This morning, I longed for inspiration – a breath of spirit – and my fingers, without thought, reached for Centering by M.C. Richards, potter and poet.
The things we do with deepest love and interest compel us by the spiritual forces which dwell in them.
I’ve had this book for many years, read this book for many years, the cover a favorite image: two hands holding a small clay pot. It always reminds me of the times in my life when I practiced being a potter. The first was in the early 70s when I lived in Texas and worked with the artist, Forrest Gist. “A tool in its place and a place for the tool,” Forrest would say. We built a six-foot tall brick-kiln with three burners to fire pots. Since I lived the closest, my job was to go over late at night and turn off the burners so the kiln would be cool enough to unload in the morning. Forgetting to turn off the burners usually meant a lot of busted pots.
But what I mostly remember is sitting over a pottery wheel, learning to center a pot, hunched over, hands cupping a lump of clay, coaxing it into form. Centering takes focus. And feeling the clay in your hands. There’s a precise moment when your back to back thumbs find the center and commit themselves to success or failure. Your hands both dive in and open out.
M.C. Richards writes, “It is this fusing of the opposites that Centering enables. It is a powerful image that we are given by the potter’s art: to ‘open’ the ball of clay as it turns on the wheel, and to alter its destiny as it leaves the commonly rounded ball and develops toward the specifically shaped bowl. This it does between my fingers, which hold the wall of the bowl inside/outside simultaneously.”
Dive in and open out. Those are the words I needed today in order to open my mind to the medium I now craft: words. Words are no different from clay, both are forms that use the manipulation of hands and mind and heart to release their spiritual force. Both media are pretty forgiving. If the clay wobbles as your fingers lift the sides, you can always reshape the ball and begin again; if the words don’t convey what your thoughts are seeing, you can backspace a line and begin again.
Centering allows us to begin again when we wobble.
I’ve recently begun a new section of the book I’m working on, Standing at the Crossroad. I didn’t know there was going to be another section, I thought only a rewritten prologue. Instead, I’m working on an appendix of spiritual exercises that I thought went somewhere else. It’s taken several days of recovering passages and exercises from past writing and rereading, seeing what I have. And not knowing where to begin. I cleaned my desk (in part, inadvertently, by spilling a cup of chamomile tea over it), I cleaned up piles of papers, I tossed and fretted and wondered.
Just begin, the voice said. You can always rewrite. Center in the work.
That’s what centering is, isn’t it: separating and connecting, moving inwardly and outwardly, waiting and doing. And trusting the voice of spirit when it speaks.
9 thoughts on “Centering”
I’m reading all the blogs I missed while in the west. This reminded me of a ceramics class I took at LV in the 90s. Making a coil pot (huge) was one of the most relaxing things I’ve ever done. When it came to the wheel, I couldn’t let go of all the stuff in my head to get the feel of it. (I was teaching 3 classes that summer.) I’d like to try it again; it would be a good teacher for being present.
it’s the same when i paint. i just start. i wonder? no, i wander around the canvas for a while and then edit. usually i put something right in the center. but centering is more about balance. but it’s all that inner suggestion, huh?
Hi Willy. I never thought about editing with paint on canvas. I guess that is what it is, but I’d never had those words around it before!
Love the pottery example! As I read, I felt it within me the centering. Dive in and Open up will be my inspiration for the day!
Thanks, Janet. In and out at the same time is an interesting experience.
I like the clay metaphor. Physical metaphors help a lot with writing, help keep me practical and grounded. The material of writing is so abstract it can float away and scatter.
Thanks for posting, Elizabeth. Interesting words together – physical and metaphor. Thanks for giving me something to think about.
Your blog is point on, Janet.
When I begin a writing project, I have a good idea where it is going. However, I seldom have the same feeling about the ending. I “discover” the ending when it appears. And like in your example, I sometimes find half-way through or even when I believe I see the ending, I am moved to include something new I had not previously considered. More importantly, I do not have any idea where the origin of this awareness to include is located. It just happens.
Thanks, Jack. Writing is an interesting process, isn’t it.