• Susan Strong

Pottery People: The Awakening

The child encased inside ­­­­­­­­the clay was made of soft skin, agile muscles, with the untapped capacity to dance.

A long time ago, a coastal tribe had a ritual for newborns. Soon after a baby took its first breath, the midwife covered the child with clay for protection. Over time, as the child grew or if the child moved too much, the hardened clay would crack. With each crack, the elder mothers quickly added more clay to repair the damage. Eventually, the child’s exterior became like pottery: solid, hardened, restricting.

This was the only experience the child knew. The elders taught the child to decorate the outer layer of this pottery armor with paints and flowers and feathers. The elders might bestow praise to a fortunate child who displayed extradordinary beauty or creativity in her outer adornment.

If a child expressed too much individuality with her exterior design, she was met with harsh disapproval from the elders.  The child encased inside ­­­­­­­­the clay was tender: made of soft skin, agile muscles, and the untapped capacity to dance.  Over the years, layer after layer of clay was added to compensate for cracks or devastating breaks. Standing still, the pottery child could be mistaken for a statue.

One day, a curious pottery child ventured too close to the water’s edge, disobeying the warnings of the elders. The pottery child, no longer a child in years, walked closely enough to the rhythmic flow of the waves on the beach to feel the water on her feet. To her great surprise, the clay softened. She could wiggle her toes!

In awe, she saw her own skin for the first time. It was beautiful! She ventured deeper into the water, and in doing so, she felt the softening and ultimate freeing of her legs. She danced and the waves danced with her. She began to rub the water over her body, and finally she dove in, immersing herself completely. For the first time in her life she was free.

She danced, and the waves danced with her.

A seagull flew by and suddenly the exuberance of the moment drained from her. She was afraid. If she went back to her people, they would not even recognize her. If she convinced them she belonged, their only answer would be to enclose her once again in clay. If they saw her as an outsider, her fate would be death. With this new understanding, she knew she would never return to be buried alive in a coffin of clay. Her salty tears of grief and fear merged with the endless ocean. For the first time, she felt utterly alone in the world.

In time, her tears subsided. In stillness, she noticed the rythmic flow of her breath. She felt her chest rise, and the coolness of her inhalation calmed her fear. She followed her breath as she exhaled. She stood, and her feet followed a path she had never taken. As she walked, the wind whispered to her that truly, she was not alone. Night fell, and the stars guided her steps.

After many days, the morning light revealed a dwelling in the distance. Swirls of smoke slowly rose from a welcoming fire within. With each step, and each breath, her heart confirmed the whispers of the wind.

As she walked through a grove of aspen and into a clearing, she stood in awe. She saw smiling women with beaded bracelets and colorful clothing flowing with the movement of their bodies as they danced. When they saw her, they ran to greet her with outstreached arms. She had found her Shambhala home. The wind had spoken Truth: She was not alone.

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