Sunday, September 28, 2014

Gold and Mud, and What I Mean by Kindness

Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shirk nothing...You are a bird in the storm. Let it storm!" 

~ Hermann Hesse

During my gold year, I entered a process I metaphorically referred to as kintsugi, which refers to the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. (You can read my musings on that process and how it can apply metaphorically to the inner life here.) And where I stand now, it really does feel like I've been repaired.

Another metaphorical process related to gold that I contemplated last year was chrysopoeia, which is what the ancient alchemists called the transmutation of base metals into gold. According to everyone's good friend, Wikipedia, this transmutation "symbolized [the alchemist's] evolution from ignorance to enlightenment."
(And then there's this perspective, which I also like.)

I certainly don't claim to be enlightened, but I do feel like a transmutation has happened within me. I have these moments, fairly often these days, in which I'm profoundly thankful for my life. I've come through some shitstorms in the past few years, but now my inner and outer landscapes are pretty clear. Not perfect, of course; I still find annoyances and worse in my outer landscape, and pettiness and worse in my inner landscape.

The real difference is that I've learned to give myself a break, and in doing so, have discovered that I love my life just as it is, both the mud and the gold.  The transmutation has resulted in, if not enlightenment, at least a certain kindness.  But the way I mean kindness here is not really in the conventional sense of being super nice and thoughtful and generous; I am definitely not always those things (and am even sort of suspicious of people who are). No, it's more like recognizing that everything is kindness, and simply receiving that.

But I'll leave you with this, because the poet Naomi Shihab Nye writes about it much more eloquently than I:


Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.


  1. Like a shadow or a friend. A plethora of unworthy and shallow platitudes whirls through my head at those words, and one or two real, true thoughts.

  2. Transmutation is my word for this year :)

    (Or was it last year? I'm pretty sure it's this year).

    I so love this. Owning your opposites. If I have realised anything this year it's that whenever I come up against problems, they are always the same sort of thing. It's always a refusal on some level to accept what's happening. I'm doing it at the moment. It makes me go very quiet and wonder what bits of myself lie out there dangling off the end of whatever level my body glimmers at.

    Reading this has been a real calming experience. With that awesome Nye poem at the end.




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