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There is a long history of contemplative practice in Christianity. In the 1970’s three monks from Massachusetts created modern instructions for centering prayer. This form of meditation is close to Yoga Nidra. It teaches the mind to rise above the normal thoughts that inhabit our thinking. A jolly attitude is recommended toward the thought forms that casually intrude into one’s session. By gradually improving the ability to concentrate and fully focus on the selected subject or word, those pesky internal discussions cease and desist that constant chatter. All forms of meditation are aimed at this goal. If we have control over our thoughts we have control over our reality.
Lectio Divina is a way to use scriptures as the focus of the silent contemplation. Since journaling is a valuable way to amplify the lessons learned a company is producing lectio divina journals with recommended scriptures for each day with plenty of space to write down any impressions or ideas that spring from the session. These guys are monks, so they always use Christian texts, normally the Bible, for the inspiration. They refer to this as a centering prayer, which is a perfect way to describe the experience. Asking for divine inspiration at the outset is the way to invite holy blessings. Writing down journal impressions creates a bridge between the contemplation and everyday life. Insights gained are captured in the writing practice.
I think anyone can do this kind of meditation. You don’t need to use Christianity or any other specific religion to do it. Time spent quieting the mind and discovering the power of meditation and journaling is a wonderful way to simply deal with stress in the modern world. Simple Abundance, or gratitude journaling are secular ways to include contemplation and writing in our lives. There are many variations on this theme. I think now is the time to develop practices that increase our joy and comfort in the world. We are our own best medicine when we join forces with all that is. We will all drive ourselves mad without some well tended personal space and time dedicated to centering. I hope you will discover a method that soothes your soul and raises your happiness quotient. You don’t have to be a monk to like it.
I made pottery on the wheel when I was young. Two books were read by almost all the potters I knew in those days, Clay and Glazes for the Potter by Daniel Rhodes, and Centering by MC Richards. The first technical manual often called simply Rhodes gave formulas and facts needed to produce pottery. The centering book was all about zen and becoming one with the clay in the middle of the wheel. I used to think the centering book was too silly, but now I think it is brilliant. I have not thrown pots for at least 30 years, but the practice did make a difference in my philosophy. To center the clay one must be centered. All work is exactly like that. If you are not centered, balanced, able to focus, your clay will be hard to manage. Your vision will not quite be achieved because of distraction. With clay it is possible to endlessly recycle it if it has not been fired. However, if one works for too long on a thrown piece it is very likely to collapse. Brevity and self assurance are the essence of throwing pots.
Centering was taken from an inspirational speech given to fellow craftsmen. Mary Richards was asked to elaborate on that talk in a book. The 25th anniversary edition is out so I have zapped it into my Kindle. In her introduction Ms Richards states, “The imagery of centering is archetypal. To feel the whole in every part.” Chapter one begins, “CENTERING: that act which precedes all others on the potter’s wheel.” This seems obvious, but the metaphors are many. Whatever raw materials we have must be treated as a whole to make the most of them. Many mediums are not as forgiving as clay. Once wood or fabric has been cut it can’t be thrown into a slip barrel and become new. An unfired pot that does not meet standards can begin as a new lump of clay. Sensitivity and refined touch are the main skills needed to center and throw pots. Porcelain has different feel and qualities to stoneware. Each clay body has potential and personality. Each will take glazes differently. The chemical process of fusing glaze to pot happens at high heat and must be cooled slowly to avoid cracking and crazing. There is technical accuracy, just as in distillation. One follows a recipe and keeps a firing log in order to attain exact desired results on a regular basis. There will sometimes be pots that are ruined in the kiln, and this is a fact that must be accepted. Not every pot will survive.
Mary Richards quotes Emerson who said the law is: “Do the thing, and you shall have the power. But they who do not the thing, have not the powers.” When I read this book about centering today I know that being a potter early in my life gave me an appreciation for practice and balanced design in all things. I enjoy making my own clothes, growing my own food, and designing my own life. The concept of centering means connecting from my center to the center of others, touching the core. That is the essence of life. Stay centered, my friend.