Finding Beauty in Our Imperfections

There is a Japanese art form called kintsugi, perhaps dating back to the 15th century, generally used for porcelain pottery. When an object or vessel like a vase cracks, the pieces are glued back together with a mixture of resin or lacquer and gold dust. Instead of making the cracks invisible, or covering them up, they make them beautiful. Mistakes and cracks are not considered ugly. Instead, they are recognized as a part of the history of the object.kintsugi

The philosophy behind kintsugi is that the break itself is something to remember, something of value, something to be celebrated. Kintsugi provides a way to commemorate and preserve the object’s history, including its beauty and its flaws, and make the object more beautiful rather than disguise it. As an additional benefit, the repaired vessel is stronger than it was before the crack.

As one writer explained, “Not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated... a kind of physical expression of the spirit of mushin....Mushin is often literally translated as "no mind," but carries connotations of fully existing within the moment, of non-attachment, of equanimity amid changing conditions...The vicissitudes of existence over time, to which all humans are susceptible, could not be clearer than in the breaks, the knocks, and the shattering to which ceramic ware is subject. (Christy Bartlett, Flickwerk: The Aesthetics of Mended Japanese Ceramics)

One of the many lessons of kintsugi which feels especially relevant to those of us with spinal cord injuries is that breaks, injuries and difficulties are a natural part of life. No one escapes unscathed. We must learn to acknowledge them and accept the changes. Life does not give us the opportunity to change our past, only our present and future. But acknowledging that our injuries are a part of us, we can celebrate all the aspects of our bodies and spirits, and become stronger and more beautiful.

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Many of us make resolutions at the beginning of the year, laying out the ways we want to improve our bodies, our minds, our hearts, and our attitudes in the coming year. This year, we should take the lessons of kintsugi and apply them to every day of our lives.

We do not need to dwell on the bad circumstances of our inquiries, or on the details of them. Instead, every day we should celebrate our breaks, our repair, our recovery, the very lives we can lead. There is beauty and strength in our bodies, and in the person we become after our injuries.

Christopher Reeve famously hoped to overcome his paralysis, and said that in his dreams he was walking, sailing, or playing complicated Brahms pieces on the piano. When he was awake, in his wheelchair, he found that his mind and memory were becoming clearer than ever. Instead of concentrating on the negative aspects of the damage to his body, Christopher and Dana created the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation to propel research, create community, and improve the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries. He reached out to others and let them know they were not alone. He gave them hope. He embodied kintsugi. The gold in his mind and heart shone brightly through the cracks. And our beauty can shine, too.

About the Author - Howard Menaker

Howard Menaker is a retired communications and public affairs executive, with over 30 years of experience in international corporations and trade associations. Previously, he worked as an attorney, specializing in civil litigation. He now devotes much of his time serving on non-profit boards of directors, including a prominent theater company and a historic house museum in the Washington, DC area. He and his husband split their time between Washington and Rehoboth Beach, DE.

Howard Menaker

The opinions expressed in these blogs are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $10,000,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.