It’s the time of year when, like most of us, I feel reflective and perhaps even a little melancholy. Have I achieved all that I wanted to over the past year? Am I more perfect, successful, thinner and happier than I was last New Year’s Eve? I used to find it difficult to stop these thoughts from popping into my head. The answer was perhaps yes, or perhaps no, but feeling at peace used to be almost impossible for me at this time of year.
In 2015 I relocated from the UK to Austria, and I was given a rare gift: the gift of time. I had been made redundant, and I did not immediately have a job to step into in my new homeland, having time on my hands was very strange and not entirely welcome, as I am a self-confessed workaholic. I felt that I must have a project and a goal. So I began to walk. This walking became a passion, this passion became an addiction, and it changed my life in ways I could not have imagined. After a year of walking the same 15 kilometre walk every week for fifty-two weeks, I felt transformed – not only fitter and healthier but also calmer and more at peace. I felt compelled to write a book about my experience, and my editor advised that I undertake a final walk to conclude the book and this proved to be excellent advice.
On the 22nd December, the anniversary of my first walk, I stepped out into the cold mountain air and a world rimed in a crisp hoarfrost, a pale lemon sun was rising over the mountain range ahead of me and illuminating the sharp, icy blades of grass and dried seedpods which stood like filigree skeletons.
Then a dense fog descended. After two hours of walking the fog suddenly cleared to reveal a pale blue sky, the backdrop of enormous spruce trees were dripping with tawny-gold pine cones. The sun shone down on me, warm and comforting.
As the fog and mist cleared to reveal a calm undramatic sky, I had the sudden realisation that this was a metaphor for my new life; a life not filled with drama and overwork, but a more tranquil and ordered life. I saw the criss-crossing of footpaths in the landscape and it made me think about the footpaths of my own life. I decided in that moment that I didn’t want to erase my past, because our personal histories inform who we are.
Since that day, I have seen myself as a piece of Japanese pottery that has been repaired using the Kintsugi method, the Japanese Art of restoring broken ceramics with a lacquer of gold or silver. Translated Kintsugi means “connected by Gold.” The story of Kintsugi is said to have begun in the 15th century when the Japanese military commander Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke one of his favourite Chinese tea bowls. The broken pieces were gathered up sent for repair, but when the restored bowl was returned Yoshimasa was appalled by the hideous restoration that had been completed using ugly, thick, metal staples. The commander urged Japanese craftsmen to come up with a more aesthetic method of reconstruction. The subsequent Kintsugi approach, which emphasises rather than hides the damage, illustrates a crucial difference between eastern and western philosophy. Kintsugi beautifies the breakage and treats it as an essential part of the object’s history. A broken pot is not something to be discarded, but once repaired, is considered to be more precious than it was before. The cracks and fissures stand out, and the whole story of the history of the object is apparent. Valuable things get broken, and over time we inevitably make mistakes, have failures, and tragedies and disasters befall us. But they are part of us, and perhaps eventually they improve us. Walking, contemplation and giving myself some time to repair my scars helped me to understand this.
I am lucky enough to have a partner who is an artist and a jeweller and telling her of my realisation she disappeared to her workshop and made me a Kintsugi piece of my own. Finding a broken heart in her workshop, she repaired it with fine silver. When 2021 kicks in I shall be wearing it and I will try not to forget that I am merely imperfectly perfect and that is good enough for me.
"Solace for the Soul" "The Perfect Lockdown Book" "A companion and a manual for walkers".
Walking into Alchemy: The Transformative Power of Nature (Mereo, 2019, ISBN:9781861519474) is available from www.ameliamarriette.com/shop as a full-colour with over 50 photographs of the beautiful Austrian Countryside – choose as an e-book for £3.99 or a special full-colour edition signed by the author for £23.00 including FREE postage and packing (UK/EU only) Use promo-code christmas at the checkout to get an immediate 10% discount on the e-book and/or paperback.
The book is also available as a full-colour e-book or as a paperback with black and white illustrations from Amazon worldwide, and all good bookshops. But buying from authors and artists directly is a great help. Thank you. Happy New Year! Stay safe.
* Katie Gayle is a member of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen and a member of the Association of Contemporary Jewellers. www.katiegayle.com
Photo credits Amelia Marriette and Diana Bardega.