My kintsugi artwork requires that I spend a lot of time breaking things and repairing broken things, so I spend a lot of time working on ways to break things better and to fix them better.
Out of all of those efforts, I've gradually expanded my techniques for doing both. Out of all of that, the number one thing I've learned about these two processes is that the actual breaking and repair is unique for every single item I work with.
Each breaking and repair is unique
Some of those variations are pretty obvious even before I start: polymer clay pieces are going to require very different techniques for breaking and repair than stones are. And both of those are very different from ceramic or china or porcelain. Not to mention glass, which is altogether different yet.
Each time I begin working with a new type of material, I have to start from scratch developing all new methods for breaking and repairing that particular material.
But even within given categories of material, not every thing breaks and repairs the same way. For example, not all stones can be broken and repaired the same way.
Some types of stones are harder than others (including some that I haven't been able to break at all).
Some easily shatter into many tiny pieces, while others tend to break cleanly. Sometimes all of the breaks appear in the initial breaking process; other times additional breaks and cracks appear over time as I work with the pieces during the repair process.
Some give smooth, almost glassy surfaces along the break; others are crumbly and textured.
Each of those characteristics makes a difference in the techniques and tools I use in the breaking process and the materials I use in the repair process.
Then again, even with a somewhat more standardized material like polymer clay, each piece breaks differently and provides unique challenges in repairing it, even when I am using the exact same techniques and materials to do so.
All of this means that I am constantly expanding my skills, tools, techniques, and options for repair materials.
More importantly, it serves as a constant reminder of how unique each of our own experiences of breaking and repair are in real life.
The futility of comparison in breaking
There seems to be something built into human nature that has us constantly comparing ourselves to one another to assess how we are doing, and I see this happen just as frequently when it comes to our wounds and our processes of healing as it does with material items.
Just as with the materials I work with in my artwork, there is great variation between what causes a given person to feel broken and wounded and what processes are most helpful to heal that brokenness.
And yet, we so seldom take that into account in our comparing. We easily become scornful of others who are broken by events or experiences that don't have the same impact on us. Or we treat ourselves with scorn when we find ourselves broken and bruised by things that others seem to be able to take in stride.
In reality, we are just as different in how we are constructed as my polymer clay pieces are from my stones. It makes no sense for the stones to be scornful of the polymer clay pieces for breaking with a sharp hit on the counter when frozen when the stone requires the use of a hammer and heavy cast iron chisel to break because the hammer and chisel merely dent the polymer clay piece.
Neither one is "better" than the other. They are just different.
Likewise, while one type of stone may break easily with one hit of the hammer but breaks cleanly with easily repaired surfaces, another type of stone may require intense, repeated pounding before it breaks but its breaking is almost always a shattering that is very difficult (if not impossible) to reassemble.
For the "stronger" stone in this case to be scornful of the "weaker" stone makes no sense. Each is acting in accord with its own nature, and each has some benefit and some drawback to its natural tendencies.
There is no blanket repair method
The repair process is equally variable. The process and repair materials that work well to give a strong, clean, golden repair on type of material may be completely useless on another.
In fact, I was recently working with two specimens of the same kind of stone in the exact same shape. One of them repaired easily using one technique; the other would not hold the repair despite the use of the exact same repair material at the exact same time in the exact same process.
I had to use an entirely different repair material and process for the second one. Both came out beautifully and with a sound repair, but each one was "healed" in its own unique way.
We are often tempted to want to apply whatever process of healing that worked for us to another's wound. (Or equally likely, we want to force ourselves to heal using what worked for someone else.)
We expect healing to be a one-size-fits-all approach, and we tend to judge the other (or ourselves) as weak or defective when the healing process that worked for someone else doesn't work for them (or for us).
And yet, we are as different as my many stone pieces and my polymer clay pieces. Why would the process that works for one necessarily work for someone else?
Yes, there are, of course, some broad generalizations that can be made about healing that apply to all.
For example, any repair material I choose for any type of piece must have the ability to adhere to the pieces and to harden into something solid. I wouldn't waste my time trying ice cream or hand lotion as possible repair materials.
But there is a wide, wide range of possible repair materials, processes, and conditions to choose from that fit the basic requirements depending on what material I'm working with.
Your soul's healing
All of us have breaks and wounds somewhere in us from the hard knocks of life. None of our hearts make it through this life without at least a few of them.
Your breaks—and the things that caused them—are unique to you and make you no better or worse than the next person.
Likewise, your optimal path to healing is also uniquely your own and may not look at all like someone else's even if their experience of brokenness is similar to yours.
Yes, there are general pathways of soul growth, healing, and development that can help us along the way, but none of them are one-size-fits-all rule books that we must follow in lockstep.
Be gentle with yourself and with those around you as we all take our own paths to healing and wholeness. Our brokenness and our healing is all as unique—and ultimately as beautiful—as each stone I work with.
Let's drop the comparison and instead just hold ourselves and others in compassion as we all make our way on this shared and fully unique journey of healing.