My wife, Susan, is a potter. When she was first learning to center clay on the potter’s wheel, it was very difficult. This is a threshold all potters have to cross. Centering clay looks fluid and easy, but you have to allow your center of gravity to move into your hands. The pace of your whole being has to align — through your hands — with the movement of the wet clay on the spinning wheel.
Like all beginning potters, Susan had to stay committed and repeat her attempts at centering, over and over. For weeks, the clay would fall over or spin off the wheel or simply collapse. Until Susan’s sustained effort moved her beyond her willful attempts to manipulate the clay and control the wheel. Finally, when at one with the clay and the wheel, the clay seemed to center itself and rise into its form.
As a potter centers clay on the wheel, we center our being in the midst of our striving and effort. The great potter and poet M.C. Richards wrote an entire book exploring this lesson, a classic called Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person. She shows how the act of centering makes all the outer tasks easier. She affirms that attention must be given to building a solid foundation, if we are to create anything that will endure: a vessel to drink from, an expression to help us live, or a substantial sense of self that will enable us to make our way in the world.
The challenge as we strive is not to attach our identity to what we’re striving for, but to give our all with faith in how such complete giving of who we are — through what we do — will reveal our deeper nature. Just as a blossom can’t be seen until its flower fully opens, our true identity forms out of our deeper nature, once we’re exhausted of our plans.
A Question to Walk With: Describe something you’ve worked very hard at that in time has become fluid and easy. What happened that moved you from striving to being?
Last month, Atria published my new book, The One Life We’re Given: Finding the Wisdom that Waits in Your Heart. To make the most of being here, we’re required to learn when to try and when to let go. This is our initiation into grace. The gift and practice of being human centers on the effort to restore what matters and, when in trouble, to make good use of our heart. No one quite knows how to do this, but learn it we must. There is no other way. By fully living the one life we’re given, we’re led to the wisdom that waits in our heart. The above piece is an excerpt from the book.
For more poetry for the soul, click here.
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