Kintsugi for the Soul – Part I – by Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente


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Kintsugi is a Japanese art technique that consists of repairing broken porcelain or pottery with resin varnish dusted or mixed with gold, silver or platinum powder. It is the art of fixing what has been broken with a precious metal that gives a greater value than that which the piece originally had. Kintsugi makes objects become a testimony of a particular journey.

In September 2015, in Cape Town, my fiance and I went to have lunch and listen to a concert at the Waterfront. Walking through the artisan market, we were struck by a stand where simple mugs of clay and pottery were displayed. Each one of them had been made by a woman survivor of some type of violence or trauma, which put her name and the imprint of her hands. Mugs had no handle, the way to take it was to put your hands in the hands of the woman. So, she connected with you and became part of your daily journey. Moved by the deep transcendence of the initiative, we got a pair. Mine was made by Heather, 54 years old.

My relationship with my (then) fiance eventually split. A while before, I had begun to exhibit the cracks, dents, and scratches of emotional violence. Months of love bombing, romance, and mutual understanding that led to marriage plans, shifted after we were engaged into a progressive discomfort he had with everything I was.

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I ate too fast, “like a wild animal”; I was chubby, “lazy and avoiding doing something about it”; I have tattoos, “like a whore.” I was cheap, “that’s what single mothers are, actually.” I was not as smart as his sexting buddy, “who has a PhD and is a better Islamic Feminist than you.” My work as writer, activist, and scholar wasn’t particularly worthy, “even a cow can write 1,000 words in Feminism and Religion.” Anyway, he wanted to marry me despite the fact that I was “crazy and exaggerated, tempered and too immature,” because “someone has to put order at home.”

I never said too much, all while holding Heather’s mug with my spicy chai. Rather, it was Heather’s hands holding me. Unknown Heather from Cape Town, 54 years old, survivor of trauma, who made this mug as a testimony of her hopes and strength, was offering her hands marked in clay to a Chilean woman in Cravenby State who was falling silently apart, trying to make sense of it all in order to be ready the next day to talk about Islamic Feminism at the University of Cape Town, with a tight stomach and a drained spirit.

I was discarded by a Whatsapp message informing me that marriage preparations were cancelled, but I would receive in compensation “a bottle of a good shampoo.” Back in Chile, I asked him instead to send me the mug made by Heather. After months, I finally received a box from South Africa. The mug arrived broken, destroyed in many large and small pieces, after a long journey from Cape Town to the coastal city of Concepcion. LIKE I WAS. I took the box to store it along with my wedding caftan and my engagement ring. There was a hard winter in my soul. My heart, my self-esteem and my faith in life were broken.

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Maybe you’re wondering:

Why didn’t she say anything? I was not sure. I was a feminist awarded for her courage in the cause of women’s rights. I’ve read all the books, I knew better. THAT could not be happening to me. He was right, I must be crazy because of my traumas. Why didn’t she ask for help? To whom? The organization that took me to South Africa that I left due to systematic harassment? Activists who knew my fiance for years as a man committed to social causes and an ally of women’s rights? To Islamic feminist “sisters” who didn’t know me? Why did she stay in that relationship?

I loved him sincerely and wanted to make it work. I really believed that all problems were my responsibility and I was in charge of fixing them. Why did she speak up now?

WHY NOT?

I own my story.

The right moment to speak is whenever I am ready and feel safe to do it.

The consequences of being in a toxic relationship extended beyond the domestic sphere. The pseudo-love triangle in which I was unwittingly brought in had actual effects on my activism. Emotional and spiritual suffering unfolded in the body, because our lives don’t happen outside it. Muscle sore, psoriasis, alopecia, gastritis, liver problems and shame, depression, sorrow, anger.

I was totally SHATTERED and completely FUCKED UP.

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Grieving lasted a summer, a fall, a winter, a spring. Last year, close to my trip back to Cape Town, I looked for the box. Sitting in front of that box that summarized the last two years of my life, I decided to return the ring and make-over the dress. What about the cup? People get rid of broken cups and this one seemed to have no fix whatsoever. Nevertheless, during that difficult time, I’ve learned that not everything that’s broken, is dead. Despite my feeling of wholehearted failure now I was there, healing and growing, about to travel back to South Africa with a new academic project and a book in progress. It was not fair to put the mug in the trash. Somehow, the story of two women were entangled in that mug: Tears, doubts, hope, love, healing power, all was there.

It was at that moment when Kintsugi came to my head in the words of Barbara Bloom:

When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold. They believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.

Kintsugi as art and existential outlook, as significant process of repairing the mug and a way of understanding and embrace the journey of healing my own soul, looking for gold in each corner of my broken spirit to make my experience worthy of the lessons. Life is a one-way street, it always moves forward. Its miracle lies in trusting our ability to renew and transform broken to beauty according to our own time and wisdom.

 

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente is  Muslim who is an international journalist and writer, community educator and awarded women’s rights activist. Independent scholar and lecturer in Religion, Gender and Politics.

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Categories: Domestic Violence, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Goddess Spirituality, Spiritual Journey, Spirituality, Women's Spirituality

Tags: , , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. This is truly a beautiful piece. I am so glad you repaired the cup, and with gold!!! Like you I have loved the wrong man (more than once), each time feeling my heart overflowing with so much love that I thought I could heal the man and the relationship. But I could not and ended up as you did, broken and fucked up. So why do we do it? Even though we are feminists? In my case it was not having good role models for what love is. It was also that in not wanting a controlling patriarchal man like my father (see next Monday’s piece) I gravitated to “lost boys,” men who felt misunderstood and who did not know who they were or wanted to be. Not having found their own adult selves, of course they were unable to commit to my adult self. I have been criticized in print for writing about my own vulnerabilities, and I suspect you will be too. But I do believe that “women’s stories must be told” and that in telling the truths of our lives we open a path for the healing of ourselves and others. Thank you! PS A third reason is that a good man is hard to find and most of them are married!

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    • Thanks for your comment Carol and for sharing. I share a lot of what you say about why feminists end up with “lost boys” and the responsibility we feel for “fixing them.”What you say about the criticisms for speaking up is true.

      It’s curious that the bad vibes in my case came from Islamic feminists, who one by one began to turn their back on me in more or less subtle ways. There was even one who commented that “it did not look nice or proper” for a woman to talk about their sufferings. It is interesting that many of them keep my ex in their circles of acquaintances and networks. I think questions of identity politics, clans, cliques and even race, operated in this case as well.

      All this led to an awakening that became the material with which I began to join my broken pieces. For example, the invalidation of trauma regarding emocional and spiritual abuse from an academic feminism that rejects the existential processes of women as political processes and the wholehearted acceptance of my cracked self. I’ll talk about this in Part II. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Indeed, I would say my rejection by academic Christian feminist specifically or simply by being left out of books and discussions that should have been on feminism and religion may have hurt even more than rejection in intimate relationships with men. Siggghhhhh

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Vanessa for this heartbreaking yet shining gem of an article. The image of kintsugi for the soul is something I will always treasure.

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  3. I have a feeling the cup were broken by your ex-fiance and not by the postal service! Sorry if this adds to the heartache.

    I feel like making such a cup. I do a bit of claywork and have access to a studio … hmmm … I wonder …

    I see in the post – Breaking the Silence – you and others were criticized for speaking out. If we didn’t share our stories, which most definitely informs and encourages others to face and speak out about the issues in their own lives, we’d be even more lost and isolated than we are already. So bravo for keep on doing so. I’ve learnt a lot from others’ experience.

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    • LOL Petru my sister said the same, but I don´t think so. Althought, he retained it for 6 months or more, delaying the shipment without explanations, knowing it was important to me.

      I preffer to believe that people hurt will hurt people and all of us, including him, are cracked and maybe shattered due to traumas, bad experiences, etc, but not everyone is ready to look at themselves with enough courage and authenticity to embrace it and put at the work of taking accountability, joining the pieces and healing throught compassion. Sometimes is easier to live in the world of appearance, shielding our real self, hiding our fragility and projecting our fears in others, avoiding listening our own wounded soul mourning.

      Please, make a cup. I think is a great idea.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a touching story! I’m happy to read that you put that cup–and yourself–back together and did it so beautifully.

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  5. Beautiful post, beautiful cup. I am so glad you are free from that man who did not know how to cherish your strength and beauty! Thank you for sharing your story!

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    • It has been a long journey. I think that there is not enough talk about emotional and spiritual abuse and the subtle ways in which they eat away at our integrity and self-esteem. In addition, patriarchy plays a role in favor of this abuse. What people say to hurt us, is what the system has been telling us all our lives: “you are ugly because you are fat”, “your intelligence is not worth”, etc.-

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  6. Some people don’t want us speaking out because it makes us stronger. Witness the results of “#me too”. This is a powerful writing Vanessa, from a strong and beautiful woman. Thank you.

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  7. Connected with your story and have with ‘Kintsugi’ in the past as well. Thank you for sharing. Our stories are so important.

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  8. Thoughtful, brave, wise words. Thank you for sharing.

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  9. I’ve dedicated the following haiku to someone on this forum before, apologies, I forget who for the moment. After reading about your butterfly, I now dedicate it to you as well:

    butterfly-winged worn
    woman; a different wisdom
    – unquiet, alive!

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  10. Thank you for this moving testimony – your writing is Kintsugi.

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  11. Thank you for sharing this exquisite part of your story and yourself. (((BIGHUG))) As I began reading, my throat tightened and tears came to my eyes; your words of your former fiance evoked emotions about similar experiences with my first husband (3 decades ago). Your wisdom and spirit and open-heartedness are inspirational. And you’re right … sharing our stories, our wounds, is vital so that our voices don’t become atrophied; that’s part of why I write my books. Blessings to you.

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    • Thank you. I believe that speaking up and sharing what makes us suffer and heal is a way to connect with other women, even if we do not know them. We learned to distrust each other and to believe that nobody is going through what happens to us. Breaking that wall of silence is crucial, for me, much more important than breaking the glass ceiling. If we break walls we can see each other, create networks of caring and the apparent isolation vanishes.

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  12. Thanks Vanessa. I was imagining how a golden thread could be part of our human psyche — and it might just be that positive thinking is our golden means regards healing and forgiving.

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    • That golden thread (which in the case of the cup is not gold, but ceramic glue on which I painted with golden paint) could also be the matrix from which women can find ourselves and others, in the awareness that we all go through similar experiences sooner or later, to create a kind of collective memory and wisdom.

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  13. As a trauma survivor, the art of Kintsugi has had intuitive appeal to me ever since I learned about it. Seeing how beautifully it allowed you to symbolically remake yourself after suffering in your relationship but also how it spoke to the interweaving of our lives as women and as survivors is heart-warming. Thanks for sharing!

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