By Acharya Samaneti
I feel things deeply.
It seems I have always been like this. I have consistently been quick to cry when I felt sadness or pain; the connection to my heart has always been very strong and is integral to who I am. I am confident most people would say that they feel things deeply.
I feel that one of the reasons I am a prison chaplain is this deep sensitivity—it is like my heart has tentacles which reach out and are drawn to the cries of the world. This shared experience of humanity is so deeply felt that it gives meaning to my life in a way that I struggle to explain.
Prison smashes my heart wide open, like how a mug shatters when it is dropped on the ground—pieces spread out all over the floor, memories of that mug that I loved. As I sit with men, whose hearts and lives are broken, I start to see that my heart is not cracked or even broken—that this shared brokenness becomes a very sacred realization of our shared humanness.
No matter where we are sitting in my office, whether at the desk or chair, we are both broken and it is this fragmentedness that affirms our human experience in this realm we call samsara. I find myself turning towards the Japanese art of Kintsugi often with my work as a prison chaplain, especially when I begin to feel really deeply their sadness, their brokenness and their humanity.
What is Kintaugi?
It is the art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold. It is built on the idea that when flaws and imperfections are embraced, we can then create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art. Every crack is unique and instead of repairing it like new, this technique highlights the “scars” as a part of the design. We can then use this as a metaphor for healing ourselves: it teaches us an important lesson.
Sometimes in the process of repairing things that have broken, we have the opportunity to actually create something more unique, beautiful and resilient.
So we admire our brokenness, we appreciate the cracks (some in gold and others yet to be filled), but what do we do after that? How do we get the gold paint to put the pieces back together? What I have been doing with the men I see is teaching them about Wabi-sabi and how we can apply it in our lives in the hopes that healing becomes possible and life changing.
Wabi-sabi is a Japanese expression that is based in a spiritual disposition based in Zen Buddhist philosophy.
Wabi means alone and sabi means the passing of time. Wabi-sabi is about celebrating the imperfections and living simply. We all go through tough times and leading a life of perfection isn’t realistic. These two concepts teach us how to embrace the good and the bad parts of ourselves and the asymmetry of life. So, in embracing the imperfect means that we celebrate our strengths. This shift of mindset, from striving for an impossible ideal to embracing our strengths leads to a more positive and strength-oriented mindset.
Teaching the men to appreciate and even love their scars is a revolutionary teaching for most of them; I have to admit that it was truly life changing for me when I first read about Kintaugi. I was never taught to embrace my imperfections, I was always striving for a perfect, yet impossible goal. My philosophy Master’s thesis was on Aristotle’s Magnanimous Man and Nietzsche’s Ubermench—these impossible models of the truly ethical and moral person. This chasing of perfection created much suffering in my heart/mind, and I see it so often with the men that I work with. I feel their pain so deeply when they try and hide their scars and try to be an ideal that they will probably never achieve.
This is why wabi-sabi is such an important and complimentary practice with Kintaugi.
It is great to embrace our scars, but then what? We have embraced our jagged parts, so now we turn towards the aspiration—our strengths. This recognition and cultivation and embracing their innate capability is what is foundational In their healing. Society encourages us to look at what is wrong with us, especially when we have committed a crime. The acceptance and caring for these negative parts is enough, we don’t need to have absolute tunnel vision on them if we ever want to get out of these toxic patterns.
If we focus on our strengths in the midst of our imperfections, I find that we come out stronger, but more importantly – more whole. This is how we can reach our full potential as humans, a fullness that includes our stories and our imperfections—just to show our true innate strengths that reside in our heart-minds. We don’t realize our full potential until we go through tough times, and what more difficult time than being incarcerated?
May we pick up the pieces of our hearts, glue them back together with gold and embrace these scars because of the strength that they hold, and may we then envelop the imperfect, helping us celebrate our strengths.
Sometimes in the process of repairing things that have broken, we have the opportunity to actually create something more unique, beautiful and resilient. ~Acharya Samaneti Click To Tweet
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Dana Gornall
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