Lessons From Shaping Clay


Noticing a sign announcing a pottery class, my friend and I impulsively stopped our bike and inquired if we could have a class right away.  With only a few hours left before we headed back to our city, we could not have imagined how easily this opportunity had presented itself.  She an artist and me an experimenter at heart, we were both curious to try our hand at the potter’s wheel.  Knowing fully well that this short time could only be a playful trial, we were still keen to experience a taste of this art.

The virtual experience of the best of apps cannot compare with reality. The feel of the cold, wet, tough clay was enlivening.    The teacher’s patience extraordinary and my lack of skill obvious.  It was soon evident that a great deal of strength and attention was required to knead the clay malleable.  The young man was giving me gentle, encouraging instructions.  The wet mixture felt wonderful to handle.  Like reconnecting with earth itself.  But it was challenging work.  All through the exercise, he kept repeating, “Good, good!  But slow down! Slow down! Just a nudge. Slowly”.  The clay would break and I would give a disappointed sigh and start again.  By the end of the hour, I had a few shakeable bowls ready.

Apparently, I had no difficulty in doing the hard work, being focused, keeping a steady hand, making fresh attempts or making a clean cut.  Nor with leaving behind my creations without the slightest hesitation.  (I was not even tempted to take snaps to hold on to them.)  But I was thoughtful.  With the side of my hand feeling slightly grazed, I washed up and awaited his comments.  He repeated, “Fine for a first try. But it takes time. Slower. Go slower.  It takes time. You don’t have to work it so much.  Just go slower.”  I almost laughed out loud.

The very reminder I needed to hear at this point.  Patience.  All in good time.  Keep at it.  Presented again to me through this spontaneous, unexpected hands on experience.

“You must have trained for years?” I asked. “You make it look so easy.”  He smiled and said he began as a child and for six months only made the basic bowl.  The whole day.  Every day.  The challenge was to make four  absolutely identical bowls.  Only then would he be taught the next step.  I was reminded of the martial art movies and the intense discipline they describe.  This was not very different.

We went on to hear his fascinating journey from potter to actor/director/filmmaker. Apparently, he stayed in the city and would return home to relax with his pottery.  He found it cleared his head.  (I could well understand how that could happen.)  It also explained his immense talent, humility and mature demeanour.  Here was a man who had learned from the many streams of life and could live it with simplicity.  The ease of being present that probably came largely as a consequence of hundreds of hours of being present to the task at hand – the wielding, yielding, breaking and remaking of clay forms.

Who we are  shows up in everything we do. It follows that being observant of any of our activities can inform us greatly about the inner workings of our mind and heart at that point. For example, it is easy to notice the change in pace when we walk, or the change in our pitch, tone and volume as we speak in different moods.  But these simple ways of self awareness are often forgotten in the busy rush of daily life.

Taking a break from routine activity and watching ourselves in an alien environment is an easy way of making the subtle more obvious. Perhaps that is why so many seekers are drawn to travel. Being in fresh, unfamiliar surroundings can accentuate our otherwise hidden traits and make us more aware of our strengths and challenges.

Artistic endeavours provide a light hearted way to receive the message you need to hear in the moment.  The insights that can be gleaned from a few splashes of paint, weaving of a few threads or as in this case – playing with a little clay – can be meaningful.

I came away feeling a little calmer and a little lighter.  Calmer because of the kinesthetic reminder, “It’s all okay. Slow down. Keep going. Everything in its own time.”  Lighter – because of the playfulness and joy of impulse, exploration, trial, success and failure.  And the ease of surrendering it all – letting it all go.

My invitation to you – go ahead and sing that song, or dance that dance you have been meaning to try.  

You may not get it all right in the first attempt.  But you will surely be happy to have lived the experience.

As for life, it will continue to flow.

Maati kahe kumhar se, tu kya rondhe mohe
Ek din aisa aayega, mein rondhugi tohe”~ Kabir

Image:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/kellinahandbasket/ (Creative Commons)

4 thoughts on “Lessons From Shaping Clay

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