Coming Down to Earth with Clay
By the Earth that is Her Body
By the Air that is His Breath
By the Fire of His Bright Spirit
By the Waters of Her Living Womb
The Circle is Cast.
We are in the World and What is in the World,
Changes the World.
I face East and call the Spirit of Air. I call the Ancestors, all those who have gone before and lived, breathed and walked on this Earth. All those who have worked the Soil and shaped the Clay. I ask for Guidance, Inspiration and New Beginnings. I give thanks for each new Dawn.
I face South and call the Spirit of Fire. I call passion and energy, playfulness and creativity. May our Hearts be Ignited.
I face West and call the Spirit of Water. I call Deep Feeling and Truth, the Sea who Spawns Life. I open to the Fluidity of Form, and the Restlessness and Peace therein.
Tears of Joy
Tears of Sorrow.
I face North and call the Spirit of Earth. I give thanks for the Earth beneath my feet. I call in all the Beings of Earth, the Medicine People, the Nourishing People, the Standing People, the Finned Ones, the Creepy Crawlies, the Winged Ones, The Four Legged People, The Two Legged Ones. I call and pay tribute to all Form animated by the Spirit of Life, the Living Earth in all Her Impressionable Beauty.
I bend down, pick up the Clay and begin again.
I have often been in a room full of wildly energetic children, bouncing off each other like a nuclear reaction. When I sit down to work with clay, they all gather around and want to play too. The clay is handed out, the energy becomes both playful and focused, and Peace reigns. Clay is the Peacemaker. It is amazing!
I also have a recurring daydream. I am sitting at a large, round table and in seats all around are the leaders of all the world’s countries. In the center is a large mound of clay. There is much discussion, arguing, belligerence and positioning, a regular modern Babel. Then all the participants are given a portion of clay in proportion to their military power and weapons. At the sound of a bell, they begin to make nuclear missiles out of clay until their portions run out. Then they look at their arsenals, asses their superiority or inferiority and, if they wish, declare war on each other by hurling their clay missiles across the table. After all the tensions have been worked out, more clay is given, as much as anyone wants and the world leaders are free to create whatever they wish, alone or in cooperation with each other. They focus on their creative capacities playfully and work out their mutual problems. All then go home, purged of violence, and Peace reigns in the world. Clay is the Peacemaker.
I have no doubt, were clay to be worked with at such meetings, peaceful creativity would unfold. I invite all the world leaders, all the leaders of large corporations, state and local government officials, everyone in any profession who must gather and work together, to muditate before and during their meetings. The Earth shall tell us of Her needs, of our needs, through Her body, the Clay and we will remember we share One World.
Coming Back to Here
This is a book about Muditating, about playing, working, creating with clay. Mostly it is about Being Here, about coming down to Earth. When I was a child, and my mother was frustrated by my behavior, she would turn to my father or grandmother and ask: “Where have we gone wrong?” I ask instead: “Where have we gone?”
As I explore the way I live much of my life, and as I look around at my friends, humans, our culture, the answer that comes up is “anywhere else than here.” We are a culture of “growth,” of preparation for the future, a future that will have “more” for us than the present. We travel and move constantly, hither and thither, from the store to outer space. We go to pre-school to prepare for school, school to prepare for college, college to prepare for work and work to prepare for retirement. “What are you going to be when you grow up?” So much becoming and so little Being. Where have we gone? Now we have gone to cyberspace, to virtual reality.
The message we live and give is that the here and now is not good enough, ordinary life doesn’t make it. I have to find something better. My salvation lies in Heaven, earth doesn’t make it, or is simply another preparation, like school or prison. So we don’t stay here in consciousness, while we stay here anyway. Why?
I learned to “travel” elsewhere because I didn’t like so many of the places I had to be. I couldn’t physically abide sitting at a desk all day as a child. Today I would be classified Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and be given drugs. Then I was “disciplined, humiliated and told to live up to my potential. I couldn’t stand being there, and I couldn’t physically leave, so I learned to leave mentally, to live in my head. When I was let out of the classroom, I had no problem being present. I had plenty of attention for feeling the water on my body as I dived into the pool or the sea. Before long, however, the whole world became a classroom to do head work and being present was reserved for vacations. To make a long, familiar story short, I learned that there were more important places to be than here, more important things to do than Be. I learned to be unconsciously restless and anxious, out of space and time, dislocated and unconnected to my present life. I find myself habitually responding to most of my life just as I did as a child. I’m not a child anymore, and even though I find myself in places or situations sometimes that are unpleasant or stressful, I no longer serve myself well by checking out. No matter how I spin out, life is here and now, on this earth, where I stand.
Stop a moment, check in with the muscles of your belly. Are they tight? Do you feel like somehow you’re expecting to get punched in the gut?.
It is no surprise there is such an interest in outer space and virtual reality. Culturally and individually we’ve been in virtual reality most of our lives. We are missing our lives by not being here, missing it dearly. Here is where we came and on the deepest level, what we want and cherish. And most of us, most of the time, don’t even know we are not at home.
Mud. That’s one of the ways I find my way home. I didn’t realize how far away from Earth I was (six feet off the ground and millions of miles away) and I still float away like the Goodyear Blimp. I also didn’t realize until I made pots for many years, how powerful and simple it is to come home to Earth. I just take a piece of her in my hand, grounding myself by holding, playing, and shaping a piece of the ground. I have just recently remembered again, and, like the spirals of a ceramic pot, the home coming gets deeper and richer and simpler and more magical. And I realize again that the qualities of the soul that I am are present in the qualities of the Earth Herself, and she tells me about us through the clay.
Qualities of Soul
Qualities of Clay
Soul has the capacity for infinite possibility, she is a shape shifter, assuming amazing forms, definer of space.
Clay has the capacity for infinite possibility, a shape shifter. She assumes form and defines space. Where once only space existed, a clay vessel creates inner and outer space and creates function.
Soul is impressionable. She is affected by anything and everything that happens to her and around her. She is so impressionable, that to become less impressionable, less plastic and open and malleable, she can become stiff and rigid, forgetting how impressionable she is in her choice of “toughness.”. Soul can take many shapes and forget she is soul, yet soul she will always be.
Clay is the most impressionable of materials. She can be formed into everything, and changed by every force applied to her. She, too, can be made rigid, dried out and fired to become tight, impermeable for eons. Once fired, the resemblance to her original plasticity is distant. Clay can take many shapes, yet clay she will always be
Soul gathers earth, water, fire and air and creates a body.
Soul uses the body to create forms of Clay from earth, water, fire and air.
Soul experiences and expresses herself through the body vessel which contains all the qualities of all the elements.
Soul experiences and expresses herself through the clay vessel which contains all the qualities of all the elements.
The connection, the point of intimacy and trust and malleability between the open, impressionable and impressive Soul and the impressionable Clay is the Hand.
The Hands, Skin and
Getting in Touch
Our first sense, first means of connection to this world is Touch. The infant child touches everything, experiencing the textures of the world through the skin and with the hands. It is with our hands that we reach out to the world, to objects, to each other. The skin is an organ of trust. Just as we feel love and hate in the heart, stability and upset in the belly, clarity and confusion in the head, we experience trust and invasiveness through our skin. Our skin is a permeable membrane allowing connection and protection. It lets in or keeps out according to how something feels. This happens on the physical, emotional and psychological levels of experience simultaneously. Reflect for a moment what you experience when you simply meet someone and shake their hand. There is the sensation of the physical touch itself. The hand is warm, cold, smooth, rough, moist, dry, etc. There is the sensation of grip, firmness, gentleness, roughness, etc. How long and how hard is the hand held? What decisions are made emotionally and psychologically about the person you have made contact with? And how much of this is conscious and how aware are you of the complexity of experience transmitted? How “in touch” are you? It is also from the decisions we make through this contact that we decide to make continued contact or decide to erect a barrier to prevent further contact. This is an obvious example of the skin as an organ of trust. Our hands act as “feelers” for initial contact and then, if further contact is okay, our hands explore the realm of trust and intimacy ranging from arms around shoulders, pats on backs, hugs, massage on through to sexual intimacy.
Our feelings about touch and connection are ambivalent. There is the natural desire to connect and “Reach out and touch someone” and there is the fear of being taken advantage of if there is too much openness, like when someone wants a “hand out.” Clay instills openness and trust as it does not take advantage of our touch, our trust. It responds and mirrors our state by simply showing us the forms we have given it. It is a material, literally a “ground” upon which we can imprint ourselves, and then explore what we have done. It is a medium of self awareness. And in its willingness to be impressed and transformed, it becomes a medium of our own transformation. Touch has been limited and repressed in our culture out of a fear of getting too close, being too vulnerable. Sight has replaced touch as the dominant sense, allowing greater distance. Touch requires immediate contact; we experience the world directly through touch. By definition, there is no space between us and what we contact. Clay brings us back to our sense of touch, puts us “in touch.” We again rely primarily on our most primal sense, on our hands, our feel, our skin to experience and shape our world. Clay puts us in touch in a playful, non-threatening way. The clay will not harm us. It is vulnerable and allows us to be open and vulnerable. It’s pleasant to the touch, smooth, silky, malleable. We can move it around and it demands nothing, willing to be held and shaped. We can be in touch and delight ourselves.
Clay reminds us of the importance of our hands, our touch and our creativity. It tells us that we are makers, that our hands are incredible tools and resources and a powerful responsibility. We use our hands to touch, connect and affect. What do we do with our hands individually and culturally? Do what we do with our hands, how we use them and what we make with them reflect openness and trust, or defensiveness? Again, think individually and culturally. What are the possibilities? How do I want to use my hands and what do I want to create in my life? How does what I create tell me about who I am right now and how I live?
These explorations begin with an exploration of our hands. Clay is a great and fun thing to use for these explorations. It is a great and fun thing to use whether you want to explore these questions or not. Clay transforms by its nature, consciously and unconsciously.
By holding clay in our hands, we hold the earth in our hands. What shall we do with it? How shall we hold her?
This simple, playful activity can help to reawaken our touch and our self trust. It can bring back our childlike desire to reach for what is before us. The only purpose of the following activities is to feel. There are no expectations, no goals other than to directly experience what the clay feels like. We do these explorations blindfolded because the sense of sight seems to override the sense of touch for many of us.
Game 1: Sit comfortably at a table in a quiet room without any distractions. Turn the phones off. Place about ten pounds of soft, smooth clay on the table in front of you. Then tie a blindfold over your eyes. (You can also do this together with a group or with a friend but be sure to remain with your own experience for this particular game. Interact only with the clay and yourself). For at least ½ hour, feel the clay. Pick it up, shape it, and with curiosity, see what you do. What does it feel like? What does your mind do while you play? How does your body feel? How do your hands interact with the clay? Does your sense of touch become heightened? Can you “see” with your hands? Allow any feelings that arise. You may feel foolish or uncomfortable or you may simply quietly play. Whatever arises, stay with it, note it and feel what follows. Don’t quit before thirty minutes. Set a timer or an alarm. And if you are having fun, do it longer if you wish!
Game 2: Interactive, Blindfold, Clay Play: In this game, we set up the same conditions as the previous game, except that we work with a partner who is also blindfolded. Spend thirty minutes sharing your experience and exploration of touch and connection with another person. Do this in silence. Let your hands do all the talking and see what you do together. Then share your inner experiences with each other and the group if you like.
Game 3: This game is for the adventurous and is most fun in a group, though it can be done alone or with a friend. It is best done outside on a warm day. Fill a large bucket half full of water. Take a bag of clay (red clay is most fun and most messy. It stains clothes and other things so don’t use it around anything you want to keep), and break little pieces into the water until the water is really full of clay. Let it sit for a few hours and then stir until you have a bucket of creamy slip. Now you are ready to become Clay People. Clothing is optional and must be minimal. Wear bathing suits (an old one) if you wish, and then smear the red slip over your whole body. You can clay up each others backs ands bodies too, but respect each others comfort zones. Once you are all Clay People, go exploring together, but you are only allowed to grunt and make non language sounds. We did this at a camp one summer. A group of us clayed up and then visited other groups and interacted with them in various ways. It was great fun. After we were done playing, we all jumped in a pond and cleaned up.
There are also other options. It is fun to use the clay slip to paint lines and designs on each others faces, arms, legs, etc. Or paint up your own body and see what such body decoration feels like and moves you to do.
LEARNING FROM OUR WORK
We learn from our work by doing it. The actual learning takes place in our bodies through the contact and forming with the clay. A great deal of learning takes place kinesthetically and does not actually require a “conscious, mental” learning. The clay and our contact with it will create transformation. Often, we become surprised at changes in our being and our consciousness we didn’t realize were happening until well after their occurrence.
However, we can consciously participate in the transformation process (life), we can consciously participate in our life, by paying attention. The first place to pay attention to our work is in the “how” of what we are doing. How do I create? What are my experiences during the creative process? And how do I respond to the different physical and emotional states that arise while I work? In this way, our work tells us how we do our lives. Is my body relaxed? Up tight? Am I anxious? How do I deal with the anxiety? Where does the anxiety come from? I discovered that before I began any creative project I unconsciously bit off my finger nails. I wouldn’t even know I was doing it until I felt the pain of going too far. The pain was the signal that I was very anxious about my creativity. I did this for many years before I asked myself why. I repeated the nail biting pattern because I was avoiding the awareness with my anxiety around creativity. Yet, at the same time, my body was desperately trying to bring consciousness to what I was avoiding. Upon examination, I discovered deep fears of “doing something wrong” by being creative. My learned beliefs were that creativity, art, etc. were frivolous, irresponsible activities to be done when the real work of life was taken care of. It was for dilettantes or crazy people. I also discovered the belief that to take time for myself and play and do what I loved was selfish. “I would love to do what I want, but I have to take care of all of you first” was a parental quote that came up, resulting in guilt whenever I wanted to sit down and play with clay. All these beliefs were suppressed into my nail biting routine. Now, when I move into a creative space, the impulse to bite my nails still arises, and anxiety emerges, but within my conscious ability to manage it. Now I can relax myself, and enter the work with excitement and pleasure, enjoying it instead of bringing unconscious pain and punishment.
THE CREATIVE PROCESS BRINGS UP FEELINGS OF ANTICIPATION, EXCITEMENT, JOY, ECSTASY, FEAR, DEPRESSION, HOPELESSNESS, PRIDE, DEFEAT, ETC. And it brings us into touch with how we deal with these feelings. Do we give up? Do we go through to the next?
INTERFACING WITH OUR WORK
The usual method of evaluating our work, as students in school, is through critique. The class usually assembles with their work on tables in the center and each student’s work gets discussed by the teacher and the rest of the class. Then the student receives a grade. Sometimes the teacher gives a private critic to each student, again to assess that students ability and progress. These processes can be valuable experiences if done sensitively and compassionately. We can use feedback from others to see things that may be outside our perspective. In my experience, critics of a person’s work by others, rarely goes very deep, and often supports our concern for external approval and evaluation. An Human Being needs to come to a point of maturation where the mirroring from others becomes a secondary source of self awareness and evaluation. I suggest, before the critic by and with others, the artist Interface with his or her own work. Here are some possibilities:
Sit opposite your work for a minimum of 30 minutes. Do this in a place where you can be totally undisturbed, with pen and paper, or a tape recorder if it is comfortable. You can walk around the work, touch it, hold it, do whatever you are called to do. Ask your work questions and speak or write what your “work” tells you. Whatever comes up, write it down unedited. If nothing comes up, if there is inner silence, that in itself is an experience to be aware of, an experience to be explored, that will raise new questions. Be curious, not critical or condemnatory. We are looking for expansiveness, adventure, mystery, for new things, not just the familiar and stale judgment and correction. When judgment and correction arise, be aware of it, and explore it. Explore everything and anything. This is true SPACE EXPLORATION, the exploration of your own, infinite creative space.
“Why did I create you?”
“What can you tell me about myself?”
“What was it like to create you?”
“How do I feel in your presence?”
“What do I think about you?” (Be aware of judgments and judgmental language with this question}
“What can you tell me about how I create? Style? Technique? Content?”
“What suggestions can you give me? What’s next?”
“What do I want to do with you? Where do you belong?”
These questions are just suggestions, possible starting points. Any exploration will lead to questions, responses and more questions. It is not necessary to draw any conclusions or any definitive answers. Creativity has beginnings and endings, but only as cycles in a never ending cycle. There is no conclusion, only ongoing experience. I you feel silly or embarrassed about doing something like this, talking to “yourself”, then explore those feelings. Being with yourself, being interested, is destination enough.