moments. If you are consciously aware of this fact, you too will be able to take a measured step back with pleasure instead of rushing ahead. With your head held high, feel and enjoy each moment as if it were the most important of your life: It actually is! Here and now, enjoy the presents of the present.
Until you are broken you don’t know what you’re made of.—Ziad K. Abdelnour
The kintsugi master also takes time to assemble the “puzzle” of the objects he intends to take care of. He juxtaposes each piece, takes note of the cracks and missing pieces, evaluates and anticipates the difficulties of reconstruction, numbers the pieces, and finally decides the order in which he will proceed.”
In life as in the art of kintsugi, it is sometimes necessary to take the time for evaluating a situation, to ask oneself pertinent questions, and to reconstitute the “puzzle” of your journey. This phase requires taking a step back in order to get to know yourself better.
Nothing is lost, nothing is created, everything is transformed. – Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier
Turn the poison into an antidote! Utilize the natural lacquer (urushi) to glue the pieces together. It comes directly from the resin of the lacquer tree, and it’s highly toxic, so you must protect yourself while applying it. However, while it dries, it hardens and loses its toxic nature.
Get inspired by the kintsugi process to face your inner demons and transform them. Often the solution is right before your eyes. Changing a small detail can sometimes be sufficient.
The soul is a lyre on which all the strings should be played. – George Sand
Prepare and apply the glue (mugi-urushi, a blend of flour and urushi lacquer) to both sides of the fissure with a palette knife, and glue the two pieces together to reconstitute the object.
This phase is crucial. After a long and careful preparation, the kintsugi master finally has all the pieces on hand to reconstitute the object. He is now ready to begin an effective cure to give the object its original oneness.
For you too, the time has come to begin a patient reassembling of the pieces of your soul. It’s time to reconnect to your true self.
What we lack instructs us. -German proverb
If you’re missing a piece, prepare a paste (sabi-urushi), blending the lacquer (urushi) with powdered stone (tonoko), and patiently re-create the missing piece with this paste.
Kintsugi is also the art of patiently complementing what is missing in a respectful and harmonious manner. In fact, sometimes it is even necessary to re-create the missing pieces. This is a beautiful metaphor to adopt for life: We have the choice to live unsteadily, accommodating our flaws as best we can, without trying to identify them or take care of them . . . Or, on the contrary, we can showcase them instead of denying their existence, in order to better complement them.
Art challenges boundaries. – Victor Hugo
If it inspires you, you can even choose a piece from another object to replace the missing piece (yobi-tsugi).
Sometimes the kintsugi master expands the object’s transformation. Either because the flaws to repair are too severe or because of a preference for contrast, he might choose to combine two disparate objects by taking the shard of one to repair the flaw of another. Consolidated by an outside addition, the object thus becomes more original and unique, richer and more beautiful.
STAGE 3: WAIT – Kiri shigure / Fuji o minu hi zo / omoshiroki
Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away. – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Scrape off the extra matter with a utensil (razor blade, toothpick, palette knife), and clean using turpentine.
This step is very important. When assembling the pieces to be fused together, some glue will seep out of the fissures. It’s therefore essential to take the time to remove any excess matter with care, because once it has hardened, it compromises the remaining repair.
Just like in life, to move forward with ease, it’s necessary to take one’s time to get rid of superfluous, encumbering matter, whether it’s of a physical or mental nature.
Remove everything that holds you down and weighs heavily on your mind and body: refine, purify, simplify your life. Return to your true essence.
Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance. -Samuel Johnson
Make sure the pieces stay in place by wrapping the object with masking tape or rubber bands.
Once the cleaning has been accomplished, it’s important to keep the pieces firmly attached to each other, so that they remain perfectly welded together during the drying phase. Once dry, the object will be more solid.
In life it’s also important to maintain a certain structure, so that the changes you’ve initiated have time to take hold, to become part of your day-to-day routine, until they are solid.
I have so much to accomplish today that I must meditate for two hours instead of one. – Gandhi
The lacquer (urushi) is alive and needs to breathe to dry and to harden. Prepare a covered cardboard box (muro), and place a damp towel in the bottom. Using a number of wooden sticks, create a grid so the object can be placed on it.
The lacquer has the rare capacity to breathe, almost like a living creature! Extracted from the sap of a tree, it injects a second life into the object, thus helping cure it. Therefore, like all living organisms, it needs to breathe. The lacquer absorbs oxygen and humidity while it continues to breathe during the long process of curing. As the lacquer slowly hardens, it makes the object increasingly more resilient over the months.
This phase reminds us how vital it is to take your time if you do not want to be short of breath in the course of any kind of healing procedure.
Let us allow our minds a few moments of calm each day. The most beautiful fruit of the soul: peace, joy, and tenderness, are born of this deep silence.—Frédéric Lenoir
The lacquer hardens best at a humidity level of 75 to 90 percent and at a temperature above 68°F. Place the object in this box, maintaining constant temperature and humidity levels.
The time has come to place the object in the box to settle. In life too, it’s often necessary to stop for a moment. Once in the midst of an activity, it’s often difficult to know when to stop. But just as it’s necessary for land to lie barren in a fallow period for a time to regenerate, it’s necessary to manage one’s time and pause while battling those self-imposed challenges. Henceforth, it is necessary to lower our defenses so we can recharge.
A change of the exterior circumstances of our life only works through the transformation of our body. – Emmet Fox
Carefully clean your tools (palette knife, palettes, brushes) after each stage with turpentine or vegetable oil, and carefully organize them so they are ready for the next use.
This step is neither the most attractive nor terribly creative. And yet it’s an integral part of the entire process; it’s as indispensable as all the others.
Just as the kintsugi master cleans his material mindfully and with respect, be sure to take care of your body along with your mind during the healing process. It’s time for the big spring cleaning! Whether it’s cleansing your insides, your outside, or even your spirit, the time has come to shake up old, stagnating energies. Spark these into motion to get rid of the dead skin that’s associated with your past. You are not the same person any longer. It’s time for the shedding!
How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?—William Shakespeare
Patiently leave the object in the box for seven to ten days, until it has dried.
Kintsugi is a veritable education in patience and deliberation. Impatiently, we may want to move immediately to the key phase of covering the lacquered fissures with gold powder, to admire the object emerged in new splendor. But the art of kintsugi reminds us that it isn’t the outcome that counts but the way we get there . . . Kintsugi values slowness, inviting us to wait until the object’s cracks have completely dried and healed for fear of it breaking again if we are too impatient.
All of this waiting is part of the object’s repair and regeneration, just as in life patience facilitates the healing process. Take the required time. Or rather, give yourself the time you need. Certainly, you would love for thing s to go faster! But you need to humbly accept the time it takes and beware of quick solutions that are often superficial. To really heal to the depth of your soul, you can’t touch a fresh scar too soon without risking that it will reopen or perhaps even get infected.
The Paradox of Kintsugi
Here is the paradox of kintsugi: It is its very imperfection that makes it valuable. Its injuries make it priceless. Cured by gold, exposing its scars, it is that much more precious when the memories of the cracks remain visible.
The lesson to be learned from kintsugi is to understand the tyranny of perfection. Change your outlook, lift the mask, accept your flaws. Observe and embrace your weaknesses! They reveal that you are only human after all . . .Your fragility is more beautiful than you will ever know!
The art of kintsugi invites you to let go and to accept the impermanence of things. It teaches us to remain open to the unexpected, to imperfection, to serendipity, and coincidences . . . Japanese philosophy refers to this as mushin no shin, which means “thought without thought” (mu: “nothing/empty,” shin: “heart/spirit”), calling to let things go.
As such, kintsugi is a great metaphor of our existence: The wheel turns, and life is unpredictable! Happiness and sadness, joy and sorrow, pleasure and stress, everything changes and evolves. Perfection and permanence are an illusionary trap. One can fight neither time nor change . . .Now may be the time to detach . . . Could you have been able to predict all that has happened to you since you were born? Or at least during the last ten years or maybe even last year? Sometimes things turn out badly . . . and sometimes they turn out better than expected!
All the Best in your quest to get Better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.