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Kintsugi Healing

A life can be retraced across a body in both the scars it bears and the ones it covers; but their stories can be elevated, their pain taken away and transformed into art.


Gold: Alongside its baser appeal - and more practical uses - it lives in our histories and our myths as a product of the divine, a symbol of virtue and purity, and a deadly snare for the avaricious and hubristic. It lends its unique lustre to religious art as well as the gaudy, gauche trappings of excess and, in the Japanese practice known as kintsugi (“golden joinery”) or kintsukuroi (“golden repair”), it bears the responsibility of both repairing and enshrining fractures and fragments in the physicality and history of an object.

To some there is a tension in this dual purpose; the intent of repair as a restoration to an oft-imaginary pre-damage perfection standing in antithesis to marking and remembering the occasion and the extent of the harm incurred. The pull of this tension can, of course, be exerted wildly differently depending on the object in question - the arguments around the repair of the inanimate are usually less complex than those where we look at the harm and suffering of a person - and the circumstances in which something or someone came to be damaged.

In the case of the inanimate, where kintsugi is traditionally used to repair broken porcelain, there is pragmatism to a decorative restoration; it takes a flaw and makes it a feature, often a beautiful one, and makes an object functional again. In a person, in the metaphorical alternatives of physical and psychological repair, the intent is often to cure without trace, to return to an undamaged state. Our scars - no matter their cause or nature - are reminders that this is an impossibility and, even when they are celebrated, that they are sometimes still livid with the pain that created them.

Medicine continues to strive to effect more and more thorough healing, to lessen and to mask our scars more completely, but this introduces a disconnect between the narrative of a life and the lived experience of it. This is a state of being more common than not, but there are any number of paths that claim to lead to a true synthesis of these fragmented selves. Those who have followed and studied under the tutelage of a healer called Aurum believe that the proven art of kintsugi can be instantiated in the amelioration scarring of any kind.

Aurum (this is an assumed name and not a particularly acute example of nominative determinism), itinerant leader of a loose-knit handful of other practitioners, is the most striking example of her own work: A fluid trail of gold cuts down from beneath her thick black hair and over her right eye, smoother than the skin around it, and down her neck. Her exposed arms show similar whorls of gold, with each of the individual pathways marking closed loops and making a decorative pattern of kintsugi unique to the trauma it was created to salve.

Those who work with her - all direct beneficiaries of her attentions - are marked by their own kintsugi. A ductile enough metal in nature, in the scars made visible through an adherence to her various rules and ministrations the gold is as pliable as the skin around it. Usually chill to the touch, room temperature in spite of running through the heat of a living body; these precious scars feed the nerves beneath, sensitive but strong, more resistant to harm than the skin they have replaced.

In Aurum’s philosophy (a hodgepodge of incongruous ideas and rituals taken from the spiritual heritages of a Japanese mother and an Indian father) this fortification of the flesh is only a side-effect of the intended healing process: The pain of past injuries - physical and psychological - are dulled and healed as they become a part of the gilded armour, resplendent and radiant. In practice this requires a somewhat unstructured regimen of meditative practices, infusions of plant-based curatives and pressure-point manipulations that, individually or cumulatively, should not produce the stark outcomes that they do.

One might suspect that it is Aurum herself, some power she unknowingly channels through ceremony and ritual, which causes the willing recipients of her teaching to evince these remarkable golden patterns as they come to an accord with the injuries of their pasts, but her students can also guide others through the strange alchemical process. Whether or not this means that it is some fusion of practice and an unyielding belief in the same that begets the final results, I cannot say with any degree of certainty, but those who commit fully are marked as much by inner peace as by their kintsugi.

As the work is begun, the gold patterns start to appear beneath the skin, a duller glow that makes its way to the surface over the course of weeks until it is covered only by the epidermis. This thin, dead layer begins to split and peel, as if someone had experienced a mild sunburn, and can be washed away to reveal the kintsugi underneath. Though safe, each step is incremental and irreversible, if someone abandons their attempt then the process is halted, inert and unchanging; a static reminder of what was started and still waits to be finished.

Once fully exposed, the kintsugi is permanent and, whether or not the practical trappings are continued, new scars will only add to the weight and complexity of the design. Even new psychic injuries will fade, the pain being maybe even more keen despite how fleetingly it is felt before it is assimilated into the golden pathways of a person’s history. As a result, some see Aurum’s work as a narcissistic form of healing: Self-repair through the romanticisation and glorification of suffering, pain and trauma into something both beautiful and inherently valuable.

But while the outward outcomes of her ministrations are inexplicable, the underlying tenet - that to move past trauma we must accept and absorb the lessons that pain teaches, even when it is senseless - is not wholly dissimilar to the teachings or conclusions of several other schools of thought. Either way, those in receipt of this rare treatment appear to be content within themselves, and there is no denying its appealing aesthetic. Perhaps, one day, its secrets will be more widely available and understood and we will live in a new golden age - our scars a vibrant and vital part of who we are.


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