The spiraling rounds of healing and repair

A broken stone heart in the middle of the kintsugi repair process with a gap in the repair

When performing a kintsugi repair, it is often necessary to do more than one round of application of repair material.
It doesn’t matter whether I’m working with my polymer clay process or my stone process, the first round of repair often leaves gaps that must be filled in a subsequent round. (Traditional kintsugi with lacquer often encounters the same issue.)

Sometimes this is due to tiny gaps from air bubbles in the repair material that aren’t visible until after it dries.

Sometimes there are missed gaps between the pieces, as in the case shown above.

Sometimes it is the result of an uneven surface caused by contraction of the repair material as it dries.

Sometimes it is due to repeated layers needed to adequately fill a wide gap left behind where the surface of the object crumbled into dust upon breaking.

Regardless of the cause, most repairs require more than one round of repair material. (And when dealing with a large gap created by crumbling, it can require a half-dozen rounds or more!)

Initially, I found this to be a cause of frustration because I had an expectation that all repairs should be done in a single application.

I’ve gradually adjusted my expectations. Now I expect more than one round to be needed, so as I find those gaps upon inspection after the first round, I am not surprised. I’ve built in that extra round of repair into my plans.

Layers of emotional healing

As I’ve learned to adjust my expectations when it comes to my kintsugi repair work, I’ve found myself reapplying this to the emotional healing process as well.

I’ve always expected myself to heal from emotional wounds in one round of linear progress from broken to whole, much like I would expect from the healing of a broken bone that knits itself back together in a straightforward process.

So when my emotional healing progressed in uneven, non-linear, and unpredictable ways, I felt like I had failed.

I would think I was doing so well at healing some issue only to find myself right back at the start working on a different layer of the issue triggered by some new event.

I’d wonder what was wrong with me as I found myself working my way back through old territory that I thought I’d dealt with before.

Once I made the connection to the kintsugi repair process, however, I began to adjust my expectations. What if a second (or third or fourth …) round of working through an old issue or heartache was natural and normal?

What if that is just how healing works?

The spiral nature of healing

As I go back to add layers of repair material to one of my pieces, each subsequent layer requires less material and less effort than the first one did.

As you can see in the image above, the stone is now largely intact after the first round. It’s no longer in multiple pieces, and it holds together well. It just has a gap where the repair material didn’t fully fill that one section of the break.

This leaves a rough area and a weak spot, but it doesn’t negate the degree to which it has already been repaired (or healed). It just means that a little more work is needed.

My emotional healing works the same way.

In the last week, something happened that triggered a painful old wound that I thought I’d fully dealt with, and I had a bit of a meltdown one evening as the new event triggered this old pain that I’ve been working on healing for years.

Instead of seeing this as failure, I recognized immediately that this was just another layer being added to the existing repair and chose to respond with self-compassion as I worked through this new round of healing.

Once upon a time, this event would have sent me into a tailspin for months and required a lot of work to put the pieces back together. This time, I really struggled the first evening, was a bit shaky for another day or so, and then I had dealt with it enough to move on with no lasting effects.

In the moment, it felt as if I was circling back to the very beginning and starting all over with work I’d done before, but in reality, it was a much higher layer in an ever-expanding spiral that allowed me to pass through this new incremental layer of healing with very little effort.

The gift of adjusting expectations

The biggest key to the ease with which I moved through this round of healing was the shift in my expectations of how healing works.

As I’ve learned to adjust my expectations in my kintsugi repair work, so have I come to expect that my emotional healing is likely to require more than one layer of healing over time.

So I didn’t spend any time at all compounding the issue with self-blame and recriminations in this latest passage through this old hurt. I was quick to note how the earlier layers of healing made this round easier and much strength and wholeness was already there waiting for me.

This round was just a further refinement of healing that has already been established. Even in the midst of the new round of pain, I could see my growth clearly without the self-blame cluttering up the view.

And that small shift made all the difference in the world.

Questions to ponder

What are your expectations of how the healing process “should” work?

How do those expectations affect the way you experience your actual healing process?

How does this kintsugi image of spiraling rounds of healing fit (or not fit) the way you experience healing in your life?

What adjustments might you make to your expectations of the healing process that would offer more room for grace?

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