I realized something a couple weeks ago in my first pottery class. I sat there during introductions, shrinking into myself because I was so very aware of what a novice I am. There I sat, feeling my armpits begin to sweat, as person after person sang the song of experience with clay and wheels and glaze and kilns. When it was my turn, I simply smiled nervously and said a little too loudly, “I’ve never even touched a piece of clay.”
As with most classes, our teacher spoke to the middle level of talent in the room, leaving me to panic over words like “wedging” and “slip” and “bisque fire,” while everyone else nodded their heads and knowingly smiled, remembering their own histories and eager to sink into their creativity.
I put on an apron. I sat down at a wheel and picked up a ball of already-wedged clay. I threw it. I watched it spin dangerously off center and tried coning it and mushing it down and then, as I prepared my thumbs in the way I thought our teacher said was the proper way to open the clay, I was not-too-gently reminded that I was not to open the clay without finding center first.
I tried to find it.
He came over and helped me find it.
Then I messed up and tried to find it again, while my eyes darted around me at the other wheels that held beautiful hands and beautiful cups and beautiful bowls and I. Fought. Tears.
The sweet young woman next to me whispered, “You’re doing great. I’ve been in classes where people have just walked out at this point.”
The sweet young man on the other side of me agreed, admitting that half a class didn’t come back when he was in his college pottery class.
The teacher came over again and pressed his hands into mine and said, “I took six weeks to find center the first time I tried.”
I closed my eyes and just felt the clay spinning between the heels of my hands and the insides of my fingers. I pressed a little more this way, wet my hands, and kept my eyes closed longer, until I felt it.
I found it.
I found the center.
Interesting, isn’t it? We’re so programmed for easy information and so uncomfortable when we have to struggle. I kept losing center and kept closing my eyes and breathing slowly, just listening to the wheels turning and feeling the clay turn gritty between my hands. I wondered if my hands would be burned from the sandpapery feel of the clay, but I knew that if they were, I would wear those temporary marks like a badge of honor. Accomplishment. Battle.
During that first three hours, I decided to never go back and I decided that I couldn’t wait to try again. I was absolutely spent from being so afraid of sucking eggs in front of everyone in the class and failing, and then feeling so grateful that I didn’t tuck tail and fun as fast out as I could.
It was another “finding center.”
And I learn that I must find center every day. In relationships that work, and in those that don’t. In new situations and old. With family. My husband. Faith.
And these knuckleheads.
What great teachers they are, always searching for balance. Right now, the scales are tipped to the older one since he is bigger and stronger.
But the younger one is wily. The younger ones are always wily.
But they still have to figure it out, every day.
I find it essential to be off balance every once in a while. The slowing down, the going inside, the closing your eyes and breathing deeply, the feeling your way blindly…it is really, really essential.
Finding center. It’s a slippery little sucker.
And I’ll keep practicing.