Pottery as spiritual practice – detachment

When I was a regular church goer, I was an active member in the buddhist discussion and meditation groups.  Of the many Buddhist principles, the most difficult to understand and practice was detachment.  In my years of reading Thich Nhat Hahn, Pema Chodron and other buddhist teachers, I found this was the most critical, yet most difficult lesson to practice.

The pot that saved the firing when the kiln post broke. It held up 4 shelves of work.

But the other day, I had an epiphany – thanks to pottery I was practicing detachment. The uncertainty and many opportunities for failure in ceramics, had made detachment real.  Whether it be a dropped pot, a cracked plate, a collapsing kiln post (see pic above), or a canceled wood-firing just before the holiday shows, I realized that I have learned to detach from the result and accept uncertainty as the way of a potter.  Mishaps no longer upset me.  Of course, I might be disappointed when a pot breaks or doesn’t come out of the kiln as I had hoped.  But I don’t hold onto that feeling because I almost immediately start thinking about making another one.  And since I learn from every error or mishap, I have become grateful for the learning experience.

This practice of detachment is not just limited to my studio time, but spills over into the rest of my life.  I realized this when I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis just before Christmas.  Oh, yes, I freaked out at the doc’s office.  And I freaked again when I learned that all the treatment options involved self-injections (I have a needle phobia).  But I noticed that my doctor kept talking about uncertainty.  Now this bed side manner may freak out some patients, but I knew a thing or two about uncertainty, as any potter does.  By repeating the word , my doctor unknowingly helped focus me on a principle that I had accepted – detach from the result.  If the pot doesn’t work, try again.  If today is a bad day, you’ll get another chance tomorrow.

Sound like Polly Anna?  Not really.   I’m not saying everything is going to be great everyday. I always imagined that I would be throwing into my nineties.  MS may or may not keep me from doing that.  Maybe something else will prevent me from throwing.  But since I can’t control that, why attach to any result?

Don’t misunderstand, I have shed a few tears since leaving the doctor’s office. I still loose it when it all seems too much handle.  However, the anger, frustration, fear, etc. passes when I return to the truth.  Life – like making pottery – is uncertain.

Approaching Buddhism from a Western results oriented perspective, detachment seems to mean that you don’t  care about anything.  I now understand that detachment is quite the opposite.  I see detachment  as caring so much about yourself that you don’t let the pain of attaching to a certain outcome eat at you. And that is what attachment does – it eats at you.  What benefit is there in staying angry over a broken pot? or a diagnosis? It only keeps you from making another pot or having a better day.

Practicing detachment makes me happier. Being detached permits me to pour my soul into every thing I do and then move on to the next pot; the next moment.  Being detached, I know that every morning I wake up I have another chance to follow my heart and be true to myself; the only thing that matters about yesterday is that I learned something that will help make today better. I don’t start the day expecting my pots or the day to be perfect.  Both will be as they will.  At the end of the day, I know I will have infused the world with my spirit because I am not distracted by some strict notion of a desired outcome.

What was once an intellectual exercise, thanks to pottery, is now a daily practice that gives me the space to heal and live life to its fullest.


About Claytastic

Health coach. Writer. Teacher. Artist. Living an amazing life with MS. Interested in bringing peace and beauty into people's lives.
This entry was posted in Pottery as Spiritual Practice and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Pottery as spiritual practice – detachment

  1. judi tavill says:

    I have Pema Chodron on my ipod…
    It’s mindfulness and being present while practicing attachment…right?
    (Full Catastrophy Living too- Jon Kabbat-Zin)
    and you might want to read the book I am reading now: Budha’s Brain
    ( http://www.rickhanson.net/writings/buddhas-brain )
    also very interesting… helpful.
    Let me be the first to comment that your pottery buddies fully support you in your journey and I will be sending the most positive vibes!

  2. Cheryl says:

    I absolutely love this post. I was familiar with Thich Nhat Hahn from some time in therapy and I can attest to detachment being a life long practice that I think many of us struggle with.

    When I took my first pottery class I knew this craft was going to work another part of my mind and my spirit and it’s taught me more spiritually then I ever expected. Thank you for this post and for sharing your incredibly beautiful work with the world.

  3. I love this: “Being detached permits me to pour my soul into every thing I do and then move on to the next pot; the next moment.” It reminds me of the child-like nature Jesus praised and advocated for. How much simpler life becomes when we are unattached to the outcome of our efforts.

    I celebrate your epiphany and am so happy I found your blog today!

  4. Vicki Bone says:

    Thank you for your post. I am a potter, but my primary occupation is that of a high school English teacher. We are reading Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom right now and Morrie discussed and used detachment in his battle with ALS.

    I agree with you so much–each day brings new joys and challenges, and we all have experienced those through our pottery as well as other aspects of our lives.

    I appreciate your site and blog very much. Best wishes.

  5. All the best, Laurie, I love your work! Esa

  6. June Perry says:

    The first spiritual aphorism I posted on my fridge, was a quote from my spiritual teacher about detachement: “It is what it is, and I allow it to be. Therefor, I am”.

    I agree that it is the most difficult spiritual lessosn to learn.


  7. claytastic says:

    Thanks everyone for your warm responses. This blog will always be about my artwork, but I do feel drawn to discuss how that work has made me a more spiritual person. The great comments confirms I have not gone wrong.

  8. terraworks says:

    beautiful. thank you for sharing your heart and soul.

  9. JDWolfe says:

    Wonderful illustration of the art of detachment. Thanks for sharing with us!

  10. Pearl Beads says:

    More power to you.i have actually bookmarked it to show some of my friends

  11. You are an inspiration, Laurie.

  12. I really love reading all your posts.

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