You don’t get to be whole again… You get to be beautiful.
Perhaps one of the most limiting beliefs one can carry is the memory of ‘the good’ - simpler, easier times where they weren’t wanting for much, and where rainbows and cotton candy may not have been metaphor.
But trauma has a way of stealing that, our innocence, from us. It tightens us, mentally and physically, and creates an imperceptible barrier between where we are today, and what could be.
Trauma healing is often framed as a return to wholeness, at least by those with loud voices and large followings on social media. It’s framed as a return to innocence, a promise to regain what’s lost.
But you don’t get to be whole again. What’s lost is lost. You have to decide what to do with the pieces left behind.
Maggie the Therapy Dog
This little angel was found tied to a box, pregnant, shot 17 times, ear cut off, and bullet wounds all over her body. It’s inconceivable that such horrors can frame the experience of such an innocent creature. But they do. Fortunately, after her images surfaced, an online campaign was started to move her from Lebanon to England, where she now lives happily with a loving family.
Not only is she happy and healthy, but she's become a support for others.
-Imagine the pains that had to heal, the trust that had to be re-established.
-Imagine facing the unknown without eyes after horrific torture, without the ability to see what’s in front of you.
-And then imagine finding love, and becoming love.
Beauty in Broken Things
Kintsugi - the Japanese art of putting broken pottery pieces back together with gold - is built on the idea that in embracing flaws and imperfections, you can create an even stronger, more beautiful piece of art.
The Japanese philosophy of wabi-sabi, which embraces the flawed or imperfect as perfect in their own way, was first applied to ceramics in the 15th century, when a Japanese shogun sent a damaged Chinese tea bowl back to China for repairs. It came back with ugly metal staples piecing in back together. The shogun was reasonably upset.
It took Japanese craftsman to take a second look at the piece, and view it as a Zen-like symbol of beauty in broken things, for it to become more highly valued than the original.
There’s a story in the cracks that tell the life of a thing. It’s perhaps human nature to have standards and notions of ‘the good’, standards that mandate the discarding of the ‘not good.’ But what of the dynamic existence of a thing?
Why must we hide the weathered pains and inequities that, granted, were never wanted, but exist nonetheless. And more importantly, how can those scars be displayed with pride - badges of honor that form a new aesthetic, wholly unique, celebrating the human experience?
You don’t get to be whole again… You get to be beautiful.
When Maggie went from tortured victim to therapy dog, her cracks and wounds became formative events that make her loving support for others impossibly beautiful. But imagine if Maggie was obsessed with what she was prior to her trauma and deformities. Image if she held so tightly to image of self, innocent and whole, that she could not see the potential she now embodied.
It’s a challenging thought, I know, because we associate the scars with the injustice, and the easy path is to make both disappear. There were many who expected, or rather, wished, her to be put down - her value and quality of life reduced to her wholeness prior to damage.
But with a bit of training, she not only healed, but heals others.
Spirit of the Samurai
But there’s something missing - the process of turning a Maggie into a therapy dog.
The process of trauma healing.
The Katana sword is the soul of the samurai. Forged from the purest of steels, literally called ‘jewel steel’, the Katana is molded, forged and pounded over one year, until most of the original raw materials are removed - only 25-30% of the original material remains in the finished product - and a weapon of extraordinary refinement and strength is completed.
Tamahagane - jewel steel - the purest steel there is.
There is tamahagane in all of us. It’s what we displayed before we were hurt, scarred, shattered. It’s what still remains beneath the callous surface - the fear, the defensive posturing that would rather fight than see a single piece broken off again.
In the making of a katana, tamahagane is heated and folded and beaten, until 33,000 layers are formed through 15 folds, forge-welded to one another. A samurai sword is a wonderfully delicate and complex piece of engineering, each layer a hundred thousandth of an inch thick.
While this steel is of the purist form, there are two types worth noting - high and low carbon.
There are many ways to construct these swords, but the most common of them is very enlightening, and relevant to our discussion on trauma healing. Kōbuse-gitae is translated as armored cover, and is quite literal - allocating the softer, low carbon steel for the center core of the blade, and the harder, high carbon steel to the exterior.
Blades require sufficient hardness to form a sharp edge and maintain the integrity of the blade. But if the blade was all hard, it would be brittle, and would break like glass. The sword making process is one of removing all impurities through forging and bringing these attributes into balance - an armored, hard outer shell that protects and sustains, and a flexible core that adds toughness and resilience.
Yes, it’s the flexibility of the core that converts the hard, potentially brittle exterior shell into resilience.
Grit and Fluidity - pounded and burned into the spirit of the Samurai.
What Trauma Healing Looks Like
This is what trauma healing looks like, perhaps not as it is today, but as it can be, when we surrender the pursuit of wholeness, and instead, embrace the dignity and discipline required for beauty of a different kind.
Maggie doesn’t get her eyes back. She doesn’t get to be whole again.
But because she has known deep suffering - she wears her cracks and traumas - and has healed, she gives that relief to others. It just required a bit of training.
You don’t get to be whole again…
You get to be beautiful.
Sharpen your sword. And...
P.S. A note on grinding stones: Grinding stones of varying grit are used to sharpen the Katana to razor sharp point, so sharp they can slice through bone like a knife through butter. In some cases, the stone is worth as much as the sword itself.
Pay careful attention to the stone against which you sharpen your sword - the model / method with which you cultivate body and mind.