Tiles and glass

‘Part of the nature of man is to recompose a unity that has been broken. In mosaic, I re-create an order out of shards.” (Marco de Luca, cited in Terry Tempest William’s book Finding Beauty in a Broken World)

‘I believe in the beauty of all things broken’ Terry Tempest Williams

War, trauma, neglect, early programming and life in general can shatter our sense of wholeness and inescapable connectedness to everything around us. Some types of adversity leave us feeling shattered whether in relation to our worldview, sense of self or relatedness.  Our sense of being the Universe is pushed aside and our sense of separateness is magnified. The experience of an expansive Self in continuity and as arising in every moment is lost and replaced by a sense of constriction, smallness and lack of flow. Some people ‘fall apart with greater ease’ when bad things happen and get the chance to come together again. Some people are more like an opaque glass ball or diamond. They keep going. They keep it together. They persevere. They hide the pain. Some kinds of trauma can leave us feeling more opaque as if we have solidified into stone or glass. Set in stone. Set in glass. Nothing comes in. Nothing goes out. And yet, as Leonard Cohen sang: ‘there is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.

On the one hand, the glass metaphor conjures images or experiences of immobility, frozenness, solidity, non communication. Decorative opaque glass spheres or frosted glass balls, sometimes with an embedded image, message or small object, come to mind. Years ago in Venice I bought a glass sphere with two little butterflies solidified in the glass. On the other hand, shattered glass has become a metaphor of the aftermath of assault and of the sense of ‘scatteredness’ and discontinuity that trauma can cause. Diaspora, a Greek word, comes to my mind now even though it is usually used for the diaspora of a people and its culture through immigration and other processes. The diaspora of our sense of self, of a life, a country, a world. Maybe it has popped up because I have recently encountered the word in Terry Tempest William’s book, Finding Beauty in a Broken World. She writes: ‘Diaspora. I think of the people who fled Rwanda before the war, during the war, and after. Diaspora. The word sounds like the definition it holds: a scattering of language, culture, or people that was formerly concentrated in one place. The African Diaspora. To disperse. To scatter like seeds. Scatterlings.’

We heal through the light that comes in through the cracks and we heal through putting the pieces back together to create something new in the place of disruption and disaster.  Like young children we assimilate and accommodate (Jean Piaget), that is we make sense of the damage and what has happened through our existing understanding of the world, and then we make new meaning of our experiences.  We welcome the cracks that allow the light to pour in and we do the labor of putting the pieces together.  Thus, the art of mosaic becomes a healing process. Terry Tempest Williams describes the process of creating a mosaic out of old tiles for a Genocide Monument in Rwanda…. ‘For hours, we work on the mosaic. Cement on trowel, pick a piece of tile, set it, smooth the surface and see that it is level.  A mosaic is like a puzzle. It engages the mind through a sequence of possibilities, trial and error. You look at the broken fragments of tile; your eye assesses the space and searches for a corresponding shape. Piece by piece, you come closer to the desired form and effect.’

Whether we are creating a tangible mosaic out of terracotta, pebbles or glass as part of a process of personal or collective healing or making sense of events through other means and modalities we cannot put things back exactly as they were, but through embracing the ‘brokenness’ and constructing something new out of the old pieces and the new ingredients that bind the pieces together we create healing and integration in our personal space and in the collective. I should perhaps mention that we all begin life as scattered pieces when we are babies. As we develop, get attached to caregivers and others, and have our needs met we integrate all our aspects of self and we gradually develop a more solid sense of who we are. Life events and temperament shape who we grow into and our sense of self, which shifts and emerges anew as we accumulate life experiences. So, we all have different aspects of self, which communicate and influence each other. Severe trauma and other learning experiences can impede communication within and lead to a more compartmentalized organization of self and memory; however, this is material for another post.  Also, it is important to remember that at some deeper level we are whole and boundless and maybe it is in that space that we catch a glimpse of what we call eternity. Finally, speaking of glass, you might like to check out Shelley James’ glass creations.

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