Chapter 9: The Importance of Being Imperfect
Importance of Breaking
Kintsugi, from Japanese philosophy, repairs broken pottery with gold “this process symbolising a reconciliation with the flaws and accidents of time”(1). Imperfectness can make our lives complex and meaningful and to reconcile with and to fully live into our imperfections we must find kindness for what is broken. We must break.
Reconciliation without repair
Thanks to an art instructor speaking of the importance of process while handing me a rolling-pin, breaking a pot in art class introduced me to imperfection’s process. We did not repair the pot, did not fill in cracks with gold. Perhaps perfection is an end, an absolute, while imperfection’s messy and constant process seems synonymous with life itself. To reconcile without feeling as if we must “fix” our imperfections, we must live into the process of breaking, into “the beauty of the impermanent, the imperfect, the rustic, the melancholy”(2).
Kindness is hard
Living into the imperfect asks for kindness, but to be kind to those closest to us can be incredibly difficult. Because it can be easier to be kind to the imperfect homeless person to whom you are serving dinner than to your imperfect mother serving alongside you; easier to be kind to the memories of the imperfect dead whose funerals accumulate as you grow than to the mourners left behind who harbor imperfections that ferment in grief.
And it is infinitely easier to hold kindness for all of these people and circumstances than for the imperfections squashed up within yourself, those imperfections that can make your life such a rich and beautiful place to inhabit.
Finding Imperfect Yutori
Poet Naomi Shihab Nye was introduced to Yurtori when one of her Japanese poetry students described it to her as “living with spaciousness”, as the moments:
“After you read a poem, just knowing you can hold it — you can be in that space of the poem, and it can hold you in its space, and you don’t have to explain it. You don’t have to paraphrase it. You just hold it, and it allows you to see differently.”(3)
Unearthing space to hold our imperfections with kindness is a lifelong process, one that is more complex than breaking a pot, one that begins small, in a breath or perhaps in space between the words of a poem so imperfection “then goes with you everywhere / like a shadow or a friend.”(4)
By Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Endnotes and Resources*:
1. The School of Life. “Eastern Philosophy–Kintsugi“. YouTube. Accessed March 2020.
2. The School of Life. “History of Ideas– Wabi-sabi“. YouTube. Accessed March 2020.
3. On Being with Krista Tippet. “Naomi Shihab Nye — Your Life is a Poem”. Accessed March 2020. (See also CognEYEzant Day 130.)
4. Shihab-Nye, Naomi. “Kindness”. Poets.org. Accessed March 2020.
*All references and resources have been thoroughly researched prior to use.