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5 Life Lessons I Learned from Making Pottery

Pottery as a tool for healing


In this blog post, I share some of the lessons I have learned from making pottery. The deeper I have gone into this practice, the more I have found that what I learn in the pottery studio also supports me in living a more intentional life.


Impermanence and non-attachment 

Especially in the early stages of learning to throw on the wheel, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter unexpected and humbling surprises. One moment you can be proudly taking your fresh vase off the wheel, and the next you see it sliding off your board and falling straight onto the floor. Sometimes everything goes perfectly and in the last stage of the process, some glaze melts onto the kiln floor, leaving your piece stuck and unusable. It’s a delicate process that repeatedly invites you to be present and unattached to the outcome. Even though some of the creations break along the way, you’re still honing your craft with each movement. Every encounter you have with the clay, regardless of the outcome, informs your future creations.



It’s all about balance and small changes

You gradually learn to balance the pressure you apply to the sides of the pots, allowing them to become taller and more even. The movements can be quite subtle and delicate but become amplified through the spinning wheel. Less is often more, and small changes can have a huge impact. You learn to notice how your subtle body movements leave impressions in the clay. Sometimes the most counterintuitive approach works best. To gain more control over the process, it might seem obvious to slow down the wheel, when what’s needed is more speed and trust.


Surrender and the beauty of imperfection

It can take a long time to make a pot where you feel perfectly happy with every aspect. Joe, my pottery teacher, once said that it might take 100 pots before you feel like you’ve perfected one. Naturally, learning this craft involves surrendering and letting go of the outcome repeatedly. There are no shortcuts. Sometimes you can’t plan for the best creations, and it’s the accidental moments that gift you the most beautiful pots. The moments where you applied a little too much pressure on the wheel or splashed some of the “wrong” glaze over your pot, resulting in unique new forms and textures.



The power of stillness, patience, and going slow

Pottery is a slow process. Perhaps you’ve started out making some recycled clay (which is a whole process in itself) and then throwing a pot on the wheel. After drying, it goes to the kiln for the first time. Then you move on to trimming and refining your shape, before painting it with multiple layers of glaze. Finally, it goes back into the kiln for a second firing. That’s when you get to see your result.

Going slow in this process is an antidote to the fast pace of our modern lives. We have to focus on one process at a time, rather than having 20 tabs open. If you lose sight of your attention or switch off, it can easily lead to a broken pot and starting over. The process asks us to be present and can take on a meditative flow quality.


Embracing a messy process

We can sometimes put so much performance pressure on ourselves that we forget to enjoy the process. Pottery is messy and for much of the creation process we have to use our imagination to trust it will turn out well. It often looks “bad” along the way. Even in the final stages of glazing, there is still a sense of mystery over what it will look like after the final firing. It’s a reminder that we are also works in progress, and don’t need to have it all together as we grow. The process is allowed to be messy along the way.


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