I am finishing up my third quarter of pottery class. Due to scheduling issues, John and I have stayed in the beginner’s class each time. The first quarter was a blur. As much as I tried to watch her demonstrations, I left steps out without even realizing it. I thought very hard about what to do next. I had to concentrate very hard to get the clay centered on the wheel, so I was not trying to fight with a lop-sided form. Sometimes I was lucky and made something that I liked. Honestly, though, it was like the clay decided what shape it wanted to be.

Since we’ve stayed in the beginners’ class, I’ve had an opportunity to watch Miki, our instructor’s, demonstrations of basic technique. Each time, I watch what she is doing with less confusion, and each time, I notice familiar and unfamiliar steps. The basic forms in thrown pottery are the cylinder and the bowl. The forms are not just different on the outside but they are different on the inside, as well. Cylinders are flat on the bottom with straight sides. Bowls are well, bowl-shaped. There is a gentle slope to the center on the inside that is to echo the curve on the outside. I learned how to make the outside contour of a bowl before the inside. I am still working on the inside contour.

I have made a lot of bowls. Many of them collapsed. Others were of uneven thickness throughout. Other pieces crack. It took me awhile to notice this and then once I noticed it, I am still learning how to watch my instructor’s technique and compare it to my own. This process has required a lot of practice and close observation with every piece. I observe pressure, clay viscosity, my hand position, and the changing form of the clay.

All of this mindful observation has helped me progress in my skill. At the best times, I feel at home at the wheel. At other times, I feel like I am revisiting a strange land, a land in which spinning clay forms come unstuck from the wheel while they are spinning in my hand!

Mindful observation has such a grounding effect for me. Mindfulness is not solely thinking about the present. It is sometimes thinking about the past within the lens of the present or about the future, with a firm footing in the here and now. I can only live in the present, but I can recognize the past as part of my life and the future as the potential life ahead.

The month of May was a busy one and I strayed into fears about the future. I am working to increase my regular mindfulness and self-care practices back to the level they have been in the past when I felt more balanced. Today it occurred, as it has no doubt occurred to countless others, that I cannot plan a future without knowing where I am right now. It would be like planning a trip with no starting point.

Before you leave home, you need to figure out where you live.