The Eightfold Path of Clay…..

broken pottery bowls

When Siddhartha Gautama stood up from the Bodhi tree after reaching enlightenment his first thoughts were, “I’ve got to tell all my pottery mates about enlightenment?”. Why? If you have done ceramics long enough, the art of letting go is something that you must swiftly master or else you’ll feel like putting your head in the kiln rather than the next lot of work.

Buddha knew that he would be ‘preaching to the choir’ when he spoke to potters of life being all about dukkha (suffering, anxiety and unsatisfactoriness). When you embark on the ceramic path you need to embrace uncertainty and impermanence. The impermanence that arises when the batch of coloured slip you’ve made numerous time suddenly gives you a different result; the uncertainty of being able to consistently obtain the materials you need for completion of a project. Aaah yes, we in this crazy world of clay are consistently at the mercy of many forces outside our control.

So how am I learning equanimity in the face of another dud firing, broken pieces, crazy glaze outcome? By following my own customised, courtesy of the Buddha, Eightfold Path.

1. Right view: Upon opening the kiln I try looking at what is in front of me clearly and unemotionally. Most times this can only be done after a period of stepping away from the kiln so that I can obliterate from my mind what I expected to see.

2. Right intention: Freeing my mind from desired outcomes. Sometimes the kiln god give you a little present/accident which is better than expected.

3. Right speech: Fairly self explanitory. No f&#@, sh4%, f$$$$. Instead, taking a deep breath and saying, “What has happened and how can I fix it?” The first reaction is such a waste of time and clouds your mind to the solution. (It’s so difficult as I love a good swearing fit.)

4. Right action: When I’ve dissected the situation; taken a photo of the problem or written about it in my journal; then I destroy the piece/s. Having them in my presence puts my mind into a negative gear and doesn’t allow me to move on.

5. Right livelihood: This one is a bit tricky. For me it boils down to “Why am I doing this?” I often ask myself this questions and it helps me see the bigger picture.

6. Right effort: Directly linked with no. 5. It’s all about making the effort to improve and innovate and not beating yourself up when an idea doesn’t work. Moving forward confidently.

7. Right mindfulness: Taking a few minutes to look into myself and discovering where my mind is at the very moment before I begin working. I try hard not to use any negative self talk when assessing my state of being. It’s rather pointless to lamblast yourself for not being ‘in the zone’. Best just go straight to no. 8.

8. Right concentration: After assessing my mental attitude I take a few minutes to address any tension which will hold me back from achieving my goals. I normally do this by closing my eyes and taking a few deep breaths. Sometimes if the swirl of everyday life is particularly cyclonic I repeat this mantra “Do your best in all you can control and don’t put any effort into that which you cannot.”

And sighing, lots and lots of sighing. I find it’s a physical way of accepting and releasing the uncontrollable aspects of life.

I am far from enlightened as all those who know and work with me will attest. Hell, I love a good swear fest as much as the next person and sometimes it can be a great stress reliever. This is my set of guidelines, used when I need to be calm and cool in the face of calamity.

Now can someone point me to a Bodhi Tree. After breaking all these pieces I need some time under it’s gentle branches.


About Elisa Bartels

A ceramic artist/designer and sporadic botanical dyer chatting and photographing the trials, tribulations and celebrations of being an artist who doesn't want to starve.
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