Death & Dying

A Map of Grief: Kintsugi Leads You to Light After Loss

a bowl that was rebuilt and "healed" with kintsugi
Image by SEBASTIEN MARTY

In the thirteenth century, Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimatsu broke a favorite tea bowl. It slipped out of his hands, crashed to the floor, and shattered into many pieces. Yoshimatsu was crestfallen, so he had a worker glue the pieces back together. Disappointed with the functional but plainly repaired bowl, he charged master craftsmen to create a more artful solution of rejoining the shards with lacquer mixed with powdered gold. The result was a bowl with luminous golden glowing veins. 

This now famous artform of repairing broken ceramics with golden glue is known as Kintsugi. It is an embodiment of the Eastern aesthetic to honor imperfections. By highlighting the fractures, we can see the beauty in brokenness. 

Broken by Grief?

I have been a grief counselor for over 30 years and I believe that Kintsugi is a perfect map to guide you through loss and beyond. The light, a metaphor for Spirit, leads you to the possibility of love, connection, compassion, and faith, even in the midst of grief. 

Spirit, in the broadest sense of the word, a sense of ‘something more,’ is the golden glue. A step in the direction of Spirit, however you define it, is what I call a Light-shift. Gradually, like a Kintsugi bowl, Light-shifts bring together the broken shards and create something unique: a different bowl, a different life, glowing gold. 

The Broken Bowl

Loss is initially like a shattered bowl. After a major loss, your life feels broken, shattered, unrecognizable. For many months, your life may have a surreal, foggy quality to it. During this time, your goal is to slow down, pause, and feel your grief. You might have a wide range of emotions from anger, regret, and despair, to longing, sorrow, and anxiety. 

While our society doesn’t particularly encourage the expression of these feelings, you need to give yourself permission to feel what you feel and slow down. On the path to healing, it is essential to first acknowledge and honor that your life has been shattered.

Light-shift practice – 4/7/8 breath

This is a simple practice to help you stay grounded during this difficult time. Begin by inhaling through your nose for the count of 4. Hold your breath for the count of 7. Exhale through your mouth for the count of 8.  Do this sequence 3 times.  This ancient breath helps to calm your nervous system.

Rebuilding the Bowl

As time progresses, you will start to build back the bowl of your life. You will clean out your loved one’s room and give away their clothes. You will go back to work and pay the bills. Your grief still breaks through, so you may find yourself crying at unexpected times, in unexpected places. You will learn to surf the waves of your emotions. You will move forward, but with your loved one in your heart.

Light-shift Practice -- Journal

It’s helpful to keep a journal to express yourself along the journey of grief and also to chart your emotional variations so you can see your progression over time. As you journal, reflect on the question, “What am I learning from this experience?” Take time to reread former entries, as well.   

The Luminous Bowl

As time continues, you have the option to keep making Light-shifts, again and again, focusing your attention on Light: goodness, beauty, love, compassion, connection, growth, and meaning.  We know from neuroscience that what you pay attention to grows. In other words, when you repeat healthy habits over and over again, it literally changes your brain, your outlook, and your mood.   


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An example of paying attention only to darkness is a widow who tells herself, consistently, over time, “I am miserable. I can’t survive this. I will never be happy again.” Compare this to a widow who pays attention to the Light, saying to herself, “I am sad and miss my husband, yes. But I’m also grateful for our wonderful years together. And I appreciate the supportive friendships around me. And I can’t wait to see my grandchildren tomorrow.”  One path creates more misery, whereas the other path leads to possibility.

Every time you turn your attention to Light and not darkness, to love and not pain, you create neural pathways that allow you to take in even more Light. 

Light-shift Practice – Doing for Others

Donate something in honor of your loved one every year on their birthday. Consider a donation to a preschool, a library, a charity, a homeless shelter, a hospital waiting room. Keep their memory alive and honor them by making a positive impact on someone else’s life.

It is heartbreaking to lose a loved one, but we are wired to heal over time.  By using the pain to create something new, we move our grief from a shattered bowl to a luminous one.

Training yourself to turn your attention again and again to the divine Light in the darkness is the golden lacquer in your life. A spiritual approach to grief, like the art of Kintsugi, creates an expanded transformation. Let the art of Kintsugi be your guide and your inspiration.

©2022. All rights reserved.
Publisher: Viva Editions.

Book by this Author

Light After Loss

Light After Loss: A Spiritual Guide for Comfort, Hope, and Healing
by Ashley Davis Bush

book cover of Light After Loss: A Spiritual Guide for Comfort, Hope, and Healing by Ashley Davis BushFrom the office of a seasoned grief counselor, this book is an essential guide to grief. A guide on your journey from shock to transcendence, it shines a light into the darkness and illuminates the lifelong journey of integrating loss into life. It is a spiritual companion to higher healing that offers a shift, a redirection from pain and suffering to the sacred qualities of compassion, love, connection, gratitude, and transformation.

. At the end of each chapter, you will be introduced to five specific “Light-Shift Practices” that integrate the chapter’s concepts and facilitate the healing process.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book
. Also available as a Kindle edition.

About the Author

photo of Ashley Davis BushAshley Davis Bush, LICSW, is a psychotherapist with over 30 years of experience working with grieving individuals. She is also a Reiki master and a trained spiritual director. Light After Loss: A Spiritual Guide for Comfort, Hope, and Healing (Viva Editions, July 2022) is her 10th book.

Learn more at AshleyDavisBush.com.

More books by this Author.

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