When I was 6 years of age I went to hospital with a split chin and came out sporting a rather fancy set of stitches, which my father laughingly compared to a darned sock. This is my one complete, preserved memory of him, which is not why I am telling this story. The real point of the story is that I fretted for the whole week I lived with my “darned sock,” convincing myself the Frankenstein stitches would stay with me forever.
On the way to the hospital I tried my best not to cry, but by the time we parked the car, the tears started to flow. When my father noticed this, he switched off the engine, turned to me and said “brave face,” wiping the tears from my cheeks with his soft, warm hands. Strangely, I don’t remember the stitches being removed, but what I do remember is being handed a small mirror. “Look. Mended again,” my father said as I peered at the raised, jagged scar, thinking how ugly it looked.
The Japanese art of kintsugi, which translates as “golden joinery,”‘ teaches that the world is imperfect, that things break, that we can mend them. Kintsugi masters proudly and delicately restore broken ceramics with lacquer and powdered gold, leaving the mended scars visible to others.
‘Adversity is a collateral element of living‘
Psychologist, Tomàs Navarro, has spent 20 years as a counsellor and was struck by how many people talked about feeling “broken” after enduring heartbreak, grief, and trauma. In his book Kintsugi, he writes, “Adversity is a collateral element of living.” He goes on to say it is unrealistic to expect life will always be easy; that it is likely at some point we will suffer illness, tragedy, or the loss of a loved one. However, whilst each of us have different abilities to cope with adversity, emotional strength can be learned. We can put ourselves back together in a way that embraces the challenges we have faced as part of our life’s journey, while acknowledging that it is our scars that make us who we are. In this sense, we are in a continual state of mending and repairing, a form of “self-kintsugi.”
What does this mean in practical terms? For me, as someone who has overcome the daily, debilitating pain of Rheumatoid Arthritis, kintsugi is about opening up and sharing my emotional scars with others, free of fear, judgement, or shame. Although I was afraid to expose my story, I knew in the depth of my being that the scars were living proof of how far I’d come. My “brave face” is just as relevant today as it was over forty years ago. And now, I am passionate about empowering others to trust in their innate capacity to heal.
There is a difference between repairing and patching up. This is not about underestimating what has happened or trivialising the consequences of adversity. If we don’t take the time to properly repair and reflect on life’s challenges, we are at risk of miring ourselves in self-pity and victimisation. Trust me, I’ve been there.
The concept of kintsugi and repair fits into the biological medicine approach that the human body has an innate capacity to regenerate. This is also known as regulation capacity. Our ability to regulate is the key to health. The term regenerate refers to the self-repair forces inherent to humans. We know the body has the ability to regenerate, as our tissues regenerate all the time. Over a life span, our body grows, develops, matures, and declines. Within this cycle of life, every one of the body’s cells and organs has its own regeneration cycle.
‘The ancient principle of kintsugi is about embracing breakage and the process of repair’
In my line of work, and in my own life, I practice nutritional and lifestyle medicine to achieve better balance and alignment with myself and the environment, and teach others to do the same. Whether we are “repairing” from low self esteem, chronic illness, or the loss of hope and joy, we can learn from what has happened and disassociate the negative experience from our self image. In both a literal and philosophical sense, the ancient principle of kintsugi is about embracing breakage and the process of repair. It creates wholeness by highlighting that which binds the precious pieces, rather than treating the “damage” as something to hide. The concept of kintsugi can help us to be more at ease.
We can learn a beautiful lesson from this concept. What happens when we stop striving for perfection and let our brokenness show? What happens when we stop trying to conceal our repairs, and instead see the “damage” as proof of our resilience and strength? In my own experience, and from working with others, we become more whole and more capable of transformation.
Love and treasure your mind and body for its brokenness and its repairs. I encourage you to try my (kintsugi-inspired) nutrition and lifestyle strategies for yourself. You can learn more about the beautiful Japanese principle of kintsugi with the recommended book in the resources section below.
Nutrition and Lifestyle Kintsugi: 6 Ways To Live Well
Practice gratitude through writing lists and saying thank you out loud for all the goodness that comes your way and all the incredibly challenging lessons you are still learning. Living with a grateful heart means giving yourself permission to be tender, forgiving and loving, to yourself and to others. It’s an invitation to reach forward through whatever you are facing and embrace each feeling and experience as it arises.
When we are in good health and have ample of energy reserves, we are just happier and more positive. Tasks feel easier. The mountain doesn’t look so high. My philosophy is to give the body the raw materials it needs to detoxify, restore, and regenerate. Food is the foundation of every aspect of our health, from how much energy we have, to how happy we feel. Food is information, and it informs the body to promote either disease or health. My number one tool to feel happy and positive is to fuel my body with fresh, organic plants, especially leafy greens, every single day. This ensures that all those important microbes in my gut are happy and healthy (that’s where 95% of our serotonin is made, and 90% of our immune cells).
Earthing and meditation
Grounding into the earth without shoes for 20 minutes a few times a week has been scientifically shown to help relieve inflammation (1), stress (2) levels and improve mood (3). Mindfulness meditation helps me to stay balanced and keeps me on track in the present moment and non-judgmentally – I mindfully strive to accept myself as I am in every moment – is a useful intention I regularly use to stay focused.
I look for opportunities to slow down throughout the day. Rather than being rigid about it, I try to take advantage of opportunities when I can: a morning tonic or elixir in our window seat; an evening kombucha on our balcony; a sunset meditation; a walk in the forest; a Dead Sea Salt soak at the end of the day; massaging warm sesame oil into my feet before bed. Each of us have the same 24 hours a day – it’s a case of prioritising what’s important and finding opportunities to slow down and enjoy the precious moments that make up a day.
Celebrate imperfection and simplify your life
Accepting that life comes with a great deal of uncertainty and darkness at times, so moving through both the good and the bad is just a part of life. To bring more kintsugi into your life, practice forgiveness, opt out of the comparison game, and cut out unnecessary purchases and material possessions from your life.
Build and uplight your inner circle
Science backs up the important of friendships and community to living healthier lives (4). We are not meant to heal alone. Live vulnerably, openly and intentionally to cultivate deeper connections with those around you. Loneliness is frequently the cause, as well as the effect, of health decline and can happen when we lack the surrounding presence of a compassionate community.
‘The wound is the place where the light enters you’ – Rumi
Navarro, Tomàs (2018), Kintsugi, London, Yellow Kite