The Art of Change

Most of us have a complicated relationship with change. We spend much of our lives dreaming of it, struggling to make it and terrified of it. The problem is, change is inevitable. Whether it is our bodies, our relationships, or our dreams, we are always in a process of change. Yet, many of us spend much of our lives clinging to what we know, to the familiar, in effort to avoid the change that we fear.

Whether is it circumstances beyond our control or of our own making we fear that change can and will fracture our world. It does not matter whether we dropped the tea cup or we have thrown it against the wall — the result is the same. We have broken something, lost something we value. We live in a culture that throws away what is broken. Does that mean that if we think of change as breaking something, must we discard it?

In Japan craftsman practice the art of kintsugi which means “golden joinery”. Kintsugi is a way of rebuilding broken pottery with a lacquer that is mixed with gold, silver or platinum. Kintsugi pays homage to change by seeing a fracture as a source of beauty and art.

What if we could, like the Kintsugi artist, find a way to see change, not as something to avoid or fear but to celebrate or honor? What if change is what makes us strong?

That’s all well and good if the change is few simple pieces, but what about catastrophic change? The kind of change that stops your world from spinning, the kind of change that takes your breath away. It could be the of loss of a loved one, end of a marriage, a diagnosis of cancer; change that will shatter us into a thousand pieces like a tea cup against a tile floor. If there are too many pieces for the kintsugi artist to reconstruct what do we do then?

When I was eighteen years old my sister Lee suddenly passed away. I was heart-broken. The world as I had known it was gone. I felt as if a gust of wind could cause me to crumble in grief. When I thought back to that time, I wondered how I survived. How did I put the pieces of my world back together? That’s when I thought of a mosaic.

The Oxford Dictionary defines a mosaic as: “A picture or pattern produced by arranging together small pieces of stone, tile, glass, etc. A combination of diverse elements forming a coherent whole. ‘a cultural mosaic’ In other words a mosaic comes from combining small objects or fragments into a work of art.”

So, what if change was not about reconstruction but about repurposing? What if we used change, like the pieces of china, to create something new. Then change becomes not about loss but about using the pieces of our lives to create, or better yet, construct something new. In other words, what was once a treasured piece of fine china is transformed into a work of art.

Through my grief I slowly, over time, created a new mosaic of my life. Change does not have to be about letting go, discarding, forgetting. Instead we can accept change and marvel at the way we can repurpose and reconstruct the pieces our lives and transform them into an intricate and wondrous work of art.