The beauty of the broken
"If the path be beautiful, let us not ask where it leads." Anatole France
There is a beautiful Japanese tea bowl at the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. Over 100 years old, it is imperfect because at some point in its life it was broken. But because it was repaired using gold lacquer it became infinitely more beautiful than it was in its original, unblemished form. In this exquisite piece gold veins run down its side like molten rivers, highlighting that what is imperfect is not ugly, and what is broken is not always irredeemable. It is a stunning piece of work that, had it never been knocked down, would not have the same weight of significance today.
This is an example of wabi-sabi, the most important aspect of traditional Japanese aesthetics. Derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (impermanence, suffering and emptiness), wabi-sabi encompasses simplicity, austerity, modesty, economy, asymmetry, roughness, intimacy and the integrity of natural processes. The height of beauty in this world view is incompleteness and impermanence, meaning what is truly beautiful is imperfection.
Wabi-sabi is a concept that is beautiful in itself, and a complete departure from the traditional Western ideal. We are by nature imperfect, so celebrating what is flawed yet not deficient, what has been broken and repaired, is comforting and speaks of authenticity.
At a time in my life when I was my most broken, I went on a journey that had only roughly been planned and I couldn’t really afford. I travelled to some of the places I had dreamed of since I was a child, and the decision to go forced me to step out of the safe, comfortable life that no longer made me happy. That adventure and what I found was the gold lacquer which glued my broken pieces back together.
Sometimes it is the broken parts, and how we repair them, that make our lives beautiful. Sometimes the challenges we face become a much needed circuit breaker, or one of our most valuable assets to creativity we have.
The last time I stood on the bank of Loch Ness gazing out into the mist was the most peaceful moment of my life. Though it was tinged with regret for my imminent departure, that time became the fortress in my mind I could retreat to on challenging days. From the beauty of that day came a source of unending strength that has sustained me ever after. I will stand on that bank again. Until that time however, just the knowledge a place so full of solace and promise exists for me, is enough.
Life is not perfect, or easy. It is sometimes unfair and bewildering, but if we can find that which mends our broken parts, we can find beauty and meaning in life with more power than we ever knew before. Sometimes it is the broken parts, and how we repair them, that make life worth living.