I still remember losing my first baby tooth.
It was one of the top ones right up front, and it had gotten looser and looser in its socket until it was just barely hanging on by one small attachment to my gums. I moved it around constantly, but I wouldn't let my mother pull it (nor would I try pulling it myself).
Even though I knew this was one of those rights of passage on my way to becoming a "big girl," I was still horrified by the idea of losing that tooth. Some of that, I'm sure, was a conviction that it was going to hurt, but it mostly just seemed wrong that a part of myself could just fall out like that.
There was no way to stop the process, of course, and it did eventually fall out in the middle of eating a McDonald's hamburger.
I did the usual placing of it under my pillow for the tooth fairy, but I was so afraid that piece of myself could get lost that I wrapped it up in large tissue and smothered that with tape to protect it and make it big enough to avoid accidental loss.
Fortunately, the experience got easier for me when it came to the rest of my baby teeth, but I still resist loosing pieces of myself.
I'm not talking about those outward losses we all face in life; I mean those inner parts of myself that sometimes seem to fall away against my will.
I'm talking about those pieces of my self-identity that sometimes shrivel up and fall away, leaving bewildering holes in my understanding of who I am.
I'm thinking of those times when my long-held understandings of the world around me crash into reality and come apart at the seams, leaving me flailing about trying to form a new way to understand the world and my place in it.
I mean those times when rock solid beliefs that form the foundations of my life crumble and leave me staggering about on uncertain ground.
I even mean those times when abilities that I've taken for granted all my life begin to fail me (like my eyesight as I get older), and I am forced to find ways to compensate.
Sometimes these pieces of me fall away in the aftermath of some larger loss or trauma and become an intrinsic part of dealing with that outward brokenness, but other times these pieces fall away quietly with no obvious outward cause.
Either way, the result is the same. I am faced with some piece of myself falling away, leaving behind a gap of uncertainty that must be filled in time with something new.
Even after all these years, I still react to those moments much as I did to the loss of that first baby tooth.
I still resist these losses, clinging to each small piece of myself that I feel slipping away. I try to hold onto each piece for as long as I can, refusing to let go until it is forced out of my grasping hands.
I still have a tendency to want to wrap the lost piece up carefully to preserve it and hold onto it like some strange keepsake.
I don't like the idea of letting go of these lost pieces of myself, even when they are pieces that no longer fit, are no longer good for me (if they ever even were to start with), or that have proven themselves false.
My work with kintsugi has forced me to take a hard look at this tendency.
I break scores of stones each and every week, and every single one of them creates teeny, tiny fragments that are lost in the process. These pieces are too small to work with, too small to handle, and too small to effectively find a way to fit back together.
I used to try to save them all "just in case" they were needed in the repair of the stones, but that's just resulted in piles of sand-like stone fragments.
I've learned to become increasingly comfortable throwing them out because I know that I can create a better repair without them. They just get in the away of creating a neat repair, clogging up the seam and making it rougher and more uneven.
It's better to let the repair compound flow freely to fill all those little gaps and create a beautiful seam that expands and contracts around the pieces that are left.
Working with that practice day after day has forced me to take a harder look at what I do with those pieces of myself that fallen away over the years.
That scrap heap of old, no-longer-useful pieces I keep carefully stashed away doesn't serve any helpful purpose. They just act as dead weight that holds me back and keeps me chained to old versions of who I used to be.
I'm learning to unclench my clinging fingers and let those pieces go to open space for whatever new pieces of myself are coming into being, just like I sweep away all those tiny shards of broken stones.
Those parts of myself that have fallen away served a purpose once, and I can honor them for that without clinging to them. It's time to let them go and open my hands for the new parts of me that are sprouting and growing.
Come to think of it, it might even be time to finally unwrap that old tooth from its tissue paper and toss it out, too. It's a good thing my "adult" teeth didn't wait for that to happen, eh?
What pieces of yourself (or who you understand yourself to be) have fallen away over the years?
How do you deal with those pieces that have fallen away?
Do you cling to them as I do? If so, what impact does that have?
Do you reject them and ignore that they ever existed? If so, what impact does that have?
How might you better honor those pieces and still make space for something new to grow in their place? What might that look like for you?
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