‘Centering’ is the key to a successful life

I know a little bit about centering a ball of clay. Or not centering it.
As a young housewife, I took a night class in a western Canadian city and I still remember the feel of the clay in my hand. Making a pinch pot. Firing it. Glazing it. And firing it again.
Using the slab method to make a three-cornered candy dish for the coffee table.
And on the highest shelf in my kitchen cupboard are two crooked little egg cups with turquoise bases and faces on the front. Egg cups made for the two small children who stayed with a sitter while I went to class.
But the part I really couldn’t wait for was my brief turn on the potter’s wheel. It looked so fun and easy somehow, shaping that little ball of clay into a tiny vessel–all the while pumping the wheel with your foot.
And I’ll never forget the deep disappointment when my lump of clay refused to stop wobbling. I simply couldn’t center it.
“Centering” is the title of a book by Mary Caroline Richards. I first saw her book while visiting the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in the heart of New York City more than a decade ago.
I liked the messy hands of the potter featured in brown tones on the cover with “Centering” printed in large reverse type. And then, in smaller letters, “in pottery, poetry, and the person.”
The bookstore of the splendid cathedral was the perfect place to buy Richards’ thoughtful book on centering.
Vaulted gothic ceilings. Stone statuary. Gardens with herbs, flowering plants, trees, and shrubs from the Bible. And a Rose Window made from 10,000 pieces of glass.
In a magnificent setting like that, you can’t help feeling awe.
But more than awe, I felt centeredness and synchronicity in the unfinished cathedral that cares more about the needs of the people who live around it than about its own spectacular elegance. I was deeply impressed by its empowering programs.
A shelter designed to help homeless men re-enter society, and a clothes closet to provide business attire when they’re ready to return to work.
A soup kitchen with lunch tickets issued at the Peace Fountain and a stone masonry program, training under-employed people from the neighborhood as they worked on the unfinished church.
It was a church perfectly centered on “building community in an otherwise fragmented world.” And the pieces of life just seemed to flow.
In her book “Centering,” Richards tells of her first teacher who said, “The toughest thing to learn comes at the very beginning . . . the centering of the clay.” And it took this master potter seven years to learn the skill perfectly.
But difficult or not, you’ll never shape a beautiful pot without first taking the time to center the clay. The same is true of life.
Famed psychologist Rollo May, in his book “The Courage to Create,” identifies “a centeredness within our own being” as a prerequisite to successful living.
The alternate to centeredness, said May, is “emptiness.” A huge vacuum within that leads to apathy and cowardice.
Life is short and we dare not waste it. That’s why the most important thing you can do right now is to take a few minutes to rediscover your core reason for being.
When you’re perfectly centered, all the rest of life will flow with synchronicity and ease.

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