“Like clay in the hands of an artist”
This is a line in the prayers said on the night of Yom Kippur – the beginning of the High Holy Days’ 25 hour fast. It is a beautiful prayer that continues on to compare man to different types of material in the hands of the One who forms or shapes it, G-d.
A thought came to me the other day as I was driving my son home from school. I don’t remember the exact incident this was tied to, but no matter, it ties to everything.
We are all pieces of clay. Imagine the clay on the pottery wheel of an expert potter. That artist has intimate knowledge of her clay. She knows precisely how much water, what temperature, and which movements will create the art form she is looking for. With a flick of her wrist or the subtle movement of her fingertips or the slight change in pressure from her palms, she works on her lump of clay, forming it into a thing of beauty. The clay has all the beautiful potential to be a masterpiece. Or it can be a lump; or a dented, off kilter vase. Or a lopsided poorly shaped bowl.
The point is, anything that touches that clay makes an impression on it. Only skilled loving hands, hands that know what they want to create, can create a thing of beauty.
So here is the question: whose hands are you going to allow to make an impression on your piece of clay? Whose hands are guiding the formation of your becoming a form of immense beauty? A piece that people look at and exclaim, “My, how beautiful! How exquisite! How extraordinary!”.
Are you allowing the sales clerk who was nasty to you make a dent in you? Are you going to let her guide your behavior and shape who you are and how you respond? What about the critical boss or teacher? Do you let their criticism form a crevice in your foundation? Anyone we come across in our lives has the potential power to touch our piece of art in progress. The BIG question is, do we let them?
So many people allow other peoples’ actions, words, jibes, touch their form. They let these things shape their beings. But, really, we are the gatekeepers of who touches our piece of clay. We have only to recognize that we are in ownership of ourselves - to consciously allow or disallow any comment, look, or action, to shape us.
Ask any successful person how many people/companies/publishing houses shot them down and discouraged or dismissed them before they reached their success. If one always absorbs and BELIEVES what is said about them, many of us would be paralyzed from any forward growth or movement toward success.
I often tell my children when they allow their sibling’s singing, tapping, breathing, gait, etc to bother them (and children are the MASTERS at finding things to fight about), that one is only in control of how he responds to a situation, and not what the other person in it is doing. We are the masters of our own minds. We control whether we allow something/one to bother/hurt/ hinder us. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. This was spoken by a wise, probably oft ridiculed child who learned that words CAN never hurt him, as long as he decides that they will not.
So the nasty sales clerk? She’s having a rough day. (There is a wise saying: “Be kind to everyone around you. Everyone is going through something.”) You can respond in kind and allow her to shape nasty behavior into your bowl. Or you can rise above and treat her with kindness and watch how it transforms her. And etch transcendence and kindness into your piece of clay. The child getting on your last nerve at the end of an exhausting all-the-kids-were-home-and-kvetching-all-day-long kind of day - you can allow the way you respond in that situation to put a dent in your ideal parenting style, or you can walk away for ten minutes, take a shower, laugh, and come back renewed.
Now a point of clarification: This does not mean you should not allow ANYone to touch your clay. That would be a sad, lonely journey. One of isolation and self-righteousness. Those people who bring sunshine to your day; those who love you for always, forever, and no matter what; the people who support you and champion you and have your back always – let them touch your clay. The impressions they leave add to your beauty and mystique. See how much more value your clay has for having opened up your hands to let them in.
And G-d’s hands. He is the Master Potter. He has the power to erase any mark you or anyone else put there that you decide depletes your worth. At any time, you may reform yourself. Reinvent yourself. He is always there to guide you, to hold up your hands when they tire. To support you and show you the way. Always know He is there.
Keep your hands cupped close to your clay. Your masterpiece. We are all a Masterpiece. Some of us are further along in being formed. Some of us have had to allow the clay to fall and start again. Some of us have had so many dents and cracks and negative impressions hit our piece of clay. But we are all that strong beautiful piece of clay. We all of us have the potential to be the most beautiful form.
Keep your hands cupped close to your clay. Be wise about who you open up to and whose hands you deflect. Remember always you only need to ask of G-d to help you in order to erase a dent or impression that you do not want in your form. Let beauty be written into every stroke. Let transcendence be your mystique.
Sending love and serenity,