By Ben Schoeffler
I meet a lot of people in my career as a medical hypnotist. Many of them have experienced trauma in the past, which has left its mark both emotionally and sometimes physically. I work with people in chronic pain, with addictions, compulsions, or just so stressed out it is affecting their health.
I would ask anyone who has ever thought of themselves as damaged goods or broken to consider this story of an ancient Japanese shogun that ruled Japan in the days of the Samurai. Legend has it that he had a favorite bowl from China that he used regularly. During one meal, through no fault of anyone, the bowl was broken into a few different pieces. The shogun lamented, and eventually sent one of his servants to the original manufacturer in China to repair the bowl.
The servant was gone many months, but eventually he came back with the repaired bowl. The bowl had metal staples along the cracks, and although the bowl was whole, it didn’t hold liquid very well and it was no longer beautiful to the shogun. The shogun was even more devastated, remembering the beauty of his once ‘perfect’ bowl.
The servant was sent again, this time all over Japan, to find a craftsman that could repair the bowl in a way that was satisfying to the Shogun. Many different craftsmen tried by using different techniques. Some hid the staples, others used a type of glue and tried to match the color of the bowl precisely. But all this was for nothing because the Shogun didn’t like any of the repairs. To him, the bowl would never be what it once was. He couldn’t ‘unsee’ the cracks and repairs the bowl now had.
Many more months passed, but eventually the bowl found it’s way to the home of a skilled and humble craftsman in Japan. He knew that to try and hide the cracks and repairs in the bowl would be to deny the experiences this piece of pottery had gone through. Instead of using glue and resin and trying to match the color of the bowl precisely, he actually added powdered gold to the resin.
By doing so, now the cracks in the bowl were fixed, and emphasized with beautiful gold. Running through the bowl were streams of this beautiful metal, almost in a way that celebrated the trials and tribulations it had gone through. It was no longer perfect, but then again, it never was in the first place.
The gold repaired bowl was presented to the Shogun, and he was ecstatic at the results! The bowl would never be what it once was, but now instead of the repairs attempting to hide the damage, the gold cracks actually made it more unique and beautiful. This style of repair became known as ‘Kintsugi’. For a while it became in fashion, and people would actually break bowls and cups on purpose, just to repair them in this way.
The point of this story is that no one is perfect. You may have some extra jiggle on your backside, you may have scars from past relationships, you may be missing a limb or the ability to walk. We all get broken from time to time, sometimes through no fault of our own. Occasionally those changes prevent us from living the life we once had.
What’s important to realize is that you aren’t just the cup in this story, you are also the shogun, and the craftsman. You experience the broken pieces like the cup did, you can make the repairs like the craftsman did, and eventually you get to judge the progress like the Shogun did.
That is the key, the Shogun’s opinion was the ultimate deciding factor. That leads me to another quote from my favorite philosopher. A philosopher that was also a ruler, this time not in Japan, but in Rome.
“Our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius