5 powerful lessons pottery has taught me about life

Insight and wisdom from my love affair with mud

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I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there’s something about experiencing a global pandemic and an uncertain future, which automatically makes me want to revert to the “good ‘ole days.” I yearned for the days of make things with your hands.

A time when life was more real, and people were kind. A time when you had to make things and be resourceful. A time I truthfully never even lived through myself but for which I still feel oddly nostalgic.

I wonder if you guys can relate?

make things with your hands

Throughout our six weeks of strict self-isolation here in New Zealand, I found myself dreaming of these simpler at an unnatural rate.

What if I just had a small lifestyle block where I could have my chickens and gather eggs in the morning? What if I could fill the dinner table with homegrown veggies and serve my meals on plates and bowls I made myself?

What if I could transport myself to the golden era of making when things were made by the people you knew with a quality that lasted a lifetime? Our culture of immediate consumption and throwing away things is sad.

I know I’m not the only one.

make things with your hands

As the coronavirus pandemic plunges the world into chaos and uncertainty, plenty of people are finding themselves dreaming of embracing a more relaxed life too. I’ve noticed a distinct pattern on my social media of friends and family around the world, grasping to create tangible products with their hands.

Some people have picked up crocheting. Many have taken up baking bread or sewing clothes. Others have taken to gardening. Some are going hard with DIY projects.

My creative vice of choice? Clay.

make things with your hands

I picked up ceramics a few years ago after yearning for a creative outlet that would take me away from the computer. I craved something that required little to no technology. Something fully intuitive. It’s just plain luck that when the pandemic hit, I had worked myself into a craft I could hone all by myself without any social interaction. Making pots during quarantine has saved my mental health more than a handful of times.

Need a break from the bubble? Pottery studio. Need to check out from the international news shit show? Pottery studio. Are death tolls rising globally? Pottery studio. Friends and family losing their jobs? Pottery Studio.

Can’t go into the studio? Obsessively watch throwing videos on Instagram (give it a try, it’s oddly calming.)

make things with your hands

I know I’m not alone. Communities around the globe are reverting to craft and creation and for a good reason.

If you’re still riding the anxiety waves of Covid-19, may I kindly suggest turning off the news for a few hours and making something with your hands. I promise you’ll learn more than a quick craft. If you invest in making things with your hands, you’ll come away with a lifetime of lessons.

Here’s are some of the life lessons I’ve learned from pottery.

make things with your hands

1. Depression and anxiety can often be managed holistically and with your hands

Covid-19 has created the perfect storm for anxiety and depression.

Lack of human interaction, loneliness, stress about the economy, stress about personal health. As if that wasn’t enough, the Pentagon has confirmed UFOs and Giant Murdering Hornets have landed in the USA, threatening the beloved bee populations. (PS – if any of those UFO pilots are reading this, I would like to volunteer for getting the fuck off this planet ASAP. Please take me with you!)

And how do international communities stuck at home respond? By picking up whatever craft they can. Numerous studies have shown that spending a little time working on art can significantly reduce anxiety and depression levels because of its ability to stimulate dopamine.

make things with your hands

Crafting is an easy home remedy way to produce dopamine, which ultimately makes you feel happy.

A study of 3,500 knitters found that 81 percent of knitters with depression perceived that knitting made them feel happier.

Creating things with your hands is like being under the magical spell of the most beautiful drug, except the drug is free and has no adverse health benefits. Don’t believe me? Give it a try for a while.

make things with your hands

2. Creating forces us to live in the moment

If you’re anything like me, you’ve had to genuinely strive for the last few months to stay in the present. All too often, I find myself going down the deep rabbit hole of “what if…”

What if our quarantine is extended? What if my family falls ill? What if I can’t fly home to see them? When I’m not whirling about the future, I’m yearning for the past. How great was it to be able to hike up a mountain on a whim like I used to? Or go for a coffee with a friend?

When I’m at the pottery wheel, I lose all sense of future and past events. I stop thinking about the what-ifs and simply think about what my hands are doing and how the clay is behaving. I feel so engrossed in the present moment that I stop worrying entirely about the future and dwelling on the past.

When the wheel stops and my studio time has finished, sure, I sometimes dive back into the collective panic, but if even for just a few hours, I gained a sense of calm and peace.

make things with your hands

3. Failure is life. Life is failure.

I’ve only lived a short 30 years on this planet, but one thing I’ve learned from my lived experiences is that life is full of unexpected failures. I could throw some overused quotes from Albert Einstein at you to get the point across, but I don’t need to because you already know.

We all fail—all the time.

We try things that don’t work, and we move on. Sometimes we fail small, and sometimes, we fail monumentally, but it’s ingrained in the human spirit to keep putting one foot after another no matter what.

make things with your hands

In pottery, there is an overwhelming amount of failure—some of it in your control and much of it totally out of your control.

The amount of pieces I’ve had to throw away or recycle is staggering, but instead of feeling like a failure, pottery has taught me that it’s an essential element to learning. As a self-taught potter, my education has come almost entirely from my failures, and if I didn’t fail, I could never progress.

Of course, this can be directly translated from craft to real life.

Art and craft give us an element of play and teach us not to take our creations so seriously. Life is full of learning, and thus life is full of failing. Sometimes the best thing to do is smash up your clay creation and start again. Nobody will be disappointed in you, I promise.

make things with your hands

4. There is no substitute for real self- reliance

How novel is the idea that we can create and use things with nothing but our hands and material.

Sit with that for a minute.

Only a few generations ago, people were making things with their hands. There was no Target, no Walmarts, no Amazon. If you needed something specialized, you made it. Your grandparents had extensive vegetable gardens, knew carpentry basics, could sew a garment, but somewhere along the way, generation of makers vanished, and we lost our way.

make things with your hands

Our access to cheap, readily available items dissolved the interest to make things for yourself. Why would you spend hours on a project when you can get an affordable version at the store for peanuts?

As Covid-19 threatens every business on the planet, we are getting a not so gentle reminder that perhaps its time to revive that self-sufficiency once again.

I recently called my grandpa, who has been a middle-of-America farmer for 90 years of his life and proclaimed how satisfying it is to put your hands in the dirt, grow your vegetables and serve them on plates made from the same hands that sowed the seeds of the veggies. He did his best to sound impressed, but to him, this was nothing new. This is normal. This was life.

make things with your hands

Creating things with our hands, whether it’s growing vegetables, crafting pottery, or a kitchen table helps boost our sense of self-efficacy. It gives us confidence and pride and a sense of purpose. We all crave something like this, whether we admit it or not.

Have you read those articles about how millennials are choosing not to have children but instead filling their apartments and houses to the brim with plants? We may not want the responsibility of a child, but we still need a sense of purpose.

We all want to leave our mark on the world, even if that mark is keeping alive a peace lily for a few months.

make things with your hands

5. There’s more to life than the internet

I bet you read that sentence and scoffed. Of course, there’s more to life than the internet. Indeed no one thinks the internet is life.

Sure, I hear you. But how many of us spend at least 6 hours a day staring at a screen? That’s nuts, isn’t it?

To spend so many hours in one spot, shouters hunched, hands clicking away at the keyboard, and fretting about answering emails or maintaining your online personalities. Our phones are often the very first thing we look at in the morning. Sometimes it’s the very last thing we see before we drift to sleep.

After spending a whole day staring at a screen, when I shut down my laptop, my body is screaming for some sort of activity—something to occupy my hands and my mind that isn’t reliant on 4G.

make things with your hands

It may sound overly simple, but it’s crucial we make time for ourselves away from the computer.  Especially during this time when many of us are working from home, unintentionally blending our domestic and work lives into one. Allow yourself 30 minutes. Allow yourself an hour.

Be intentional with your decision to turn your phone off and walk away from the noise. Even if it’s only for a little bit. And if you can, you go and stick your hands in the dirt, create something new, try something hard.

I promise you’ll be better for it.

Do you feel joy making things with your hands? Can you relate to this? Share! What do you enjoy doing offline during Covid-19?

Check out my pottery work Arete Earthware here and on Instagram

make things with your hands

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8 Comments on “5 powerful lessons pottery has taught me about life

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  1. Relating this to pottery is pretty cool. I’ve personally never tried ceramics or pottery classes, but during lockdown and binge watching creative reality competition shows online, I came across this show called the Great Pottery Showdown. Watching it showed me this incredible creative outlet, zi cant wait tol the day post lockdodm that I can take my first class and immerse myself in that great calm energy. Thanks for the great article Erica

  2. I love this! I started taking ceramics classes last spring at a local studio as a creative outlet for work and life stress. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I hadn’t touched clay in over 10 years and it was definitely not my best area of art. I fell in love immediately!

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