When we find ourselves facing a difficult life issue, especially a health challenge, the experience can take quite a toll on every area of our lives. The first to feel the impact is usually our self image. Once the fear and shock from the diagnosis start to fade, our thoughts turn inward to feelings of inadequacy. Our bodies should be working perfectly, but they’re not. There’s something “wrong” with us. We’re broken. Fortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. When we learn how to reframe illness as a means to a positive end, we can transmute the experience into energy that supports our healing.
This idea reminds me of a Japanese pottery technique called kintsukuroi. I was introduced to this art form after I was invited to Japan by the Ministry of Health to speak at a conference of alternative medical physicians. The legend of kintsukuroi perfectly explains how brokenness is really an illusion with the purpose of creating great beauty. In the 15th Century, shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a precious, but damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs. He was quite disappointed when it returned with crude metal binding holding the pieces together. He quickly employed craftsmen of his own to find a more aesthetic repair. After the metal clasps were removed, the pottery shards were set in place with a lacquer resin. To hide the adhesive and add elegance to its appearance, the craftsmen sprinkled powdered gold over the seams of the repair. In the end, the result of the broken pottery was a piece that was more beautiful than it was before. In fact, what started as a repair method for broken pottery quickly became an artisan technique to beautify ceramics in Japan. Kintsukuroi actually translates to golden repair or to repair with gold.
How might our bodies respond to illness if we chose not to see ourselves as broken, but rather in a repair process from which we’ll emerge as something far more beautiful than when we began? Things of great beauty rarely just appear. More often, they’re the result of a fashioning process where pieces are removed or rearranged in a way that gives rise to the perfection out of something that we mistakenly saw as imperfect in the first place. A great sculptor doesn’t see a blunt block of marble. He sees the angel inside it and removes the pieces around her so that she may be freed. A diamond that begins as a crude, dull crystal must face four weeks at the grinding wheel before its brilliant scintillation can dazzle us. Old glass soda bottles must face the hammer first before their colorful pieces can be reassembled into a stunning mosaic.
Interestingly, when I was asked by the designer of my new medical offices, Be Hive of Healing in Agoura Hills, CA, what I wanted on my office wall, I sat in meditation on the subject. Long before I’d heard of kintsukuroi, an image of beautiful, aged pottery with threads of gold came to my mind. How beautiful now that this wonderful ancient legend should be a metaphor for my recovery from cancer 17 years ago and anyone else who is on a healing journey? Now I can look at the mural on the wall every day and be reminded that what breaks us down is part of a process to build us back up into something far more beautiful than before–a truer version of ourselves with a full embodiment of our compassion, empathy and the ability to live every waking moment consciously with a depth of self-understanding that could not have been attainable without the experience.
During these times in our lives, it’s important to remember that although it feels like everything is breaking down, that’s not the same as being broken. We’re not missing any of our parts. We haven’t lost anything that’s essential to who we are or what we need to heal. We’re still complete. It’s just a rearrangement of the pieces that will leave us and our lives more beautiful as a result of the experience. Yes, our lives fashion us into spiritual works of art by what we’ve been through. The emotional lines etched on the soul provide a depth of character and level of wisdom that we could not have acquired otherwise, and that’s the real gold of life; isn’t it? When we reframe the illness experience in this way and see it as a positive tool for our spiritual and emotional evolution, our body chemistry and mental energy make a profound shift. Illness isn’t the enemy. When we work with the process of change instead of against it, and understand what the experience is trying to teach us, we free up our body’s healing resources and begin to consciously fashion our lives into our own work of art.