The discomfort of healing

Posted by Kenetha Stanton on

Image by BRRT from Pixabay


I've been learning more recently about the authentic lacquer-based kintsugi process via a series of videos by a man who has learned this technique in Japan, where he now lives. I recently finished watching the series about repairing a broken plate that walked through each step start to finish.

Learning more about the authentic process for performing kintsugi (as compared to my "kintsugi-inspired" process with polymer clay) has given me a deeper appreciation for the way this metaphor speaks to our human process of healing.

One of the first things I learned about authentic kintsugi is that most people have negative reactions to the lacquers used in the process (before they are dry). The artist must use special precautions to protect herself from these materials to minimize the health dangers and irritation they can cause.

How different this is than the way I often want to imagine the healing process! And yet, isn't it more like real life than the illusion that all healing should be comforting and pain-free?

In actuality, I have often found that when I am actively engaged in the healing of a deep personal wound, there are times when process can increase the pain and discomfort. The time spent wrestling with the wounds and trying to find the path to shifting the issues that created by the wounds is seldom a comfortable exercise.

The irritation and discomfort caused by the application of the lacquer that is necessary for the repair of the broken plate is a fitting illustration of what we go through in our process of putting broken pieces back together again.

Choosing to engage actively in healing often means an increase in pain and discomfort in the short term in order to get to the benefits of greater healing in the longer term. This short-term discomfort is what can make it so tempting to try to simply ignore old wounds and cover them over rather than actively working at healing them.

In my kintsugi-inspired polymer clay process that I use with my art work, the "gold" or "silver" is present in the initial repair from the color of polymer clay I use to create the repair. The following steps in the process are only about smoothing and polishing the repair line (and overall piece), accenting the gold or silver color, and sealing the piece for protection.

In real life, however, the gold seldom appears from that first moment that the pieces go back together.

The authentic kintsugi process mirrors this reality much better. There are actually four separate applications of different kinds of lacquer that go into the process. Each application of lacquer is followed by several days of waiting while the piece rest in a dryer before the process can continue.

The first use of lacquer (mixed with flour!) is the one that bonds the pieces back together. This repair returns basic functionality to the plate (or other object) by putting the pieces back together again, but the look remains rough and unfinished. There are many steps yet to go of scraping and sanding and polishing to go, in addition to another three applications of the irritating lacquer.

Each application of progressively finer quality lacquers helps to strengthen the repair, but the finely ground gold powder (or other precious metal) is not added to the wet lacquer until the third lacquer application. The final lacquer layer seals in the precious metal.

This process of having to keep circle back for new layers of healing to particularly deep wounds sounds much like what I experience in life. The initial work that simply puts the broken pieces back together to allow me to be functional is only the first step. It is seldom pretty and generally leaves many rough edges.

But it takes time to allow that first level of repair to set and rest before I am able to circle back around to start sanding away at the rough edges and to subject myself to the discomfort of new layers of "lacquer" that strengthen the repair.

The "gold" to be found in the healing seldom shows up until I have cycled through several repeated steps of "lacquer application" and "drying time." Each step of the path means facing the discomfort of the healing process anew and then having the patience to let that work settle in before I take the next step.

The next time I get impatient with myself for needing to cycle back through subsequent layers of healing of old wounds, I plan to carry this image of the entire process with me to remind me that the gold does not appear in an instant. If I want to move from merely functional to the beauty of the gold, I need to be willing to subject myself to the repeated rounds of sanding and lacquer and waiting that the kintsugi process requires.

How does this description of the process speak to you? Does it correspond to your experience of healing from deep wounding in your life?


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