The beauty in our scars

This article was first published in soulsisterwisdom magazine Issue #2 (August/September 2015, pages 46-49). This online magazine is now defunct and no longer available online.

Brokenness is a universal part of the human experience. Although I don’t believe that any of us are inherently broken or defective, we all experience the feeling of brokenness more than once in this life.

These experiences of brokenness sometimes come from trauma, loss, abuse, or betrayal that leaves our hearts and spirits broken. At times, it may be our physical bodies that feel broken from illness, injury, or disease. Or it could be our souls that experience brokenness stemming from the rejection of some part of who we are in order to make ourselves acceptable to others.

We have all felt this in one way or another, but rather than seeing it as a normal part of the human condition, we often act as if these experiences are something to be ashamed of. We do our best to keep our difficulties and our pain hidden from public view. If at all possible, we even try to hide the brokenness from ourselves by stuffing it down below the surface and numbing the pain through overwork, overspending, or other addictions of various kinds. Even long after we have healed from whatever has happened to us, we view the scars that remain as ugly, shameful blemishes to cover up.

There is another way to see our scars, however. In the fifteenth century, there was a Japanese shogun whose favorite tea bowl was broken, and he demanded that his craftsmen find a way to repair it. In response, they developed a repair method that was both functional and beautiful by filling the cracks of the broken bowl with lacquer mixed with gold. This produced a repaired vessel that was more beautiful and more valuable than it was before it was broken, which pleased the shogun and gave birth to the art of kintsugi (also known as kintsukuroi).

For a time, this method of repair became so popular for its beauty and value that people would intentionally break pottery pieces in order to have them repaired in the kintsugi style. The popularity of this method is a recognition of the great beauty and value in making the repair itself a highlight rather than trying to hide the cracks, and this applies just as much to humans as it does to pottery.

Our scars (internal or external) are actually a testament to the healing that has taken place. They should be something to celebrate, but we see them only as a reminder that we are not the same as we were before the wound occurred. We seldom value our healing because we know that it is hard work that takes a great deal of time and effort and can even increase the pain temporarily as we dig deep to clean out the wounds, but even this is not all that different than the kintsugi process.

The traditional kintsugi technique involves using urushi lacquer and real powdered gold to make the repair in a multi-step process that can take a week or more with repeated applications of lacquer, drying in an oven, and careful sanding of the surface. The urushi lacquer used is made from a plant related to poison ivy. As would be expected, many people react with intense irritation to it while performing these repairs. This toxicity makes the lacquer itself expensive in addition to the high cost of real gold powder. When you add the high costs to the lengthy timeframe and the irritation that comes from exposure, this is not a fun or enjoyable process despite the beauty created in the end result.

It would certainly have been easier and cheaper to throw the item away than to repair it using this process. Our process of healing can also be expensive (sometimes financially, but more often in other ways), time consuming, and can cause additional discomfort and reactivity along the way. It would indeed be easier to skip all that, but once the damage has happened, that is no longer an option. We can either stay stuck in our brokenness, or we can do the hard work of healing.

When we choose to heal, the healing itself holds within it the possibility of making us even more beautiful than we were before the brokenness we experienced. Through the healing process, we learn greater wisdom and compassion, we expand our self-understanding, and our spirits achieve greater depths of authenticity. As we move through the world, we now have greater beauty to share with those around us as we shine forth these gifts.

Think of the stories that inspire you. We are always more drawn the story of one who has faced hardship and pain and has emerged healed and whole with gifts to give to the world than we are the story of one who has never faced any challenges at all. There is great beauty and inspiration to be found in the resilient spirit of a woman has healed from her wounds. Her scars have become gold.

Of course, none of this means that we need to seek out ways to be broken or that we need to be grateful for those things which has caused experiences of brokenness in the past. It is possible to value the healing and the beautiful gifts that healing has brought without celebrating the circumstances that created the need for it.

This gold that is our healing is there whether we are aware of it or not, but as long as we are still seeing the scars of former brokenness as shameful stigmas to be hidden away, we will not honor or use this beauty to its greatest effectiveness. Shifting our focus to pay more attention to the healing that has happened than the brokenness that preceded it allows us to share that beauty more broadly and freely.

To live this out in our daily lives requires making several shifts to our perceptions of brokenness and of healing.

  1. When we shift from seeing our scars and those of others as symbols of shame to symbols of beautiful healing, we move from a focus on brokenness to a focus on healing that celebrates healing as something to be sought after.
  2. This causes us to make the work of our own healing as a priority not just for ourselves, but also as a gift we give to others. Our healing becomes gold that radiates out to help heal the world around us.
  3. As we prioritize our own healing and begin to celebrate it when it happens, we spread the power of healing to others. When we are willing to be vulnerable enough to share our struggles and the healing that came from those times, we inspire and encourage others by letting them know that they are not alone.

Take time to look at your own life and consider the places where your heart, spirit, body, or soul has been broken along the way. How has healing taken place in those areas? Is there more that is waiting to be healed? If so, how can you prioritize the work that needs to be done to heal more completely? What gold have you gained from the healing that has happened in terms of what has been learned or has grown in you? How can you better offer this gold to help heal the world around you?

We may have all experienced brokenness at once time or another, but we also all have gold now to share. Find yours, and allow that beauty to radiate to others. Our world can use the healing power of your gold!