I was given the gift of a pottery wheel. I love clay and I had always wanted my own wheel. There is a lot more to being a potter than having a wheel, but that is another story. This is about the wheel.
It was the generous gift from a new acquaintance. My soon-to-be husband had a friend of many years who was, himself, to be married. He was my husband’s friend so I would be a friend to his wife. This is how couples do it. We got close. They had a baby and decided to move out of state. I was disappointed and I understood. Those babies can change your life.
In the process of packing the wife found she had to part with a wheel that she had been toting around for several years. She was not a potter and had always meant to try it. The wheel had belonged to a friend when they had lived together in Hawaii. They had been very close, and the friend had died. The wheel now contained all the depth of that friendship and profound ties to that dear deceased friend.
Somehow, when she gave me the wheel I also took the story and the importance of the history along with it. The dear friend, the untimely death, the bequest, the meaning, and the pledge to use it “someday”. You can see that the wheel was not just a wheel. It was a commitment.
I did go on to learn to throw and I even assembled enough tools in my house to embark on the muddy messy process of developing a home studio. The wheel, though, was homemade, was temperamental, slightly broken and difficult to use. And I persevered. It was, after all, the gift of a dead friend.
It took me years to allow myself a fully functioning wheel and to let that first one go. I still feel a pang when I think of it and have never told the woman who passed it on to me.
What does this have to do with life: with now? I am in a position to listen to the struggles of others. It is an honor, kind of a calling, and one I now do with the health of a lot of personal work. I am conventionally able to keep in my hula hoop- knowing well the difference between “yours” and “mine”.
To be sure, one of the challenges in witnessing, in listening to others, is to be sure I don’t take on their grief, their pain, their anxiety. The story is theirs. The honor of witnessing in mine. When I hear a 5th step, when I listen to the pain another is experiencing, I have to wear my Teflon coat. I can be empathetic without becoming enmeshed. It can be difficult and I do have some clearing practices In order to use them I have to notice that it is happening; the boundary between you and me is slipping. I must be aware of that shift inside that warns me that I am taking on the pain rather than letting it pass through. I used to think that your opinion, your experience had to be mine. That is not the case. I hold space for yours and I hold space for my own. I work toward not combining the two. I used to do this all the time. I am learning better now.
What I noticed, when I am slipping, is that I encounter uncomfortable emotions. They are not authentically mine, They have been borrowed. I have come to realize that part of the difficulty was that I had been absorbing the values and opinions of someone else. It was the outlook of someone I care about, but I was absorbing their feelings; I had adopted that person’s outlook as my own. My heart was heavy due to an experience that I myself did not have. I was carrying these feelings around like the gift of a potter’s wheel, not MINE, but mine “enough”, not correct but close enough, not useful, but useful enough.
I had to let the wheel go. I have to let the opinions and outlook of this other person go, returning to the true act of witnessing. Given in love I had made it a burden. I had created an anchor out of an experience.
Letting go of old patterns is difficult. They sneak up. They appear in different forms. They morph. It is up to me to be vigilant. In love, let go. I say to myself: “Please, do not add to my baggage.”