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Tikkun Olam by Kintsugi; but First, the Furnace and Flux

Sunday was the first anniversary of my brother's death, and as I began to write this post, something he once said popped into my head. Regarding my penchant for symbolism, he commented that I'm always trying to read meaning into things where there is none. True enough, if you want to look at it that way. But my response to him then, as it would be now, is that basically, it doesn't matter if the meaning is "really there" or not; what matters, and what I enjoy, is creating that meaning, working - and playing - with it. Symbology is fun.

One of my favorite ways of working with symbology is working with a color theme for the year. Around the time that I realized gold was going to be color for 2013, a Facebook friend posted about the Japanese art of kintsugi, which I had never heard of before. It means "golden joinery" and is the practice of repairing broken pottery with a lacquer resin sprinkled with powdered gold, thereby making the item more beautiful and valuable than it was originally.   How glorious! My metaphorically-oriented mind was off and running, and the first thing I thought of was the Hebrew phrase tikkun olam, meaning repair of the world. In Jewish spirituality, this is seen as humanity's responsibility.   Tikkun olam by way of kintsugi; I love this concept. But what would such a process entail?  Obviously, one needs to first have some gold. It has to be extracted, refined, then ground to a powder and mixed with lacquer for the kintsugi process.   As I delved more deeply into exploring the metaphorical meanings of these processes, it became clear to me that the reason gold is so valued is because it represents pure love, pure being. If one wants to repair the world with it, one has to find it in oneself first. And in order to do that, one has to first trust that it is actually there to be found, then actively look for it.

I realized at that point that I tend to deny the metaphorical gold in myself because it's not pure and therefore hard to recognize. But in exploring these metaphors, I began to understand that I must value the impure gold in order for it to be purified. I must "extract" it by gathering it within myself from all the "veins" where I can find little bits of it. Interestingly, I discovered that just by turning my imaginative focus more to the image of gold, feelings of joy and love began increasing me. (And by the way, I learned in my research that the human body does actually contain tiny amounts of gold.)  

The next step is purification. Find and extract the the impure gold, then surrender it to a 2100-degree Fahrenheit furnace and add something called flux, which causes the impurities to separate and rise to the surface where they can be poured off. The funny thing about flux is that it consists of very ordinary substances, and can actually be as simple as 100% borax.  Boring old borax, available at any corner store. 

Perhaps, then, I should value the ordinary circumstances of my daily life as the flux that catalyzes my purification. Maybe I should also welcome the intensely challenging and painful things in life when they come because they are the fiery furnace, without which, the flux has no purpose and the gold remains impure. 

And perhaps, when impurities rise to the surface, I can let them be poured off instead of clinging to them because I identify with them. Then, with the pure gold that is left, I can repair what is broken - but only after it's ground to a powder, another wonderful metaphor for appreciating life's way of taking something that seems so solid and breaking it apart so it can become useful to the world. I feel like all of this is happening simultaneously in me, but I can give my attention to one part of the process or another, depending on my need in the moment.  I am one piece of the broken world and the whole process is the repair. Kintsugi, tikkun olam, the furnace, and the flux are one. 

*Edited: If you want to learn more about kintsugi, this is a great video about its history, process, and metaphorical value.

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