Kintsugi is the ancient Japanese art of repairing cracked pottery and ceramics with precious metals. It literally translates as golden joinery or golden repair. By mixing gold, silver, or platinum in with the glue that binds broken pottery shards back together, the final form serves to emphasize the cracks and breakages in the piece. What an illustrative philosophy for life.
We have all had times in our lives when it feels like the world has shattered beyond repair. It can seem at some point that the life we have been building for ourselves has been irreparably destroyed. This can come in many forms – a sudden career change, a life-altering injury, or a broken relationship. What can we do when this happens?
Pema Chödrön, an American Tibetan Buddhist who has written a vast number of books that blend the wisdom of Buddhism with the realities of modern day life, offers a never-ending source of wisdom. If you haven’t picked up some of her work, start with either When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times or Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better.
What To Do When Things Fall Apart
The first thing to realize is how lucky you are. Your life has fallen apart and become unmoored from reality – how can this possibly be lucky? Let’s look into a fundamental Buddhist philosophy, the process of life and rebirth. You now have the chance to rebuild and become new. However, if you want to become new, the old has to die. Colonel Steve Austin didn’t just become the 6 million dollar man spontaneously – he was destroyed and rebuilt.
Pema Chödrön says that the feeling of “hopelessness” when life falls apart is the basic ground. We can begin our new journey without the hope of security and the ties to our last chapter – the chapter that has fallen apart. Shed your last life, in the way it sheds your skin.
Another point that Pema Chödrön emphasizes is the importance of meditation. There are hundreds of resources out there to help you start, from books and classes to helpful apps like Headspace or Yoga WakeUp. Whichever approach you choose, find a practice that you look forward to daily as your personal holy ritual.
In When Things Fall Apart, Chödrön highlights the goal with meditation – the idea that we meditate not to pull away from the life, but to become more connected. If your life plan has suffered a disaster and you find yourself un-moored, it can be tempting to run away and escape. But the best tactic to take is not one of escape, but moving closer.
In Chödrön’s teachings on fear, she tells us not to face away from what we are scared of but face into it, and touch it. When meditating, this is the goal. We aren’t escaping our life – we are connecting to it, facing towards it and embracing it. It can often be tempting to look at teachers like gurus on top of the mountain, who can escape modern life. Look at Chödrön – she doesn’t escape from her meditation or ascend to the top of the mountain. She connects with life every day with her teachings.
Every day, we can live in the mindset of “life is a good teacher.” When disaster strikes and it feels like fate has had its evil way with us, our life can feel like the enemy. But this simply isn’t the case. The disasters we experience and the ones that are undoubtedly to come are all opportunities to grow. Just like the ancient art of Kintsugi, the gift we are given is to embrace what has shattered and rebuild with gold.
Written by Jon Straub, founder of Integrative Man and Integrative Holistic, a life coach based in NYC. He is on a mission to change entrepreneurs’ attitude towards health, wellness, and happiness – the most important productivity tools we have.