Kintsugi: the Beauty of Scars

In my youth, scars were marks of toughness meant to warn others you were someone to leave alone; that you could both take and deliver pain. Physical wounds that produce such visible scars were worn like ribbons on a warrior’s chest, or like notches on a belt: a tally of toughness.

As we reach adulthood, we soon learn that wounds and the scars that follow come in different forms other than those that leave ragged blemishes. Internal wounds that traumatize emotionally and psychologically heal slowly—if ever—and offer no visual evidence of their presence. Rather, they fester in our hearts and minds and contribute to behaviors that neither we, nor those who believe they know us, can explain. Treatment to heal such wounds is often futile; limited to managing symptoms of an unknown cause that is buried by the past and has often morphed over time into a multi-headed monster that may or may not be based in any semblance of reality. They become the demons that haunt us with neither warning, nor apparent justification.

As we age, we learn to cope with our wounds whether they are healed over with a scar, fly around in our psyche like bats in our mental belfry, or leave our hearts feeling heavy and hollow. Coping behaviors come in many forms from appeasement to suppression to concealment. We do the best we can to present ourselves as reasonable and sane even when we know we are fighting against forces we don’t recognize, let alone understand. In extreme cases, we become unrecognizable to ourselves and appear bizarre, or even dangerous, to others. Those who peddle cures call us depressed, neurotic, or psychotic, when what we are is, simply, human.

The key to dealing with all of these challenges is a deep and compassionate self-interrogation that peels all the layers of our life back to reveal the essence of who we are to produce a level of clarity that casts aside old deceptions in favor of restorative self-awareness. Moreover, to honor and even celebrate our scars like the gold lines in a Kintsugi restoration. Converting pain into beauty. Self-awareness when expressed in an open and honest manner and followed by the celebration of our particular peculiarities makes us (often for the first time in our lives) whole. Once we are whole, once the wounds are exposed and closed by awareness and compassion, our demons are vanquished and sweet peace prevails. A sense of entrenched calm presides over our lives like the elder viewing the world from a park bench whose only expression is an occasional sagacious grin.

My own journey of Kintsugi restoration is expressed in the following poem.

Whole as One

Expectations and obligations

Hang like ornaments on a tree

Too many is too much

Burdened limbs falter, wilting

As contrived joy plunges

Into a wallow of discontent


Criticism and displeasure

Seldom fair but always there

Like a midwinter inversion

Low layers of gray swirling

A biting bone chill of wind

To deaden what spirit remains


The yoke of yesterday yearns

Masquerading as comfort

Advocating for stasis

Blocking the light of liberation

A relentless weight of fealty

As if it knows what is right


Days turn and stumble

Unremarkable in sameness

Is this all there is as the

choir sings its benediction?

Surely there’s another chapter

Without a beast of burden


Finding a new me for me

Shedding decades of duty

Considerations are few and simple

To clear a path to tranquility

Secure as One to meet the world

In it, but not of it any longer


Behind the eye of wisdom

Beyond the grabbers and takers

Shaping wholeness as One

In the slipstream of society

Stealth toward a frictionless future

Held in the hands of grace

We live in confusing and perilous times. What was once so is no longer. The reliable has become unreliable. At times, the world we face is beyond disorienting; it appears as a cauldron of existential threats. It is therefore paramount that we take care of ourselves and each other. Doing so begins with building our inner citadel—a reserve of fortitude that renders our core being unassailable.

Late in his life, the painter Pierre Auguste Renoir was crippled by painful arthritis in his hands, and yet summoned the strength to hold his brush. His friend and fellow artist, Henri Matisse, asked “Why do you paint when it hurts you so much?” “The pain passes,” replied Renoir, “but the beauty remains.” Strength can be found in self-revelation. Renoir knew who he was. It was through his pain that his greatest works came to be. It was through his pain that the strength of beauty was realized. The key to sweet peace is living your life while honoring your personal history not as what makes you vulnerable and weak, rather by what makes you unique, strong, and yes, beautiful.

Like a Kintsugi bowl, scars and all.