At a point in my life where I was feeling very stuck, a friend suggested I join her pottery class. That class became a turning point for me. It began to shift my energy to a place where I was able to move forward in my life. It led to me getting my master’s in clinical psychology and becoming a therapist. In the pottery studio, I found a community that supported and encouraged me, where I could laugh and create. It gave me badly needed self-esteem, when mine was low. It showed me how creativity and mental health are linked by teaching me to let go of expectations, and be present to what was in front of me and itt taught me to find the beauty in the imperfect. Because of this experience I often suggest to creatives who are feeling blocked to try working on a project in another medium, to see if approaching their creative process from a new angle will help open something up and get things moving again.
In my first class, seated at a long table of people working on hand building, I made a pinch pot. Every step of the way other people were helping me, telling me how well I was doing, that I was a natural, giving me pointers, and my pinch pot was looking pretty good. I was happy. When it finally came out of the kiln, I was so excited to see my pretty pale lavender pot. Instead, this crooked, shrunken, sickly pale gray thing came out. I was devastated. Someone walking past saw my face and shrugged “it’s only clay, make another one”. I soon learned that many things go wrong in the process of making pottery, things break or crack, colors shift. To be a potter means learning to love the process of making pottery and letting go of your expectations for how it turns out. The woman who said this to me had spent six months working on a piece, a very detailed Chinese dragon, only to have another piece fall on it in the final kiln and break it. It reminded me of Buddhist monks who make intricate drawings in the sand only to erase them afterwards.
Throwing is a very meditative process. You really need to feel the clay and breathe with it. It’s very grounding because you genuinely have the earth in your hands. To center the clay and pull it up, you must focus solely on it, or it will become wobbly and collapse. If you are having an absentminded kind of a day, it will show up in the clay. Once on a day like that, I was working on a piece when it started to collapse. I stopped my wheel, thinking it was ruined and several women started saying “Don’t stop, you can save it, Wabi Sabi!” Wabi Sabi is a Japanese term for finding the beauty in the imperfect, and it became a mantra of the studio. I was able to save it and it became one of my favorite beautiful mistakes.
Over time, these lessons began to spill over into my life. When things didn’t go as planned, I could more easily pivot or shrug it off. I started looking for the beauty or the lesson in what happened. I became more present to what I was feeling and began to stop measuring myself against other people, and I stopped feeling that I ‘should’ be at a certain place in my life. I began to realize what I wanted and needed in my life, and slowly, I was able to build it.
I will be forever grateful to my friend who suggested the class and I treasure my time in the studio, where I feel the love, support, and laughter of my community there. I still feel stuck occasionally, but then I take it into the studio and assign myself to make something I haven’t ever done before, unafraid of failure, because after all, ‘it’s only clay’.