Center yourself off the couch

Published 12:01 am Friday, January 25, 2008

Have you ever suddenly decided one day that you wanted to do something different, something exotic, something you have never done before?

Everybody has a comfort zone.

I know I do. It’s that state of mind where everything feels relaxed, a little like lying on the couch watching television.

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Everything is familiar. Everything is safe.

As human beings, isn’t that feeling of familiarity and safety where we want to be?

If you ask me that question most days, my answer would be, “Absolutely, positively, Y. E. S.”

And though I consider myself to be a creative individual who likes to try new things, I love to be on my couch in my comfort zone.

It feels so good not worrying about anything. Instead I just stretch out on that 8-foot long by 3-foot wide piece of furniture covered in a blanket watching the world go by. What could be better than that?

This past week I was reminded why the comfort zone is not the place most of us need to be.

But when have you ever learned something about yourself lying on the couch? What have you gained by zoning out?

And that is where I found myself Tuesday night.

I was out of my comfort zone staring down at a 1-pound piece of clay spinning on a wheel wondering how in the world I was going to be able to turn this clump of dirt into something that resembled a cup, a bowl or even a plate.

Several months ago, I decided on a whim that I would do something different. It was a New Year’s resolution of sorts — to get out from behind the computer screen and the camera lens and do something different. So I signed up for classes at Natchez Clay, the pottery studio on Franklin Street.

But as I stared at the light gray blob spinning around and around, my first thought was to question why I ever wanted to do this in the first place.

Without much of an answer, it would have been easy to get up and walk away.

But at the risk of embarrassment (another comfort zone thing I fear) I put hands to clay and hoped that I would make something a little more respectable than that Play-Doh ashtray I made for my dad for Father’s Day in the third grade.

So here we were — a group of six students taking our first steps out of our comfort zones.

With eagerness and trepidation, we put hands to the wheel to learn how to do the most important thing in pottery — centering.

Before we approached the potter’s wheels, the importance of centering the clay had already been stressed numerous times.

Without being centered, the wheel’s centrifugal forces would eventually tear apart the clay, ending in disaster.

For a few of us, it didn’t take long to learn this lesson. Within minutes, what appeared to be viable cups and bowls forming from the clay would suddenly flop over from a sudden move or misstep.

Without the guidance of an instructor it seemed that every move I made that first night was a wrong move.

As my anxiety level increased the chance of creating even a decent piece decreased.

Maybe centering had to do with more than just clay. Maybe centering had to do with mind and body.

Since Tuesday I have taken the opportunity to watch other potters at work. In each instance, the potters were calm, methodical and deliberate in how they transformed pieces of clay into cylinders, bowls and other works of art. One might understand these potters as being centered.

It was a mind-opening moment to contemplate centering clay and being centered in one’s disposition. Even more revealing, was the realization of how much the two are intertwined.

But that was just step one. There are many more steps to go our instructor promises and many more lessons to learn.

Maybe by Father’s Day I can make a replacement for that ashtray.

Ben Hillyer is the Web editor at the Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at