Lessons from a hammer and a stone

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

hammer raised above crushed peanut shell on table top
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

I've learned a lot about breaking stones over the last five years as I've developed and practiced my kintsugi work, and sometimes the things I've learned about how they break can teach me as much as the process of repairing those breaks.

I often have to remind people that I cannot control the number, placement, or arrangement of the breaks that occur in any particular stone (and I've written before about the lessons I've learned from that). Being a bit of a control freak, however, I have naturally experimented along the way to try to find ways to exert as much control as possible.

To get a stone to break, I lay it on a cement floor and hit it (hard) with a hammer and cast iron chisel until it breaks. It quite often takes a number of solid hits to a stone before the break(s) actually appear.

Since it takes several hits to see any results, it seems logical that I could go back and do the same thing to any of the larger fragments of the stone to increase the number of breaks and make the break (and subsequent repair pattern) more complex, right?

It doesn't work like that. (Believe me, I've tried. Multiple times!) Once the stone has broken, it doesn't react the same way to additional pounding.

While it might be able to withstand multiple hits before breaking, by the time it undergoes that first break, it has accumulated enough collective trauma that subsequent hits with the hammer cause crumbling and shattering along the raw edges of the breaks that often leave the stone unusable instead of new, clean break lines that can be repaired.

Once the stone has broken, continued hits with the hammer do much more damage than any hit that came before the initial break.

I've learned (the hard way) to live with whatever break pattern first results. Once a stone breaks, my work with the hammer is done, and it's time to move directly to the gentleness of repair.

Observing this process has given me a powerful insight about how I respond to the broken places in my own life.

I have a strong tendency to react to life's broken places by beating myself up in various ways.

I blame myself for having been hurt (whether I had any control over the situation or not).

I judge myself for hurting as much or as long or as intensely as I am.

I condemn myself for being too slow to heal.

I berate myself for not getting over it and moving on immediately.

I heap on the self-condemnation and self-disgust when I find the wounds opening raw and bleeding over and over again.

I tell myself that I need this self-abuse to motivate myself to work harder at healing, to better learn from my mistakes, to get over my weaknesses, or to stay strong in the face of life's hard times. I can make it sound like this is some strange form of tough love self-care.

My work with breaking stones is showing me the truth.

My self-abusive attempts at motivation are nothing more than repeated hammer blows on the already broken stone of my heart—pounding, pounding, pounding away on the already traumatized fragments, doing even greater damage with every blow.

Just like with my stones, once my heart has broken, my ability to safely withstand these hammer blows of self-judgment and self-condemnation are seriously compromised. I'm just making the raw edges of my broken places crumble into sand instead of building them back up by putting the fragments back together.

It's not like I didn't know this at some level before that, but it was never enough to change my behavior until I had this image ingrained in my head of the hammer hitting a broken stone over and over again.

Once I made that connection, I couldn't unsee it. And it prompted an important (and much needed) shift for me.

Now, when I gear up into my usual mode of self-blame, self-judgment, self-criticism, and self-condemnation, I see that hammer pounding on my heart over and over and over again. It stops me in tracks in a way that just "knowing better" never did.

My broken heart needs kindness, gentleness, love, and compassion to heal, not more pounding of a hammer.

Yours does too.

Next time you are tempted to heap on the self-blame, self-judgment, self-criticism, or self-condemnation in the wake of heartbreak, I invite you to hold this image of the hammer close and allow it to guide you toward the self-kindness, self-gentleness, self-love, and self-compassion that nurture healing instead.

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