I was talking to a friend and she asked me how and why I started my journey. By journey I mean the Path or finding The Way or whatever works that has led to my current position on the doorstep of Taoism with my now worn copy of Meditations in hand. My actual journey, of course, started nearly a quarter of a century ago when two people who now (and probably then) despise each other decided to bonk one night.
I talked about my depression and how found myself in a spiritually and emotionally dark place about half way through my university experience. From there, there was no where but upwards and it was a very perilous climb without a harness. Since finding philosophy and accepting virtue as my only directive, it’s less of a climb, more of a gentle ascent in a modest lift. In this conversation, she said something interesting that has stuck with me. She said that the story reminded her of the Japanese art of kintsugi.
Kintsugi, meaning “golden repair” is the art of repairing broken pottery with gold infused lacquer. What a perfect metaphor for finding philosophy. Gold: an earth metal revered by the kings of Persia, the Saxon feudal lords, the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, the emperors of the Huey Tlatoani, and the monarchs of Pataliputra. In nearly all cultures, gold is the ultimate material commodity. Philosophy is gold. We find unique ideas in cultures that all lead us to a balanced and virtuous existence from optimistic nihilism in a San Francisco think-tank to monastic Taoism in the deep country of China – I’m speaking here about philosophy and not religion intentionally. Even within the art of kintsugi is the philosophy of wabi-sabi: embracing the imperfect. It’s beautiful and like a mind thrown to chaos and a soul wanting, the pottery is made all the more uniquely brilliant.
The artistry of Japan has always amazed me. From the architecture and cuisine to one of my favourite films Paprika and of course the fantastic anime – or rather visual poem – about mental health: Welcome to the NHK. As well as kintsugi, there’s also dorodango: “mud dumpling”. It is the art of taking a clump of mud or dirt and water to carefully create a perfect sphere and polish until it’s shiny like a snooker ball. In recent times the childhood hobby has been refined to hikaru dorodango meaning “shining mud dumpling”.
I can’t decide whether or not my journey is the reparation of a delicate china plate or polishing of a turd. Aren’t we all earth and water in our essence? Air in our lungs and fire in our hearts. Philosophy is the gold that mends broken things and the polish that shines the shit.
“The rotting of the base material of everything. Water, dust, bones, stench. Again: marble is a mere deposit in the earth, gold and silver mere sediments; your clothing is animal hair, your purple is fish blood; and so on will all else. And the vital spirit is just the same, changing from this to that.” – Meditations 9.36
It’s like spiritual absurdism made manifest. Both kintsugi and dorodango are delicate processes requiring patience, skill, precision, and time. The mind requires all of these things, as does the soul. Enjoy it: polish your shit.
PS. Here are some links to dorodanga and kintsugi videos on Youtube for more information and a relaxing time. If you enjoy these videos, please make sure to give likes, subs and shares to these creators to show your support.