Kintsugi's lesson in the slow, patient work of healing

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

sad woman looking off in the distance against scenic background
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay


We live in a world of instant gratification. We want what we want, we want it now, and we've gotten so used to that happening for us a surprising amount of the time that we've forgotten (or never learned) the patient art of waiting.

While this expectation of instant gratification is becoming increasingly realistic in a world of shipping goods that can arrive within days (or even hours) of our order, there are many places in life where it will always remain unrealistic. Healing (whether emotional or physical) is one of those.

Of course, when we are in need of healing, the pain and suffering and anguish of the wounded places in us makes our desire for instant results that much stronger.

After all, this isn't just a matter of wanting a new toy or gadget or treat. It's about needing relief from the suffering that is overwhelming our days and nights with its insistent demand for attention.

The kintsugi art form is a symbol of the hope of healing—and healing with extra beauty in our scars—for many of us, but what you may not realize is that it's also a symbol for just how slowly and incrementally that healing happens.

Although I've written about this several times before, it's a subject worth revisiting because the slowness of this process often gets overlooked in our fascination with the sparkle of the gold seams of repair.

A recent news article in The Washington Post by a journalist who was surprised that a two-hour kintsugi class did not use the traditional kintsugi process or materials reminded me of how often this gets misunderstood.

The traditional process of kintsugi uses urushi lacquer that is made from the sap of an East Asian tree that is related to poison ivy (and causes similar allergic reactions on the skin).

This lacquer is very slow to cure (or dry) because it is not an evaporative process. It cures through an enzymatic oxidation and polymerization process that requires a carefully calibrated environment of humidity and warmth.

The drying of each layer of lacquer applied takes a month (or more) before the next step can be performed.

As Linda Lombardi, the author of the article mentioned above, states: "Kuge demonstrated the old technique by mixing a little sticky plant resin with clay powder, and then dripping a drop of it onto a chip on the lip of a cup. That was it for today: Now, you’d have to wait a month for that thin layer to dry, then repeat the process until enough layers had been built up to fill the gap."

As beautiful as the final result of kintsugi is, the actual process is an exercise in waiting and tedium.

Not only do you have the long waits associated with each application of the lacquer, but once all the lacquer has been applied and cured, there comes the slow, tedious work of sanding and smoothing the repair until it is completely even with the original object.

Only then—after all of that waiting and tedious shaping—does the artist begin the process of adding the gold to the surface of the repair in yet another layer of lacquer.

There's nothing about the process that is anywhere close to instant gratification.

The healing that happens in our lives works the same way.

We experience small drops of healing with long stretches where nothing seems to be happening as that healing settles in. In time, there will be another drop (and another wait), and another, and another.

Eventually enough healing will build up to cover the raw, gaping wounds, and we find ourselves engaged in the slow, tedious work of shaping our new selves to fit our new, post-brokenness lives in ways that help us become the people we want to be in those new versions of our lives.

This can take months or years (or more) before we begin to see the gold forming in the scars left behind. (After all, scars themselves don't form until the healing is done.)

The next time you are feeling frustrated and impatient at how slow your own healing is going, come back not only the image of kintsugi as the hope for eventual gold in the scars life gives you, but also to the image of the slow, tedious, patient work of the actual kintsugi process itself.

It's a beautiful reassurance that you're on the right track even when it feels like nothing is happening or that you're going over old ground again and again. Sometimes all you can do is keep your eye on the small signs of progress along the way and keep working toward that hope of eventual gold.

With time and patience and the willingness to keep at the tedious work of healing, it will happen. One drop at a time.


If you'd like to receive more inspiration and encouragement for living your own kintsugi life, subscribe to get weekly notifications of new blog posts in your inbox.

Related Posts

Making fear your ally
Making fear your ally
Fear can be a helpful ally when we know how to treat it right. It's when we give it full control or try to completely ig
Read More
The biggest obstacle to our dreams
The biggest obstacle to our dreams
Any time we decide to set out to pursue our dreams of a better, happier life, there's one major obstacle we are guarante
Read More
Start with celebration for a better New Year's plan
Start with celebration for a better New Year's plan
Starting from a place of celebration and building a plan for the year that focuses on including more of the things which
Read More

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →