Life Lessons from the Potter’s Wheel #1
There is something deep and spiritual about making pottery by hand. Perhaps it comes from an unconscious understanding that we are, in some ways, like the clay.
Like the Clay
If you could remove all the water from a human body you would be left with a pile of dust, about 18 Kg (40 Lbs) of mainly carbon in fact, with some calcium, phosphorous and other trace elements thrown in. (Wikipedia)
Without water, clay would also be a pile of dust, mainly alumina and silica. Like us, it is the presence of water that gives the clay structure and form. We also know, as a clay vessel would know if it could, that we did not make ourselves. Whatever our worldview, we know that we were made by a process. The question is, was that process random and blind, or was there a consciousness behind it? What do you think?
Making pottery by hand is experiencing a renaissance. Perhaps it is because people are looking to reconnect with the material world when so much of our time seems to be spent in a virtual on-screen existence. According to the Gardiner Museum “Clay is Shaping Up to be the Next Big Mindfulness Trend”. As the article states:
Since our fingertips contain some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the human body, simply playing with clay and stimulating the pressure points in our hands can have immense therapeutic benefits. Clay also provides a natural way to connect with body and breath — the malleability and immediacy of the material naturally integrates the mind-body connection, something much needed in our often hectic lives. “I’m having a moment of getting to feel emotion at my fingertips,” Brad Pitt recently revealed in a GQ interview in which he discussed his newfound passion for pottery.
We are learning more and more about how being creative is good for our brains.
“Creativity in and of itself is important for remaining healthy, remaining connected to yourself and connected to the world,” says Christianne Strang, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Alabama Birmingham and the former president of the American Art Therapy Association.
This idea extends to any type of visual creative expression: drawing, painting, collaging, sculpting clay, writing poetry, cake decorating, knitting, scrapbooking — the sky’s the limit…
Some types of art appear to yield greater health benefits than others.
Kaimal (a professor at Drexel University and a researcher in art therapy) says modeling clay, for example, is wonderful to play around with. “It engages both your hands and many parts of your brain in sensory experiences,” she says. “Your sense of touch, your sense of three-dimensional space, sight, maybe a little bit of sound — all of these are engaged in using several parts of yourself for self-expression, and likely to be more beneficial.” from “Feeling Artsy? Here’s How Making Art Helps Your Brain”
So when we create something, it turns out that we recreate ourselves. The same article also highlights research showing that being creative activates the pleasure center of the brain, and lowers stress.
Expression as Creators
In addition to reconnecting us and changing us, I believe the spiritual connection that hand making pottery gives comes through our expression as creators.
I’ve observed with interest and joy how attached to their creations people become. When friends and family have a go at making a pot at our wheel, they suddenly show a remarkable concern for a small amount of wet dust. They want to protect it from damage; they want to see it completed; and they want to see it be the best that it can be. In short, they care what happens to this structure of dust and water that they have formed.
Why is this? Why do we get so attached to our own creations? I want to suggest that there are three reasons:
We invest something of ourselves in the creation process. If my pot is useful, it is because I wanted it to be so. If my pot is beautiful, it is because I made it so, and in all probability my first ever successful pot will look beautiful to me, no matter what anyone else thinks. Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of the beholder. In engineering we talk about the “Ugly Baby Syndrome” to describe how a person can get attached to their own idea as being the best. The Italians capture the issue well in their proverb, “Ogne scarrafone è bell’ a mamma soja”, which means, “Each cockroach looks beautiful to its mother.”
We derive meaning from what we have created. Whether it is a pot, portrait or piece of prose, the sense of satisfaction and achievement we derive from making something “good” in the world, outside of ourselves, can give our lives a sense of meaning and purpose. I’ve expressed what I believe to be going on in the diagram below. But as the diagram also shows, I believe that there is something much more fundamental going on, which brings us to…
We have been made in God’s image. In Genesis chapter one God says, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…’ (NIV). This statement, if it is true, has a profound impact on the whole of human existence. In the context of creativity, it means that we owe the very fact that we are able to conceive of, and create, anything original, to the likeness of God within us. The God revealed in the Bible is the creator of all things. He is the maker of the laws of physics, of all matter, of space-time itself. Since he is fundamentally a creator, in fact, The Creator, then it is his image in us that enables us to be creators too. It follows from this, that the ability of human beings to create displays God’s image within us. Whether we recognize God’s image within us or not, that image enables us to create. But there is a further impact of God’s image on our life, for those who do recognize its presence within: God’s image bestows purpose and meaning upon us, and the whole of our lives.
But what evidence is there that recognizing God and his image within us has any impact on our lives? Well quite a lot. In his book “Is Faith Delusion?: Why Religion is Good For Your Health”, Professor Andrew Sims, former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists cites as evidence the American Journal of Public Health’s major meta-analysis of epidemiological studies on the psychological effects of religious belief:
In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction.
We live in a world obsessed with image. Could it be that having forgotten the image of God within us, the echo remains? We know that image is important, we have just forgotten which image.
God says to us, ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand’ (Jeremiah 18:6 NIV).
Is it time to seek The Potter?
If you have questions about God, faith, science or philosophy, I can recommend two great books by Professor John Lennox:
- God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?
- Gunning for God: Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target
The next Lesson from the Potter’s Wheel is:
Lesson #2: Centering — How to Find Inner Peace
Originally published on: Medium