Pinch-pots: the Macroscopic within the Microscopic Universe

When you are attuned with the whole Universe within and around you, then every moment, every action becomes a meditation. I fell in love with making pinch-pots at NTNU's Pottery Club in Taipei, Taiwan. Making pinch-pots tunes me into the present moment, same as yoga, contact improv dance, and making music. Tamarack Song calls this feeling "Oneness." Yoga calls the Oneness feeling "satchitananda" (eternal-consciousness-bliss), and the state of this being as "Brahman." I love this feeling. 

I pull a handful of clay off the large hunk of clay sitting in a plastic bag. It is moist and damp, cool to the touch. The clay smells like wet Earth, and I can imagine streams dancing with slopes, mixing and mating over years and years, creating clay deposits on the sides of banks above and below rivers, deeper into the Earth, right below where we walk, sit, stand, and live, and mixed into the sand and stone of our usual soil. 

I roll the clay into a ball, massaging it into the right consistency to work with, pushing out air bubbles and feeling into the song of the clay. What do you want to become? What do I want you to become? 

The ball of clay sits, perfectly brown and obtuse, on the palm of my hand. In Taiwan, people seem fascinated with the ordinary, the tiny, the simple and elegant beauty of small cups, round shapes, clean lines, and smooth surfaces. In Taiwan, I made tiny pinch-pot after tiny pinch-pot, trying to perfect the art of elegant simplicity. Here, I sit next to my fire. I don't know the clay culture here. I am American-Taiwanese. I could go in any direction. 

Almost without thought, my thumb moves into the center of my ball of clay and makes the first indentation. Mindful yet mindless meditation, from here on out. I press my thumb gently but with the perfect amount of pressure into the indentation, gradually working my way around the edges of the indentation, each press widening and deepening it into a small bowl. "Take your time," said my pottery teacher in Taiwan, "you are rushing nowhere. If you go too fast, the clay will crack, and break when you fire it. Take your time and make it perfect. Feel deeply into every motion." 

I want to press the walls of my pinch-pot to be as thin as possible, for easy firing and lightweight usage. Every bump and indentation on the pot's surface is visible and palpable. I want it to be smooth, like a river with no ripples. Everything is a metaphor. What does a round shape mean, and how does that feel? How about an angular shape? I want to press a perfectly round shape, and any odd edges to be conscious and purposeful. 

Pressing a pinch-pot into an aesthetic and functional form is like practicing yoga everyday, planting a garden, cultivating a relationship, or anything else in life: it's an act of love and patience, like stringing delicate pearls together carefully and lovingly until one day, they form a shining necklace.

The microscopic Universe reflects the macroscopic Universe. The degree to which I can focus on patiently pressing a pinch-pot with no cracks, smooth lines, and an elegant form reflects how much I can remain focused, be patient, and attentive to details in other aspects of my life, such as my studies, or in my interpersonal relationships. 

I finish rounding and smoothing my pinch-pot, and step back to admire it, reflecting on and giving thanks for all the combined experiences thus far in my life that have combined together into this present moment "me," and this small pinch-pot borne of me and my storybook of life experiences. I reflect back on my Taiwanese pottery teacher, then start remembering and giving thanks for all the teachers that have come and gone through my life. The further I reflect and give thanks, the more I feel grateful for, until I can almost see my little pinch-pot brimming over with joyous gratitude and love. 

This clay pot is made of all the elements. In the photo, it's not fired yet. I let it slowly heat and dry atop my woodstove. One day, the wind blew my window in, and my window landed onto and broke my little pot. So I made two more pots. And, I will continue to make more. 

Clay pieces contain all the elements. The physical form is composed of earth and water. Then it is fired, where one must find the perfect balance of fire and air for a successful firing. Today, I experimented with firing two pots in and on my woodstove. My thinner smaller pot came through the fire successfully (beautiful color, no cracking, and lightweight durability), whereas my larger thicker pot (made by six hands together) cracked, and will break with time and usage. It cracked because I put it into my stove before it was dry enough to go in, and because the walls were too thick, with some air bubbles inside. Next time, I know what to do. 

(This story of clay was inspired by a recent bag of clay given to me by Bill Fischer and Joy Brown, two Earthen friends who inspire my life in diverse ways. Bill creates monthly community contradance gatherings at his home, where local musicians come to experiment and share, people of all ages and walks of life come to celebrate and dance together, and food, songs, dances, and merriment are delightfully woven throughout Bill's old farmhouse and the lives of the hundreds who come every month. Joy is a sculptor who embodies the love, artistry, and precision that I strive for in my life and pinch-pots. She makes life-size sculptures of meditative and expressive humans in elegant forms, traveling between USA and Asia to share her art with many.) 

Jiling . 林基玲 
  . wild . creative . spirit 
  626.344.9140 / skype: Lin.JiLing