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“I am thankful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.” – Alex Elle
A Japanese artform has a lot to teach us
In a Japanese art called Kintsugi, artists repair broken pottery with a lacquered resin and powdered gold. (The image below is an example of Kintsugi art courtesy of Morty Bachar www.lakesidepottery.com.) The process is very time-consuming and requires the investment of enormous talent and treasure, but the end result is well worth it. Pieces of Kintsugi pottery are one of a kind, each bearing the marks of its own unique scars. Despite the delicate beauty of the now shimmering webs of cracks, thanks to the strength of the resin and precious metal, each work of art is actually stronger and more durable than the cup or plate or vase was before it was broken.
The art of Kintsugi offers a wonderful practical lesson to our culture which values “new” and “readily have-able” (a.k.a. cheap) disposable goods. Lore has it that the first piece of Kintsugi pottery was a shogun’s favorite tea cup. Rather than throwing up his hands and heading out to the market for a new cup when it broke, he asked artisans to repair it. Surprised by his love of the little cup, the artists decided to turn it into a “jewel.” Indeed, the wonder is that pottery repaired in the Kintsugi method is more beautiful and more valuable than the original, unbroken pieces.
Cracks and scars can be displayed with pride
For those of a more spiritual bent, Kintsugi offers an even more wonderful and profound set of lessons. Rather than diminishing our value, our imperfections and our scars from our struggles in life make us even more beautiful and unique. In fact, when he received his repaired teacup, I suspect that long-ago shogun was probably surprised to feel a little gratitude that it had broken.
Can you imagine approaching your own life struggles with this mindset? Can you imagine digging deep in the face of challenge to focus on how this difficult, painful time will change you into something stronger and perhaps more beautiful than you were before?
Practicing an attitude of gratitude even when times are tough
Pop culture is almost flippant when it refers to this mindset as an attitude of gratitude, but when times are tough, there is nothing easy or lighthearted about it. It is, however, 100% worth the effort. Honestly, I’m still working on it. As someone who is deeply convinced that gratitude is the antidote to much of life’s discontent, I’m happy and sometimes even eager to do the work. But when I’m struggling, it is wicked hard to feel grateful.
Yoga has helped (and is still helping) tremendously. Anyone who has practiced yoga with any regularity has faced a setback – a posture they once could do that has slipped away. Instead of quitting, when you choose to hang in there and do whatever version of the posture that is available to you day after day, you gradually start to see gifts. If you’re currently struggling with one of these postures, as much as I’d like to tell you that the gift of all this showing up and practicing will be regaining the posture, I can’t make that promise.
There are always gifts from any struggle
But I can make you an even more precious promise. Your struggle will reveal little imbalances and weaknesses that are without a doubt affecting you in ways beyond your inability to do the posture you crave. As much as the posture that has slipped away can leave you feeling stymied, working to correct these small details will feel do-able. While a perfect posture may not be in your immediate future, smoothing out these little imbalances will positively impact every other posture in your practice. Your hard work will yield strengths you didn’t know you lacked and didn’t know you needed.
In short, your struggle will make you an all-round better yogi. Trust me. I speak from lots and lots of experience here. Injury. Illness. Imbalance. Pure inability. All have had more to teach me on my mat than any yoga teacher I’ve ever had (and I’ve had some really, really good ones). While I’m still waiting to be enlightened enough to actually feel thankful while in the grips of my pain, fear or frustration, because of my yoga practice, I am aware that I will (eventually) feel grateful for each of my struggles.
Our cracks help us to shine
This awareness makes me patient. It makes me persistent. It allows me to accept my inability – for now. These are characteristics that I am glimpsing in myself off my mat as well. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that these qualities are like the glimmering, super-strong cracks in Kintsugi pottery. They highlight the scars I’ve earned from a life well-lived. Rather than hiding my cracks, they allow me to shine with strength and resilience.
“There is a crack, a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything). That’s how the light gets in.” – Leonard Cohen, Anthem,
What would happen if, rather than pouring your energy into hiding your own cracks, weaknesses and inabilities, you instead poured your energy into feeling grateful for the chance to do the intricate, beautiful, artistic work of learning a little more about yourself? Of celebrating the person you already are and will continue to become? After all, I’m here to tell you that you are a work of art and that, like Japanese pottery, your cracks make you breathtakingly beautiful.