“Pick a bowl, any bowl”, they said. I was the first to the table. I picked up a medium sized bowl with twigs and cherry blossoms on the side. As I picked it up I saw my cute new friend reaching toward that same bowl. “Here, you can have it”, I said. An alarm went off in my mind. “Take care of your needs first Jackie”. Oops, I had fallen into a pattern I’m trying to break… worrying about everyone else’s feelings and needs before my own. It’s okay, I thought, it’s too late to change my mind, an old pattern was noticed, a lesson was learned. I chose another bowl, it was small, and white with two thin black stripes around the top. It expressed the part of me who appears to have it all together, the one I often appear to be from the outside rather than the free-spirited fun loving person I am at my core. Oh well.
“Place the bowl face down on the paper plate, lay the thin towel over the top and hit it with a hammer”, said our leader. I did this project three days ago. Just recalling this event is bringing back the trauma I felt in my body and mind in that moment. Isn’t that exactly what happened to me when I was a small girl?
The idea of kintsugi is to glue the broken pieces of the bowl back together with gold epoxy, making the bowl even stronger, more beautiful and unique than it was to begin with. It’s a very beautiful concept, but the pain of being broken for so many years and seeing how difficult it is to be put back together made the act of breaking that bowl nearly impossible for me. Why would I break a perfectly good bowl? How and why would I cause destruction to something so helpless, pure and innocent?
When the art project was first introduced I was excited. Being a designer and enjoying the process of creativity, it seemed fun to do an abstract piece of art that didn’t involve precision.
The fear, hurt, sadness, anxiety and regret didn’t enter my body until I covered that helpless bowl and held the hammer in my hand. I DID NOT WANT TO BREAK THAT BOWL. Forty years of being broken has not been fun. Realizing that no one who hasn’t walked in my shoes will understand, I will tell you, it is not the act of the pebble being thrown into the pond that makes life so painful and the event so damaging, it is ALL of the ripple effects that radiate outward to the shores of the calm water, disturbing all peace until they reach the edge of the pond and begin to ripple back toward the center. I’m not sure the movement and effects of the disturbed water ever stop. How could I possibly break this bowl?
Others were watching, waiting their turn to break their bowls. I couldn’t take all day. I would like to have taken the bowl outside and thrown it onto the concrete as hard as I could and walk away… but that is the very pattern I’m trying to change. That would be congruent with the self-sabotage and self hatred that has held me hostage for years, the very thing that has kept me stuck and has prevented me from moving forward in finding out who I really am.
I placed my left hand on the side of the bowl, clenched my jaw, began to swing and closed my eyes… waiting for the sound of broken glass……. nothing. It didn’t break. My heart lightened… whew, I didn’t break it. Wait! I HAVE to break this in order to do the project. The anxiety returned. I closed my eyes and hit it again….. nothing. Thank heavens! I saved the bowl, it didn’t break. I started to feel panicked. I don’t think I can break this bowl. Others started to cheer me on and I tried once more, this time with a bit more intent. I did it, it broke. I felt sad. I was hesitant to lift the towel and see the damage. At first I thought it didn’t look too bad, but as I started to piece the larger pieces back together I discovered the small shards of glass all over the plate and the gaping hole that remained in the bowl. I sat for what seemed like a very long time, having increasing anxiety because I could not for the life of me figure out how those pieces were supposed to fit back together to close up that hole. I decided to start with the large pieces that were obvious. I mixed up the epoxy and started gluing. I got too much glue, as I pressed the first two pieces together the gold glue squished out from the joint and oozed down the side of the bowl. “Don’t wipe it off”, they said, it will smear. Just leave it. I could feel the perfectionist inside of me saying all kinds of shameful things to myself. “Let it go Jackie, maybe it will add to the design and beauty…. Besides, it’s just a bowl”. I sat patiently holding the first two pieces together waiting for the healing epoxy to do it’s job. It was taking forever. My hands were shaking, which was preventing the glue from working. I set the pieces down and picked up the third large piece. I applied a little less glue and managed to press the three pieces together. I tried to hold onto them and keep everything in place but I was only making things worse. I changed my grip … ouch, I cut my finger. “This project is reminding me more and more of my life”, I thought. In hind sight I should have stopped and got a bandaid, but I didn’t…. do I ever take care of my needs? After a few more minutes in my struggle I noticed there was blood all over my clean white bowl. I was discouraged. I looked around. Others seemed to be laughing and having fun with the project. They were going to finish and I was still going to be sitting here staring at the pieces and obsessing over the fact that the bowl wasn’t ever going to look like it used to. I grabbed a wet wipe and cleaned up my finger and my bowl.
In time I managed to get all the large pieces glued back together. The project was starting to resemble the bowl it once was. However, there was a large hole in the bottom corner. I sat and tried to fit those shards like puzzle pieces into that hole for what seemed to be a very long time. I was feeling so discouraged. I looked around contemplating who I could ask for help. I looked at each person in the room and thought, “none of these women are going to make sense of this mess any better than I can, but what about the therapist? She has done this before, maybe she can help me…. I don’t want to deal with it, its too frustrating…. I’m so done.” I recognized it again, old patterns. Giving up, negative self talk, thinking everyone else is more capable than me, not trusting myself. I had to stay present. I had to stay with myself and calmly figure this out.
I tried more angles and combinations with the pieces. Nothing worked. The thought came to me. “Just like in my life, maybe the bowl doesn’t have to look exactly like it used to. Maybe there are pieces and parts I can leave behind. Life is ever changing, isn’t it?” I decided to fill the big hole with the gold epoxy and then place a few of the larger shards in the wet glue to help fill in the gap, after doing so, I applied more gold around the edges to soften them and eliminate the sharp corners.
Upon completing the project I felt a sense of relief, however, it has caused me to really contemplate the entire concept. One of the women I did the project with told me that she was grateful for her experiences as a child, that because of them she had learned and grown and had been able to help others. I understand her thought process and have felt it in my own life before many times in regards to other life challenges. I’ll be honest… I’m still questioning if I’ll ever be grateful for that experience. I feel like I would really like the opportunity to go back and try living my life as an unbroken bowl. I would love to see who I may have been and how my life would have been different.
I have been blessed this week with a whole slew of tools to rebuild myself and put myself back together, understanding exactly what damage was caused in my early years. I’m hopeful that by understanding the very damaging effects of my experience and by understanding that I have lived my entire life in my limbic brain, who’s primary goals are to keep me safe, prevent pain, and to find pleasure, that I can create new neuropathways, using my frontal lobe, or reasoning part of the brain and stop the self defeating behaviors I have become so accustomed to.
As I drove up the mountain Monday morning, toward the Younique Retreat a deep sense of love washed over me. This retreat was a gift from God. It is time for me to unravel all the dysfunction and chaos. It is time for me to uncover the real Jackie and allow myself to love her. It is time to pick up the broken pieces and accept the tools that will help me put her back together. It is time to stop limiting my own growth and with trust in God, move forward toward discovering who I truly am and all that I can be.