Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Do I believe what I know?

This afternoon I fired some micaceous clay masks, using a technique I learned from Felipe Ortega, an Apache potter in New Mexico. The process requires me to be fully present to the fire as a living being, a presence that wants to eat well and receive respect, just as we all do. First I must build a house for the fire where it can consume the feast of my clay masks. This clay is quite unusual; its mica content is naturally so high that it can be fired not in a kiln but a bonfire, producing a glittering finish that is spontaneously marked with the fire's tongue. Yet first the fire has to be invited with song and gifts into the house.

I learned that inviting a presence as big as fire to dinner means that I let go of my desire to control. Although it's true that before the fire is lit I must calculate the size of the house floor, walls and roof--so there is just enough hot-burning wood to cook the clay--but once I offer the gifts and light the protruding corners of paper I was taught to DO NOTHING ELSE. What happens next is up to the fire; its willingness to come and consume. If I have been skillful in my preparation and invitation, the house will spiral in upon itself, making a kiln that is just the right size and temperature for the clay pieces inside.

Yet this time I made a small interference. One of the little masks was near a corner and the spiral opened that area rather than covering it. I remembered what I was told--that the fire was in charge--and still I chose to move a piece of wood back over the opening. All looked well as the flames moved away from the feast; the fire had indeed danced over the shapes in beautiful ways.

But the lesson was there. The little face (center row far left) was only half cooked. Is this because I didn't control the fire better? Or because I tried to control the fire? Working with spirit guidance is like this. The correct understanding seems always a choice between the far ends of the continuum. Do I believe what I know of the science of matter, or do I believe what I know of fire as a living entity? What do I really know?