Jesus and the Wheel

There was a boy who looked like Jesus who was very good at the potter’s wheel in my high school ceramics class. He was lanky and quiet and had eyelashes that were thick and mournful. He was strong enough to set the wheel in motion, and strong enough to focus on the vessel that was becoming in his hands.

I admired Jesus from afar as I worked my clay at the table, making my coil and slab constructions. Arlene Ferris, our teacher, was equal parts hippy and Harley rider with a perpetual unlit Marlboro in her lips. She didn’t speak much to me or Jesus since she had troublemakers and jokers in her classes who soaked up her time. She was the teacher of last resort for so many of us.

I wished I could work the wheel like Jesus. As I sat at the table creating with clay like I was patterning a dress or making a cake, he would work quietly, meticulously centering the clay.  Kick, kick, kick, KICK, KICK.  Water cupped and dripped on the mound.  Hands shaping into balance — pulling up and then working down and wide.  Again kicks for momentum, again with water and motion.  All the while, the clay was becoming centered, strong, ready for creation.

In January, I used “centering” as my theme in my yoga classes.  I remember when I first started practicing, how odd but how inviting it was to hurry up and get to class only to take a seat and spend some time in stillness and the quiet. Like clay on the wheel, we need to become affixed first in body, breath and mind. Around and around reality goes but we find the sweet spot of the now, where the wobbling stops.  We will be pushed up and down, in and out; the momentum of our practice starts and stops in the grip of the center. The goal, as it is for a potter centering at the wheel, is to become strong and resilient on the molecular level so that we are ready for shaping, for creation.

Since my word of the new year is “surprise”, I made my way to Marie Pavlicek-Wehrli’s studio to learn printmaking a few weeks ago. I have always had a mental block when it came to the printing press — perhaps it is a machine like the wheel that I don’t feel I can tame. Marie reminds me of Jesus at the wheel.  She is disciplined and meticulous yet open to the grace of the moment and gentle with what arises, letting her creations have the space to breathe and be and take shape. In other words, she is centered and was as encouraging and wonderful as she has always been. I came away with prints and didn’t give in to the “I can’t do this” mode. Getting home, looking through the prints, I knew what I wanted to do. I picked up my exacto and my shears and found myself once again patterning dresses and icing cakes. I’m not exactly done yet — still discovering in the rubbing, the gluing and the template making.  Momentum, yes, but moving from the center.

Woo. Way too much doing.

More blocks

More blocks

Mother’s day flew past in a whirlwind of doing. Our major fundraiser at work on May 3 was the most successful yet. It required considering the “what ifs” and “what happens when,” reams of paper with seat assignments, thinking through processes of pledges received and acknowledged, of financial reports to file and contracts to sign. I was drained by the time Tom and I got away to celebrate a strange new mother’s day without our mothers or anyone around to mother. But the doing kept us moving forward — there was packing, driving, friends to see, the beach, the great new restaurant in town…then, back at work to refocus on website redesign which has been left too long, teaching more classes than normal, Emma’s homecoming, a weekend workshop with Tias Little at Sun and Moon Yoga Studio…and today, the inevitable wall. Thud.

My body has told me that I must undo the effects of charging my adrenal gland up to the max. I must un-do and non-do.

So how ironic is it that on my day of non-doing, I am pulled to the studio to the 29 blocks in our laundry basket, awaiting transformation? I painted this facade today, inspired by the poem by Wendy Videlock, written for her mother:


They are fleeting.

They are fragile.

They require

little water.

They’ll surprise you.

They’ll remind you

that they aren’t

and they are you.

I’d found the poem about a month ago when the flowers for Dorothy’s funeral were fading and I took pictures to remember them. Today, as I painted this facade, I lost myself in the process of painting — in the color and the line. Even though I was doing, I was undoing — undoing some of the sadness of my mother’s and Dorothy’s passing, of the exhaustion I feel today and other negative emotions that have been stuffed and packed in nooks and crannies of my body, mind and spirit. There is no tomorrow and no yesterday. Just this moment, this brush stroke.

As Tias explains in an article he wrote for the Sun and Moon newsletter, in the Taoist tradition, non-doing is “wu-wei,” a highly esteemed way of living life. His workshop helped us instinctually understand that we are “doer devotees” and that this approach is antithetical to yoga. The first session of his workshop started with sitting in meditation, listening for the deep thunderous silence rumbling. Today, I heard a moment of this silence as I became a flower.

Domestic Gods and Goddesses

Inspiration from an exhibition, a wedding and the great life indoors.

Yesterday a good friend married his long time partner in a sweet and loving ceremony in Georgetown.  As we walked to the reception at the university through the fall leaves and bright sunshine, we were both struck by how different our wedding was from theirs. This couple has been together for quite some time as domestic partners.  Their lives are already completely wound up in and around their wonderful families.  I loved it when the groom’s sister-in-law said in her toast, “I’d say welcome to the family, but you are already a big part of our family.”

Tom and I had only known each other for a short time when we decided to get married almost 25 years ago, and we really had never shared a domestic life before our wedding day.  Our first child was born ten months after our wedding, four months after we bought our first house.  After our first chaotic year together, we found a good way to bring some control into our lives:  We became domestic god and domestic goddess.  Even though we have always been 50/50 partners and we have both worked full-time, Tom had his realm and I had mine.  He does the lawn and the dishes and the laundry.  I cook and am in charge of the inside of the house and was the parent in charge during illness, upset and homework assignments.

The domestic arts have been a good place to be creative.  I have painted the dining room almost as many colors as Benjamin Moore makes.  I have planned kids birthdays and band bashes.  I have decorated each room with care, tried new recipes, taken the Christmas card photos, and served as the organizer of the PTA International Night Talent Show at the middle school, an event that was fraught with terrible diplomatic peril.  As the children grew and I had more time to my own devices, I’ve found other places for that creative energy — in my art making and in my yoga practice.

So when the weather turned chilly today, it was nice to plan a day together to putz around the house.  Tom turned to the yard, and after making a few dinners for the rest of the week, I turned to my little corner studio.  At first, I thought I might paint something from our own wedding, but it was really hard to get inspired to paint on the theme of love when I kept heaving in laughter at the photos in our wedding album. (Tom was so mad at having to take photos while everyone was inside celebrating, that his eyes get more and more intense as you flip pages in the album.  It is really almost like a pop up book when you look at his head.  I on the other hand, look as though I could take flight.  My mother had a 24 inch waist and we had to have her wedding gown altered for me with a ginormous bow on my back. )

So instead I found my inspiration coming from a show I went to on Friday night at the Gallery at Iona.  Senior artist Joan Shapiro began making necklaces later in life, after a friend who was a jeweler refused a commission, telling her, “Joan.  You are a smart lady.  You can figure this out.”  Which is what she did — magnificently. I’ve never done anything like making jewelry.  I figured out how to string the beads but the first attempt didn’t quite get the sense of domestic bliss that inspired me today.  So I added some things from Tom’s corner workbench.  The coffee cans full of screws and nuts and bolts yielded old, painted and rusted hook eyes and brand spanking new washers that complemented an old earring and various ceramic beads.  A necklace for a domestic goddess, inspired by her domestic god.

Joining two lives together — whether you’ve been together for a while or not long at all — is like stringing the beads.  One at a time.  Balanced. Harmonious.  Beautiful to the ones who choose to wear it.

Congrats to all my friends who have tied the knot lately.

Sangfroid and Phlegm

For my friends Laura, Cyndee, Barbara, Liz, Ann, Gretchen and all the parents I’ll meet at Freshman Orientation:

As my youngest is about to go 10 hours away to college, I have had to work almost minute-to-minute on a stiff upper lip.  My ancestors were fiery Scots, so the saying “Stay Calm and Carry On” doesn’t resonate.  The only thing that keeps me from collapsing on the floor in a puddle is remembering my sweet grandmother dabbing her eyes two weeks before we returned to Bangladesh every home leave.  Those tears were heavy on all of us.  I’m sure Nana felt cleansed, but my poor Mom was dripping in her mother’s emotion.  It wasn’t fair and I’m trying hard not to do it to my beautiful and talented daughter as she starts another exciting part of her own journey.

So yesterday in Todd’s class, when the intention of equanimity came to me, I folded it at heart center.  I worked on keeping a drishti, equalizing my breath, staying in touch with my edge, dropping to my knees when I needed  to return to balance.  I left practice feeling joyful.

Equanimity is balance of mind; composure that is maintained under stress.  Other synonyms are sangfroid, implying an icy control of the emotions, and phlegm, implying a composure that hides apathy.  It is a careful balance, isn’t it?  To maintain composure but not to lose the compassion that makes us human.  The definition of equanimity carries with it a sense of a habit of mind, not a personality tic or flaw.

Yoga practice reminds us physically of balance, brushing away the thoughts that clutter a mind and make balance impossible.  Skin and bones are tools to reflection and perception, habits of mind and a habit of compassion for all, including ourselves. (This must be why this image came to me as I was recycling canvases.  The blobs of dried paint reminded me of flaws on skin and then the skin called for a…window? My concious mind didn’t know what my emotional body wanted me to understand.)

This week, as we enter another transition in our lives, one that seems less joyful than welcoming these beautiful children into our lives 18 years ago,Thich Nhat Hanh’s words will help us retain equanimity:

Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby.  To suffer is not enough.  We must also be in touch with the wonders of life.  They are within us and all around us, everywhere, anytime.