Shaping: The Expression of Who We Are

“In the long run we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

In recent blogs we’ve looked at steps in the process of throwing a piece of pottery on the wheel. We’ve gone through weighing and wedging, grounding, centering, opening and lifting, and how these are all also metaphors for the unfoldment of our lives. This week we’re exploring the critical stage of shaping.

In pottery, it’s a subtle combination of intent and technique that determines the ultimate form of the piece. First it’s a matter of how we lift the piece – as our hands squeeze or compress the clay we simultaneously move the clay up either into a volcano or flower pot shape. This is a juncture that narrows our options. We then further focus on the form we intend to create. 


It’s been written that ‘as the twig is bent, so does the tree incline’. We have already been formed to a certain extent – perhaps by past lives, by genetics, and by the messages and actions of parents and teachers and the events of our lives up to the present moment. This is the form we have to work with when our own hands take over the shaping of our l

“Let your hopes not your hurts shape your future” – Robert Schuller

In life, result is also a combination of our objectives and our actions. It’s said that ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’. We all know from experience that there are times that no matter how we’ve intended to make what we feel to be the good and right choice, we’ve instead taken an action that has sabotaged that good intention. Although every time we make a choice that goes against our better judgement we erode a bit of our resolve, we must remember that every moment is an opportunity to make an adjustment and to re-form.

In Rudolf Steiner’s lectures collected in the book Art as Spiritual Activity, he addresses many of the ways in which we shape our lives. He asserts that the language of form is not “symbolic or metaphoric”, and that as the nature of the form changes, there is a change in our feeling experience of the form as well. Steiner said “When we make a series of forms of the same material such as a lump of clay, we can more easily see that the form is independent of the material…”

For example, a ball embodies both the bounce factor and mobility. Even when it’s clay we feel the buoyancy of the ball. When we alter that shape slightly, such as by flattening the bottom to give it stability, some of that essential ‘ball–ness’ is lost. Depending on the ratio of roundness to flatness, we alter the balance of our experience – buoyancy to heaviness, freedom to safety, joyto sadness, vitality to sluggishness. 

An obelisk formed of the same amount of clay embodies the very different feeling of being both grounded and soaring – reaching from a place of stability.

Steiner is quoted to go on “…the material is constant, while the form changes. The material 

substance serves to make the non-physical forms and the interrelationships of forms visible to our sense bound consciousness, but at a price. The material veils the living, dynamic nature of form by making it appear fixed and dead.”

Given the emphasis on the material in our society, we tend to miss the essential buoyancy of a ball made of clay as our awareness is captured instead by the weight of the clay.

If we want to take charge of shaping our lives, we have a significant challenge. 

“Lose your mind and come to your senses.” – Fritz Perls

Isaac Newton’s first law of motion, called the law of inertia, states that ‘an object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force. An object in motion continues in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force’.

If we don’t make a concerted effort – if we’re not willing to shake things up – our ball will keep rolling in its current direction! Unless we intentionally act upon the essentially brainwashing forces of the society we live in, we are entirely shaped by those forces rather than by our intentions – by our own hands.

Prior to the time of Newton, from the 4th century BC, the Greek philosophers developed the Empirical approach. Aristotle highlighted that our sense experience was the ultimate source of all our concepts and knowledge. This was accepted Western thought for 21 centuries.

Then, beginning in the mid17th century, there was a shift in the way we perceived the world as the thinking of the mathematicians, scientists and philosophers of that time, led perhaps by Rene Descartes – “I think therefore I am” – tipped the scales from Empiricism to the Rationalism that now reigns supreme. Cartesians hold that knowledge—indeed, certain knowledge—can be derived through reason from innate ideas.  While Empiricists in the face of insufficient sense evidence, may opt for skepticism, aka ‘suspending disbelief’, Rationalism has devolved largely into a rather rigid system of concepts and beliefs.

Now we of the 21st century, in the infancy of a new millennium, are free to use all means of perception to shape ourselves and our world. In order to do this though, we need to take ‘time outs’ from the onslaught of messages meant for us to swallow whole. Inertia wants to keep us inside our pre-assigned box and to make us good consumers and well behaved members of a cookie cutter culture in which the squares and the stars move in separate and unequal circles. 

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates 469-399 BC

We must make time to know ourselves, and from there to consciously shape ourselves. We do this through Astrology, Breath-work, Clay, Dream-work, and in Meditations and Retreats and Workshops. All of this is available at Clay Alchemy from the Voice of Clay!

As we go through our days it’s important to notice how we feel when we’re in the differentlyshaped structures available to us…tipi, yurt, log, Colonial, Victorian, steel and glass, tiny and rambling homes, as well as in cathedrals, synagogues, mosques, state and national capital domes, and the towering angular structures of our finance institutions.

“We shape our buildings: thereby they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

We must also give serious attention to the way we are shaping the future of our planet. This week we honor the mother that provides for us all as we celebrate Earth Day. Every choice that we make…from the words that we use to the food we eat, from who we vote for to how we carry our groceries home from the store, from how we use water to how we use our personal energy shapes our world and how we feel in it. 

“Ten percent of the big fish still remain. There are still some blue whales. There are still some krill in Antarctica. There are a few oysters in Chesapeake Bay. Half the coral reefs are still in pretty god shape, a jeweled belt around the middle of the ocean. There’s still time, but not a lot, to turn things around.” -Sylvia Earle

shannon Burke