To examine one’s own life is to notice the patterns. What keeps appearing? What happens over and over again? What is life trying to teach me?
Yesterday I had an open house at my pottery studio. Guests came to visit, in masks, some from an hour’s drive, one at a time and sat about 12 feet from my wheel as I threw pots. We talked at a distance. They bought pots nearly warm from the kiln-firing of the previous day. This is one of those pots. It is a tea bowl. A pound of earth. A teaspoon of powdered rocks. A pinch of iron and cobalt carbonate. Some fire for 10 hours. And so, a tea bowl.
One of my guests asked why I make so many tea bowls and I had no good answer. I just seem to be drawn, over and over again to the simple cup. I make them as a meditation practice. They each begin with a lump of clay the size of a tangerine and 40 seconds later, they are a tea bowl ready to dry, be coated in crushed stone and fired in my kiln. When friends stop by the studio, we often warm our cookies on the kiln to enjoy with our tea, from water also warmed on the kiln.
This tea bowl was plunged into a tenmoku glaze and then the rim was dipped only a half-inch into a second glaze. As the glazes melted in the kiln, the ring of secondary glaze floated down the side of the pot in the final 5 minutes of the 10-hour firing to create a halo-effect.
To have tea with a therapist or a wise friend is to listen to stories and notice patterns.
A wise person recently said to me “You frequently (not always) make poor choices in friends and then you seem shocked when they trick and betray you.” I was stunned. “How do you know this?” I asked with growing internal indignation. She smiled and said, “It is a story that keeps repeating itself in your life.” To which I responded, “I need to choose better friends in future.”
She smiled and said “Perhaps. Or you may simply wish to keep listening to the suffering in your life until it has taught you what you need to know.”
It is so easy to confuse equanimity with indifference. With indifference, one simply does not notice when bad things happen or, worse still, we anesthetize the pain with substances or experiences. With equanimity, on the other hand, one welcomes the abuses and betrayals that happen in our lives as teachers sent from a cosmos in whose kiln-of-life you rest for a time, becoming something. The longer and hotter the fire, the more beautiful and durable is the pot.
The suffering you and I keep experiencing is not Satan (the tester) at work. Nor is our suffering the work of demons playing rough with us. It is not judgment from a bitchy god for sins committed, nor is it even the results of sins (at least not always or often). Indeed our suffering in the heat of this kiln-life is there to burn out impurities and create a crucible – a kiln – a forge in and on which we let life make us.
What we become is not what happens to us. What we become is how we greet what happens to us. That which visits us as we suffer seeks not to do battle. That which visits us as we suffer seeks to be heard.
And like this tea bowl, any halo we may seek comes not from some divine anointing given to some saints and not to other mere mortals. It doesn’t just happen. Rather any halo we may eventually wear comes from the heat, the fire, the waiting, the kiln’s determination to create beauty out of all of it.
Out of everything.
The Daily Sip is a series of short-form essays written by Charles LaFond, a potter, writer, and fundraiser; who lives with his dog Sugar on a cliff, on one of the more than 400 islands in the Salish Sea, pondering and writing about how to be a better human, but often failing. And sometimes not.