Recently I’ve started taking pottery classes, something I did about 12 years ago and loved. For the first few months I focused on hand building, but this summer I’ve been throwing pots on the wheel.
For most people, especially beginners, the most challenging thing about working on the wheel is centering the clay. You start with a lump of clay which you’ve wedged, kneading it thoroughly to get all the air bubbles out, then you throw the lump down onto the center of the wheel and start the wheel spinning fast.
But the problem is when you throw the clay onto the wheel it’s never completely in the middle of the wheel, nor is it a perfectly shaped mound, both of which are essential or you’ll end up with a lopsided mess. So before you start to shape it into anything, a bowl, a mug, a jar, you must first wet the spinning clay and press against it with the palms of your hands to center it.
At first it feels lumpy, and it thunks against your hands like a flat tire, but if you do it right, nudging against it with just the right amount of pressure in just the right direction, keeping your hands and the clay sufficiently wet, it begins to settle down into a smooth mound.
It sounds easy, but it’s not. Sometimes if you don’t get the amount of pressure right, or the speed of the wheel right, or the moisture right the clay’s imbalance becomes even worse until its a wet, off balance, untamable glob that can’t be recovered, and you just have to start all over again.
Odd as it may seem, I enjoy centering the clay precisely because of the challenge, and more than that, because it seems like such an important teaching for me about finding my own center.
Sometimes I close my eyes and become hyper mindful of the feel of the wet clay spinning between my hands, sensing the subtle imbalances and where the clay needs pressure from me to settle into its center, and sometimes, if I’m really tuned in, I can sense the still point in the center of the clay even before I begin.
And if I do it right, something quite magical happens when the wet, slippery lump of clay that had been slapping against my palms suddenly becomes perfectly still, even though it’s spinning fast beneath my hands.
There is something about the tactile experience of working with the clay that helps me find my inner center, helps me access and feel that still point within even in the midst of life’s sometimes harried spinning.
It’s a form of meditation that reminds me that the still point is always present, a calm centered axis I can move into, opening up a spacious calm in my core.
Imagine it for yourself and see if you can detect that still point that is already there, present, waiting for you in the center of your being.