CERAMICS: A METAPHOR FOR LIFE
(Matter, Energy, Time, and Space) Ceramics is an ideal way to illustrate how the potter manipulates matter, energy, time, and space to produce one of an infinite number of possible works. Having visualized an ideal pot, the mind calls forth its tool, the human body, to produce change on clay by controlling energy, space, and time. Everything matters: the infinite ways in which force can be applied, what shape evolves, the timing, duration, and intensity of heat during "firing," the ratio of chemicals, and on and on. The process of change is continuous. MaEnTiSpa is always at work. Not an instant goes by when the pot's temperature is not changing which causes its volume to change. Uneven expansion or contraction can produce cracks in the raw clay, especially when water is unevenly distributed in the solid clay body. The pot's mass is never fixed. It will always be losing or gaining water. The oxygen in the air is reacting with the more active chemicals in the clay. There will, however, come a time when the pot is "finished," but it will forever be in the process of change under the control of MaEnTiSpa. So it is with life - we use the precious time we have in many places to create meaningful change in ours and the lives of others.
According to Plato, perfection can only exist in the mind. All that we do is an approximation of that ideal perfection. The more often an act is mindfully repeated, the nearer it will approach perfection. From the time the dry porcelain mixture is suspended in water and colored with iron oxide until the time the work emerges from the kiln after its final rendezvous with heat, much time will have passed and many changes will have occurred. In its final form with a hardness greater than that of steel, no further change will be possible. If the final work shows imperfections as it surely will, there will be memories of earlier times when change was possible. If only the clay had been compressed one time more during the greenware's drying, that small crack in the bottom would not be. If a time should come when it is no longer possible to improve the work, I will stop and start something else. But in pottery, such a time will never occur, for the possibilities are without limit. So it is with life - Each of us must carefully select and choose our course, then act consistently with knowledge and patience.
Each glaze firing yields up to 25 pots. There never fails to be at least one with a crack. At first the cracks were inside, outside, at the rim, varying in length up to to about three centimeters. These cracks were often very deep, affecting about one third of the pots. After a few years, the cracks would only appear on the inside at the bottom varying in length up to one centimeter with a frequency around five percent. It seems that there will always be cracks, but what is different is that they have become fewer in number and less severe. It is a matter of probability. To influence probability one must learn as much as possible about clay and water and heat and time and force and space. One must learn about the effect these factors alone and in combination have on the probability of a crack forming. No amount of hope, of prayer, of wishing will change the reality of crack formation in clay pots. Only when relevant knowledge is skillfully and consistently applied can the probability of crack formation be changed. So it is with life - There will always be problems whose solutions will depend on the extent to which the probability of a desired solution can be increased by the skillful and consistent application of action based on relevant knowledge and expeience.
A large cubic mass of solid clay made of many separate pieces from different sources is certainly not homogeneous. There is less moisture near its surface, and the pieces from which it was fabricated are more dense than the slip that binds them. In the process of becoming, the cube will be truncated along its diagonals such that the one piece will become five (a tetrahedron and four triangle-base pyramids). The change physically for the clay is violent. New surfaces with more moisture are exposed. The equilibrium that was being sought for the piece as a whole no longer exists. New parameters to which each of the five pieces must adjust present themselves. To reduce the probability of future negative consequences, the clay pieces are "stored" in a stable environment (air tight with minimal temperature fluctuations). They are kept in this environment long enough to establish a new equilibrium. Once equilibrium is established, the process of becoming will continue. So it is with life - Each of us continually struggles to establish equilibrium among the many factors that comprise our personal existence. Suddenly there is a death, a divorce, a loss of job, a serious illness, an earthquake, or the like. When such calamitous event occurs, a period of "healing" may be necessary before embarking further into the process of "normal" life. In order to to reestablish a new equilibrium, the solution will be based on one's experience, personal reality, character, attitude, values, and the like. That is why we need to consider carefully how these factors are developed in our journey, for they will be called upon time and time again to bring us back into "equilibrium."
When the design of a vessel is within the body of the clay, not just painted on its surface, the pattern will be visible no matter how much of the clay is scraped from the surface or carved from the center. Each time the work is scraped or carved one of an infinite number of patterns will be revealed. So it is with life - When one lives life with integrity, each experience will enhance the patterns of growth that are possible. Integrity helps one to emerge better and stronger with each successive challenge and experience. Water Water is the life force of clay. It is constantly involved at every stage of the vessel's journey until it reaches 2,400 degrees Farenheit when every last bit of moisture is finally driven off chemically. For the last few days a porcelain lid in the drying stage (the physical loss of water) had been neglected and today a circular crack was discovered on the inside in the region where the clay transitions from thin (middle) to thick (rim). The reason was clear: an imbalance of moisture loss resulting in the more rapid shrinkage of the middle (thin) than the rim (thick). The forces were pulling the clay toward the middle. The clay there dried faster, shrinking away from the more moist rim, causing the crack. So it is with life - We can become unbalanced for myriad reasons - too little exercise, too much alcohol, not enough of the spiritual, too much stress, overeating, all play and no work, all work and no play. We become low on our life force - we crack.
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