tea bowls, heavens and hells


When I sat at my potter’s wheel, and the wheel began to spin, I found myself making tea bowls.  I had no need of them, though some of the great Japanese tea bowls had been on my mind like small children tugging at my clothes… “make us, make us, make us.”  So I made them.


Over and over again…wedge, throw, spin, open, pull, cut, repeat …wedge, throw, spin, open, pull, cut, repeat.   I have about 60 in the studio right now or 80 and have no real plan for them. Some are experiments of shape and contour while some were made while I was thinking about life.


Each tea bowl carries a few of those thoughts in it.  Thoughts about hopes, thoughts about regrets, thoughts about betrayals, thoughts about the future, thoughts about beautiful memories.  Just as each tea bowl is somehow infused with the water of the sponge used in that moment – complete with the minerals from the water supply, so too each tea bowl has a thought inside it the way a bit of salt embeds in paper when a human tear falls on the fibers in the writing of joy or grief.


What we do matters.  Other religious traditions call this karma. We “make” life with each mindful moment the way a potter makes a tea bowl. …wedge, throw, spin, open, pull, cut, repeat.  We repeat tasks like shopping, praying, walking, working, fighting, eating and the goodness or the evil in the act infiltrates life around us like smoke in a kitchen or lavender in a drawer.


Which will it be?  Smoke or lavender?  Sometimes we do not have a choice…we weave poison into our words or, in better moments, loving-kindness. Slowly, slowly, I am learning that moment by moment I have a choice.  That is not to say that I have become some walking Disney-After-School-TV-Special full of nothing but gentle words while I lead my unicorn around on its diamond leash pooing marshmallows.  No.  Sometimes I get very angry at what I see around me – a faun hit by a 40-ton semi, a friend betrayed by his lover, a lie, a betrayal, a slander.  But what I am learning is that these things will happen and what I can and must do is to decide how I will respond.  There will always be saints around me and, also, some real morons. But what I am learning is that the stool of my potter’s wheel is really not so different from the cushion of my meditation corner, or the mat of my kitchen or the chair of my office or the pillow of my bed.


We humans make things.  We make children, families, work-projects, cookies, letters, books, acts of kindness, acts of evil, truths, lies, tea bowls, knives.


Each tea bowl will have in it the soot from my flakey skin imbedded when I threw the bowl and burned off in the first firing; and the salt from my drops of sweat, also the minerals from the water of my pipes and the metals and clays from the glaze ingredients.  Choose the right ingredients and the tea bowl will be beautiful.  Choose the right words, tasks and smiles and so too will be our lives, to the extent that we have control.  Which is not much.  But some.  And the some matters.

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