In COMPASS NORTH, Merry takes up pottery. Those passages lean heavily on my personal experience in the past four years or so, as I’ve plunged my hands into clay and tried to throw on the wheel and hand build ceramics at Pottery Northwest in Seattle.
I’m not very good at it. In fact, some of my efforts are downright embarrassing. It’s always a bit of a surprise when pieces come out of the glaze kiln. In the last firing, the bowl I expected to be a rich ruddy red turned out to be a subdued green. But I still get great pleasure from pulling out my bag of clay and starting a new project. Working with clay teaches me patience (a lesson I constantly need to revisit) and is wonderfully contemplative, even if the results sometimes aren’t what I’d expected.
I’ve had a similar history with yoga. I’ve been doing yoga on and off for decades. I’m convinced I will never be better than an “experienced beginner”--my term, which means that I do know enough not to hurt myself, at least most of the time. Lynne, my yoga teacher, would frown at me if she heard me say that I will never attain a high level of competence in yoga. She would consider that negative thinking. In fact, although I enjoy class, I lurk at the back of the room with the other stiff people. Yoga helps me avoid a sore spine and shoulders, but I don’t think I’ll ever float through a graceful sun salute. (Sorry, Lynne.)
But I’m often reminded of the power of doing things I don’t do well. As adults, I think we sometimes get too comfortable with being competent. We like doing things we are good at, and we are hesitant to jump into new activities, because we know we won’t do them with expertise right away. When we’re younger, we’re accustomed to the learning cycle--we understand that when we start something new, we’re not good at it right away. A lot of practice and failure goes into learning something new, and maybe we’ll never be expert at it. Maybe we’ll just muddle along and enjoy it. As an adult, I’ve found that accepting this reality is challenging, and it frequently requires me to check my ego at the door (which isn’t a bad thing). Sometimes I have to remind myself that the pleasure I get from working with clay or dropping into a downward dog isn’t conditioned on my attaining perfection.
It’s a lesson I have to relearn all the time. (And, if you’ve read COMPASS NORTH, you know that Merry has to learn it too.) Hooray for failure!