Kintsugi: or the hidden benefits of being fucked

Above us are two skies:

The truth of the banking menacing cloud,

The truth basking in summer blue sun.

They are both overhead, both all you can see

Depending on which way you face.


So here we are, on the other side of a referendum that has more successfully than the partisan electoral structure of our political system, managed to take a hammer to the social order of these islands and sent the pieces ricocheting off in a mutually antagonistic frenzy of glee on one side and despair on the other.

Across age, sex, class and geography, the nominally united kingdom has never seemed so busted. The Commonwealth is bankrupt so the parts no longer heed each other. The educated and cosmopolitan disdain the vulgar and insular who in turn raise a finger in defiance before hitting the self-destruct.

Nor is this division along established political lines of left and right. No mainstream political party has survived this intact. The hammer blow has smashed everything, and as day follows day, we are each of us faced with nothing but pieces.

Anger, fear, disappointment, shock. An overwhelming desire to move somewhere else. All these emotional responses have come from friends and those whom I consider to be part of my tribe, irrespective of nationality and religion. For me it was sadness. I woke at 3am, went online and saw the marginal lead that ‘Leave’ had over ‘Remain’. By the time the country was up and moving through their morning passages, I was, along with my social network, reeling. And not in a dancey way.

It hasn’t stopped. On the evening after voting closed, commentators were uniformly prefixing their talk with ‘Of course it’s too early to say…’ Once the results came in the lack of certainty had only increased. As each new day brings fresh curds of turmoil, the conclusion dawns that we most definitely aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Nigel Farage flanked by white bully boys with flags has segued rapidly into reports of racist abuse and violence. Politicians who strove to deliver the UK from the EU admit they don’t have a map for this sudden swerve off-road. There is a sense that what won last Thursday was an instinctive rejection of everything that maintained some semblance of order, not least the politicians who represented it. In the phrase coined to describe life after the economic crash of 2008, this is the new normal.

“This” being chaos.

Social order now seems less like an interminable bureaucracy and more like a porcelain jar, which all of us, within an agreed parameter, had once agreed to preserve. Laws were passed and upheld which protected the jar and contained the anarchy that lurked within, on the shared agreement that if it were ever broken then who knew what would erupt.

The murder of Jo Cox alongside Nigel Farage's incendiary poster was a taste of what was on its way. In another reality, the life of one brave woman would have been enough to prevent the result of Thursday’s vote. This is not that reality.

It’s understandable that millions of people are petitioning for another referendum or arguing that the result doesn’t have to be ratified by parliament. Fragile things are never so appreciated as when they’re in smithereens. But it’s also unavoidable that we are witnessing the triumph of witless instinct over educated wisdom. Sometimes change has to be messy and wild and not particularly elegant. Seldom do things shatter peacefully.

And despite the fact that I voted ‘remain’, despite the fact that I wished to avoid this particular outcome deeply, I reached acceptance late on last Friday (thanks to some 6 year old members of Class Crystal – swear down that’s what their class is called in this school in Merlin’s Town – greiving about not being able to go on a bouncy castle). In some ways it is almost a relief to know we have reached this point at last.

According to the galactic shaman The Oracle of Light, there is some serious planetary business going on at the moment that means conflict and turmoil for us as a collective, necessary to help us understand the lessons and adjust those systems of belief that no longer serve us (see for his full forecast).

So what can we offer up at a time of such profound, upsetting, polarising and yet still necessary breakage?

My feeling is that we benefit from being guided in this as in all things by love and beauty, and for inspiration I have been reminded (thanks Alejandra Obregon and Jackie Morris) of something familiar to the peoples of Japan, lovers of Japanese ceramics and people like me who seem to continually break the crockery that matters most!

Kintsugi means ‘to repair with gold’ and refers to the practice of embracing the cracks and divisions as part of the process of life and age, and restoring the fragments to a whole with the use of lacquer mixed with gold powder.

But there is also a philosophy behind Kintsugi of the spirit of mushin (which translates as “no mind”). Mushin contains within it the practice of fully existing in the present moment, letting go of attachment (whether to porcelain jars or socio-political outcomes) and remaining content in the face of changing circumstances. Such a philosophy of acceptance shares much in common with aspects of Buddhism and Taoism and even the folk lore of these islands, poetically if incongruously repeated by Donald Trump’s former wife Ivana on celebrity Big Brother when she would shrug and declare “it is what it is.”

Sounds easy. But it only takes hearing how people, including an old friend and resident of the UK for the last 20 years, are being told to “fuck off back where you come from” to realize how febrile everything is once it’s properly, ineluctably fucked. And how reticent some figures on both sides of the carnage may feel about engaging with the matter of repair.

Kintsugi isn’t the only choice. After all, in case you missed it, we’re in chaos and off the map and civil war is no stranger to these, or any, lands. This is the point where people realize a plate glass window is just glass. The cracking of the social order almost exactly down the middle, combined with the rejection of a political establishment and the venting of long-shackled furies, means that all out war is there for the suffering, if that is what we choose. Perhaps we are not yet ready to reconcile to result or its consequences. Perhaps there is more smashing to be done.

So don’t imagine that commiting to mend our communities is going to be simple. Being aligned to love and beauty is going to take a tremendous and communal exercise of will. The challenge is to be the gold that as liquid sings us back together. Not erasing the wounds and cracks, but embracing them.

And gold isn’t about money. This is not the preserve of the tiny percentage of those absurdly rich who have played no small part in precipitating such dissolution. This is the gold of spirit. To choose compassion over blame. Forgiveness over revenge. Hope over hurt.

This is the alchemical gold, which we make in our inner furnaces, taking the base metals of more primal urges (responding to pain, for instance, by issuing a further kicking) and transmuting them into the higher vibrations of love and unconditional acceptance. With humour. Even, it can be hoped, with gratitude.

Naomi Klein wrote recently on how the deleterious effects of climate change have combined with a far older patriarchal trick called othering that has done and continues to succeed in devastating the planet by reasoning that there are two classes of life: the ones that matter more and the ones that matter less.

Othering is what sets people against each other, and has been so terribly successfully harnessed by the headline writers of these times. The only remedy to othering is holism: bringing us all back together to feel and be felt as part of the same collective. And to bring us together from this wreckage, in the strongest and most beautiful manner, is going to take nothing less than the truest gold.

It is not merely these islands that need repair. But let us start here. As with the referendum, so with its consequences. The example that we set in the days, weeks and months to come will go far.